Tagged: Mickey Mouse

Mike Gold: How Are You Getting Your Marvel Stories?

In this very space last week, I suggested there was a reason Marvel’s sales are off that is in addition to the negative reader reaction to such events as Civil War 2 and Secret Empire.

Let’s spread some numbers around. Buying into these mega-events is expensive. Each consists of dozens and dozens of comics — mini-series, tie-ins, one-shots, and so on. Each event takes about 50 or 60 hours to read in their entirety. The post-event comics come out after that, and you might be compelled to check out a few of the ongoing titles where the event changed the characters therein, although Marvel usually abandons those changes around the time the next relevant movie comes out. That’s more money and more time.

The whole thing takes the better part of a year to unfold; longer, as these days each Marvel event tends to segue into the next. You’ve got to work hard and spend a lot of money to complete a satisfying story, even if – as in the case for many with Civil War 2 and Secret Empire, you didn’t find the story all that satisfying.

However, for roughly the price of three individual comic books you can buy a ticket to the latest Marvel movie and get what is usually a satisfying experience — and your friends can join you in that experience. Of course, one should add the cost of an overpriced box of Snow Caps or some such to the tab.

You can watch as many Marvel teevee shows as you can absorb, and many of them are quite entertaining. Or if you want, you can wheel a cooler filled with snacks and drinks into your bathroom, bring in a tablet or a laptop computer, and stream an entire season of one of Marvel’s many, many Netflix series. As long as nobody else needs that toilet, you’re in superhero heaven with a story complete with a beginning, a middle and an end. I, for one, found the recent Marvel’s The Defenders to be very entertaining. Your opinion might differ, but it really shouldn’t.

If you’re already a Netflix subscriber, it’s free. If not, well one month of Netflix costs a hell of a lot less than one week’s worth of the current Mighty Marvel Event and you get enough other Netflix shows and movies to fill the Pacific Ocean. You will spend less time, energy and money following your favorite Marvel media madness than plowing your way through a pile of event comics that are mediocre at best.

So, I ask you this: even this particular competitive environment… who needs to buy all those comic books? And maybe that’s okay by Marvel’s owner, the Mickey Mouse corporation. They understand how to make and how to market movies and video. This comic book stuff goes against everything the bean-counters learned in MBA school – as far as those suits are concerned, everybody in the comics racket talks like Bizarro Number One.

Indeed, the profit of Marvel’s new comic book output for an entire year is dwarfed by the profit from the last Avengers-themed motion picture alone — even if those publishing profits had somehow mysteriously doubled.

I’m not suggesting Disney might not want to publish new comics, but as a return on investment, those resources might be more profitably allocated to the media side.

Shhhh! Don’t tell the Mouse! He can be a real rat, and rats don’t eat staples.

Many wags think someday Mr. and Ms. Consumer will shout enough is enough and demand superhero shows be replaced by… I dunno, maybe westerns or something equally trendy. I’m sure we won’t be seeing half-billion-dollar cape flicks in the theater with the near-monthly frequency we’re seeing now, but who knows? We’ve always had superhero movies and superhero stories, from the Scarlet Pimpernel to Sherlock Holmes to Zorro to Tarzan. The only question is quantity.

Does Disney care? Well, they’ll say they do, but they own all those Disney properties which, these days, includes the Marvel characters, the Star Wars empire, the Muppets, and Pixar. It’s not like they won’t have anything to whenever the superhero trend fades a bit.

Disney did not do much in the way of original Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck cartoons for several decades, and they don’t do all that much with them today. Yet they continue to sell a lot of Mouse and Duck product of all sorts. They do not need to publish Marvel comic books in order to keep Captain America and Groot in the public mind.

Mike Gold, Mickey Mouse, and Ren & Stimpy’s DNA

Mickey Toon

Listen up. I’m going to tell you a horrible, horrible secret. And it’s about me!

I really don’t care for most Disney animation. The earliest black and white stuff is fun, and there are a few shorts here and there that I enjoy. The features? Not as many. Alice in Wonderland… that’s about it. As Craig Ferguson might ask, “how long have you been in ISIS?”

Floyd-Gottfredsons-Mickey-Mouse-1930Disney comics is a totally different thing. Every time I’m forced to list my all-time favorite comics creators, Floyd Gotfriedson and Carl Barks are always on that list. Gotfriedson’s Mickey Mouse newspaper strip brought depth and characterization to the popular rodent. His adventures were truly adventures, full of wit and charm, brilliant craftsmanship, on-the-button pacing, and heart. Lucky for us, our pals at Fantagraphics have been reprinting them in brilliant hardcover editions.

