Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

September 1, 2009

Ben Schwartz On Marvel/Disney Deal

The writer Ben Schwartz, who has experience writing about multiple entertainment fields, sent me the following letter with a few thoughts about the impending purchase of Marvel by Disney. I thought it interesting enough to publish in the main body of the blog rather than in the letters section, although in doing so I ask you to cut Mr. Schwartz the slack of his intending this as a letter rather than as a formal editorial. Although, as always, he writes very well.

By Ben Schwartz

Some thoughts on the Disney/Marvel deal. You asked about Disney deals that didn't go so well. My first thought: Miramax. In that, Disney absorbed the Oscar-bait studio of the Weinstein Brothers. One aspect of their problems with Disney, and vice versa, is that Disney is very sensitive to putting out material that draws boycott action from advocacy groups. That is, when someone wants something from Disney, they will look at Marvel material (let's say, a violent Wolverine comic with some gore) to paste on the news and say, "Disney sells this to kids." Pixar doesn't create a problem that way, but the pregnant Mrs. Hobgoblin in a recent Spider-Man arc might. Marvel's "out" gay characters might? These are inviting targets for the kinds of creepy protests Disney gets, such as the religious boycotts they've gotten in the past over imagined perverse drawings in their animated films. I'd like add, I think those particular protests were from loons or opportunists, but you see my point? One reason Michael Ovitz left Disney was his pushing Scorsese's film Kundun, a film about occupied Tibet, which infuriated the Chinese government on its release as Disney hoped to broker big deals in China. One reason Miramax's Weinstein brothers left Disney was over Disney's refusal in an election year to release Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. Creative autonomy was clearly an issue, as the NY Times reported.

You wrote:
"The publishing stuff is only a little ominous, although the general notion that Disney isn't going to second-guess Marvel where they have expertise would indicate that the comics side of things stands a good chance of being left alone -- except perhaps in terms of a wider platform for book distribution."
imageHah! Ominous because they will leave publishing alone or because they won't? Look, Marvel didn't just get bought up by a subsidiary of General Dynamics. Disney is a creative company, and superhero books in general could use a shake up. No loss, in my opinion, if they did get involved. Marvel's line has been a angry version of Weisinger-era Jimmy Olsen concepts lately (suddenly, everyone's a zombie; suddenly, everyone that was bad is good and was good is bad ...). After all these-post Miller/Moore years of "dark" and "edgy," ie, angry and adolescent, maybe Marvel moving towards pop light isn't a bad idea. The pop-culture Kirby/Lee/Ditko-era was Marvel's creative peak, while 2009 is its financial peak from movies, TV, etc, (but not in comics). They need something.

From the conference call:
"The Marvel brand and its characters are somewhat like the Disney brand and its characters. Not only is there growth for Marvel as Marvel, but Disney opportunities for Marvel -- the parks, the TV channels. The goal is not to rebrand Marvel as Marvel/Disney, but to grow it as Marvel."
Yes, this is where I think things will get interesting. The Spectacular Spider-Man animated show is better than the comics. The X-Men and Spider-Man movies are, too. As I mentioned above, the guys running the comics division live in the past and their sales are mediocre. The people making the comics into movies are the ones connecting to the public in a big way, that's actually made Marvel fun for me again. Does anyone still buy the idea that the comics are where new concepts are generated that get turned into movie and television? The newest idea in comics-to-movies is the Claremont/Byrne X-Men vibe of the early '80s in the X-Men movies.

Over the years, many, many people have complained about Disney for lots of reasons. I know a number of parents who don't want their kids exposed to the Disney version of favorite fairy tales and books. I get that, and understand why. On the other hand, I can't think of a company that would benefit right now from that more than Marvel. Overall, I see the deal as a plus for both companies.
posted 8:25 am PST | Permalink

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