Yesterday at San Diego Comic Con, there was a fascinating panel centering on The Dynamic World of Disney Comics. The panel was moderated by Gianfranco Cordara, Publisher for Global Magazines and Comics for Disney Publishing Worldwide and included Daron Nefcy, creator of Star vs. the Forces of Evil, Mike Siglain, creative director, Lucasfilm at Disney Publishing, and Roberto Santillo, Director, Art Development and Academia Disney. Attendees got an inside look at how fan-favorite stories, characters, and films are adapted for modern comic book audiences.
“It started in 1930. Nobody knows how many comic stories we’ve published in 86 years. Of course, our comics span into Marvel, Lucas, Pixar, and for us this is really a legacy that goes from Walt Disney to today,” Cordara began. “Every time we create a comic, we want to be at a level that our predecessor has been.” The comics have global appeal. “In Finland, our Disney Comics sell more than 300,000 copies, which means that basically everybody in Finland reads our comics.”
“What we’re doing is not just adapting the TV series or movie, but we extend the stories,” Cordara said. “It’s a great way to get involved in more content.” He then pointed to a number of upcoming comics, including a Finding Dory comic book and a series of “Cinestory” books based on classic episodes of DuckTales, as well as episodes of the upcoming series. There are also “Cinestory” series planned for Gravity Falls and Descendants. (During the Q&A at the end of the panel, Cordara also said that they’d be, “Looking into the archives to dig deep and find other things to publish that haven’t been published in 50 years.”)
And, of course, there’s Star Wars. Recently, Disney Comics released a stylized comic book based on the first three movies (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi). “The Marvel Comics are for an older audience, it’s not for little kids, and it’s important for us that kids know the franchise,” Siglain said. “Comics are a very visual medium. It works for kids. To pick up a comic book and read it without realizing they’re reading it, is amazing. Star Wars comics have an amazing history. But what we wanted to do here was do comics for kids today and make it feel relevant for kids today. I think we’ve captured that.”
In terms of adapting these films, which are certifiable classics, Santillo said that it was quite an undertaking. “It’s a great responsibility. We are talking about graphic novels based on legendary movies. To make a graphic novel that is a great experience, it takes time. We have been working for six months since we got the script to when we released the files. Different artists, with different skills – background artists, special effects artists. It’s a process very close to a movie production.”
Next the panel talked about the process of finding a unique style for each book. “Do we want to be interpretive of the [film] style? Or do we want to stay close to the likeness?” Santillo said. He showed a great mockup – on one side was a character that was clearly cartoon-y, on the other side one that was nearly photo-realistic. In the middle was the sweet spot between the two. Siglain said, “For us on the Lucasfilm side, it’s very important that kids get, Oh, that’s Han Solo. It doesn’t have to look like Harrison Ford.”
Another key element of adapting the Star Wars movies is picking which elements to use from them, and which to leave out. “It’s very difficult. It’s 208 pages and retells IV, V, and VI. You have to go back and really distill it down to the core elements. This is a different medium and you can’t do things that you in film and vice versa,” Siglain said. “If you look at the scene in Return of the Jedi when Luke is about to be thrown into the Sarlacc pit, they cut to everyone. We don’t have the space for that here. But the important one is Lando, since he’s in on the plan to help Luke escape. It becomes a case-by-case basis.”
Later on, the panel showed a great side-by-side comparison of footage from the films being shown right next to panels from the comic book. It was dazzling. Not only are the moments from the film perfectly captured in comic book form, but sometimes the comic book panels enhance the mood, atmosphere, or emotion of the scenes in ways that you couldn’t accomplish in a live-action film. (Santillo noted that they were largely inspired by the pre-production paintings of legendary Star Wars artist Ralph McQuarrie.)
Nefy, whose wonderful Star vs. the Forces of Evil just started its second season on Disney XD, said that the process of turning the show into a limited series has been a blast. “It’s fun because it’s all members of the Star team [doing the comic] and I got to pick who got to do these comics,” Nefcy said. “I’ve been working very closely with the writers and artists. He wrote the comics, and he wrote a story that connects all eight issues, and is illustrated by someone who has worked on the show from the very beginning.” She promised that the series would also delve into the backstory of Pony Head, and feature a return to the dimension of cats-with-human-faces. Since the writer of the books is on the staff, Nefcy said it’s a pretty casual back-and-forth. “I’ve never done a comic before, and we just had a lunch and talked about the general approach. So he’ll just pop in and give ideas,” she said.
The subject then turned to a pair of upcoming titles based on animated smashes: Frozen and Zootopia. “To make a comic based on such a successful movie is really daunting,” Santillo said. “But artists get to be a part of the Frozen world, of the Zootopia world, and get to expand those worlds. It can go much more in-depth in the characters’ daily life.”
Art was shown from the forthcoming Zootopia comic book series, and it really looks like they’re pushing things stylistically, with super-creative page layouts and panel configurations. “Because it’s a city, and a unique universe, you can go up and down, and move in any direction,” Santillo said. “We are exploring a brand new world. It’s a real universe. Layouts could be very fascinating and the color treatment could be really interesting and a new interpretation of the original style.” It shows–these pages looked beautiful.
Santillo said the approach for a book based on the world of Finding Dory was “great for us,” since the team at Pixar Animation Studios is very encouraging of bold stylization. “We had to decide on a new style suitable for 2D,” he said, commenting on how big and rich the actual 3D computer animated Finding Dory was.
Towards the end of the panel, they also made a big announcement: Beauty and the Beast would be adapted into a Japanese-style manga, next year, to coincide with the release of the brand new live-action film. And there’s more: There will be two books (published by Tokyo Pop); one will be from Belle’s perspective and the other from the Beast’s. How cool is that?
And that’s what I really came away from the panel understanding: The Disney Comics legacy is something that everyone involved in the books today really cherishes and is innately aware of; they want to take these properties and universes and really do something fresh and creative with them, utilizing the medium in unique and interesting ways. That’s what Disney Comics always was and that’s very much what it is now.