Disney belatedly discovers that people liked John Carter's dog


I know I said no more John Carter, but the appearance in my inbox of an email from Disney marketing announcing the existence of a clip and a poster for Woola, the faithful Martian Calot who steals every scene he’s in in the the film, is just so odd!

Studios rarely send out post-opening PR! It’s as if…someone somewhere said, “Hey, people like that Woola thing, let’s push it a bit.”

If this kind of light-hearted contemporary tone had been set earlier…we might have saved the atmosphere plant in time.

Was this an Andrew Stanton decree?

So many things we will never know.

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John Carter: flop or victim?

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Well, it’s official, JOHN CARTER is being labeled a disaster, a flop, an “ISHTAR“, and anything else that signifies profit-and-loss ratio infamy. The media decided a while ago that this movie was going to be a disaster for Disney, and after finishing #2 for the weekend with barely $30 million—despite making over $100 million worldwide—every ill omen has been seen as sagacious.

And the hate is baffling. Although it has only 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, if you read the reviews, the good ones read about the same as the bad ones. Critics weren’t wildly enthusiastic about the movie, but it didn’t suck.

In fact, the word of mouth is good. People who went in with an open mind seem to have been entertained.

I saw JOHN CARTER Thursday at an IMAX 3D and I loved it. It was no THE DESCENDANTS, but it was a well-made yarn, filled with wonder. Yeah, I said it. WONDER. The John Carter books are hardly The Lord of the Rings—I didn’t need every klunky archaic line used. And screenwriter Michael Chabon and Andrew Stanton knew that. So they weren’t afraid to tinker and modernize many things.

What they did keep intact was the unbridled imagination of the original, a vision unencumbered by anything that reeks of marketing or focus groups. Here is a passage from the second book, The Gods of Mars, that sums up everything I like about Barsoom:

Its hairless body was a strange and ghoulish blue, except for a broad band of white which encircled its protruding, single eye: an eye that was all dead white–pupil, iris, and ball.

Its nose was a ragged, inflamed, circular hole in the centre of its blank face; a hole that resembled more closely nothing that I could think of other than a fresh bullet wound which has not yet commenced to bleed.

Below this repulsive orifice the face was quite blank to the chin, for the thing had no mouth that I could discover.

The head, with the exception of the face, was covered by a tangled mass of jet-black hair some eight or ten inches in length. Each hair was about the bigness of a large angleworm, and as the thing moved the muscles of its scalp this awful head-covering seemed to writhe and wriggle and crawl about the fearsome face as though indeed each separate hair was endowed with independent life.


I mean COME ON, how can you not want to see that brought to life? The Carter books were so original when written…now, having been ripped off for a hundred years, they seem like pale imitations.

But then, this has been a story that people have been trying—and failing—to bring to the screen since at least 1936. Nearly 80 years. In that year, animator Bob Clampett worked on a proposed animated version for…Walt Disney.

As others have written here, had this film actually been made—instead of SNOW WHITE—what a different world we would live in. John Carter would have had to be an animated movie. What has stymied people for years was the technology to make it.

The more recent attempts at making a movie—from Robert Rodriguez, to Kerry Conlan, to Jon Favreau and so on—all faltered for probably the same reasons the movie that did get made has been vilified: too weird and yet too familiar at the same time.

But let’s piece together a bit of what is being said as the handfuls of dirt hit the coffin. If you’re a veteran of Hollywood backstabbing, it’s interesting to see who is aiming what knives at whom.

Nikki Finke has some brutal fingerpointing aimed at director Andrew Stanton:

To summarize: this flop is the result of a studio trying to indulge Pixar… Of an arrogant director who ignored everybody’s warnings that he was making a film too faithful to Edgar Rice Burroughs’s first novel in the Barsoom series “A Princess of Mars”… Of the failure of Dick Cook, and Rich Ross, and Bob Iger to rein in Stanton’s excessive ego or pull the plug on the movie’s bloated budget … Of really rotten marketing that failed to explain the significant or scope of the film’s Civil War-to-Mars story and character arcs and instead made the 3D movie look way as generic as its eventual title… Disagree all you want, but Hollywood is telling me that competent marketing could have drawn in women with the love story, or attracted younger males who weren’t fanboys of the source material. Instead the campaign was as rigid and confusing as the movie itself, not to mention that ’Before Star Wars, Before Avatar‘ tag line should have come at the start and not at the finish. But even more I think John Carter is a product of mogul wuss-ism as much as it is misplaced talent worship. More detail to come.


Andrew Stanton’s ego, eh? God forbid that the director of FINDING NEMO and WALL*E have confidence in his filmmaking skills. In the Hollywood glossary “ego” is the brush to tar both runaway executives headed for disaster and filmmakers who think they actually know what they are doing. While it seems that as a first-time live-action director Stanton needed a stronger producing partner, based on his track record his thinking he could make a good movie is a rather forgivable sin.

The New York Times has yet more anonymous insider candor, including Disney head Bob Iger’s call to say the serenity prayer over and over again as the money flows out and out:

In recent weeks, as a weak marketing campaign failed to generate audience excitement for “John Carter,” Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chief executive, made it clear in conversations with senior managers that he would not tolerate finger-pointing; this may be a colossal miss, he told them, according to people who were present, but it’s the company’s miss and no individuals would be blamed — including Mr. Stanton. Learn from it, was Mr. Iger’s message. On Sunday, Rich Ross, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, said in a statement, “Moviemaking does not come without risk.  It’s still an art, not a science, and there is no proven formula for success. Andrew Stanton is an incredibly talented and successful filmmaker who with his team put their hard work and vision into the making of ‘John Carter.’ Unfortunately, it failed to connect with audiences as much as we had all hoped.”


The Times piece does lay the blame for the weak marketing on Stanton’s door, not the departed MT Carney—he had final say over all of it. And he is definitely NOT a marketer: using Led Zeppelin for the first trailer, and generally not making the movie look very exciting. IF this is all true, then he does have some humble pie to eat.

