Over on his blog, Jeff Smith recently announced some impressive sales figures for Scholastic’s BONE reprints:
I received some astonishing sales figures from Scholastic – – the paperback edition of BONE 6: Old Man’s Cave, which just shipped last month, is in its third printing for a total of 260,000 copies! The combined hard cover & paperback sales for the series to date: nearly 2,000,000.
An imposing figure to be sure, but not one that surprises me. Kids like comics. Kids like fantasy. When both are done as superlatively as BONE, success should be sure to follow.
I learned that back in the day when I worked at Disney Adventures magazine, where Bone was serialized for about a year. I’ve often been given credit for reprinting BONE in the pages of DA, but to be honest, it was Marv Wolfman’s idea at first. After Marv left, I picked up the mantle, and continued the color reprints. There was even an all-new 8 page Bone story whose reprint history I’m sadly unaware of.
DA’s recent demise gave me (and many others) pause for thought. DA started back in the early 90s. It was the idea of Michael Lynton (who now runs Sony Pictures). Hyperion Books was also his idea — some how or other Lynton introduced Disney to the idea of publishing non-Disney books and magazines, and also comics. (The brief career of Disney Comics was also Lynton’s idea.)
Dutch-born Lynton was a comics reader as most Euro kids were. DA was supposed to be the American version of European mags like Topolino — magazines which are incredibly popular in Europe. DA was pretty popular here, eventually — its final circ was in the neighborhood of 1 million, a healthy number, but the slide in magazine advertising claimed it as a victim — even when I was there, the idea of print advertising to kids was a very hard sell.
Marv Wolfman has his own DA obit here. Comics were always part of the DA mix, although the regular print side of the magazine had a sometimes uneasy relationship with the comics section over the years. Originally, the magazine was meant to tie-in to the “Disney Afternoon”, a block of cartoons which included, at the start, Duck Tales, TaleSpin and Rescue Rangers. Darkwing Duck joined after a while, then Aladdin, Timon & Pumbaa and a bunch of things I’ve forgotten. I came on as Marv’s assistant in 1991, about a year into the magazine’s existence. Marv and I sat in a small office on the 29th floor of the Burbank Tower with an incredible view of Warner Bros. studios and Universal — every two hours we could see smoke rising from the stunt show at Universal.
When DA moved East in ’94, Marv left and I was given reign over the comics section, where I stayed until I went to DC to edit their kids comics line in ’99. It was a fun job while it lasted — when I worked in Burbank, I got to meet with all the folks behind stuff from Dinosaurs to Gargoyles to Recess, as well as directors and animators, from Don Hahn and Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale and Tad Stones to Glenn Keane and Andreas Deja. These kinds of meetings — getting to ask people how they did what they did in order to translate something like Pocahontas into 8 page comics — were about the best education anyone could ever have in how a story/franchise is put together. It was in general a very successful time for Disney, and the level of craft and art that was put into the animated projects was incredible. Of course, there are some things of which we do not speak, like Goof Troop and (GAH!) The Mighty Ducks.
The magazine side was also a great learning experience for me, especially after we moved our offices to New York. I was lucky enough to work with an amazingly talented and creative bunch of people who never took the first idea as good enough — they had to be polished and refined until they were as good as they could possibly be. This kind of creative environment is sadly rare (in my experience anyway) and I often look back at it fondly.
Although the other editors on the magazine didn’t like to talk about it, the most consistently popular parts of the magazine in focus group after focus group, were the comics and the puzzles. (The entertainment section was also very popular, but kids didn’t perceive it as a section as clearly as they did with puzzles and comics.) BONE always tested very very well, and considering the fact that it didn’t have a TV show or a movie behind it, it showed me that children would respond to a comic that was well done even without a media tie-in.
