Saturday, October 30, 2010

You Can't Reason With a Headless Man
By Jeffrey Pepper
Originally published October 27, 2007

While Donald Duck's 1952 cartoon Trick or Treat bears the Disney Studio's most direct homage to the Halloween holiday, the Legend of Sleepy Hollow segment from the feature film The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad serves up equal amounts of ghostly chills and jack-o'-lantern imagery. For All Hallows Eve is in fact the setting for Ichabod Crane's penultimate encounter with perhaps one of Disney's most underrated villains, the Headless Horseman.

One of the true highlights of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and perhaps one of the most overlooked musical vignettes in Disney films, is the song "The Headless Horseman" from composers Don Raye and Gene de Paul, noted Hollywood talents, both with extensive popular music resumes.

Don Raye transitioned in the mid-1930s from vaudeville entertainment to songwriting, working with other bright young composers, most notably Sammy Cohn. A fortuitous match was made in 1939 when the Andrew Sisters began performing his material. This led to work in Hollywood, first on the 1939 movie Argentine Nights and later the 1941 Abbott and Costello debut film Buck Privates, both of which prominently featured Andrews Sisters' performances. He became a resident song smith for Universal Studios, teaming with Gene de Paul beginning in late 1941 and the two subsequently collaborated on such films as In the Navy, San Antonio Rose, Keep 'Em Flying and Ride 'Em Cowboy. de Paul was also on the Hollywood fast track; that same year he was Oscar nominated for work on the film Hellzapoppin. The two found their way to Disney in the late 1940s, contributing to So Dear to My Heart, Ichabod and Mr. Toad, and Raye later on Alice in Wonderland. Shortly thereafter, dePaul would become especially famous for the musical numbers in MGM's classic Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, released in 1954.

Distinctly reflecting their own musical backgrounds, Raye and de Paul infused the colonial American setting of Sleepy Hollow with the popular music styles of the mid 20th century. Frequent Andrew Sisters co-performer Bing Crosby tells the story via narration and song, and at one point provided vocal instructor Ichabod with his trademark "bo bo bo baba bo" crooning. But the segment's true musical highlight is in fact Crosby's vocalization of villain Brom Bones performance of the Headless Horseman ghost story.

Famous for such wartime hits as "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and "Beat Me Daddy Eight to the Bar," Raye's skills for clever, densely-worded lyrics are clearly evident in the tale of Sleepy Hollow's resident pumpkin thrower:

Now gather round while I elucidate,
On what happens outside when it gets late.
Along about midnight the ghosts and banshees,
Get together for their nightly jamboree.
There's ghosts
with horns and saucer eyes,
And some with fangs about this size.
Some short and fat, some tall and thin,

And some don't even bother to where their skin.
I'm telling you brother it's a frightful sight,
To see what goes on Halloween night.

Oh, when the spooks have a midnight jamboree,
They break it up with fiendish glee.
Ghosts are bad but the one that's cursed,
Is the Headless Horseman, he's the worst.
When he goes a jockeying across the land,
Holding his noggin in his hand.
Demons take one look and groan,
And hit the road for parts unknown.
There's no spook like a spook that spurned,
They don't like him and he's really burned.
Swears to the longest day he's dead,
He'll show them that he can get a head.

They say he's tired of his flaming top,
He's got a yen to make a swap.
So he rides one night a year,
To find a head in the hollow here.
And he likes 'em little, he likes 'em big,
Part in the middle, or a wig.
Black or white or even red,

The Headless Horseman needs a head.
With a hip, hip and a clippity clop,
He's out looking for a top to chop.
So don't stop to figure out a plan,
You can't reason with a headless man.

Now if you doubt this tale is so,

I met that spook just a year ago.
Now I didn't stop for a second look,
But made for the bridge that spans the brook.

For once you cross that bridge my friend,
The ghost is through, his power ends.
So when you're riding home tonight,
Make for the bridge with all your might.
He'll be down in the hollow there,
He needs your head. Lookout! Beware!
With a hip, hip and a clippity clop,
He's out looking for a head to chop.
So don't stop to figure out a plan,
You can't reason with a headless man.

"Grim Grinning Ghosts" vocalist Thurl Ravenscroft did an equally fun yet slightly more sinister studio version of the song that was recently included on the iTunes exclusive Walt Disney Records Archive Collection Volume One.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Four Color Friday: Halloween 1943

What might your average kid have been reading in late October of 1943?  Quite possibly Walt Comics and Stories #38.  Though the cover distinctly carried a Halloween theme (with Donald Duck falling victim once again to the antics of his nephews), surprisingly, none of the interior comics stories tied into the autumn holiday.