Other culprits, from the Times, include the turnover from former studio head Dick Cook, ousted by Iger, to new guy Rich Ross, which led to the lack of strong oversight—or support—for Stanton.

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The LA Times reveals that it was the old farts who liked the movie, a sure recipe for disaster:

Based on a century-old character created by author Edgar Rice Burroughs, “John Carter” was meant to appeal to young males. But a surprisingly older crowd turned up to see the movie this weekend, as 59% of the audience was over age 25. Those who saw the film — a 64% male contingent — assigned it an average grade of B+, according to market research firm CinemaScore. 


In this, its outline kind of resembles GREEN LANTERN, a film that no one remembers or has compared it to, even though they are very similar—a cult chaacter that intrigues enough filmmakers for it to finally get made. But a Variety preview mentions a different film that had a cult audience but should perhaps never be filmed:

Having dealt with rumors of cost overruns on a tentpole with no major stars, marketing stumbles (including a controversial title change and DayGlo materials) and 100-year-old source material unknown to most moviegoers, Disney and a team of Pixar vets are either about to launch a new franchise or write off the next failed labor of love, like "Watchmen."


OUCH.

It’s left to Mark Hughes at Forbes to actually defend the movie, based on its merits:

While most media reports are focusing on the pre-established narrative that the film is a flop and critical failure, audiences are rating the film with a very healthy B+, some key film reviewers have enthusiastically embraced the movie, and the strong foreign receipt numbers indicate it will have a much better total box office run than many of the detractors seem to be giddily hoping for.


And there’s the rub: this movie is actually likable. Here’s my distillation of what went wrong, aside from whatever filmmaking stumbles Stanton had in going over budget: this was Cook’s movie, and when he got booted, it got orphaned. It had to keep going, but no one at the studio wanted to take responsibility for it. Disney’s lack of enthusiasm for the project was more and more obvious. All the backstory and backstabbing didn’t allow people to see that this was actually a pretty good movie. Believe me, plenty of worse pieces of shit have made $500 million worldwide.

But it was all so obvious. For instance, it’s a real shame that Disney’s fear of alienating male viewers didn’t allow for some marketing of Dejah Thoris to the female geek audience. Lynn Collins was spot on in the role, Dejah was both smart—she discovered the ninth ray!—and an ass kicker. And almost alone of major studio pictures, there were female characters EVERYwhere in the film, from the green sidekick Sola, to various random foot soldiers of Zodanga(!), to the goddess Issus. Unlike the dismal STAR TREK remake which jettisoned all the original’s ideas about sexual diversity in the universe, JOHN CARTER stuck with the idea of priestesses and an integrated society. (The books were so egalitarian, but Burroughs also knew that the more girls who were around, the more that could potentially be kidnapped and rescued to kick off a plot.) In a time when female genre fans are demanding more engaged and proactive roles for women, JOHN CARTER is a standout. Too bad no one thought to tell that story.

I predict that on home viewing, little kids will adore it. And maybe even Disney will come around. Dejah Thoris is a Disney Princess now! Woola plush toys! John Carter sword and loincloth play set! It could all happen.

A surprisingly wide variety of cartoonists liked it, too, as shown by a few random tweets (Not shown, Renee French.):

So that’s it then. If JOHN CARTER is a huge huge hit worldwide, we may see the already-written sequel. But that’s kind of a long shot. More likely: 20 years from now, an originality-bereft Hollywood exec looks around and says, “Hey if they could remake Starsky and Hutch maybe we should remake John Carter!”

Just you watch. In Carter’s own catchphrase from the books: “I still live.”

The wild, all-naked JOHN CARTER comic Disney does not want you to see (NSFW)

In a few short hours, I’ll be doing something I’ve dreamed about my whole life—going to see a movie about John Carter of Mars. Yes, I am one of those rare Barsoomian enthusiasts, like director Andrew Stanton, for whom this movie has been a pipedream many times thwarted. I’ve always been a pulp lover, and the whole 11 book series was a parade of oddities—Gheks and Kaldanes, Tara and Gahan, Tur is Tur, Ras Thavas, green white and red Martians, the hurtling moons of Mars—it’s all corny and pulpy and imaginative as hell. Like his contemporary, L. Frank Baum, Edgar Rice Burroughs had an interior life full of the grotesque and heroic in equal measure, and crazy ideas poured from their pens in an unstoppable rush. (Baum was older then Burroughs, and his literary heyday didn’t overlap Burroughs by much, but it’s safe to say that early Hollywood was obsessed with both of them, and they wereamong the first authors to succeed in every medium of the day.)

I could write a lot about my own perception of Carter’s Mars, but what I’m here to do today is introduce you to the boldest, most audacious adaptation of the book, one that is incredibly UN-Disney and very very NSFW.

I speak of James Killian Spratt’s word-for-word comics adaptation of A PRINCESS OF MARS.
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Now this panel is about the only one from this stunningly earthy work that I can even put on here. For you see, when everyone points out that in the books all the Martians are naked, Spratt is one of the few artists who actually went along with that interpretation.

(Original panels are visible by clicking on the thumbnails.)

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Oh man, are they ever naked.
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We declare this the most dingus-tastic comic of all time.

There are but a few panels chosen at random from hundreds. Spratt posts the drawings along with the text of the book, and if you like pulpish, archaic writing, you can see another reason why these books are such cult items:

Further cruelties would result in 
Sarkoja’s sudden and painful demise. . . 
My threat was unfortunate —  
men do not kill women on Mars, nor women men. 
She gave me an ugly look and departed to hatch up deviltries against us.


