The Disney/SLG Deal
Haunted Mansion 1
Following last week’s announcement of a multi-year deal between Harris Katleman, Ahmet Zappa and Christian Beranek and 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, some readers have been wondering about the arrangement between SLG Publishing and Disney.
SLG has been publishing a number of comic book series based on Disney properties since the deal was first announced at the Book Expo America show in New York back in June of 2005.
The four titles announced include Haunted Mansion (based on the theme park ride, not on the movie), Gargoyles (taken from the animated TV series and written by series creator Greg Weisman), Wonderland (set after Alice leaves at the end of the animated film and focuses mainly on the White Rabbit and his housemaid Mary Ann), and Tron (which continues the storyline of the film Tron from 1982 and the video game Tron 2.0 from 2003).
It is timely that we sit down with SLG owner, founder and president Dan Vado to discover if the magic is still alive.
Newsarama: Dan, for the record, what does Kingdom Comics mean to SLG? After all, as you'd mentioned in an earlier email response as we were setting up this interview, SLG's rights to the Disney properties expires in August...
Dan Vado: Short term, nothing really. Our license continues into August and every indication is that we will come to some sort of arrangement in terms of keeping the stuff we have done in print and continuing a couple of them. Long term, and this petty much applies to everyone not just me, it's doubtful you will see any new Disney licensed titles from us. Why would anyone pursue a Disney license when the company is now going to put out its own titles.
Again, I don't really know anything about Kingdom Comics beyond what was in their press release.
NRAMA: Now, just what does that really mean for some of the Disney titles that SLG is still publishing. Let’s start with Greg Weisman's Gargoyles and the spin-off series, Bad Guys…
DV: It is our intention to finish all of Gargoyles and to work something out with Disney so we can continue to bring out new Gargoyles comics. Getting a new license is ultimately Disney's call so this is where this Kingdom Comics thing might come into play, but as I mentioned before I have no specific knowledge of this.
NRAMA: Tron: Ghost in the Machine writer Landry Walker recently posted on his blog that he's been done with the sixth and final issue "for months" already. So, when is issue #6 hitting the stores? The trade is now being made available for pre-order on Amazon.com, by the way...
DV: That one is on us, We have had some issues getting the book colored. It should be out soon, before Comic-Con.
NRAMA: Haunted Mansion Volume One: Welcome Foolish Mortals, which collected the first six issues, was released end of last year. Will there be more Haunted Mansion stories that'll go straight to hardcover/trade paperback or was issue #7 the last in the series?
DV: I had big plans for the Haunted Mansion stories and I would like to continue them. If we do get a new license for the title we will be focusing more on long-form stories rather than the anthology style stories that were in the first issues of the series. Haunted Mansion is a fun title to work on and people really responded positively to the second story arc we did in the book following the girl, Sarah, who wound up setting events in motion that caused the entire house to be swallowed into the earth.
NRAMA: All in all, just how well did the Disney properties do?
DV: Well, they do sell better than the average SLG book, but the cost of getting them done far and away outstripped the added sales benefits. Rising costs of printing and color printing specifically, not to mention rising costs of transportation. Those are things which have had a huge impact on us, Disney or not.
NRAMA: Did SLG benefit at all from the whole publishing deal? After all, several of SLG's titles like Little Gloomy, Kid Gravity and The Super Scary Monster Show: Featuring Little Gloomy appeared in Disney Adventures Magazine…
DV: Those things were all appearing in Disney Adventures long before we started our thing with Disney and had nothing to do with us. Certainly we had a nice PR boost from being associated with Disney. I felt we did a good job on the books themselves and proved that a Disney comic could be something a little cooler and different.
NRAMA: Back when it was announced, you were "ecstatic" about the agreement with The Walt Disney Company. However, it hasn't been smooth sailing from the get-go. At the SLG Panel in last year's WonderCon, you cited the "real lengthy set of approvals" as one of the main reasons for the delays with the Disney titles. When asked if you'd have done things differently if you had the chance to do it all over again, you made it known that "Knowing then what I know now, I definitely wouldn't have done it". Anything that you'd like to add now that the license is expiring soon?
DV: I should have eased into the project a bit more, done one title and gotten a feel for it. Disney really did their best to smooth out the approval process, but then we ran into troubles of our own getting the comics out on a consistent schedule.
NRAMA: Looking ahead, what does the future hold for SLG? Isn't Wonderland writer Tommy Kovac working on an Oz comic? More Malinky Robot from Sonny Liew? Care to share some of the company's upcoming plans with our readers?
DV: We have abandoned the Oz thing for now, however we will probably come back to it at some point. There are a lot of Oz books floating around, Tommy's story is pretty special (as tall his work is) and I would not want it to be lost in a flood of books. I would love to see Tommy write more fairy tale type stuff, I think he has such an amazing sensibility for that kind of thing. We have no immediate or long term plans for anything with Sonny, but he is easily one of the more talented people out there right now and I am sure you will be hearing plenty from him.
We are currently refocusing on graphic novels and trying to get our feet under us for a change in direction in terms of both format and content. What we have always done best is discover new, promising and talented writers and artists and I am trying to get back to those roots so to speak. Ethan Nicolle (Chumble Spuzz) and Faith Erin Hicks (Zombies Calling, The War at Ellsmere) are examples of the new and exciting people bringing projects to us.
One project I am really excited about that won't be out for some time is our adaptation of Captain Blood's Odyssey. Matt Shepherd (writer of Dead Eyes Open) and Mike Shoykhet (artist of Tron) are putting together something that I think is going to be entertaining and memorable.
I am also looking for part-time help with our publicity and sales so that we can better focus our time on our core efficiencies of working with and developing talent.