The lead story featured Donald Duck squaring off with his nemesis Neighbor Jones in the Carl Barks 10-page classic "Good Neighbors."  A hidden gem of the issue is a two-page Gremlin Gus tale written and illustrated by Walt Kelly, entitled "Gremlin Gus and the Widgets."  Another interesting inclusion was a two-page text-story that adapted the 1944 Donald Duck cartoon Commando Duck.  The story's publication predated the release of the cartoon by over seven months, and its single illustration was absent the extreme caricatures of Japanese soldiers that kept the short in the vault for over half a century.

Hollywood Chatter by Minnie Mouse was a regular text feature of the early years of Walt Disney Comics and Stories and typically featured snippets about juvenile performers and the children of famous movie stars.  One notable and certainly ironic tidbit from this issue's column:

"Mickey and I have been having a lot of fun lately, going to parties. One of the best was the party which Joan Crawford gave to celebrate the fourth birthday of her little daughter, Christina. Twenty children were invited and we certainly had fun. We played all kinds of games in the garden and house and there were two ponies for us to ride. When it was Mickey's turn for a ride, he fell off the pony and landed plop!—in a mud puddle. Little Christina rushed to him and tried to wash his face with her tiny handkerchief."

"Little Christina" would famously demonize her mother some thirty-five years later with the publication of her tell-all biography Mommie Dearest.  One wonders if Mickey and Minnie heard shouts of "No wire hangers!" emanating from the Crawford home that day.

The editors did not abandon trick or treating altogether in Walt Disney Comics and Stories #38.  The issue did feature a number of Halloween activity pages and a four-page text-based story entitled "Goofy's Halloween."  Readers were treated to "Donald Duck's Halloween Costume," a cut-out paper doll activity (where Donald is essentially cross-dressing as a witch):

And "Walt Disney's Place Cards for Your Halloween Party" (Ready to Cut Out and Use).

Finally, not forgetting that during the fall of 1943, World War II was raging across the globe, the issue featured a "Do You Know Who Owns These Shoes?" contest that prominently presented War Bonds and War Stamps as the prizes.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Epic Mickey Digicomics on Your Apple Device

Disney Interactive is offering up a fun and tantalizing preview of its much anticipated Epic Mickey game via the Apple App Store.  The new Disney Epic Mickey Digicomics provides a glimpse for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad owners.

The free download features a map of the Wasteland, eight character profiles, a game trailer and the digital nine-page comic Tales of the Wasteland #1: Clocktower Cleaners.  Five additional nine-page issues of Tales of the Wastleland can be purchased for a package price of $2.99.  The comics are written by veteran author and comic scribe Peter David and illustrated by artist Claudio Sciarrone.

Character profiles include Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Ortensia, Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, Pete, the Mad Doctor, Yen Sid and the Animatronics Pals.  Ortensia is a Minnie-esque character, described as Oswald's one true love.  The Animatronics Pals are clever rifts on two classic Disney icons.  The description notes that Oswald, " . . .  cobbled together spare animatronic parts and fashioned his very own very versions of Donald Duck and the inimitable Goofy."

What is the Wasteland, Epic Mickey's epic setting?  According to the profile of the wizard Yen Sid:

It was Yen Sid who crafted Wasteland as a home for Walt's forgotten creations, serving as a benevolent, albeit unseen creator, watching from "on high" and enjoying their antics.

The Digicomics are in fact prequels to the upcoming game and explore the Wasteland and a number of its "forgotten creations."  Particularly fun is issue three, One Scary Night, which pays homage to the classic Mickey cartoon Lonesome Ghosts but also injects a healthy dose of Haunted Mansion references.  Issue four, The Rubbish Cup, is a direct send-up of Disney World's Adventurers Club and its Balderdash Cup show.

Needless to say, we can't wait until early December when Epic Mickey is released.  It will be exclusive to the Nintendo Wii console.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

" . . . as only his own daughter could tell it!"

We have long considered Diane Disney Miller to be one of our favorite persons here at 2719 Hyperion.  We are truly grateful for her tireless efforts on behalf of the Walt Disney Family Museum and the study and preservation of Disney-related history.  It was therefore a fun surprise when we stumbled across this advertisement dating back to 1959.  From the ad copy:

And you'll see how the master of make-believe appears in real life to his friends and family, and especially to the little girl who calls him "Daddy."

The Story of Walt Disney was a reformatted compilation of articles that originally appeared in the Saturday Evening Post beginning in November 1956.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Freeze Frame! - Cartoony Bob Z

In our previous Who Framed Roger Rabbit Freeze Frame! we explored a dark and dangerous Toontown alley.  We'll return to that location again to showcase a discarded newspaper that makes reference to the film's director Robert Zemeckis.  A headline on the paper proclaims "CARTOONY BOB Z. HAS A . . ."