Carl Barks was the master behind Disney’s Donald Duck family of comics, published by Dell and later Gold Key. You’ve probably heard of him: he’s one of the very, very few Disney comics creators who’s adapted work was screen-credited, in Duck Tales. Unca Carl created Uncle Scrooge, the Beagle Boys, Magica De Spell, and a great many other pillars of the Disneyverse. His comics are that good; even better. You will often hear geriatric baby boomers mentioning Barks in the same breath as Will Eisner and Jack Kirby. Here, too, Fantagraphics been reprinting them in brilliant hardcover editions.

But three years ago, my animation preferences expanded to include some work produced by the current Disney studio. I haven’t opened my heart to more of the “original” material; I’m enjoying the new series of Mouse cartoons (featuring the entire Disney-toon cast), available on the appropriate Disney cable channels – excluding ESPN – and on sundry Disney apps for smartphones, tablets, AppleTV… they made it really easy for me to find this stuff.

donald-p3And who do we have to thank for it?

I’d say Ren and Stimpy.

These shorts, which average a paltry 210 seconds, have damn near everything the classics do not: they are anarchistic, irreverent, self-parodying, and wacky as shit. In other words, they’re entertaining – even to a guy un-American enough to not worship about a half century of Disney animated output. The style, also reminiscent of Ren and Stimpy (and even more reminiscent of small budgets and short deadlines), works perfectly for the pacing.

Of course this material won’t replace those I consider to be the masters of animation such as Bob Clampett, Tex Avery, and the Fleischer family. Cartoons aren’t profitable enough to warrant such budgets. But after more than two decades of soulless mainframe computer hyper-modeled “3-D” crap, these new Disney shorts are a breath of fresh air. Damn near all of them. And there’s a lot out there, too.

Give a few a test-drive. Like I said, each takes about three-and-one-half minutes out of your life.

And, because I now like some Disney animation, there’s one less reason to send me to Gitmo.

Michael Davis: New Rules For Comics

I love comics.

God help me I love the comics industry even more. My reason for this foolishness? The comics industry is full of really wonderful, wonderful (YEP TWICE) people. On the flipside, if you’ve met me you’re aware more than a few assholes stalk the floor at Comic Con.

I know it’s hard to believe but there are people in the industry who think I’m an asshole. I’m not the kind of person to label others because they label me. I’m above all that high school crap. I refuse to create falsehoods in response to falsehoods created about me. I deal in facts, people, and it’s a fact the people who think I’m an asshole fall into one of three categories: (more…)

Mike Gold: The Watch’s Comics Roots

Wrist RadioTime for a bit of a comics history lesson… but first, a word from our sponsor.

Monday Apple revealed its latest toy, the Watch. Like most Apple products, it looks pretty cool but seems overpriced, and like most Apple products, once you look at what you’re getting it’s not really overpriced, just expensive. That’s true with the Watch, but I’ll admit it’s doubtful I’ll buy the first generation version.

Apple WatchThis is because for the past many decades my watch choice decisions were limited to “Timex” and “Swatch.” So $350 – or, more likely, $700 for the version I deem best for me – is a lot of money. But there are no shortage of watches with such a price tag: Movado, Breitling, Panerai, Invicta, the $600,000 de Grisogono Meccanico dG S25D… and the most recent and the one with the best name – Shinola.

No shit folks: a Shinola watch runs about $850, give or take a couple hundred depending on the model. Their high-end watch runs $1,500 – maybe more; that’s the best offered at the Shinola shop in Manhattan’s Chelsea district when I was there a couple weeks ago (to buy shoe polish). But I digress.

The first Mickey Mouse watch was manufactured in 1933 by the Ingersoll Company, which probably is not related to our ComicMix columnist of the same name. It was part of America’s first massive, integrated merchandising campaign based upon a cartoon or comics character, and was set up to take advantage of the Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago. The whole operation was set up by a man named Kay Kamen – a true legend. According to Tomart’s Disneyana Update, “Kay Kamen invented the whole licensing industry. Not just for Disney, alone; others followed suit.”

Thirteen years later, visionary cartoonist Chester Gould “invented” the two-way wrist radio as a fictional tool for policemen in general and his Dick Tracy in particular. This triggered a merchandising blitz of Mickey Mouse proportions and became the reference standard for cool gizmos. Actually, in Chet’s story the watch was a deus ex machina – Gould had Tracy in one of his classic deathtraps and the detective used his watch to summon help.

