FAN ABOUT TOWN – Walt Disney: The World’s Most Successful Indie Comics Creator

Walt Disney Comics

Walt Disney Comics

During a recent trip to Disneyland with my family (despite my previous vow never return to Anaheim – ever!), I was struck by a strange duality in the Happiest Place on Earth.

Now, I am far from a Disney historian, although I do possess more than a passing familiarity with the parks’ histories and Imagineering in general. And I won’t bore you with some polemic on how corporate America is brainwashing our children, et cetera, et cetera… mostly because I’ve never bought that line of thinking or possibly because I am one of those brainwashed children.

No, what really impresses me about Disneyland is that, even though it is the most carefully-regulated transmedia empire in the world, all of that merchandise, success, and fan loyalty is ultimately based on the intellectual property of a single independent creator:  Walt Disney himself.

Yes, Walt surrounded himself with talented associates and creators and he worked within the confines of the larger Hollywood studio system, but he rarely (if ever) allowed that system to dictate his creative direction. After being burned by Hollywood on some of his earliest shorts, Walt chose to work on his products in relative seclusion and would only involve the studio system after the projects were complete. Walt had faith in his intellectual property even when others weren’t so sure (many Hollywood wags called Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs “Disney’s folly” and predicted it would tank infamously, and that pessimistic outlook continued throughout the release of Bambi and beyond).

Of course, some of Walt Disney’s greatest successes were based on retellings of classic fairy tales, but I believe that it was his depiction of those well-worn favorites that many people now refer to as the “Disney magic.” Walt Disney may have told old stories, but he told them in a new way.

Which seems to be where we are today in the Indie Comics industry. As creators, we have to compete for shelf-space with our more famous competitors, so is it any surprise some of us go back to the fairy tale well like the Zenoscope books or even Image’s current hit, Peter Panzerfaust? These certainly aren’t faithful adaptations. They are new takes on the old standards, told with fresh voices by creators looking to bottle their own brand of “Disney magic.”

So where did Walt go right while so many of us have stumbled? In hindsight, I think it goes back to one of my original points: Walt Disney surrounded himself with talented people (like his brother and business mentor, Roy). While they worried about the business and merchandising and ancillary aspects of the fledgling studio, Walt was free to focus on the creative side of things.

It’s no secret that many Indie creators attempt the thankless undertaking that is making Indie comics alone. It’s like we take the “self” in self-publishing too literally and are forced to wear many different hats (writer/publisher/marketing guru/etc.) even when we may not be the most qualified candidates for some of those roles.

However, if some of us start to form our own trusted groups of “Nine Old Men,” who knows what kinds of theme parks our descendants will frequent? A Return Of The Super Pimps rollercoaster might not seem like the most feasible idea now, but if a kid from Marceline, Missouri could make it on the shoulders of a cartoon rat, then what’s to stop a crazy jerk like me?

P.S. I’m happy to report that there were some comics for sale at the Disneyland Resort, even if they were all Marvel titles. Would it kill them to put out a couple of nice theme-park exclusive Carl Barks collections, too? Heck, I’d even take the SLG Disney comics, if I didn’t already own them…

***

Richard A. Hamilton is a Los Angeles resident for 12 years running and the writer/publisher of Return of the Super Pimps and Miserable Dastards.  On his free time, he seeks out new Indie comics, local beers, and –on good days — both. 

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