What is that last word?  VIXEN? MIXER?  Your guess is as good as mine. 

A simple gag on Zemeckis or something with more meaning?  Only the original background artist knows for sure . . .

Friday, October 22, 2010

Windows to the Past: Walt Disney - Baseball Fan

Like many of his Hollywood contemporaries, Walt Disney was a fan of the local minor league baseball team, the Hollywood Stars, as evidenced by this photograph from 1940.  Disney's name is featured on a metal plaque in the bleachers of Gilmore Stadium, where the Stars played from 1939 until 1957.  The baseball team's owners actively solicited investments from Hollywood celebrities and a number of sources have indicated that Walt Disney was among the team's stockholders.

The ballpark, located near Beverly Boulevard and Genesse Avenue, was built by oil tycoon Earl Gilmore who was also responsible for the nearby Pan Pacific Auditorium. That structure's iconic designs inspired the entrance plaza at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Disney Comics Go Boom! . . . and Fall Down

I had high hopes when I first heard that Disney Comics would be making a comeback via publisher Boom! Studios.  I even wrote about it here at 2719 Hyperion back in July of 2008.  It is two years later and I have to say that my disappointment in the endeavor is substantial.

At the time I noted:

"BOOM! Studios and Disney will most certainly need to somehow reach beyond the current comic book industry distribution status quo to reach those younger and hopefully receptive new readers."

Sadly, this has not happened.  And worse, Boom! has chosen to follow editorial and marketing plans modeled after superhero and adult fare, which I believe are strategies wholly ineffective in attracting the desired young readers they are looking for.

It's a distinct and undeniable fact--comic books directed at younger readers have declined dramatically over the last four decades or so.  To a baby boomer of the 1950s or 1960s, comic books were an integral part of your daily life.  You ate.  You slept.  You attended school.  You read comic books.  Four-color publications were cheap, enormously entertaining and ridiculously accessible.  And Disney comics were among the most popular on the market.

Jump ahead to 2010 and what do we have?  The younger generation of today has largely abandoned the medium.  Let me clarify just slightly--the younger generation defined primarily as kids aged 6-16; the medium being non-superhero, humor-centric comics marketed specifically at that younger demographic.  What is behind this dramatic decline of kiddie comics, of which Disney was always a major player, when other four-color genres, most notably superheroes, have continued to endure and often thrive?

The most common explanation:

There is simply too many other new and exciting forms of entertainment for young kids to enjoy.  Comic books cannot compete with all that is offered to children today.

Most definitely.  The playing field has changed dramatically for young consumers, especially in the last two decades.  Video games, computer technology, cable television, home entertainment, cell phones and portable devices all compete for the attention of that younger demographic.  How can a simple mundane comic book compete?  However, as valid as this argument appears to be, I feel that it tends to be greatly overstated and too quickly accepted.

Examine regular books for a moment.  Though they face the same types of competition as comic books, their decline has not been so measured and significant.  In fact, you could argue that the juvenile book market has enjoyed a sustained resurgence of sorts since J.K. Rowling introduced the world to her boy wizard a little over a decade ago. Kids still read books.  Kids still want to read books, despite a world filled with electronic and high-tech alternatives.

It is also important to note that superhero-based comics remain popular, viable and culturally significant, despite the fact that they compete similarly with other entertainment media as well.  In fact, the 16-30 age-group that drives the current comic book and graphic novel industry, are also the primary consumers of all the previously mentioned competitive media--i.e. video games, computers, portable devices, etc.

So then, what are the truly significant factors that have essentially diminished the kiddie comics market?

It used to be, comic books were everywhere.  You could find them at newsstands, drug stores, five and tens, grocery stores and mom-and-pops, just to name a few.  And that's not even considering the second-hand markets of yard sales, flea markets and your friends next door.  It was rare that a kid did not live within walking distance of a venue that sold comic books.  Thanks to what is known in the industry as the direct market, that is no longer the case.

Prior to the 1980s, comic books were handled by the same regional wholesale companies that  distributed magazines and paperback books to local retailers.  With the growing sophistication of superhero comics and the emergence of specialty comic book retailers, a new distribution system came into being--a direct market wherein specialty distributors such as Capital City and Diamond Comics sold directly to comic book retailers, notably on non-returnable terms, but at more attractive discounts.  

Unfortunately, this  dramatic shift signaled the decline and near-complete fall of kiddie comics.  Comic book retailers gradually and effectively eroded the market share of the wholesalers.  But being super-hero centric, those same retailers abandoned kiddie comics for more lucrative, fanboy-driven material.  They were appealing to a new comic book-buying demographic that what skewing to a more older teen, young adult composition.  Wholesale distribution of comics has all but disappeared in the last twenty years and where it has remained, it is greatly diminished. And even though wholesalers may have still have had some viable markets for kiddie comics, many chose to drop comics books altogether and effectively throw the baby out with the bath water.

