It’s been a wild week, hell it’s been a wild year. A long, long year. The last month of 2017 hasn’t disappointed, with a whole bunch of ridiculous/terrifying news and general chaos to close out 365 days of unmitigated hell. Of course, in the comics and comics-adjacent world the conversation has been heavily focused on the potential and then reality of a deal between Disney and Fox, a merger which ended up being worth $52,000,000 in stocks for the Murdoch family and their shareholders. It’s another huge acquisition for the Mouse House and, according to Twitter, also for a lot of excited comics fans who want nothing more than to see the Avengers (whose screen license is owned by Disney’s Marvel Studios) and the X-Men (whose screen license is owned by Fox) fight. Which tbh seems like a supremely weird thing to be excited about, but to each to their own, I guess. This deal means that Disney will now finally own the film and TV rights to A-list properties that Marvel short-sightedly licensed 20+ years ago to Fox: their first family, the Fantastic Four, and their beloved mutants, which of course includes their flagship team, the X-Men. This original sin was one that would eventually lead to the creation of the MCU and the landscape of unearned shared universes that have haunted us ever since.
But in the midst of all the discourse, I realized there was something that no one was really talking about. And that was the fact that within this deal there was a smaller comic book publisher who had a long standing first-look deal with Fox, and earlier this year sold a large minority stake to the media conglomerate. This new merger means that maybe Disney has just gained another foothold in comics publishing, with the quasi-acquisition of BOOM! Studios. BOOM! is the controversial little comics company that could, with smash hit best sellers like Lumberjanes and cult hits like Goldie Vance—both of which have already been optioned for the big screen—along with a whole bundle of licensed books carrying the torches for beloved properties like Adventure Time, Bill and Ted, Rocko’s Modern Life, and Steven Universe.
Though the company’s books are a bright spark in the dreary landscape of direct market comics with treats like The Backstagers, Misfit City, Giant Days, and Destroyer, BOOM! has been haunted by tales of predatory contracts, creator exploitation, and shockingly low page rates. In BOOM!’s defense, all of those things are essentially what the industry was built on. But the juxtaposition between their bright books with diverse creative teams and the behavior behind the scenes has always left a particularly bad taste in the mouth. Especially since BOOM! is hardly an indie publisher but, behind those scenes, a collective of powerful men essentially creating an IP farm. Founder Ross Ritchie cut his teeth in the marketing department of Malibu Comics and now gets a production credit on any film that’s optioned from BOOM!. Mark Waid, currently Marvel’s go-to writer for faux teen voices and critically acclaimed Chris Samnee books, was BOOM!’s “celebrity” EIC in the late ’00s and has published several series there.
But I digress. The important thing here is BOOM! Studios’ dealings with Fox, who are as we all know [technically what is currently “Fox” will be split into Disney’s portion and a remaining portion, but the acquired parts of Fox, which are relevant to this conversation, are referred to here as “Fox” for the sake of accessibility. —Ed.] soon to be owned by Disney. The potted version goes something like this: in 2013 BOOM! signed a first look contract with 20th Century Fox Films, meaning that the latter would get the first chance to pick up any of BOOM!’s properties for film. The following year, a similar deal was set in place for TV rights. This is particularly interesting as Fox must have turned down the chance to make the Lumberjanes movie, as that’s currently being developed at Warner Bros.— another thing that could likely change under the Disney deal (but more on that later). Earlier this year, Fox bought what was described by Deadline as a “significant” minority stake in the comics publisher, the details of which are pretty scarce. But it was a big enough deal that it ran on most major business sites. This seemed like a smart move for Fox, securing their potential IP farm. Just two weeks ago it was announced that 20th Century Fox was developing Goldie Vance, so it seemed as though all was going to plan. Then the Disney deal happened.
So what does any of this really mean for BOOM! and their future under the new mouse-shaped management? Well, according to a statement that Graphic Policy got from BOOM! at the moment it’s “business as usual,” and they don’t seem to have any more details than we do. But looking at the landscape of comics and the way that Disney has treated both Marvel and their IPs since they acquired them, it isn’t that hard to speculate on what the future might look like for BOOM! if they continue to work alongside Disney Fox.
Disney’s been causing a lot of fervent conversation with their choice to house their children’s comics like Star Wars Adventures, Duck Tales, and the upcoming Forces of Destiny at IDW rather than keeping them “in house” at Marvel. It’s pretty likely that these properties could be moved to KaBOOM!, a kid-friendly imprint of the publisher that currently puts out, for example, Adventure Time comics. It would make sense for Disney to keep these books away from the flagging Marvel brand, whilst moving them to a separately branded publisher that they now have a notable stake in. We could also see some of the BOOM! original properties that’ve been licensed to competing studios—such as Lumberjanes at Warner Bros.—make their way back into the hands of Disney. Lumberjanes will be an interesting one to watch as it’s a popular brand already, with massive costume and merchandising potential. Plus, Lumberjanes will be brought to life as an animated film, which is obviously very much in Disney’s wheelhouse.
A really interesting question, that many fans have been thinking ever since Disney’s Marvel acquisition, is: how long will Disney tolerate the flawed direct market distribution system A.K.A. monopoly, when it has stakes in more than one comic publisher and could likely create a far more efficient and profitable system on their own? It’s important to note that this also gives Disney a really large percentage of the direct market business. Whilst Marvel have got into a habit of driving sales with event crossovers, ridiculous variant schemes and high numbers of weekly books, this new acquisition adds a few more percentage points as well as giving Disney more pages of combined real estate in the monthly Previews catalog. BOOM! have long been the largest publisher to still be stuck in the “back of the book,” but you can expect that to change if Disney has anything to do with it.
Another theory is that Disney might just shutter Marvel as we know it, what with their consistently bad editorial decisions, lagging sales, and apparently never-ending scandals. But I’ve always thought that view underestimated the draw of the early ’90s heyday of comics sales, back when books were literally making millions of dollars. Could this new acquisition lead to an attempt to take their comics publishing companies/IP farms to the next level? Then there’s the outlandish potential of never ending crossovers that could suddenly see a member of Giant Days joining the Avengers or the Lumberjanes enrolling at Peter Parker’s old high school. I’m obviously half joking, but the precedent is there with BOOM! actually overseeing a Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy miniseries last year.
One of the more likely scenarios, though, is that Warner Bros. will attempt to pull themselves away from BOOM! as their number-one competitor takes the reigns. We could quite possibly see BOOM! lose their profitable Cartoon Network licensed books, as WB attempts to extricate themselves from the Disney fray.
It’s unsure what lies ahead for BOOM! But it’s certainly going to be interesting to see the fallout from Disney’s newest mammoth deal wreak havoc on every level of the comics industry once again.