I learned a lot of things at DA that I formed the philosophy I have carried throughout my career. The fan letters to the comics section were divided equally among girls and boys, for one thing, and girls were just as well represented among the kids who sent in their own art and comics. Even in the 90s, there was a bit of a manga-ish tinge to the art. All of this means that the manga boom — and prevalence of female American manga-ka — shouldn’t surprise anyone who was paying attention. It was this clear demographic evidence that inspired me to get Friends of Lulu started — I always knew the female comics market would be the next frontier for comics, following the market implosions of the 90s.
As the one-time friendly face of the popular Comic Zone section (Suzanne Harper, our then editor didn’t want to call it Comics Zone, which I preferred) I occasionally run into 20-somethings who tell me they grew up reading the magazine. I knew then that this was in my future, so it comes as no shock. In fact, it pleases me no end to think that something I helped work on gave kids the same kind of nostalgic feeling as the comics I read as a kid.
After I left, Steve Behling took over the comics section, and he took the comics to greater heights than ever — under his regime, DA started publishing stand alone comics special, a dream which I was never able to bring to fruition. There’s one on the supermarket checkout stands right now, and flipping through it just yesterday, I saw a bunch of cute comics, Matt Feazell and a reprint of a Black Hole adaptation by Jack Kirby. (I’d be curious to know if there was any marketing research to back up the inclusion of THAT one aside from Kirby fans on staff!) I didn’t pick it up, but next time I go to get some milk and bread, I think I’ll buy it for old times sake.
DA was, I think, a fairly important bridge in the survival of children’s comics in America. That such a thing is even threatened sounds stupid, but Marvel and DC had limited resources for such things until recently. I think kids non-manga comics are poised for a HUGE comeback in America (more on that later) and I’m proud that DA carried the torch for so long.
I have tons of fond memories of DA — interviewing William Shatner, Adam West, Patrick Stewart, Pierce Brosnan and Jackie Chan, for instance. Writing a few comics, including one which starred Weird Al Yankovic. I’m also very very proud of the wonderful art and editorial assistants I had over the years who have all gone on to much much bigger and better things: Miranda Purves, now a senior editor at Elle, rock goddess Jula Bell, Gregory Benton, Chris Nieratko, Cliff Chiang, Ursula Osteen, Jason Little and John Green, who outlasted me by 9 years or so. I hope I haven’t forgotten anyone, although I probably have.
Just to wrap this up, here are some more eulogies and remembrances of DA’s past. It was a good run, I think.
Every panel I’ve ever been on about the future of comics has included the wish-dream that our form would reach out to younger readers and find new methods of distribution apart from the traditional funnybook racks. Well, Disney Adventures connected with younger readers and achieved a superior market penetration. The problem was not that you couldn’t find it. It was easily available at supermarket checkout stands, right next to the National Enquirer and the Altoids. When TV Guide got away from its old digest format, Disney Adventures picked up a lot of those spots, as well. The problem was that advertisers didn’t see it as a dandy place to advertise. Even with a million-plus circulation — numbers that any comic book publisher today would kill for — the people behind Disney Adventures couldn’t make the math work.
We’ve been asked to create one last piece for the final issue, something that ties together the end of the magazine with its beginning. It’s an incredible honor, and a rare opportunity to attain closure in a situation such as this. Looking at the blank page, and knowing that it will soon contain the last Disney Adventures story we will ever produce, is sobering.
And with the news of Disney Adventures being cancelled, it’s kind of anti-climatic for me now to mention that there were plans for us to run a series of new Jellaby short stories in Disney Adventures to coincide with the release of the first Jellaby graphic novel. I had completed the first story that was scheduled to be published in the December/January issue of DA (the last issue of DA to be published will be the November issue — nuts!), and another story that’s almost finished (I was actually working on that one last night).
I’m sad to see Disney Adventures end. I have very fond memories of meeting some of the fans of the Jet Pack Pets at the San Diego Convention four years ago. The fans were mostly girls in their ‘tweens, a demographic most of my fellow comic-book compatriots swear doesn’t exist, but I’ve seen ’em, and they read the Pets.