Numerous comic book retailers attempted to keep the kiddie genre alive, but simply could not reach the kids they needed to support that category of business.  Today, for the most part, kiddie comics are largely ignored and unsupported by comic book specialty stores.

Editorial and Marketing Mismanagement
Here's where I will likely offend quite a few industry professionals who I otherwise admire and respect.

It's a simple observation.  You simply can't create, produce and market kiddie comics in the same manner as mainstream superhero comics and graphic novels.  Yet, that is what is happening today, especially in regard to Disney Comics that are being produced by BOOM! Studios under their Boom! Kids imprint.  To illustrate some of the points I'm about to make in this argument, let's compare two comic books--one published in 1954, another that was just released recently by Boom! Kids.

Casper the Friendly Ghost #23
Publication date: August 1954
Retail price: 10¢
Total pages:36
Total pages of content: 25
Average panels per page: 8
Content: 4 stories, 2 1-page gags, 2 text features

Toy Story #7
Publication date: September 2010
Retail price: $2.99
Total Pages: 28
Total pages of content: 22
Average panels per page: 3-5
Content: 1 story

First, let's get some basic premises out of the way:
  1. For nearly all young kids, comics are disposable entertainment.  They are without a "collector's" mentality in this regard.  They just want the fun and entertaining diversion that the content itself provides.  Kids are very content to read and re-read their comic books without worrying about maintaining them in mint condition and keeping them stored in plastic bags.
  2. Kids perceive and  appreciate value, though not entirely from a monetary standpoint.  Thus a comic book with multiple stories and features is considered a better offering than a comic with just one longer story.
  3. Kids prefer self-contained content to serialization.  They want to pick up a comic book that is free from prerequisite reading.  Kids do not have the patience to track down and purchase issues #1-3, just to be able to read #4.  Unless it's incredibly compelling and attractive, they'll simply toss #4 back on the shelf and look for something different.
Returning to our comparison between Casper #23 and Toy Story #7, the first thing that is striking is the difference in price.  Toy Story at $2.99 represents an astounding 2900% increase over Casper's humble 10¢ price point.  While it is easy enough to excuse this fact due to the effects of inflation over the course of fifty years, it's not quite that clear cut.  If you compare the prices of newspapers, magazines and paperback books in the same manner, you discover average increases on these publications to be between 1300%-1500%.  The price of a comic book today should be more in the neighborhood of $1.50.  This would certainly put it back in the "affordable" column as perceived by both children and their parents.

But wait, you're going to say that the production values of comics today are far superior to the cheap newsprint of Casper's day and thus justify the higher prices.   I can certainly concede that point, but in doing so, must raise another.  Why do kids comics, disposable and content-driven, require such high production values in the first place?  Do kids really care about high quality glossy paper?  Do collector-market incentives such as variant covers and zero issues  possess any real appeal for young kids?  What matters to an older, collectible-savvy  fanboy does not necessarily make good marketing sense when applied to a more practical 10 year-old consumer.

When you pick up Toy Story #7, or any other Boom! Kids comic, it is noticeable how slight and flimsy it is.  Well, it is in fact 22% smaller than what has long been the 36-page size for normal comics.  While it may come closer to Casper in page-count content (three pages less), it still doesn't exactly make a great first impression when you lift it off the store shelf.

But let's also consider how art style and presentation can devalue the product.  Toy Story #7 if chocked full of artistic and design bells and whistles, but its actual story content is considerably less than Casper #23.  By maintaining an average of 8 panels per page, Casper #23 provides almost twice the story and a longer reading experience than Toy Story #7.  While it's not immediately noticeable due to the page count, a kid reading the book will find himself finished with it in very short order, again diminishing the value of his $2.99 investment.  In fairness, panel counts vary across all of the Boom! Kids titles, but in general still tend toward less content than more.

While Toy Story #7 did present a self-contained story, numerous other Boom! Kids titles seem to be serialized on a consistent basis.  As an experiment, on a recent trip to the comics shop, I arbitrarily picked up two Boom! comics, Donald Duck and Friends #350 and The Incredibles #4.  Both contained serialized chapters that required the reading of previous and/or subsequent issues.  I was disappointed and I can't help but feel that many kids would be similarly frustrated. 

What becomes clear from this comparison is the previously stated tenant: You simply can't create, produce and market kiddie comics in the same manner as mainstream superhero comics and graphic novels.  But that is clearly the approach that Boom! Kids has taken with its line of Disney Comics.

