Zappa and Beranak on Disney's Kingdom Comics

According to Ahmet Zappa, son of the legendary Frank Zappa and super-powered psychic witch businesswoman Gail, magic is real.

Together with former president and CEO of Fox Inc.’s Twentieth Television Harris Katleman and Silent Devil Productions co-founder and professional writer/producer/musician/actor Christian Beranek, they have been given the keys to the magical world of Disney with today’s announcement of a multi-year deal with The Walt Disney Studios to oversee the newly christened Kingdom Comics , an innovative new venture of developing graphic novels to create new film projects for the Studio as well as re-imagining and rejuvenating motion pictures from the Disney live-action vault.

Disney Publishing Worldwide, the largest distributor of comic books in the world, will have the first opportunity to distribute publications created by Kingdom Comics. President of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Production Oren Aviv said, “We're very excited to be working with Harris, Ahmet and Christian in developing this new business devoted to creating stories and properties for the graphic novel audience, as well as for moviegoers. They are three of the top talents in their respective fields and together they have the knowledge, expertise and instincts to create great publications and film properties. Some of these exciting publications will be inspired by films and characters in the vast and storied Disney library, while other original graphic novels are sure to spark great ideas for future Disney classics. Our vision for Kingdom Comics is to bring a fresh, contemporary approach to Disney properties that already have a strong connection with moviegoers and readers all over the world, and to add to that storytelling legacy."

Katleman added, "I have been involved with my share of exciting projects and worked with lots of great talent over the years. Working with Ahmet and Christian in creating Kingdom Comics for Disney is as exciting as anything I've ever done. We're all looking forward to working with Oren and his team in developing some fantastic new projects for the printed page and the silver screen."

Zappa said, "The ability to create new publications based on properties from the Disney vaults, and to develop original ideas for graphic novels and possibly future Disney films is a dream job filled with enormous fun and potential. Being a storyteller myself, I can't wait to work with some of the today's top writers and artists in bringing a fresh approach to graphic novels and the movies. We're also excited to discover and develop promising new talents in this field."

Beranek added, "Graphic novels continue to have an enormous following all over the world and we're hoping to bring something new and different to those devoted fans. There are a lot of great stories waiting to be told, including some familiar properties residing in the Disney vaults. This is the opportunity of a lifetime and we can't wait to get started." sat down with both Ahmet Zappa and Christain Beranek to discuss further about the whole Kingdom Comics deal.

Newsarama: Hi, Christian and Ahmet. How did Kingdom Comics come about?

Ahmet Zappa: It came about because of conversations Harris Katleman and myself had with Jason Reed and [President and Chief Executive Officer of The Walt Disney Company] Bob Iger. We all saw the potential for a graphic novel division at Disney. CB -- and I call him that because he's like a futuristic truck driver using an inter-dimensional ham radio to tap into the hearts and minds of comic book readers across the globe -- and I were friends and I couldn't think of anyone better to partner up with on this.

NRAMA: Christian, you ran Silent Devil for years. What's SD's role in the big picture?

Christian Beranek: Silent Devil still exists, but I'm now exclusive to Disney in terms of graphic novels. But I will always support SD's efforts -- I don't think you've heard the last from them yet. Astronaut Dad and Division 18 will continue, and as for future projects -- time will tell. Silent Devil was always a nice home base to have and I will look fondly on those years piloting its course. Maybe one day I'll go all Willy Wonka and hand the keys over to some bright eyed phenom. "Here you go, kid, here's a comic company: Make dreams happen."

As for my other projects, Unhappy White Girls will come out from AAM/Markosia in 2009 and Willow Creek will re-launch as soon as Josh Medors recovers from his battle with cancer. As for Little Foot, my small press all-ages company, the current crop of titles is safe and well. More news on that soon!