Or:
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A colossal apelike creature
held me pinioned by one huge foot 
while it jabbered and 
gesticulated to another, 
evidently its mate, 
which bore a mighty stone cudgel –


I happened on this site while I was googling for some other Carter information a while ago. I’ve shown the site to a few people since then and the common reaction is jaw dropping. Who is this guy?
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James Killian Spratt we’re told, is a Master Sculptor who lives in North Carolina. He is blind in one eye and is an expert in all things Martian, including Jetan, the game of Martian chess that a few people have actually played in the last 100 years. Spratt has made actual Jetan sets:
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As well as some nice animal sculpture:
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Here’s more on his work:

At this point in his life, Spratt is again devoting almost full time to ERB. His typical day consists of waking early, working until he drops, and sleeping until he wakes again. . .  often with new ideas dreamed up while asleep. He began in 1995 with an  18-inch version of Dejah Thoris, which he says is just a warm-up. . . she can be obtained in cast marble for about $150, subject to some small modifications. After a hiatus during which he lost his right eye, he's now back at it, hard, and has created a Jetan set consisting of six-inch, detailed figures depicting two opposing teams with different skin color, but identical trappings. The first sets he has hand-made so far have been carefully and colorfully painted and, depending on demand, he'll see if he can't offer the pieces as raw castings for others to paint. . .  to keep the price down. After all, there are forty separate figures and a number of different princesses (to keep things interesting) for serious play or just for love.


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Of his comics version, which despite some drafting awkwardness displays a vigor and imagination to match Burroughs himself, Spratt writes:

Since I was drawing initially for my own amusement, with no thought of publishing, I pulled all the normal stops and drew the way I imagined the classic story to be written.  The characters are highly underclad, yet oblivious to it; it’s their normal way, and they don’t see much naughty or titillating about it.  The men are men and the women are women and blood is red and scary.  I set out to be honest with the nudity and violence, and the devil take Pollyanna, she needs to grow up anyway.   A lifetime would be required, in full-sized oils of five thousand panels to truly do justice to the story.  I can’t spare that, but I hope you will find the little scenes that I have captured to be at least somewhat rewarding and enjoyable.  You may notice that the captions are paraphrased in places for the sake of brevity, clarity and fluidity, and hope no one minds me taking this small additional liberty.  I hope you enjoy it, and thank you. 


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Spratt doesn’t mention Richard Corben, but were guessing that he might have seen his work at a formative age. Unlike other interpretations, his female Tharks have breasts—oh boy do they—and other external female genitalia. Luckily, the images on the ERBzine site are a little too small to allow us to see exactly how much they resemble humans, and many many other details.

Spratt’s PRINCESS OF MARS is hosted on ERBzine, a GeoCities-era kludging dinosaur of a website that one could explore for days, like Hugo Cabret’s clock towers. Surely the Burroughs family is aware of this version, and they haven’t seen fit to sue. So maybe they are okay with it. It is certainly reverential and respectful of the Burroughs work and very true to its vivid, vulgar spirit.

Is it too much to wish that some indie publisher might be able to bring forth a print version of this minor masterpiece? It belongs on the shelf alongside KRAMERS ERGOT, not tucked away on a cobweb of the internet.

Until that moment, here’s my brief tribute to something crazy and kind of wonderful.

PS: I’ve almost certainly missed a few peepees and woowoos in my “Il Braghettone” efforts because there are just so darned many of them!

RIP: Robert B. Sherman

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The man who wrote the words “Oh, you, pretty chitty bang bang, chitty chitty bang bang, I love you,” is dead.

Well, he wrote half of the words. Robert B. Sherman, (above, far right) one of the Sherman Brothers songwriting team (along with Richard, who is still alive) has died at age 86.

He also co-wrote “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” and “Bare Necessities,” and “Chim Chim Cheree,” and…”It’s a Small World After All.”

And “Winnie the Pooh.”

Yeah, he was major.

The Sherman Brothers are best known for their legendary Disney compositions, such as the scores to MARY POPPINS, THE JUNGLE BOOK and songs for the Enchanted Tiki Room, and, yes, “It’s A Small World After All,” which some say is the world’s most performed song.

While best known for their Disney work, The Shermans had a busy career outside of Disney, as well, including CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, THE ARISTOCATS, and, one of my favorites, SNOOPY, COME HOME. Possibly the saddest cartoon of all time, as seen in the song “It Changes,” above.

Incredibly, despite what appeared to be a partnership for the ages, as the NY Times obit recounts, the Sherman Brothers were complete unfriends outside the music room, and had no relationship whatsoever:

While In any case, though they continued to work together off and on and feigned closeness in public, they rarely spoke, their families did not socialize and the broken relationship was barely ever mentioned, even in private.


Part of this was because of Robert’s experiences in World War II, his son told the Times, which he never could forget. More of their lives are shown in a documentary from a few years ago called The Boys.

End of an era time: The Sherman Brothers—and the sometimes similar duo of Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse—were experts in a very special brand of bombastic yet kooky song, so prevalent in the ’60s-’70s period. Some of this stuff is dumb and some of it is great, and most of it is great because it’s dumb.


Another one from SNOOPY, COME HOME. “No Dogs Allowed,” as sung by Thurl Ravenscroft, who also did one of the voices for the Enchanted Tiki Room.

Avengers Alliance only the first step for Disney

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Disney’s Facebook-based AVENGERS ALLIANCE game is a new direction for them, Variety writes, as they are putting more effort into these lucrative, reliable social media games as opposed to the volatile console game market:

“The Avengers” is the first Marvel film Disney is distributing itself since acquiring the comicbook company. The superheroes are also now starring in the Mouse House’s first Facebook game since it purchased social gamemaker Playdom for $763 million two years ago.
“Marvel: Avengers Alliance” assembles today on the social networking site, after spending two months in beta mode.

Game is expected to be the first of several high-profile properties Disney will launch as its interactive group focuses more on making casual games for online platforms rather than pricier titles for videogame consoles. Facebook has more than 800 million members, providing a sizable audience for such titles.


Many factoids from the story:

• The storyline was written by Alex Irvine (Iron Man: The Rapture) and will unfold over two to three years.

• The art sports a new “filmic” style based on the comics AND the movie. “Authentic enough for the hardcore Marvel fan, but accessible for a mass audience.”

• The game targets males 20 to 40, but is designed to appeal to more casual fans and female gamers as well.

• Disney’s Interactive Media Group is not yet profitable…but maybe by 2013 thanks to this kind of thing.

• People spend LOTS of time and money on these games, as if you didn’t know. Casual games—Farmville, etc—were a $4.5 billion business last year.