His editor rejected the concept. Deploying a deus ex machina usually is a cop out, something the writer pulls out of his ass to resolve the problem. Think of Green Arrow’s quiver. Gould’s defense was that there was an actual two-way wrist radio invented by Al Gross, the guy who created the Walkie-Talkie. Al also developed the garage door opener, the cordless phone, and the cellphone, but he couldn’t acquire financing to put them into production and his patents expired. He, himself, expired in 2000.

Amusingly, Apple offers as one of its many, many “watch faces” the animated visage of Mickey Mouse (above). I strongly suspect that decision had a lot more to do with marketing concerns than historical tribute, but, knowing Apple, I wouldn’t be surprised if the subject came up.

As for Dick Tracy, well, I’m sorry to suggest that his most famous crime-fighting tool is now available to every Tom, Dick, and Henrietta who has between $350 and $17,000 to spare. I assume the high-end version incorporates both transporter and phaser technologies.

That original Mickey Mouse watch cost about $3.50, which would be a bit over $61.00 in 2014 money. Today, Ingersoll offers an “exact” replica of the original model – but with modern mechanics – for a mere $299.00. And it’s just a replica.

Hey, it looks like that Watch isn’t so expensive after all!

 

Martha Thomases: Saving Mr. Disney

Thomases Art 140103Like so many kids of my generation, Walt Disney was my baby-sitter when I was a kid. “Uncle” Walt sometimes showed up on The Mickey Mouse Club. He was the genial host of The Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights. He was the bestower of Mickey and Minnie, Donald and Daisy, Goofy and all those amazing cartoons.

Alas, I grew up, as kids tend to do. I learned more about Disney, the man and the business. The business was well-known for its penny-pinching, and Walt, personally, was a right-wing, union-busting anti-Semite. These are not the kind of institutions I tend to support.

And yet ….

The reason for these musings is that I just saw Saving Mr. Banks, a lovely movie about the making of Mary Poppins.  And it is a lovely movie, even though it is almost surely inaccurate. It stars Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks as P. L. Travers, the writer of the Poppins books, and Uncle Walt. The biggest problem most people seem to have with the movie is that it whitewashes Disney.

The story the movie tells concerns the tensions between Travers and Disney over the kind of movie to make, based on the books. I didn’t read the books as a child, but I did read them aloud to my son when he was a boy, and they are both lovely and quite different from the film. I don’t care, I enjoy them both. Similarly, I like both the Disney Peter Pan and the book, which, again, is quite different. In both cases, one is entertained and uplifted by the various stories in the various media.

My favorite part about the movie (besides B.J. Novak is that it is about a relationship between a man and a woman that is not even slightly romantic nor sexual, but still emotional and involving and affecting. Hanks is not the least bit like the Walt Disney I remember, and I don’t really care. The character works in the story, which is what I want from my cinematic experience.

It made me think about my feelings for Disney. On the one hand, his politics were, reportedly, terrible, and his business policies hurtful to a lot of hardworking creative people. On the other hand, he made some of my favorite films. On the third hand, he was a human being with a family he loved who loved him, and the same kinds of human insecurities and failings as the rest of us. These contradictions are what make each of us interesting, each of us a worthy star of our own life story.

None of this is to say that, Constant Reader, will necessarily like this movie. I’m not even sure I can say it’s great art. It made me think about art and commerce and families and the love and respect we owe each other despite (sometimes because of) our sins.

Together with my senior discount, it was well worth the afternoon.

SATURDAY MORNING: Marc Alan Fishman

SUNDAY MORNING: John Ostrander

MONDAY MORNING: Mindy Newell

 

Mike Gold: Will There Always Be Superman Comics?

Gold Art 131120Over 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!

 

John Ostrander: Realistic Fantasy

Ostrander Art 130922I’ve often maintained that the best fantasies are ones that have one foot firmly set in reality. We need something to which we can relate. We are asked to enter into a “willing suspension of disbelief,” as coined by the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. However impossible or implausible in reality an event in literature is, we accept it. Quite simply, we’re being told a story and we concede reality to get on with the story – up to a point.

When Superman first appeared in 1938 he was a fantastic character but, in those early stories, he fought real-life villains and situations – slums, gangsters, crooked politicians, corrupt cops and so on. The United States, like most of the world, was still deep in the Great Depression. World War II was looming. For so many people, the reality was that the banks had failed them, the courts had failed them, the police failed them, the system had failed them. With Superman, the Little Guy had a hero who worked outside that corrupt and broken system, working for them, working to achieve justice. Superman was originally very anti-establishment and that may have been his greatest power.