Boom! Kids Editor-in-Chief Mark Waid (recently promoted to Chief Creative Officer) is one of the most respected individuals in the comics industry.  And rightly so.  I have long enjoyed his contributions to the superhero and adult comics market.  But unfortunately in applying the superhero/comic collecting marketing dynamic to the Disney line of comics, he and his fellow Boom! executives continue to contribute to the diminishing state of kiddie comics.  For a viable business plan in regard to Disney-based comics, Waid should instead focus on successful kiddie comics publishers of the past, rather than emulate contemporary adult market publishing strategies.   I chose to use the Casper comic book for good reason; Harvey Comics is truly an excellent model to follow in regard to both editorial direction and marketing strategies.

Take Advantage of Your Large Canon of Characters 
Harvey Comics certainly did this.  Characters were interchangeable throughout the various titles.  Wendy stories appeared in Casper titles.  Richie Rich comics also featured Little Dot.  This cross-pollinating was both shrewd and highly successful.  Dell was similarly successful with its Disney Comics by employing the same strategy to titles like Walt Disney Comics and Stories and its various Disney Dell Giants.  Apply these same ideas to the current Disney/Pixar canon.  Mix it up.  Be character focused rather than brand focused.  Imagine some of the possibilities for giant-size anthology titles in a Disney line, similar to what Harvey successfully marketed back in the day.  Woody's Round-Up, Lightning McQueen's Road Rally, Mike and Sully's Laugh Factory, Donald Duck's Duckburg, are just a few suggestions.  And for heaven's sake, why hasn't Boom! produced any Disney Princess comic books?  Juvenile book publishers have certainly exploited this lucrative brand.  Methinks the very entrenched male-bias of comic book publishing may be a factor here.

Produce Short, Self-Contained Stories.  Avoid Serialization. 
Realize that serialization is potentially more damaging than it is beneficial.  You are looking to appeal to the broadest audience possible and you can do this with self-contained stories and issues.  Kids do not support subscription-driven marketing that is prevalent among older fanboy consumers.  Create, promote and sell each comic individually, much in the way that Harvey, Archie, and even DC did in the old days.  The closest that Boom! has come to this type of editorial direction has been its Muppet Show series which has proven to be one of its more critically-celebrated titles.

Trade High Concept Presentation for Value
Don't worry about fancy paper, high concept art and variant covers and zero issues.  Squeeze as much content into 25 pages as you possibly can.  Multiple stories per issue.  More panels per page.  One-page gag stories.  Activities and special features.  Make kids feel like they are getting a lot for their money!  Kids do not require top-of-the-line print quality.  It would be no sin to return to (gasp!) newsprint and reduce prices appropriately.  Your products would be more affordable and desirable to the readers in your target demographic.

Think Outside the Direct Comics Market
Go Beyond Comic Book Specialty Stores
This is certainly the tough one.  Earlier Disney licensees Gladstone, Gemstone and even Disney Publishing itself have all desperately tried to step outside these very restrictive and too narrowly focused distribution and sales channels, but with little to no success.  But perhaps there is indeed a light at the end of the tunnel.  Digital comics are quickly becoming very viable, especially in regard to the very comic book-friendly iPad.  Boom! does in fact have an iPad Comixology-driven app, but it is currently only focused on their adult titles.  Archie Comics is very aggressively pursuing the digital platform with their own iPad app, and significantly, they are maintaining very kid-friendly prices of 99¢ an issue.  That is half of what the mainstream superhero publishers are typically charging per digital comic issue

Think this is all pretty questionable?  Well, one contemporary comics company has employed many of these editorial and marketing strategies with great success.  Upon examining Bongo Comics, it is remarkable how similar its line of Simpson Comics is in design and presentation to Harvey Comics and other vintage kiddie comics publishers.  And they have maintained success  in a difficult environment for nearly twenty years.  Bongo has managed to expand beyond the direct comics market by creating trade paperbacks (the equivalent of old school "giant" issues that distinctly remind us of the old Harvey and Dell giants) and making them available at large chain book stores and other retailers. Though nothing has been officially announced, I can't help but feel we'll being seeing a Bongo iPad app sometime in the near future.  Bongo's approach has always been decidedly retro, yet they are perhaps the most mainstream of all the major comic book publishers. 

A recent Simpsons Comic:

Simpson's Comics and Stories #170
Publication date: 2010
Retail price: $2.99
Total pages: 36
Total pages of content: 25
Average panels per page: 6-8
Content: 1 story

In fairness to Boom!, I must also criticize the $2.99 price on regular size Bongo issues.  But like the older Harveys, Bongo delivers more page content and more panel-per-page story content.