An estimated 126 million Americans, or 87% of the 145 million U.S. gamers age 10-65, play games on social networks or casual gaming dot-coms, according to research firm Newzoo. Online casual and social gaming reps 39% of the 215 million hours spent on gaming each day in the U.S. and 29% of the coin spent on gaming. Facebook dominates the social gaming space in the U.S. attracting 60% of gamers, 41% of the time spent gaming and 38% of the money spent on games.


And yeah, we’re playing, so send us your gifts and papaya patches or whatever it is—IF we get past that Sentinel armed only with a popgun, that is.

John Carter: the Final Trailer


 
Awesome.

Too little, too late?

Do not count out Andrew Stanton and Pixar!
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New John Carter clips try to pave the way

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With less than a month to the premiere of JOHN CARTER, Disney is releasing all kinds of new goodies, to try to explain why you should see this.

In “Canyon Escape” we see John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) using his Earthian leaping powers to escape from a canyon full of Tharks.

In Legacy, Kitsch, co-star Lynn Collins (Dejah Thoris) and director Andrew Stanton all try to explain why JOHN CARTER is the coolest thing ever—which is their way of acknowledging that most of the stuff in the trailer looks like stuff from George Lucas and James Cameron because George Lucas and James Cameron were hugely influenced by John Carter and ripped it off constantly for their own movies. Which is kinda what Stanton hints at.


In this brief feature for AMC theaters, Stanton explains that you should really go see this movie because he really loved the books.

Although none of these seem all that compelling as sales points…well, from what we’ve seen, this movie looks pretty kick-ass, with death-defying escapes and leaping and fighting and green guys.

Not yet shown: Alone among ALL FANTASY MOVIE SERIES we will learn that the monster race has FEMALES. That’s right. There are no female orcs or Stormtroopers, but there are female Tharks. Who always seem to have boobs even though they are oviparous. Oh well.

What the Gary Friedrich/Disney/Marvel case means for comics creators

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You can be sympathetic to Gary Friedrich’s current situation—older, broke and in bad health—while still being alarmed over all the issues his court case has raised. My own email and IMs are full of variant views on it. So let’s trace the evolution of this a bit.

STAGE ONE: As shown by Torsten’s post, the first reactions were pity and alarm. Pity for Friedrich’s situation—ordered to pay $17,000 to Marvel/Disney for all the money he made over the years selling Ghost Rider merchandise at shows, and enjoined from ever making any money off of the character again. Alarm for the chilling effect this could have on creators who sell art based on copyrighted characters.

The extension of this alarm was worry over whether this might open the door for Marvel/Disney to go nuclear on all the artists selling their prints and sketches of Marvel characters at shows.

STAGE TWO: While efforts to raise money for Friedrich have gone on to help him in his current situation, a new train of thought emerged from the station, this one carrying the payload that maybe Friedrich had brought this on himself, and Marvel/Disney had no choice but to lower the boom on his case. Ty Templeton has the best encapsulation of this viewpoint, so we’ll take the liberty of reprinting it in full so you can follow along:

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I’ve heard from several people who hold this viewpoint, and based on the source of these communiques, I’d guess that this is close to the line that Marvel itself is giving to edgy freelancers—not in an official capacity but perhaps in the confessional booth of the intimate editor-to-freelancer telechat. Some of this argument goes as follows:

When Friedrich sued Marvel, he stated in open court that he made his living off of Ghost Rider merchandise. This was such a blatant affront to Marvel’s trademark that they had no choice but to defend it, and as they would with any publisher who started publishing Ghost Rider comics without paying Marvel, they had to defend their trademark or risk losing it.

So, this argument goes, Marvel/Disney has no interest in patrolling Artist’s Alley and suing anyone who is selling a sketch for back pay. This is great news for Duval Stowers and Rob Granito alike, surely.

Along with these arguments there is also, as referenced in Templeton’s cartoon, a bit of a dig at Friedrich for the fact that he was selling Mike Ploog art without Ploog’s consent. And also the fact that Friedrich clearly CO-created Ghost Rider along with Roy Thomas and Ploog. By some accounts, it is Thomas, with his “Let’s update the old Night Rider character!” pitch who is the modern Ghost Rider’s true daddy. Thomas and Ploog don’t seem very concerned with the matter, publicly at least. But they both have had far more successful careers than Friedrich.

Before getting into whether the Marvel Trademark Gestapo is being armed and briefed as we speak, it should be pointed out that that there are two fairly reasonable courses of action here that should surprise no one:

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As an older creator in an industry with no safety net, Friedrich did what most people do, and traded on the most famous characters he created. If copyright is really going to be applied, good thing old Mart Nodell and his “I created Green Lantern” sign in AA isn’t here to see it. What Friedrich did has been standard practice since the dawn of the con.

By the same token, Marvel was only doing what they had to, legally. Setting aside the moral and ethical issues of what they owe Friedrich (and Ploog and Thomas), they had to enforce their trademark. And it is totally their right to do it, especially in a court case that is setting precedent. They couldn’t let it slide with some kind of “Only a Poor Old Man” clause.

STAGE THREE: OKAY, got all that? Now here are two posts you must read. First is Daniel Best’s roundup of misconceptions about the case, including lots of court documents and exhibits. For instance, the court did NOT ban Friedrich from saying he created Ghost Rider:

What this means is that Gary CAN say that he created Ghost Rider.  If you ask him to, he can sign your comic books, artwork, posters and prints – no problems.  Gary can also sell signed merchandise, but the merchandise has to be official Marvel licensed goods, bought at retail.  If Gary approaches an artist to draw images of Ghost Rider, has he has done in the past when he commissioned Arthur Suydam and Herb Trimpe to create original art which he then had made into prints, then he’ll be in breach of the court order (you can see the Trimpe images here).

Anyone interested in the case should read Best’s entire post. Go ahead. We’ll just drink our Aeropress coffee.

