- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 14, 2003

Starting in 1939 and continuing more than half a century, the Disney comic book became a staple in American popular culture.

Thanks to the efforts of Western Publishing under the imprints of Dell, Gold Key and Whitman, and to Gladstone Publishing, along with famed creators including Floyd Gottfredson, Don Rosa, Daan Jippes, William Van Horn, Noel Van Horn, Patrick Block and the legendary Carl Barks, series such as Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories and Four Color introduced readers to Uncle Scrooge McDuck, Gyro Gearloose and Li’l Bad Wolf.

The Disney sequential-art magic stopped in February of 1999 with the closing of Gladstone, and it finally took the man with the coolest toys and best comic-book collection to revive the legacy.

Steve Geppi, owner of Diamond Comic Distributors and president and chief executive officer of Gemstone Publishing, officially brings the Disney gang back to comic books beginning in two weeks with the release of Uncle Scrooge No. 319, featuring Don Rosa’s duck epic, “The Dutchman’s Secret.”

Mr. Geppi’s admiration of the ‘toons has been well-known for years in industry circles, and his love of the medium has always been the battle cry for taking over the production of Disney comics.

“I love [Disney Comics], and I am a die-hard Carl Barks fan, and I consider it a great honor and privilege to follow the footsteps of previous licensees,” Mr. Geppi says from his Timonium, Md., office.

His carefully crafted strategy began this May with the release first of a reprint of a very collectible 1947 shoe-store giveaway, the Boys and Girls March of Comics No. 4, featuring Carl Barks’ Maharaja Donald. (An original version of the comic in mint condition can go for up to $7,000 today.) The giveaway on Free Comic Book Day put an estimated 168,000 copies of the reprint in children’s hands.

Next, Mr. Geppi found a trio of key personnel from the defunct Gladstone Publishing, Editor in Chief John Clark, Production Manager Susan Daigle-Leach and Art Director Gary Leach, moved them to Maryland and armed them with computers, brushes and a budget.

Their first goal was to concentrate on the repackaging of comics material that already has been seen in Europe through Scandinavian publisher Egmont Group.

This involves Mr. Leach scanning finished and line-art pages into the computer and Miss Daigle-Leach taking on the demanding role of reference colorist; she must carefully fill in the hues of each panel used to give the printers and digital coloring experts a key to how the art should finally look.

“We get the line art in from [the European publishers]. They do have color available in their books, but it isn’t really similar to what we do,” she says. “They have different colors for characters and use a much more limited palette.”

Overall, the staff handles the digital coloring and separations of mostly covers in-house while outsourcing the interior pages, thus the need of sending along Miss Daigle-Leach’s color guide.

After the backlog of stories from overseas, the staff also hopes to start producing brand-new stories for American and worldwide audiences.

Expect books with new cover art from Don Rosa and William Van Horn, available at $6.95 for 64 color pages, to continue hitting store shelves and even school libraries in the near future.

The line will include classic series such as Uncle Scrooge Adventures, Donald Duck Adventures and Walt Disney Comics and Stories. Gemstone Publishing also will introduce two monthly comics starting in the summer and add two more monthlies later in the year.

As to the eventual success of the line, Mr. Geppi can only comment on the current climate of sequential art available in mass-market locations.

“Timing is everything, and with the advent of the bookstore market embracing the graphic novel format, I think our timing is just perfect. I am also hopeful to get the Disney comics into the school systems, as they are universally embraced as wholesome and there should be no barriers in using them in the educational side of literacy.”

Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. Call 202/636-3016, fax 202/269-1853; e-mail jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com or write to Joseph Szadkowski/The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington D.C. 20002.

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