The panel began with Tashana Williams, a licensing manager, discussing the importance of the fab five to Disney in the comics industry and the longstanding relationship with Gemstone Publishing who holds the rights to the property in the United States (much to the chagrin of many of the audience) and will continue to do so for the forseeable future. She mentioned Mickey and the Gang as the current (published Nov 2005) high end, oversized collection which features reprints of all of the Good Housekeeping comic strips from the 1940s through 60s along with additional collections. She mentioned that there are currently over 100,000 pages of fab five comics at their disposal so the ink well won’t run dry anytime soon. In the medium to long term, she said the company is working towards licensing the classic characters (such as the Disney princesses) in comic book form.
She then began talking about BOOM! Studios and their new Pixar and Muppet projects (see coverage of the BOOM! Studios panel here). She breezed through the Pixar properties saying not much more than the stories will originate completely from within BOOM! Studios with approval from both Pixar and Disney. She did spend a little more time on the Muppet side of things noting that in addition to the Muppet Robin Hood shown at the BOOM! Studios panel, there will be additional series based on public domain stories such as Muppet King Arthur and Muppet Peter Pan (the Muppet Wiki also additionally cites stories such as the Three Musketeers, Sleeping Beauty and Prince Charming). She did speak highly of BOOM! (as they did of Disney and Pixar), and especially of Roger Langridge who she said is solely responsible for the Muppet Show comics (in that he wrote, drew, lettered and colored the first issue). She mentioned that she had seen the first comic just the day before the panel and described it as absolutely hilarious. Langridge had also created several Muppet comics for the defunct Disney Adventures magazine but they never made it in prior to the magazine folding.
The focus then switched to Christian Trimmer, an editor at Disney Hyperion. Trimmer related how Disney Hyperion’s books relate to the comics market in that they are producing graphic novel adapations of several children’s books as well as the children’s books themselves. Addressing how children’s books apply to the comics market, he started off talking about Mo Willems (Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! et al) and how the Pigeon series artwork basically has the characteristics of a graphic novel as does his Elephant and Piggie reader series. He talked about uglydoll creator David Horvath and the followup to Bossy Bear, Just Like Bossy Bear, due out in March. Jef Czekaj, creator of Nickelodeon Magazine’s Grampa & Julie: Shark Hunters, makes his Disney press debut with Hip & Hop Don’t Stop, a retelling of the Tortoise and the Hare who rap battle instead of race. Trimmer noted this is the first time the book’s cover was shown outside of the office. Trimmer then talked about Eisner Award winner Aaron Renier of Spiral Bound. Renier’s first book with the group is due out in July and is titled An Anaconda Ate my Homework (originally titled Digby’s Backpack).
Switching to slightly older demographics, Trimmer talked about the success of Charise Mericle Harper and her ability to reach a ‘reluctant reader’ audience with the Fashion Kitty series, now on its third installment. Also up for topic was Alexa Kitchen, the youngest Eisner Award nominee for Drawing Comics is Easy! (Except When it’s Hard) which she wrote at age 7. Kitchen’s first book with Disney is a collection of observations called Grown-Ups are Dumb (No Offense), due out in August and Kean Soo’s Jellaby: Monster in the City.
The panel also expanded on how the upcoming Disney movie slate will be able to encompass the press group by using the ‘young Jack Sparrow’ chapter book series as an example and how graphic novels will provide a vehicle for adaptations of the upcoming films.
Back to the books, Trimmer focused on Eoin Colfer, author of the Artemis Fowl books and announced there will be a seventh title in the series. He also talked about the success of the graphic novel adaptation of the first Artemis Fowl book and said the followup graphic novel, Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident, will be released in August. Another of Colfer’s novels, The Supernaturalist, will also be adapted into a graphic novel. Additional adaptations announced will be Jonathan Stroud’s The Amulet of Samarkand (Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book One) in Fall 2010 and Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief (release date TBD).
Trimmer concluded his segment by talking about Disney’s partnership with James Sturm and The Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont and the projects that have come out of it such as Houdini: The Handcuff King, Sturm’s Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow, Thoreau at Walden and the upcoming titles on Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean (due Winter 2010) and Hellen Keller by Joe Lambert (Winter 2011).
For their part, Ahmet Zappa and Christian Beranek talked about Kingdom Comics, a division that was created to tap into the Disney live action film vault and produce ’120 page’ graphic novel adaptations. The duo would not mention any projects in the works and instead spoke only in ‘vagueries’ lest the ‘Disney laser’ smite them, however, Zappa did drop some timely hints in that he appeared quite obsessed withsupernatural stories and the original Escape To Witch Mountain (which not-so-coincidentally has the re-imagined Disney’s Race to Witch Mountain coming out in theatres soon). Other titles that were used to demonstrate the tone of the series included Pirates of the Caribbean and the National Treasure series. According to Beranek, the books will be released every four months. When asked ‘hypothetically,’ which films the pair would like to adapt into graphic novel form, Escape to Witch Mountain and Tron (2.0) were mentioned. Other titles that will probably be ripe for the series is the recently discussed 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Captain Nemo and Prince of Persia (purely speculation on my part).