Okay, now to the Artist Alley Gestapo. On Facebook, Steve Bissette has posted thoughts from comments from Jean-Marc L’Officier, an agent/legal consultant who has had many official dealings with Disney over the years. Bissette has urged reprinting the entire post, and we’ll do just that:

ALERT, ALL COMICS CREATORS [Reposting, for a necessary (requested) edit; reposting all comments, too, after this main post. Apologies.]: With permission, I’m quoting key points my dear friend and own legal advisor/contract consultant (since 1992) Jean-Marc Lofficier raised on his posts to a Yahoo forum discussing Ty Templeton’s cartoon concerning the Gary Friedrich v Marvel judgment. Jean-Marc succinctly notes WHY this judgment has changed EVERYTHING for anyone who has worked for Marvel, or what this judgment changes (probably irrevocably) about the landscape for all concerned:

“…with all due respect to Ty, he’s talking (drawing?) out of his ass.

So to clarify again, here is what I thought is important to remember here:

1) This is the first time Marvel is using convention sales of copyrighted Marvel characters as a “weapon”. They are of course perfectly entitled to do so, legally speaking. But it does mean that, from now on, all of you here who draw sketches of Marvel characters for money at conventions or sell sketchbooks containing pictures of Marvel characters are on notice that you might be sued (usually for triple the amount you made) should Marvel decide to go after you.

My legal advice to you guys is simple: STOP and destroy all sketchbooks for sale with copyrighted materials in it. I’m serious. You’ve just been put on notice by this case.

[Note: In a followup comment to a question on the matter of selling sketches/sketchbooks at conventions featuring Marvel characters, Jean-Marc added:]

If Disney and/or Marvel have a policy to deal with that sort of business, I would encourage anyone planning to sell sketches, etc. to contact them and obtain a waiver or a permission of some kind under that program.

— [name withdrawn] is incorrect about one thing: Disney, if not Marvel, does have a full office staffed with para legals of young lawyers whose only job is to look for copyright/tm infringements and send C&D (cease & desist) letters. I have seen them. They don’t do it for the money or to be a pain the the ass, they do it based on the legal theory that if you don’t actively protect your (c)/tm, you run the risk of it being used against you as an affirmative defense in an infringement case.

Based on the GHOST RIDER case, it is, in my opinion, only a matter of time until Disney, now aware of the issue, sends one of their young attorneys with a stash of blank C&D letters at conventions and start handing them out to everyone selling Marvel sketches without authorization.

Receiving that letter will oblige you to hire a lawyer and even if Disney lets you off the hook (which they probably will), you might be out of a couple of grands by the time the process is over — or you run the risk of being stuck with a $15K bill if you fight them.

Again, I emphasize: this is sound business practice for Disney; NOT doing it entails risks far greater than doing it. They have gone after children’s nurseries before which had Mickey painted on their walls for the same exact legal reason. And that was far more time consuming and bad PR-wise that going after some comic book guys at artist’s alleys.

It is only a matter of time.

So if they have a waiver/permission program as Ivan says, join it; if not, stop.


[Back to Jean-Marc’s original, full post:]

2) Although there never was any serious dispute that Marvel owned whatever share of GR Gary Friedrich was claiming (personally, I’m not a mind reader but I think Friedrich was hoping for some kind of settlement), there remains two legal issues that Ty obviously didn’t grasp:

2.1) When Moebius drew his SILVER SURFER with Stan Lee, he got royalties and he was still getting them when Starwatcher split in 2000. You will note that modern-day WFH agreements spell out that the money you’re getting will be the sole compensation you will ever receive and you’re not entitled to anything else. It is spelled out because if it is not, courts are at liberty to interpret the contract and decide whether or not you should be getting something extra.

The back-of-the-check contract signed by Gary did transfer ownership of GR to Marvel, and the amount of that check was the consideration for publishing rights, but nowhere did it actually state (as it does today) that it was the ONLY consideration to which Gary might be entitled in the event of a film or a TV series. The Court could have easily decided that on the absence of that clause, Gary was owed something.

2.2.) There is a famous case about singer Peggy Lee who won her suit against Disney for their reuse of her songs in LADY & THE TRAMP on video, because that medium didn’t exist when she signed her original agreement with the Mouse, and contracts at that time didn’t specify the now standard “and other media to be invented in the future”. The Court chose to interpret that lack of specificity in favor of Peggy Lee. When Marvel sold the rights to GR to the studio which produced it, they likely sold the video, DVD and game rights. These media did not exist when Friedrich signed his back of the check contract which did not list any and all future media. Therefore, based on the Peggy Lee case, the Court could have found that Marvel didn’t own those rights, and therefore couldn’t resell them, or, as in the Peggy Lee case, simply that they owe the plaintiff some kind of percentage, that’s all.

So it remains my contention that Marvel owes “something” to Friedrich (and Ploog as well) based not on the publishing, but purely on the disposition of the multimedia rights to GR. That the Judge decided otherwise is a tough break for creators, and unjust.

3) Which brings me to my next point, which is that documentary standards are being unfairly applied throughout the judicial system, and somehow mistakes always seem to favor the corporations, not the small guy. The enforceability of a contract depends on accurate documentation which must be produced in Court. If you have a mortgage, but the bank cannot produce your properly signed promissory note, then the court has the possibility of nullifying your mortgage. It’s happened in a few rare cases, but more often than not, people have been thrown out of their homes despite banks being unable to produce a properly signed note.

In this case, has any of you seen the back of the check signed by Friedrich?

Was that check properly endorsed? Was there anything crossed out? Why should mistakes in documentation automatically benefit the corporations, and the little guy should be held to standards of evidence that the companies themselves don’t respect? Why did the Judge assume that the paperwork was in order & automatically benefited Marvel? What I’m saying is, if people can lose their homes despite proper paperwork, well, then, Marvel could lose GR despite its paperwork. It’s up to the Court.

So whether or not you feel any sympathy for Gary and his cause, this is another loss for the Little Guy which, in the greater scheme of things, impacts all of us.”

SPREAD THE WORD. SPREAD THIS LINK.

And QUIT doing, creating, selling ANY sketches or sketchbooks or prints featuring Marvel/Disney characters, IMMEDIATELY. And let fans know WHY you are no longer doing them, and/or CANNOT do them ever again.

