Marvel, Disney And Panini: The Italian Job
As a result of the Marvel bankruptcy, European publisher Panini got a very cushy deal licensing Marvel titles across Europe, including owning Marvel UK in its entirety. While those very favourable terms have been renegotiated since, it did allow Panini to set up a strong European-wide distribution network selling popular comics that they basically hardly paid anything for.
Of late they have continued to exploit that relationship, with lots of Marvel comics on the newsagents shelves and trade paperbacks on the bookshelves, even collecting work uncollected in the US, such as Death's Head, Dragons' Claws and now Knights Of Pendragon.
And Panini have very strong publishing operations in the likes of Germany, Spain, France and Italy as well as the rights to generate their own Marvel content, such as the young-kids aimed Marvel UK Spider-Man comic Spectacular Spider-Man and Marvel Super-Heroes (featuring work by Roger Stern, fact-fans!)
So how will the Disney buyout of Marvel affect Panini? Especially in its home country of Italy?
Because in Italy, Disney aren't just a licensing company the way they have become in most of the rest of the world. They are Italy's largest comic-book publisher.
For about forty years, the Disney franchise in Italy was licensed to another publisher: Mondadori who not only reprinted American material but from the 1940s was producing its own Disney content, with incredibly high production standards. Yet this stunning material has rarely been seen outside Italy. Their top selling title Topolino sold around one and a half million copies a week back then, and still sells almost half a million today, with Disney as publisher.
Each copy of Topolino includes one Mickey and one Donald story produced in Italy, each around thirty or forty pages long as well as shorter stories, often reprinting Scandinavian or German produced tales.
There are also a number of monthly Disney titles which mostly reprint stories from the sixty-year, two hundred thousand-page back catalogue of original work, as well as the superhero-spinoff Donald Duck title Paperinik, heavily influenced by the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby era. And of course, Mickey X, where Mickey Mouse has been reinterpreted as a suspense thriller, with Mickey a private detective investigating supernatural mysteries.
Disney took over publishing these books fifteen years ago after seeing just how successful they were in the Italian market, setting up their own offices and, in many cases, simply transferring the contracts of editors and freelancers from Mondadori to Disney with no interruption in the publications, keeping the same formats and numbering. The biggest change was that the creators of the strips started getting credited for their work.
So now Disney own Marvel. This means that Panini in Italy are making their living reprinting stories about characters that Disney own, to some extent competing with them with characters Disney own.
Will history repeat itself? Will Disney take away Panini's Marvel license in Italy and continue the Marvel publications from their Italian offices, depriving Panini of what is basically funding much of their other operations and expansion?
Will they go further, setting up offices in different European countries or using existing Disney publishing companies there and take all of Panini's Marvel licenses, country by country?
Or will they just buy Panini and suddenly get a massive inroad into the UK market, one in which they are currently non-existent and would take an age to build up?
And will Disney will allow the likes of Spectacular Spider-Man and Marvel Super-Heroes with their original content and a small but loyal team of British comics creators to continue?
Questions, questions, questions…
UPDATE: Marco Lupoi, head of Panini Comics Italiae boss has responded to rumours saying "At this time, we can't say much. Now it's "business as usual", as for the coming years… but surely Disney will give a great boost to Marvel, and multimedia content related to Marvel". In a blog post, he expressed lots of positive thinking, but manages not to mention how this may affect Panini.