Similar to Bongo, Boom! also produces trade paperbacks of its Disney line that have been stocked at mainstream retailers such as Borders and Barnes and Noble and online with Amazon.  They are however slighter in size and page counts than comparably priced Simpsons editions.  (Boom! titles are typically $9.99 and non-discounted on Amazon; Bongo trades average around $12.99-$14.99 on Amazon but are typically discounted down to around $10.  Bongo trades also usually contain about 50% more content than their Boom! counterparts.)

On a related note, here is another example of publishing kiddie comics with a mistaken adult market mentality.  The Incredibles: City of Incredibles collected Mark Waid's own four-issue arc into a 112-page $24.95 hardcover.  Huh?  It appears that Boom! consistently publishes $25 hardcover editions of its trade paper compilations.  Why?  I'm not familiar with many young kids willing drop that kind of cash on an item that costs more than twice the sum of its parts.  I guess the easy answer is that this item is solely directed at the adult collector.  (In comparison, Bongo Comics published the oversize 208-page Simpsons Futurama Crossover Crisis hardcover for the exact same $24.95 price.  In design and size. their product was much more substantial and worthy of the price point and could smartly appeal to both kids and adults.  It made it onto the shelves of mass merchants such as Borders and Barnes and Noble.  Boom Kids! hardcovers--don't typically make that cut.)

But wait, let's add even more insult to injury.  Here's what a quick scan of the Boom! Kids online store revealed:

Toy Story: Tales from the Toy Chest #1 (Cover C) - price: $9.99
Darkwing Duck #4 (Cover C) - price $9.99

$10 for single-issue comics normally priced at $2.99?!?  Is Boom! applying questionable back-issue markups on what they are advertising on their site as new releases?  Sadly, this is a company clearly mired in collectible market dogma and is in turn squandering the potential of some of this generation's most popular and beloved entertainment properties.

All of this ultimately begs one primary question:  just who is Boom! Kids wanting to sell comic books to?  Mr. Waid, with all due respect and courtesy, there is no shame in creating and selling comic books to a strictly younger demographic.  And if you do it smartly enough, you can still reach adult buyers without having resort to direct market gimmicks and $25 hardcovers.  You do not need to oblige adult buyers in regard to this material at the expense of properly marketing to your younger readers.

C'mon, kiddie comics should be for kids.  Quit letting specialty retail, fanboy-driven marketing hijack this still high potential genre of four-color fun.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Freeze Frame! - Bre'r Baer and Gregory and His Rubber Band

As we continue our Freeze Frame! exploration of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the destination today is a dark alley in Toontown that is briefly traveled by P.I. Eddie Valiant.  Two faded posters pay homage to individuals who were part of the film's animation crew.

One poster features a character called Bre'r Baer with the caption:


The poster makes reference to Dale Baer who was a chief executive and supervising animator on Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  Baer has since become one of Disney's seasoned and veteran animators, working on such films as The Lion King, Tarzan, Chicken Little, Home on the Range and Meet the Robinsons.  He most recently animated Ray in The Princess and the Frog.

Nearby in the alley is another poster that advertises Gregory and his Rubber Band.  This likely refers to Gregory Hinde, a production assistant and animator on Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  The poster would be alluding to Hinde's primary career path as a musician and composer.  He would go on to create music for such animated television series as The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, The Wild Thornberrys and Evil Con Carne.

Elsewhere in Toontown is a door to a business named "Jane's Jade Jazz."  Is this a reference to coordinating animator Jane Baer (and spouse of Dale?), the only prominent "Jane" listed in the film's animation credits?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Windows to the Past: Nixon Shakes Hands with the Future

Then Vice-President Richard Nixon greeted two celebrated residents of Tomorrowland in this photograph from June 15, 1959.  Nixon's 1959 visit to Disneyland has been widely documented and footage was included in an episode of the Disneyland television program.  This photograph was originally published in the Los Angeles Times and is part of the UCLA Digital Library collection Changing Times: Los Angeles in Photographs 1920-1990.

The photo's caption:

SPACE GREETINGS-A spaceman and spacegirl get a smile and handshake from Vice-President Nixon as he tours the ultra-modern attractions on display.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Big-Girl Clothes, Powder and Rouge

Minnie Mouse donned those items in anticipation of her first meeting with Walt Disney back in 1928.  That's according to a back cover feature in Walt Disney Comics and Stories issue #10 published in July of 1941.

The text of the article:

Away back in 1928, Minnie Mouse decided to get a job and help support her family. She read that Hollywood's newest producer, Walt Disney, had just signed a new star, Mickey Mouse, and was looking for a leading lady to play in a wonderful picture to be called "Gallopin' Gaucho."

Minnie wanted that job. She wanted it so badly that she dressed up in big-girl clothes, put powder and rouge on her face, and went to see Walt.