So there you have it, gentle, friendly checkbook-wielding Marvel assuring its freelancers they aren’t coming after anyone, along with the fairly inarguable fact that they now have a legal precedent that sets the stage just for that.

So what to do?

My own personal takeaways:

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Art by Manon Yapari

1: The potential for Marvel and even Disney to have a black eye over all this is huge. The stories of Siegel and Shuster and, increasingly, Kirby are well known enough that the idea of a poor older creator being stripped of some kind of morally decent stipend for the multimillion-dollar exploitation of his or her work isn’t hard to swallow. While Marvel and Disney have kept a hard line on this—because as a corporation, they have to—I would say that with the internet and all, now is the time to complain and complain loudly. Boycotts, protests, more. Warners didn’t HAVE to give Siegel and Shuster that stipend back when the first Superman movie came out; but the executives at the time knew that they were losing the PR battle. The idea of Nicolas Cage riding up on his chopper and giving Gary Friedrich a check for a few thousand dollars would be worth an entire year’s PR budget.

2: To be on the safe side, you should do as Jean-Marc suggests; my own guess is that Marvel is not going to sink any money into forming a Gestapo/Clone Army right now. I doubt Disney is that interested, either—Deviant Art is proof of that. However, as J-M says, down the road, as Marvel becomes more and more a division of Disney and less its own thing, they might be more inclined to take down more flagrant violators.

Even now you can walk through Artist Alley and see kids selling their manga sketches of Jasmine and Belle. Disney hasn’t stopped them. Yet. So there is some “Don’t ask, don’t tell” in all this.

3: Do comics artists of the world have one more thing to worry about? Without questions, yes.

Disney XD rolls out Marvel Universe programming block in April


From the moment Disney purchased Marvel, people were drawing a line between their Disney XD channel — an attempt to lure more of the lucrative audience of young boys — and the Marvel characters. Marvel animation has been running non-stop on the cable channel ever since, but in April, the Marvel Universe programming block will roll out with the new Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon as the tentpole. Produced by Man of Action — Joe Casey, Joe Kelly, Duncan Rouleau and Steven Seagle—the creators behind Ben 10 and Generator Rex, with input from Jeph Loeb, Joe Quesada, and Brian Michael Bendis, the show does not lack for comic book bonafides.

Plus, it’s got JK Simmons reprising his lifetime role as J. Jonah Jameson. Soundboard that.

Marvel Universe debuts on Sunday, April 1. Other programming in the block will include the return of “The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes,” and new short-form animation series and live-action interstitials.

THIS is what Disney paid $4 billion for.

Disney XD will launch Marvel Universe, a dedicated Marvel programming block, with the new series “Ultimate Spider-Man” as its centerpiece, on SUNDAY, APRIL 1, it was announced today by Gary Marsh, President and Chief Creative Officer, Disney Channels Worldwide at the Television Critics Association Press Tour in Pasadena, California. Marvel Universe on Disney XD will be the ultimate place for fans to find exclusive Marvel content, including new animated short-form series, live-action interstitials and the series return of “The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.”  The block will be home to Marvel’s biggest superstars, such as Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Captain America and many more to introduce dynamic stories of action, adventure and heroism to a whole new generation.    
 
Marsh said, “Iconic Marvel heroes and villains and stories with core values of accomplishment, discovery and growth make Marvel Universe a perfect complement to Disney XD and a destination for parents and kids to experience together.” 
 
“Marvel Universe block is an incredible animated ride filled with fantastic action and adventure,” said Jeph Loeb, Head of Marvel Television. “The spectacular team of writers and animators capture stories with all the dynamic fun you can imagine. Disney XD is the perfect place for families and Marvel fans of all ages to come together every Sunday.”
 
Acting as the keystone of the Marvel Universe block, “Ultimate Spider-Man” features a teenage Peter Parker juggling the typical growing pains of high-school with the not-so-typical growing pains of being a Super Hero.  As the newest member of Nick Fury’s S.H.I.E.L.D. organization, Peter finds himself on a team with four other teenage Super Heroes. 
 
Produced by Marvel Animation, the series’ award-winning creative team includes Joe Quesada (Marvel’s CCO), Paul Dini (“Batman: The Animated Series,” “Lost”), the creative powerhouse Man of Action Studios (creators of “Ben 10″ and “Generator Rex”), comprised of lauded creators Joe Casey, Joe Kelly, Duncan Rouleau and Steven T. Seagle; and Brian Michael Bendis (visionary behind Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man comic series).
                                                                            
The voice cast includes Drake Bell (“Superhero,” “Drake & Josh”) as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Chi McBride (“Boston Public,” “Pushing Daisies”) as Nick Fury, JK Simmons (“Spider-Man”) as J. Jonah Jameson, Stan Lee (“Spider-Man”) as Stan the Janitor, Clark Gregg (“Iron Man”, “Thor,” “The Avengers”) as Agent Coulson and Steven Weber (“Wings”) as Norman Osborn.

DC's Rood Talks About Digital Sales

By Todd Allen

Over at CBR, Kiel Phigley had a chat with John Rood, DC’s Executive VP-Sales, Marketing and Business Development, about DC’s digital sales and it’s worth taking a closer look at.

The biggest question, which is still utterly unanswered, is how many copies these digital comics are selling.  The second biggest question is where these sales are coming from and Rood does get into that, just a little:

Yeah, anecdotally there’s every type of digital reader under the sun. There are folks who bought plenty of physical product that week but also wanted it digitally because of their media consumption habits. Then there are folks who don’t know where their local comic shop is. So our consumers run the gamut. What I expected to find in our primary research through Neilsen NRG was some staggering difference in terms of demography or age or history in the comics category or the genre, but I haven’t seen anything like that that’s jumped out. We’ll be sharing more specifics with the retailers at the ComicsPRO convention on February 9, but there won’t be anything shocking. It’ll be, “Hey look, there’s a measure of physical traffic to the stores that is current plus new plus lapsed readers, and then there’s a measure of self-reported readership from our digital resources that is a balance of current, new and lapsed.”

