Did you know that, with approximately 50% of the market, Disney is the largest publisher of children’s magazines and comics (excluding manga) in the world? Disney comics and magazines are published in 85 languages in 75 countries, from Czech Republic to China and from Israel to Indonesia. 27 countries have a weekly Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck magazine that together sold a total number of 114.9 million copies in 2005 1. Disney comics may be dying in the United States — in the rest of the world they are still very much alive!
Walk into any grocery store, magazine stall or book store in Europe, and you will find piles of different Disney comics. They are a part of life, and many families have a subscription. In Germany, for instance, nearly one million kids read Micky Maus magazine every week, and a recent study has shown that approximately one-fifth of parents also enjoy reading along. Micky Maus has had a huge cultural and educational influence on German society in the last 55 years. Since the first issue of weekly Micky Maus magazine came out on 29 August 1951, generations have learnt new words and expanded their vocabulary from reading the adventures of Mickey Mouse and his friends. Nobody had thought that the magazine would become what it is today; over 90% of Germans have heard of Micky Maus magazine, and half of the German population today have learnt to read with it. Besides the weekly Micky Maus magazine, Germany has a whole range of other titles, from 500-page pocket books to expensive hardcover collector’s editions for adults.
The situation is similar in many other European countries. In Italy, fifty-five Disney periodicals are currently published, including the weekly Topolino (‘Mickey Mouse’), which is in the top five of all publications in the country. First issued in 1932, Topolino maintains its market leadership with original comic stories that are produced locally. Summer specials sometimes drive sales to over one million copies per week. If you put that in perspective with the US, Topolino does better than Time Magazine or Sports Illustrated 2. When the magazine started a new ten-part fantasy series last year, named Wizards of Mickey, the publisher launched a high-quality Flash website at www.wizardsofmickey.com to promote the new story. It’s very common in Europe to see nationwide Disney comic advertisement campaigns. Dutch publisher Sanoma often uses billboards to advertise its weekly Donald Duck magazine, and in Germany TV commercials are used for its immensely popular Lustiges Taschenbuch, which also has its own website.
Italian PK featured long science fiction stories starring Donald Duck as a superhero.
Arab edition of W.i.t.c.h. from the United Arab Emirates.
Italy is also where W.i.t.c.h., a fantasy / superhero comic series primarily targeted at girls, was created and launched as a comic magazine in April 2001. The series about five ordinary girls with five extraordinary powers is now available in 30 editions in 54 countries with a monthly circulation of more than one million. In the meantime the franchise has expanded to books, apparel, video games, mobile content and an animated television series.
In the Scandinavian countries, Disney comics are in a league of their own. Norwegian Donald Duck & Co magazine, which has been published by Egmont since 1948, is still extremely popular in this small country. In the 1990s the weekly magazine boasted 1.1 million readers per issue in Norway’s total population of 4 million people. In Finland, weekly Aku Ankka (‘Donald Duck’) has become the most popular periodical in Finland, and its comics are read by Finns of all ages.
Disney comics started in the United States back in the 1930s as daily Mickey Mouse newspaper strips and became popular in the 1940s and 1950s when Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories became the best selling comic book of all time, peaking at 3 million copies sold a month! This was the time when legendary Carl Barks was inking new stories for these comics. He is considered by many to be the best comic book artist of all time, and his stories are still reprinted around the world today. His stories have influenced the work of countless other artists, including filmmakers such as George Lucas and Steven Spielberg (remember the large boulder chasing Indiana Jones in Raiders? Straight out of a Barks story!).
Publishers with a license from Disney to publish its comics in one or more countries can freely use the pool of stories, covers and artwork that has been created in other countries in the last 50 years. That doesn’t stop them from creating new stories; thousands of pages of Disney comics are still created each year, most notably in Denmark (Egmont), the Netherlands (Sanoma), Italy (Walt Disney Company Italy), France (Hachette Presse) and Brazil (Abril). Apart from a few stories a year, the United States doesn’t produce much new material, but the American stories that were produced from the 1930s to 1980s, including those by popular artists like Carl Barks, Floyd Gottfredson and Paul Murry, are still reprinted all over the world.
|The Danish Egmont Company publishes Disney comics in many countries, including China.||José Carioca (the character from the 1943 The Three Caballeros) is so popular in Brazil, he has had his own title for decades.|
Disney comics with classic characters (like Donald, Mickey, and friends) are currently published in the US by Gemstone Publishing, which puts out two regular titles per month: Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories and Uncle Scrooge. These two series have a tiny circulation of only 3,000 to 5,000 issues per month, and many of these are even shipped to collectors overseas. Those figures obviously pale in comparison to the weekly circulation of European titles like Topolino.
So why is it that the country where The Walt Disney Company owns TV networks and theme parks, their comics and magazines perform so badly? Think of all the cross-promotion Disney could do by advertising its comics on TV and selling them in its theme parks! Instead, Gemstone Publishing is left to fend for itself; most of the titles it launched since June 2003 have already been canceled, and with no advertisers and ever-increasing paper costs, the publisher is having a hard time keeping its head above water. What a shame this is. If you look at how popular Disney’s magazines are in other countries, it is sad to see how poorly they do in the US and other English-speaking countries. The United Kingdom and Australia have also had a rich history of Disney comics, but today there are hardly any left. The UK still has some pre-school magazines like Winnie the Pooh, but that’s about it.
The biggest problem Gemstone faces is distribution; it simply doesn’t have the ability that European publishers have of putting their comics at grocery store checkouts and magazine stalls. Until recently there were still two Disney magazines widely distributed in the United States. The first was the quarterly Disney Magazine, with a circulation of 500,000, which was aimed at adult Disney fans. Unfortunately, the title was canceled in 2005 and Disney, surprisingly, gave up the magazine’s prime spot in magazine racks at grocery stores and book stores.
The second title, which is still around, is Disney Adventures. It is a small digest-sized monthly magazine unlike any of the Disney comics in the rest of the world. Surprisingly, Disney Adventures doesn’t contain many comic stories with Disney characters. Instead, it has stories with original characters like Kid Gravity and Jet Pack Pets. Still, because it is sold in stores across the country and because it has “Disney” on the cover, it sells like hotcakes and its circulation is around one million. Think of the possibility here if Disney would put some effort in targeting real Disney comics at kids and using its distribution channels.
It’s a bizarre situation. You have the largest publisher of Disney comics and magazines in the world, with a huge library of comic stories that are cherished by millions around the world, and in the country where it all started, all the Walt Disney Company cares about is one small monthly comic with stories featuring unknown characters like ‘Wulf and Merl’.
- Disney comics at Wikipedia.org
- History of Disney comics in the United States
- Disney comics around the world