A Tale of Disney Publishing

I’m not exactly sure I can explain why I returned. In a strange way the Walt Disney studio felt like home. On a cool December day in 1983 I reported to work at the place I had already spent a good deal of my career. My new boss hired me as an editor in the publishing unit of Disney’s Consumer Products Division. The first thing I wrote was a silly little story of Goofy buying hi-fi equipment. I was then asked to write some gag ideas for the daily Donald Duck comic strip. In time I was handed all kinds of writing assignments involving the Disney characters. It was clear I had made the right career choice. The work was enjoyable and the people were talented, friendly and funny. I was given a name tag, a silver pass to Disneyland, and a parking space on the Disney Burbank campus. The prodigal son had found his way home.

    All was not well at the Mouse House, however. The studio had not done well in the post Walt era. The entire Disney board of directors had grown old and stodgy, completely unable to compete in the new Hollywood. While George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were enjoying success as family filmmakers Disney seemed totally out of touch with a market they once owned. Green mailers were hammering at the studio gates and for a time it looked as though the house that Walt built, might be dismantled.

    In the company’s darkest hour, a ray of light shown through. Michael Eisner and Frank Wells arrived at 500 South Buena Vista to rescue Walt Disney Productions from itself. The cure would not be an easy one. The company needed a dose of strong medicine and it was not going to be pleasant. I watched Michael Eisner and Frank Wells as they strolled around the studio lot giving things the once over. It was evident that things were about to change and I warned the faint of heart it was time to take cover. Overnight, whole departments that had been around since the thirties were dismantled. Employees who had been with the company thirty years or more were given their pink slips. Little family Disney was about to become big time corporate Disney.

    It spite of the company turmoil, our little group of writers and artists continued working away in the Publishing Department. We were located in the Roy O. Disney building, a facility that housed our consumer products division. King Features Syndicate still published a number of Disney comic strips, and much of the work was done in house. Our boss wanted to put together the best creative team at the Disney studio and he came darn close to doing just that. I still consider it an honor to have worked side by side with such talented veterans as Cal Howard, Don Ferguson, Willie Ito, Carson Van Osten, Mike Royer, Tom Yakutis, Bob Foster and many other remarkable Disney artists and writers.

    Though we managed to stay out of the spotlight for a few years I knew the day would come when Michael Eisner and Frank Wells would focus their management eye on publishing. Many in our department began to quake with fear, but those fears were unwarranted. Our new bosses did not want to cut our department - they wanted to expand it.

    The early nineties ushered in many changes at the Disney company. Our little creative group suddenly became The Disney Publishing Group, consisting of Disney Press, Hyperion Books, and Disney Comics. Big shot executives from New York took charge of the prestige units. However, our little comic book company was regarded as insignificant. I’m not joking when I say that our editors did a lot of their early work on packing boxes. The Disney Company had given the artists and editors a firm deadline on getting the comics to press but they had no furniture was available. In spite of this, Disney entered the world of comic book publishing with their usual snotty attitude. The company not only paid the cheapest page rates but also refused the artist’s request to retain their original art. Word of Disney's arrogance spread throughout the comics industry and before long, many were eagerly anticipating our doom.

end part one