"Minnie," said Walt at the interview, "I have a feeling that underneath your gaudy get-up there beats the heart of a sweet, lovable little girl.  If I could be sure of that, I'd give you the job."

A tear rolled out of Minnie's bright eye.  She told Walt that he was right, and explained to him that it was only because she wanted so much to help her family, that she had tried to appear grown-up and sophisticated.
Walt signed her immediately and she and Mickey made "Gallopin' Gaucho." After that, they were so, busy making pictures for Wait that they haven't had time, to this very day, to catch their breath.  Sometime soon, though, they may take a vacation, and if appearances mean anything, there will be wedding bells for Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

You can study Disney history for years upon years, and still manage to learn something new everyday.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mickey Mouse Born in Kansas City? Not Quite . . .

Two animation professionals based in Kansas City need to brush up a bit on their Disney history.
An article published yesterday in the Kansas City Star, highlighting that city's growing animation industry, started off almost immediately with this quote from KC businessman Bruce Branit: "I often have mentioned to people I work with in Los Angeles that my office is only a few blocks from where Walt Disney drew Mickey Mouse for the first time.”  Later in the article, Dylan Dietz of the Midwest Association of Professional Animators speaks of Walt Disney, saying, "We are proud that he started here and that Mickey Mouse was designed here.”

While their recognition of Disney's Kansas City legacy is certainly appropriate, the history they are referencing is, well . . . wrong.  Sorry gentlemen, but you can't claim a Kansas City birthplace for Mickey Mouse.  Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks were firmly located in southern California when they created the iconic character in 1928.

While Disney's Alice Comedies were distinctly rooted in Missouri, both Oswald the Rabbit and Mickey Mouse originated in the 2719 Hyperion Studios near Hollywood.  Walt's Kansas City history is notable and important on so many levels, but he in fact left that fine city for California some five years before Mickey Mouse would have been drawn for the first time.

Explore the 2719 Hyperion archives:
Long Ago Magic Along 31st Street in Kansas City

Monday, October 11, 2010

Who's Your Birthday Character?

I've been told a few times that I should occasionally quit being so stuffy about Disney academia and examine some of the more lighthearted and less-than-serious Disney-related books and publications.  The new book, Disneystrology certainly presents me that opportunity.

In the book's introduction, author Lisa Finander explains the reasoning behind connecting two seemingly disparate entities--astrology and Disney animated characters.  "Drawing on the wisdom of astrology, numerology and the tarot, this book matches characters from your favorite Disney and Disney/Pixar movies with a certain day of the year." 

Well, I'm afraid she lost me with " . . . the wisdom of astrology, numerology and the tarot."  Yes, I am indeed an entrenched skeptic in regard to all things new age.  If you possess a similar disposition, this is likely not a tome deserving of shelf space in your Disney library.  But if you harbor either a passion for, or fascination of astrological content and want to see it married to the Disney universe, Disneystrology may be deserving of your attention.

The book assigns a birthday character to each day of the year, drawing upon 366 characters from across the Disney and Pixar animated canons.  Its compact, square format is in fact an attractive package; each date receives it own page with a large and full color image of the associated character, along with a paragraph describing that birth date's corresponding attributes and characteristics that in turn reflect that chosen character.  I found one entry particularly clever though I don't know if that was the author's intent; the frequently-disappearing Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland was associated with February 29.  It was also amazingly coincidental that the stars just happen to assign Mickey and Minnie to November 18.

I was somewhat flattered by my own birthday characteristics of " . . . capable, perceptive and honest," although I frankly would have rather had someone other than Mittens the cat from Bolt to be my associated character.  Maybe someone a little more high profile like Woody from Toy Story or Mufasa from The Lion King.  I especially envied my wife who was able to claim Sully from Monsters, Inc.

As these last two paragraphs indicate, there is little here to interest a Disney academic (sorry, couldn't resist just a little inherent stuffiness), but Disneystrology can be a fun diversion nonetheless.  Consider it a potential icebreaker or activity for your next Disney-centric social gathering, or possibly the ideal gift for a Disney enthusiast who's head is decidedly in the stars.  It's very cute, entertaining and distinctly family-friendly.

Mittens . . . jeez.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Freeze Frame! - Visit La Brea Tar Pits

When I inaugurated the Freeze Frame! series here at 2719 Hyperion some four years ago, I deliberately avoided Who Framed Roger Rabbit? as it seemed too obvious and easy a subject.  I've thought better of that now and today's post will be the first in a series of new Freeze Frame! posts dedicated to that now classic 1988 film.

