I Salute both Mark Alessi and Steve Geppi

This week I have some good news to report from the perspective of future growth in the comics industry. First of all, I just received a call from Mark Alessi, the President of CrossGen Comics. He was calling to tell me that my TFTDB column of a few weeks ago, about the fantastic new CrossGen Comics Teaching Guides, generated an incredible wave of interest in their new program for utilizing graphic novels for teaching young people how to read in public schools. According to Mark, they received requests for information not only from hundreds of teachers, but also from Cable News Network (CNN), and from two very important consumer magazines: TEEN WEEK and BETTER HOMES AND GARDENS. It seems that the idea of creating a comprehensive program designed to integrate comics into the classroom struck a chord with a great number of influential people.

As a response to this overwhelming request for information, Mark Alessi has taken the unprecedented step of putting the entire MERIDIAN and RUSE TEACHER'S GUIDES on the CrossGen website for free examination. You can read them either by utilizing the red link on the CrossGen home page at www.crossgen.com, or go directly into the Teaching Guides via www.crossgen.com/education. In addition, there is now a special Message Board Forum designed to allow teachers to engage in dialog about the guides, and a special e-mail address (education@crossgen.com) for all those who wish to provide feedback directly to the creators of the guides.

I hope that all of you understand the risks that Mark Alessi has exposed himself to by putting the entire contents of his two publications online. While these are works in progress, CrossGen could still be easily ripped off by those who would take free advantage of all the thousands of hours of hard work that the CrossGen staff put into creating these great books. Mark told me that he considers that an acceptable risk, however, if allowing everyone to evaluate the teaching guides for free will add to the growing nationwide excitement generated by this wonderful new teaching program. I think you have to really admire that kind of risk taking and progressive thought. That's exactly what the comics industry has been sorely lacking during the past ten years.

Along those same lines, I am delighted to pass along my congratulations to Steve Geppi and Gemstone Publishing for their brilliant coup in negotiating a new master contract to bring Disney comics back into publication in America. Whenever I'm exhibiting in Europe, and the subject of the lack of Disney comics in the USA enters a conversation, I hear complete bewilderment that America cannot support a vigorous line of Disney comics. They are among the best selling comics in every country in Europe, as well as many other countries around the world, so no one in Europe can understand why they don't sell here.

The reasons why Disney comics have not succeeded here in the past are very complex. Bruce Hamilton revived them successfully, twice, first after the hiatus brought on by the failure of Gold Key and Whitman, then again after Disney's short-lived fiasco in self publishing. In both instances, Bruce ended up in major conflict with Disney over contractual issues. Those disagreements became so bitter that Bruce finally returned the license to Disney. It was his understanding at that time (1996?) that Steve Geppi was on the brink of a new deal with Disney, so he felt confident that Gemstone would be able to hire most of the staff he had assembled at Another Rainbow. Well, it took six years of difficult negotiations, but the Disney/Gemstone deal was finally signed in December. Effective in June, WALT DISNEY'S COMICS & STORIES and UNCLE SCROOGE will return as 64-page prestige format books, at a $6.95 cover price. If those books sell well, current plans are to revive DONALD DUCK and MICKEY MOUSE (as MICKEY MOUSE & FRIENDS) as 32-page standard comics, at a $2.95 cover price.

As for the Another Rainbow staff, I am delighted to report that three key staff members were able to answer Steve Geppi's call to duty. John Clark is already in place as editor-in-chief, Gary Leach will be the new art director, and Susan Daigle-Leach has been hired as the production manager. With those three key staffers in place, I feel very confident that the new Disney comics line will be just as competently produced as any issues ever were in the past. Initial issues will focus on reprinting material originally produced by Egmont in Europe, but John Clark indicated that negotiations are underway to possibly produce entirely new material in the not-so-distant future.

To get the new Disney Comics line off to a great start, Steve Geppi has made a very bold decision. Despite the fact that he will have no books available for sale yet on May 2nd, Steve has decided to take the risk to produce a spectacular comic Disney for Free Comic Book Day. In the June issue of DIAMOND PREVIEWS magazine there will be a solicitation for a special edition of MAHARAJAH DONALD, a Carl Barks masterpiece first published in 1946, as MARCH OF COMICS #4. I cannot think of a better comic book to pass out to young people on Free Comic Book Day. In fact, I will commit right now to purchase a minimum of 5,000 copies, all of which I will guarantee to give away for free. I figure it's the least that I can do to try and help Steve Geppi revive this all-important part of the American comics publishing universe.

In closing, I want to salute both Mark Alessi and Steve Geppi for having the vision, and the guts, to take on the risks entailed with the creation of these bold new programs. As long as I see leaders in the comics industry coming forth with dynamic new initiatives to introduce young people into the joys of comics and graphic entertainment, I'll retain at least some sense of optimism for the future of our world. Thanks guys!

Please send your e-mails to chuck@milehighcomics.com, and your letters to:

Mile High Comics, Inc.
Attn: Chuck Rozanski
2151 W. 56th Ave.
Denver, CO 80221

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