Walt Disney comics return to America
Baltimore publisher buys license for Mickey and the gang
Steve Geppi has brought a little bit of Americana back to America.
Geppi, a Baltimore native and the owner of Gemstone Publications, has put new Disney comics back on store shelves in the United States for the first time in years.
It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. For the last 3½ years, there hasn’t been a single English language Disney comic for kids — or even us adult fans — to read the adventures of Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse.
The Disney comic-book drought began in 1999 when Gladstone Publications, the previous English-language Disney licensee, closed and left fans without their monthly fix of Uncle Scrooge.
Back then, Geppi, a world-famous comic-book collector who also owns Diamond Comic Distributors Inc., the company that ships practically all of America’s comic books and specialty items to comic book stores, was offered a chance to publish Disney Comics under his Gemstone publishing wing.
But, alas, at the time, it just wasn’t in the cards for Geppi. It’s not that he couldn’t afford it, either: Aside from his comic book related businesses, he’s also part owner in the Baltimore Orioles, only behind O’s head honcho Peter Angelos and author Tom Clancy.
Into the bookstores: Instead, Geppi, 53, had other work to do first. His mission: To bring the comic book to the masses. He did it, too. In 2002, he founded a new business, Diamond Book Distributors, dedicated to bringing comics in the squarebound “trade paperback” format to bookstores. The company sells to a variety of stores, including Waldenbooks, Barnes & Noble, Borders and Amazon.com.
But the lure of Disney characters was strong for a man who could easily be counted among Disney’s biggest fans.
“I have every Disney comic ever made,” Geppi said. “I have all of the ‘Walt Disney Stories.’ I even have the Mickey Mouse Magazines that preceded them. The giveaways. The Donald Duck one-shots. You name it. I’ve been doing this for 30 years.”
But, as they say, timing is everything. With comic books reaching more people through movies, and places that Diamond Books has reached, the mass market couldn’t be more ready for family-themed comics like what Disney has to offer, Geppi said.
The comic-book industry’s expansion into mass market stores such as Borders “gives us the added distribution that we need to get the print runs that we hoped to get to justify the cost,” Geppi said.
More importantly, the Disney comics will get the exposure in retail stores and drug stores that they can’t get in comic-book stores alone.
“Moms and dads can once again find stuff for their kids because they’re tripping over it at book stores or high-traffic retail outlets,” Geppi said. “Now, 5- to 10-year-olds can have the opportunity to discover comics like I did when I was a kid.”
Older readers: One of Geppi’s biggest problems, though, will be to get older people, not just kids, to try the Disney comics. After all, what self-respecting construction worker is going to read the latest copy of Donald Duck Stories on his lunch break?
“The perception upon looking at a Disney comic on the rack is that it’s for kids,” he said, “In reality they are not only educational, but the stories entertain and continue to entertain people of all ages.”
And, as this self-respecting newspaper man has found out, Disney comics are actually quite enjoyable to read. Take Gemstone’s first issue of “Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge.” It features a surprisingly entertaining story of a search for the fabled Lost Dutchman’s Mine in Arizona.
Geppi says that part of the appeal of Disney comics are that they are “timeless,” and never get dated.
Geppi’s other goal is to publish comics that don’t have a soap-opera story line, where a reader has to buy issue after issue to discover the result of a subplot.
“The stories aren’t continuing. You can pick one up and miss the next three — not that we want you to! But they’re enjoyable read and self-contained,” Geppi said.
European readers: Disney comics have been wildly popular in Europe for decades, Geppi said. They are published out of a Denmark company called Egmont, which has a license to publish Disney comics in 60 countries. “It’s extremely successful. It’s like a $2-billion company,” Geppi said. “It’s kind of ironic that the very place they were born hasn’t had them for 3½ years.”
Not only are adult fans like Geppi excited to see Disney comics return to the English language, but so are the artists and writers of the comics, many of who reside in the United States and Canada. “The artists themselves, are anxious for us to reprint them because they haven’t seen them in English,” he said.
And what will the future hold for Geppi’s Gemstone Publishing? Perhaps a Buzz Lightyear comic? Or the further adventures of the Lion King? Not just yet, Geppi says.
“Our license right now calls for the standard characters — Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge and the rest of the gang — but the opportunity is there for us to go back to Disney” and obtain more licenses for other characters, he said.
Gemstone’s Disney site: Gemstonepub.com