I still am delighted that this is a genre — and I trust other publishers are equally delighted — where we’re not talking about cannibalizing [the core business]. We’re not talking about one platform being a replacement for the other. Who else in print can say that? Not “Businessweek” or “The Washington Post.” No one else can say that the addition of a new medium or platform or consumption behavior has been additive to your business

To a lot of people, that’s going to be a “duh,” followed by a “that’s because the Direct Market has a smaller footprint than the newsstand.”  But, there seem to be a fair amount of Direct Market people that need to hear that.

The next biggest question is what’s selling?  Rood does a little bit of a soft shoe routine on this:

But consistency is the right word — especially consistency in the digital end. There has been no shake up of numbers when you look at the percentage of physical sales by title. So if something is selling 6% of its physical sales digitally for issues #1 and 2, then it’s about 6% in issues #3 and 4. And if another title has been selling at 16% of print sales in the early titles, the latter titles have stayed at the same level. So there’s been no fluctuation. And the fact is that the makeup is largely the same and the performances you’ve seen in the data provided is largely the same in digital as it is in physical, yet we know from both anecdotal and primary research that this is a different audience. It suggests that the people might be different [for digital and print] but their tastes and their demos are largely the same.

Please note, he’s not saying that number of digital copies sold is proportional to print across the board.  He’s saying change in digital sales from month to month is consistent with the change in print orders from month to month (with the assumption that the change in orders reflects the change in retail sales).  This suggests that the digital audience decides they don’t like a title and drop it or hear buzz and start picking up a new book in much the same way the print audience does.  It also lends some credence to the theory that you have one audience, it’s just that some of that audience prefers a different reading format.

As to what’s selling, here’s the Top 10 List:

  1. Justice League #1
  2. Batman #1
  3. Detective Comics #1
  4. Action Comics #1
  5. JusticeLeague #2
  6. Batman #2
  7. Detective Comics #2
  8. Justice League #3
  9. Action Comics #2
  10. Superman #1

Rood does mention that people do tend to go to brands they recognize, like Superman and Batman, but this list is interesting.  By giving us the top 10 for the first 3 months, it masks how different things look for the line as a whole.  Justice League looks to be the digital bestseller by a significant margin, the third issue’s sales lapping the second issue of Action Comics.  Detective Comics, one of the pleasant surprises of the relaunch, is even more popular (relatively speaking) in digital.  Superman #1 also pops up higher than you’d expect it, though you imagine it’s having sales drops in proportion to its less well-received print counterpart.  What are we not seeing here?  Green Lantern and Flash.  Green Lantern, in particular, had print orders a lot higher than Detective Comics and Superman, but Green Lantern #1 didn’t crack the top 10.

Now, if we go by familiar brands, Justice League had a popular cartoon and has all the DC mainstays in it.  Batman has had MUCH better films than Superman has of late… and more cartoons.  Use that logic and the sales fragments make perfect sense.  The “new” readers and perhaps some of the lapsed ones are most likely to go with the familiar.  It’s why Transformers is one of the largest franchises in digital comics.

It would be interesting to see where a few books like Batwing and I… Vampire fall in the digital rankings.  Books that aren’t on the top of the print heat that might inspire some more mainstream curiosity.  Normally, I’d be curious how the science fiction branded comics would be doing in digital, but DC doesn’t have a designated “cosmic” wing like Marvel does.  Green Lantern is probably the closest to that corner, but it’s pretty firmly branded as plain old superhero in the eyes of the mass audience.

Finally, Rood talks a little about anticipating “digital collections,” which is to say, “digital tpbs.”  He’s right in that it’s WAY too early to get a handle on how the Amazon Fire collections will do, but the mass audience has traditionally liked to get their comics in book form, not serial.  With serial format now more easily available to the digital reading audience, we’re about a year away from being able to better evaluate what the serial vs. collection patterns of the digital audience are.

JOHN CARTER trailer in full

Led Zeppelin: check
Avatar references: check
300 references: check
Vast CGI alien crowd scenes: check
Insane shots of Helium flyer fleet: Check.

Sad that the dismal failure of MARS NEEDS MOMS means that the word Mars cannot be uttered anywhere near the trailer.

I need my gheks and kaldanes!

Seven new John Carter pics include giant white ape

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JOHN CARTER is coming in March, and several stills have just been released. From EW, there’s a picture of John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) fighting a giant white ape. Director Andrew Stanton told EW:

“They were always cool, just from a visceral standpoint, [but] they don’t really have a narrative function in the first book. So what we did is we made the White Apes a formidable creature that you kind of hear about throughout the movie, but you never really witness. There’s a subtle sense of anticipation for what these things might be like. Then Michael Kutsche — who did a lot of the designs on [the Johnny Depp movie] Alice in Wonderland – came up with this design on his own, for just their scale. He made them nocturnal, almost like moles — they stopped using their eyes, and just had a heightened sense of smell. We just love that. We needed a scene where Carter was going have to get out of his execution sentence in order to move the story forward, and we thought what better than having to go up against this formidable creature?”


While that looks pretty swell, so do six more stillsreleased, revealing Woola, Tars Tarkas, and a very clothed Dejah Thoris. Well, this is a Disney movie.

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Disney's very female-friendly take on Marvel

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One of the major — if not THE major — reasons that Disney purchased Marvel two years ago for $4 billion was that the House of Ideas supplied a ready-made audience of material aimed at boys under 18 — the one quadrant Disney has always had the toughest time reaching. Disney does princesses and Pooh great, but they had to create a whole cable network that could be specifically branded for boys — Disney XD, which already airs various Marvel cartoons.

So this look at just how Disney has used the Marvel universe by Mike Gold is quite interesting as he points out that Marvel TV shows in development at Disney include the Hulk, AKA Jessica Jones (ALIAS), Cloak and Dagger, and a possible Miley Cyrus vehicle based on Mockingbird:

Step back a pace and take a look at what’s going on here.

Most of these shows are built around female superheroes. As headliners, such characters are anathema to motion picture studios. But Disney is betting heavy, heavy bucks that the distaff side will draw a sufficient audience to warrant the investment.