Then came the War and Superman was co-opted, along with the other heroes, to fight the Axis, to bring down the Nazis. Reasons had to be given why he didn’t just fly to Berlin and take down Hitler. That was the reality of the situation and the fantasy was having a harder time fitting in.

After the War, Superman became fully co-opted by the Establishment. His biggest concern was his girl friend, Lois Lane, learning his secret identity.

Marvel came along in the 60s and introduced a psychological realism – the heroes had neuroses, psychological problems, issues that they needed to work out. Spider-Man was the poster boy for the neurotic new hero and it resonated. After all, to put on a mask and go out to fight crime, you had to be a bit crazy. Peter Parker had money troubles, work troubles, girl troubles; he was bullied in high school and it was all compounded by his choice to be Spider-Man. However, he couldn’t stop. He was driven by the death of his Uncle Ben for which he held himself partially responsible. Great fantasy, solid reality.

The reality became more of a soap opera as time went on. What was once fresh became cliché. Like Mickey Mouse (oddly enough, since The Mouse now owns Marvel), Spider-Man went from being a character to being a franchise to being a product and a corporate symbol.

Marvel’s New Universe wandered in at some point and one of its claims was a new realism. One of the boasts was that, when their heroes or villains lifted up a building, you could see broken plumbing underneath. I ask for a little more reality than that and the line eventually folded.

Milestone Comics came in and it had a solid dose of reality, setting their heroes in the African-American community and reflecting that truth. One of my favorite books was the Blood Syndicate; one of the tags for it was “They’re not a team. . . they’re a gang.” That was different and reflected a new reality. Sadly, Milestone didn’t last long enough to get old.

DC has re-launched itself with the New 52 and Marvel has Marvel Now but both, to my taste, veer still more towards fantasy and soap opera. The storylines have gotten more convoluted and event driven.

And then there’s Art Spiegelman’s Maus – the classic hat adroitly combines both fantasy and reality. By using mice as Jews in Germany during World War II, Spiegelman heightened the reality and made what might have been unbearable to look at very readable and very compelling.

After 9/11, the comics industry spoke to the tragedy. More than one person wished that Superman had been real that day. Then maybe he could have prevented the planes from crashing into the World Trade Center. None of the books that came out of that horror, to their credit, tried to do that but, at the same time, they were one shots. There was no lasting effect in the books unlike New York City and our national psyche. Failing to do that made them all a little impotent. The Punisher continued to hunt and kill gangsters; wouldn’t it have been more realistic to have him go after terrorists at home and abroad?

Take a look at the real world around you. How much of it is reflected in your comics? What drove Superman in his earliest incarnations – a hero outside the system, working for justice that the Little Man can’t get – is as or more prevalent today as it was 75 years ago. Look at the news – is any of that reflected in the comics you read? How would a hero deal with terrorists? What if a superhero was a member of al-Quaeda? How can we pit our angels against our demons in such a way as would, as Shakespeare put it, “hold a mirror up to nature”.

I enjoy comics; I enjoy reading them and I enjoy writing them. I do. They can be good entertainment. They could also be more. They could stand, I think, a little more reality.

Or maybe that’s just me.

MONDAY MORNING: Mindy Newell

TUESDAY MORNING: Emily S. Whitten

 

Michael Davis: The Avengers … Or The Anatomy Of The Bitch Slap.

Mickey Mouse just bitch slapped Scooby Doo. Donald Duck just put his foot up Shaggy’s butt. Goofy just cold cocked Velma.

Disney just kicked Warner Bros’ ass.

Marvel just told DC “fuck the New 52!”

This all happened the moment The Avengers movie opened.

The Avengers is the best superhero movie ever made.

E.V.E.R!

Yes, this is just my opinion but consider this: I’ve had my problems with DC Comics but I’m a huge fan of the DC universe. I’ve always considered Superman The Movie the best superhero movie ever. I thought that because Superman works on so many different levels and it still holds up decades later. Superman The Movie is over 30 years old and it still works. It was made without the crazy shit that exists now in special effects and it still works.

In the movie, that mofo caught a helicopter in 1979 without CGI, without Industrial, Light and Magic, and it still works.

You get that? That mofo (Superman to those unhip out there) caught a helicopter without the 2012 computer magic that exists today and I was all in!

What does that mean really? It means a good superhero movie is not just about guys or girls in tights who fly and have lots of fights throughout the film.