NRAMA: From the press release, it looks like Kingdom Comics serves as an R&D arm for Disney in terms of "developing graphic novels to create new film projects for the [Walt Disney Studios] as well as re-imagining and rejuvenating motion pictures from the Disney live-action vault." Let's start with the first part. Basically, Disney gets the first look deal whereby the Studio has the right of first refusal, correct?

CB: All books through Kingdom Comics will be Disney owned properties, so it won't be a first look. We're a division of the Studio itself and they are totally behind us. We owe it to them to produce the best material possible.

NRAMA: What kind of stories can we look forward to?

AZ: Action and adventure. Think National Treasure and Pirates of the Caribbean in terms of tone and spirit. Something the entire family can enjoy.

NRAMA: So, these would be new creations and properties that we're looking at, unlike the SLG-Disney deal, right?

CB: That is correct. We totally dig what other companies are doing with Disney licenses, but that's not our focus. We're here to create new Disney franchises.

NRAMA: Can you reveal more about some of the "top graphic novelists and artists" involved? Or at the very least, are they established names and professionals in the comic book industry or are they from outside the industry or both? I mean, with Ahmet's connections in the music industry, shouldn't there be some surprises coming our way from that side of the entertainment spectrum?

AZ: We want to feature the best talent from inside the comics industry. This is a great opportunity for them to shine at Disney. We will also be looking to some of our screenwriter and director friends. And you never know where the coolest stories may come from. Some people don't realize that there is a graphic novelist inside them. Here at the Kingdom Comics Special Ops division their job is to unlock that potential.

CB: We're actively looking right now. We're hitting the convention circuit and will be at Wizard World Philadelphia this weekend. Ahmet and I will be hosting the "Hollywood and the Graphic Novel" panel on Saturday.

Expect official announcements as creative teams get locked down. I can say production guru Thomas Mauer will be handling our lettering and design. He rocks.

NRAMA: Are there plans for these new titles/properties to hit the direct market in the form of comics too?

AZ: At the moment we're strictly doing 112+ page original graphic novels. We're going to do about 6-10 a year.

CB: It's quality vs. quantity, you can say. Very much focused on creating the best books possible.

NRAMA: Moving on to the second part, does it mean that Kingdom Comics has access to the whole Disney library with properties such as Mary Poppins, George of the Jungle, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, The Parent Trap, The Princess Diaries, The Santa Clause, Pirates of the Caribbean, Enchanted and lots more? Will you be working on upcoming properties such as Prince of Persia?

CB: We won't be working on any properties that are currently out there or in development. We'll be mining the back catalogue and bringing to life older Disney classics and giving them a fresh take.

NRAMA: Are you guys looking at a totally new interpretation of the works ala Marvel's Ultimate imprint and DC's All-Star line? A back to basics approach but with a modern touch?

AZ: Yes, very much in that vein. What makes us different, however, is we'll be launching new ideas alongside old favorites.

NRAMA: Ahmet, as I understand it, you had in 2006 sold the rights of your first novel, The Monstrous Memoir of a Mighty McFearless to Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer Films. Are there plans to create comics and graphic novels based on this creation of yours under the Kingdom Comics banner?

AZ: It's a possibility. Right now I'm working on the next two novels in the series, so that's been keeping me busy. I wouldn't see why not, however.

NRAMA: Also, Ahmet, what about Fraggle Rock? You are an executive producer on the film. What can we expect from the movie?

AZ: Fans of the original series I think will be thrilled with what we're doing and people not familiar with the Fraggles will fall in love. It's been a pleasure working with The Jim Henson Company on this project. The Fraggles will take over the world. They're like the Borg: Resistance is Fraggle.

NRAMA: What's on your playlist?

AZ: Candle on the Water from the Pete's Dragon soundtrack. That, and Feist.

CB: I've been cranking the new Gutter Twins album. Also, Holy Diver from Dio. It holds up.

NRAMA: Where do you guys get your ideas for Kingdom Comics books?

AZ & CB: From our large quad shot one pump vanilla lattes purchased at Peet's Coffee in Studio City.

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