That’s pretty cool – and very risky. Women heroes haven’t fared much better on the small screen: Nikita was renewed by the skin of her teeth, The Bionic Woman revival flamed out, as did Charlie’s Angels redux. David E. Kelley’s Wonder Woman didn’t make it past the pilot stage. Yet Disney is developing no less than three Marvel shows built around women.


Although Marvel’s movie slate is totally boytastic, it does seem that the small screen offerings are fitting into the Closer/Medium/Damages/Prime suspect vibe: women solving crimes and kicking butt. The small screen has long been much friendlier to female protagonists and Disney/Marvel can’t help but have noticed that.

It also fits into some theories from the time of the sale that felt that Disney would revert to type and make even Marvel’s world of superheroes way more girl-friendly than you ever thought it could be. X-23, where you be?

24 Hours of Halloween: Chernabog

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Must survive until daybreak!

Disney and Marvel team up with PREP & LANDING

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When DIsney bought Marvel, the idea of them teaming up for “Mouserine” was the topic of laughs. but now such things are actually happening, with the cartoon character Prep & Landing entering The Avengers, Spider-Man and Marvel Super Heroes comics. Actually, it’s just an INSERT story about the tooners trying to prepare for Santa, not an actual, coninuity-shattering crossover, but it does show that these titles are super kid-friendly. Even John Lasseter approves of this mingling.

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This November, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Emmy Award-winning Prep & Landing enters the world of the Avengers, Marvel’s most popular super heroes, in an all-new comic book adventure. Certainly Santa doesn’t just visit the ordinary citizens of the world – even super heroes should have a shot at making it onto the “nice” list. Join Wayne and Lanny, members of an elite unit of elves who prepare homes for Santa’s arrival on Christmas Eve, in their not-so-ordinary task of preparing the Avengers Headquarters for the “Big Guy’s” arrival.  The significance of readying the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes for a visit from Santa is lost on his stealthiest elves – for them, it’s just another night on the greatest job ever.
 
 “I love Prep and Landing. I love the whole concept of Santa having these high-tech, stealth, elf squadrons that help him get each house prepared for Christmas,” commented John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios. “It’s already so much fun combining this super secret spy world mixed in with the North Pole, and then to add the Avengers into the mix – spies, Christmas and comics – three of my favorite things!”
 
This all new Prep & Landing story, from writer Kevin Deters & artist Joe Mateo will be available exclusively in the following November on-sale comics: 
 
·        Avengers #19
·        Super-Heroes #20
·        Spider-Man #20 

“We’re all big fans of Prep & Landing, so bringing them into the Marvel Universe was a no-brainer,” said Axel Alonso, Marvel Editor in Chief. “I just hope that Lanny and Wayne have an easier time at my house this year than they do at the Avengers’ Mansion!”
 
And don’t miss Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice, a full-length special premiering on ABC this Christmas! Wayne and Lanny find themselves up to their pointy ears in trouble, as they race to recover classified North Pole technology… which has fallen into the hands of a computer-hacking Naughty Kid! Now they must turn to a Coal Elf named Noel in order to prevent Christmas from falling into chaos. You can bring home the original Prep & Landing when it releases on DVD this November 22. 
 
This winter, the team of Prep & Landing enter the world of the Avengers—’Nuff said!
 
AVENGERS #19 (SEP110506) 
Written by BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS 
Pencils & Cover by DANIEL ACUÑA
 Rated T …$3.99 
FOC—10/24/11, On-Sale—11/16/11
 
SUPER HEROES #20 (SEP110572)
 Written by JEFF PARKER
 Penciled by MANUEL GARCIA 
All Ages …$2.9 9
FOC—10/24/11, On-Sale—11/16/11
 
SPIDER-MAN #20 (SEP110571)
 Written by PAUL TOBIN
 Penciled by MATTEO LOLLI & ROB DiSALVO
 Cover by ALE GARZA 
All Ages …$2.99
 FOC—10/31/11, On-Sale—11/23/11

Disney fires Marvel’s West Coast marketing department

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The entire West Coast marketing department for Marvel has recently been let go, Nikki Finke reports, including Dana Precious, EVP of Worldwide Marketing for Marvel’s LA Studios; Jeffrey Stewart, VP of Worldwide Marketing; and Jodi Miller, Manager of Worldwide Marketing.

The official line on why Marvel’s marketing team was let go is that Disney will be taking over that function and handling the releases of The Avengers and future Marvel movies themselves. In fact I’ve learned that Marvel will bring in someone in a “project management role”. But Kevin Feige’s continued supervision of all things Marvel should resolve any doubts by fanboys that Disney will screw around or screw up the comic book films. Insiders tell me that Precious and her team were not well-loved by Marvel bigwig Feige and other top execs at Marvel or by Disney and Paramount. (Some of the comments I heard today included: “Not up to or have the skill set to release this brand properly”… “Their job was to keep track of the people doing the real work”… “Paper pushers”… ”Would it have killed them to return an email?”… “Disney doesn’t need someone to cut its trailers”…)


Despite the lurid headline, this doesn’t seem to have affected the comics marketing team. The reasons being floated are as a cost-cutting measure — Disney is on a renewed thrift campaign, following some disappointing earnings, and recently canceled the costly Lone Ranger remake.

We’re not savvy enough on the West Coast operations of Marvel to know what was behind this, but it’s fairly safe to say that Disney cares much more about Marvel Studios than Marvel Comics. Implementation of the Disney-Marvel relationship has been an odd one — on the one side, you have a corporate juggernaut who wants to reach the boy market for toys and toons. On the other you have a company that is very much still led by chairman Ike Perlmutter, who, by some accounts, is Disney’s second biggest shareholder after Steve Jobs. Marvel Studios is known for knowing the value of a penny — something Disney also knows. But whereas Disney has controlling costs down to an art, Perlmutter has it down to a science. The relationship is still evolving.

One thing that should be noted: Precious and her team had only been at Marvel for a year. Several people have filled the marketing spot in recent years, so it was always a hot spot.