One of the most controversial aspects of the eternally controversial Song of the South was the entity of the Tar Baby.  Even so, the Roger Rabbit animation team saw fit to include it in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo during Eddie Valiant's drive into Toontown.  Looking out the left window of Eddie's vehicle, the Tar Baby can be seen for a split second before the scene cuts back to a shot of Eddie shaking his head.  Sitting on the same stone wall as the Tar Baby are the four girl bunnies from the 1935 Silly Symphony The Tortoise and the Hare.  The blur in the picture is not a flaw in our screen capture, but in fact a portion of window glass from Eddie's automobile.

The Tar Baby holds a sign that reads, "VISIT LA BREA TAR PITS," referring to the famous Los Angeles paleontological landmark.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Windows to the Past: The PeopleMover Arrives - 1967

The PeopleMover at Disneyland is the focus of this press photograph from June 29, 1967.  It appears that the photographer was part of press event surrounding the unveiling of the new Tomorrowland that debuted that summer.  The published caption:

TRAFFIC RELIEF?--Goodyear's new transportation system, the PeopleMover, goes through preview run at Disneyland's new Tomorrowland section. Concept is said to offer applications which may ease traffic in downtown areas. Cars are propelled by series of stationary, electric motor-driven rubber wheels between rails. It opens to public next week.

The photo was originally published in the Los Angeles Times and is part of the UCLA Digital Library collection Changing Times: Los Angeles in Photographs 1920-1990.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Bambi Helps Prevent Forest Fires . . . Again!

The Advertising Council, in collaboration with the USDA Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters are launching a new series of public service advertisements designed to raise awareness about wildfire prevention.  The PSAs feature characters from Disney's Bambi, which is especially significant; Bambi was featured in the very first wildfire prevention PSA, all the way back in 1944.

According to Peggy Conlon, president and CEO of The Advertising Council, “We are delighted to reunite Smokey Bear and Disney’s Bambi to remind Americans about their important role in wildfire prevention. They are both beloved and enduring characters and these wonderful new PSAs will continue to resonate with a new generation of children and further the reach of Smokey’s critical messages."

We featured that original PSA poster of Bambi in a post here at 2719 Hyperion just over two years ago.  Here it is if you missed it the first time.

More information can be obtained at

Monday, October 04, 2010

Timeless Beauty

It feels like it was just yesterday when I was overjoyed with Platinum Edition DVD release of Disney's contemporary animated classic Beauty and the Beast.  It was actually 2002.  Time marches on without hesitation, especially in regard to entertainment, technology and this ever-so-quickly aging Disney journalist.  But there is one particular constant: Beauty and the Beast remains an entity of entertainment both timeless and extraordinary, and one that has now been enhanced by further advances in home theater technology.

The newly released Blu-Ray Diamond Edition of Beauty and the Beast is simply amazing; it is an exceptional masterpiece in the venue of home entertainment.  Presented for the first time in high definition, it now resonates with a visual clarity that both demonstrates and celebrates the talents and artistry of the individuals who created and produced this animated feature some two decades ago.  The fine lines of the animator's craft are now more distinctly pronounced and visible.  The benefits of a high definition presentation make more evident the nuances and details of hand drawn animation that have sadly been over-polished in the last twenty years of computer-driven production and the transition to purely digital animation.  Similarly, one can now see the film's backgrounds in all their lush, deeply textured artistry, almost as if you were standing before each painting's original canvas.

Like its Platinum predecessor, the Diamond Edition includes three versions of the film: the original theatrical release, the 2002 expanded version that included the new musical sequence Human Again, and the Work in Progress cut that was originally presented at the 1991 New York Film Festival prior to the film's completion.  One disappointment in that regard--the new Diamond Edition only presents the Work in Progress version as a small picture-within-a-picture overlay with the original theatrical release.  There appears to be no option to view it separately in a full-screen mode.

The Diamond Edition migrated over many of the Platinum's special features, but also added a considerable amount of new content, most notably a three-hour branching documentary, Beyond Beauty: The Untold Stories Behind the Making of Beauty and the Beast, that is exceptional in both presentation and information.  One "branch" is especially interesting.  Revealed for the first time is an original treatment reel that was supervised by Richard Purdam, the project's first director.  It encompassed a very different approach to the material, being distinctly non-musical, and was ultimately rejected by Disney execs.  A second new documentary is included entitled Composing a Classic. It focuses on the creation of the music, which proved integral to film's ultimate success.  Also included are the obligatory "family friendly" features such as games, trivia and music videos, necessary to provide appeal to the ever important soccer-mom demographic.  Thankfully, these items are not as overwhelming here as they have been on prior Disney classic releases.

No doubt in another decade or so, we will be singing the praises of Beauty and the Beast in whatever new and wonderful technology that will then be gracing our lives and our home entertainment systems.  And the film will remain as wonderful, timeless and extraordinary as ever.