Superman The Movie remade the character but kept the original story intact. The story was the story of Superman that everyone knew before they went into the theater to see it, yet it was also new. That’s hard to do.

I’ll say that again. That’s hard to do.

Don’t think so? Did you see The Punisher movie when the Punisher was not even in his costume? Did you see the Captain America movie when Cap walked from the North Pole? Those were horrible movies to be sure but Hollywood gets it right sometimes and still screws some of the comic book mythos for no reason. That’s no reason except some guy in the room with juice gives a “note” that he thinks is a good idea and the other monkeys in the room agree.

For instance, take what I consider a great superhero movie, Batman. That’s the 1989 version – but yes I still love the 1966 version! For some reason known only to whothefuckever came up with it they made the Joker the killer of Bruce Wayne’s parents.

I bet if the same guy worked on Superman he would have said, I have an idea! Let’s make Superman from Compton instead of Krypton!”

Hollywood seems to think they know better than the people and the industry that created the property and that’s why doing a superhero film that respects the source material is so hard.

Just ask Alan Moore.

I’m lucky enough (or badass enough if you happen to be a pretty girl impressed by this type of bullshit) to work in Hollywood. If some studio wanted to make a movie out of one of my creations I would most likely let them do what they want even if they disagreed with my vision of my creation.

Why?

Because what I do is not art, it’s entertainment.

So as a writer who has three books coming out between late 2012 and mid-2013 (if the Earth is still here) I can say without hesitation: Hollywood, take my work and make it a movie. If you want my input, great! If not, then write me a big check and spell my name right in the credits.

As a writer I have to be smart about the way the business of entertainment works. I have to play the game. That said, I will not roll over like a little bitch if you want do something so stupid like making Static Shock a white kid (that was a suggestion by a studio executive) or you tell me some dumb 1950s shit like black superheroes don’t sell. Yeah, that happened as well.

So I will bend but I won’t break when confronted with real world scenarios when it comes to being a writer.

But as a fan? As a fan I won’t stand for any shit that does not fit my view of what a great superhero movie is and first and foremost is respect the source material!

The Avengers movie not only sticks to the comics, it adds to the brand.

Not easy to do.

Marvel Studios and Disney produced a superhero movie that rabid geek fan boys can take a girl and even if that girl hates all things geek she will love this movie.

Result? Possible tapping of some ass.

I’m watching The Avengers in 3-D. Live action IMAX 3-D. The Avengers!!! I’m watching the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, The Black Widow and Hawkeye and they are the characters I know and love. This is what I want as a fan-this is what all comic book fans wants from their superhero movies.

That’s why, for my money, this is the best superhero movie ever done.

Warner Bros. can’t even get the goddamn Justice League movie made.

That’s why Tony Stark just made Bruce Wayne his bitch.

TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Emily S. Whitten Gets The Scent!

WEDNESDAY MORNING: Mike Gold Gets Nancy, Good!

 

Ode to Oswald

Ode to Oswald

One would think that of all the major conglomerates in the world, The Walt Disney Company would have the greatest empathy and respect for creators who have made bad deals that resulted in their characters being torn from them. Disney, in fact owes its own success to its founder’s resolution resulting from having his creation hijacked by corporate greed. (more…)

REVIEW: The Great American Cereal Book: How Breakfast got its Crunch

The Great American Cereal Book: How Breakfast got its Crunch
By Marty Gitlin and Topher Ellis
Abrams Image. Hardcover. 368 pages. $19.95

Come breakfast time, my kitchen cabinet holds a limited, and boring, offering of ready-to-eat cereals; just some Kellogg’s Raisin Bran and a box of Honey-Nut Cheerios. In my mid-fifties, breakfast cereal no longer holds any importance in my life. To tell the truth, if I’m going to have cereal, I would much rather sit down with a bowl of Quaker Oatmeal and leave the cold, crunchy stuff for when I’m feeling especially lazy.

But, as The Great American Cereal Book: How Breakfast Got Its Crunch reminds me, once upon a time, in that galaxy far, far away of childhood, breakfast cereal was important. Very important. The Golden Age of comic books, as someone once observed, is eleven years old. That is, whatever it is we’re exposed to as children is what we hold in our memories and imaginations as the best ever of that particular thing. What’s true for comic books is also true for breakfast cereals and, as it turns out, not only do co-author Marty Gitlin and I have a Golden Age of breakfast cereals in common, but that shared mid-1960s era of cereal seriousness came at a time when the breakfast cereal business was in fact booming thanks, in large part, to Saturday morning cartoons. (more…)