Mike Gold: Will There Always Be Superman Comics?
Over a decade ago the head of what was then called Tribune Media Services told me that as far as the producer of the Little Orphan Annie musicals was concerned, he did not need the comic strip around in order to keep his Annie franchise successful. I responded, “Well, somebody’s figured out what Disney’s been up to.”
Walt Disney used to say that he always reminded people that the whole thing started out with a mouse. And to this very day – the 85th anniversary of the first Mickey Mouse cartoon was last Monday – Mickey has remained the (usually silent) Disney spokesmouse. So… riddle me this, Mousemen. Outside of a few direct-to-DVDs and a couple teevee shots, how many Mickey Mouse cartoons were made in the past 60 years?
There was not a single Mickey Mouse cartoon produced between 1953 and 1983. There’s been maybe four true Mickey cartoons produced since then, plus the short-lived House of Mouse show, some video games and a few cameos.
And tons of merchandising which, obviously, was not dependent upon the character’s presence on the large or the small screen.
Two of the biggest superhero characters of the 1930s through 1950s were The Shadow and The Lone Ranger. Both remain icons, but neither are vital forces in our cultural marketplace – despite what seems to have been a contest to see who could produce the worst Lone Ranger feature film. If this were, say, 1940, I suspect most people would say these guys would remain strong in one form or another for a long, long time. In The Shadow’s case, that would be until his radio show was cancelled on December 26, 1954. The Lone Ranger lasted on teevee until September 12, 1957; there was an animated series that ran for 28 episodes in the mid-60s.
So, I ask you: as a comic book, how long will Superman last? Or Spider-Man, or Batman, or the X-Men… you get the idea. In the 1940s, Superman was successful in comic books but even more successful as a radio series and a newspaper comic strip. The comic books were kept alive by the success of the Superman television series in the 1950s. National Periodical Publications, predecessor to DC Comics, didn’t need comic books to make a profit. In fact, if they didn’t own their own distribution network they might have canned the print operation when sales plummeted during the mid-50s.
Warner Bros. (DC comics) and Disney (Marvel comics) do not need the comic books in order to sell merchandising and produce movies and television shows, although producing good movies and teevee shows is always challenging.
The good folks at DC’s New York City office – including the vast majority of their editorial departments – have but a few more weeks to decide if they are going to move to Los Angeles in the spring of 2015. It’s a tough decision.
As a member of DC’s historical family, indulge me as I offer this piece of advise. If you want to move to Los Angeles, do so. But as soon as you get there, keep an eye out for other jobs. Warner Bros. and Disney do not need to publish comic books in order to keep their stockholders happy.
Just don’t tell them so.
THURSDAY MORNING: Dennis O’Neil
THURSDAY AFTERNOONL The Tweeks!