Filing Cabinet of the Damned

Monday, March 21, 2005

Marvel and Malibu: The Full Story

Two posts ago, I gave a rundown of a number of comic lines, including Malibu’s Ultraverse. Discussing what happened to the UV, I wrote: “Malibu had a computer-coloring operation that Marvel coveted, as well as a west coast location. As a result, Marvel bought out Malibu in November 1994.”

Shortly thereafter, I received an email from Tom Mason. Mr. Mason was one of the founders of Malibu and later the Ultraverse line, the co-creator and co-writer of the Ultraverse series Prototype, the creator of Dinosaurs for Hire, the founding editor of Malibu's Bravura line, and later the marketing director for Malibu just after the Ultraverse launch.

He was kind enough to clarify what actually happened:

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Marvel didn't buy Malibu for its coloring department. After Marvel bought the company, they tried to dismantle the coloring department immediately by bringing in a group of consultants to crunch numbers to prove it was too expensive to maintain. Marvel had a long-term agreement with a coloring house in Ireland and preferred to send books out of house instead of using inhouse technology. Also, the head of Marvel's manufacturing department at that time was from the old school and had no idea how computers worked.

It was only after the place in Ireland was overloaded and a couple of Marvel editors were trying to get late books back on schedule that they reluctantly shipped books to Malibu for coloring. When that worked out well, word got around and other editors started pulling books from Ireland and requesting Malibu's coloring.The mythology of the Marvel's coloring desires and the goal of a west coast presence were created by Malibu as a way of slowing down rumors that Marvel would just cancel the UV titles as soon as the deal closed. The real reason that Marvel bought Malibu was to keep the company out of the hands of DC which had been negotiating to buy the company since April/May of 1994.
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I asked Mr. Mason for further details, and he was kind enough to oblige.

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HJ: Thank you very much for clearing up my misconception. I do research for my postings, but the business information that comes my way is fifth-hand, at best. Any corrections folks can make are greatly appreciated.

TM: Well, it wasn't really inaccurate or a misconception -- you just had the information that Malibu sent out to the public at the time. It then got picked up and passed around over the years so it's almost become legend.

HJ: Why would Marvel be worried about DC buying Malibu? If I remember right, wasn't it 1994 when Marvel bought out that distribution company ("Heroes World?") and tried to increase their grip on the industry? Were they, in fact, buying Malibu to shut it down?

TM: Nah - Marvel bought Malibu out of fear. DC had been negotiating to buy Malibu since April/May of 1994 when Paul Levitz approached Scott Rosenberg at Wondercon that year. Negotiations and due diligence were handled by a task force from the mergers and acquisitions unit of TimeWarner and continued throughout the summer. By the San Diego Con that year it was almost a done deal, but shortly after San Diego, Marvel found out about it (this was under the regime when Marvel was owned by Ron Perelman) and Marvel's Terry Stewart called Malibu publisher Dave Olbrich and asked what was going on. According to inside Marvel sources that we had, corporate Marvel was afraid that if DC bought Malibu and was able to grow the company even slightly, the combined DC-Malibu marketshare would be enough to drop Marvel to the #2 company. That was the fear that drove them.

And far from wanting to shut it down, once Marvel realized they had bought a company that had 150 employees, computers on every desk, an in house coloring department (five teams working two shifts), an inhouse email network, an inhouse computer lettering department, they did try to grow the business and give Malibu a chance to survive -- hence, the crossovers, the relaunch with the lower cover prices, the access to Marvel creators and stuff like that.

The problems were three-fold: one, the market was really collapsing and the industry retreated to the safety and security of the known universes (Marvel and DC); two, Marvel's financial picture was worsening and they would soon declare bankruptcy; and three, Marvel was buying Heroes World, an event that was going to significantly alter the direct market distribution of comics (though eventually not in the way Marvel intended).
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So there you have it. The true story of what happened behind the scenes of Marvel, DC, and Malibu. Groovy.

I again thank Mr. Mason for his invaluable assistance. Not to mention the nice ego polish his email gave me. The co-writer of Prototype and Malibu big-shot guy read my blog? And wrote to me about it? Woo! (At the risk of sounding like a kissass, I dug Prototype.)

I would also like to thank Mike Sterling's Progressive Ruin and the ever-popular Neilalien for linking to Filing Cabinet of the Damned recently. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy and vaguely legitimate.

Hey, while I'm at it, thanks to all of you folks out there who read this blog. Regular posters, browsers, even my brother, who neither knows nor cares about comics, checks in once in a while. Thanks to each and every one of you.

...this kind of civility will never earn me a mention in Fanboy Rampage. Dammit. Maybe next time.

6 Comments:

  • Interesting. Some very similar content (Quotes from Mr. Mason) was posted on my messageboard. Evidently I purged the whole thread for being off-topic, so I can't compare your quotes to the ones that were on my board. What's it been... 5 years since they announced a Prime movie was in the works? I REALLY hate Ultraverse comics!

    By Anonymous Defiant1, at 1:17 AM  

  • I believe the Ultraverse banner of commics was something very special. I occasionally bought comic books at the grocery store and wondered why the rack disappeared one day, while I went on to other things. I rediscovered comics and particularly the Ultraverse when I moved 3 years ago and found a bag of old comic books in my garage. My first interest was to acquire and read through the entire run of Mantra comics -- which I believe was incredible, up to the Marvel takeover, after which like most of the books, it began to suck. Like many people all over e-bay and the net in general, I still have a strong interest in the Ultraverse, and have collected virtually ever issue, every crossover, alternate covers, foil-holographic covers -- you name it. I have been pitching the idea on the web since then that Mantra -- if done well, could be an incredible movie.

    By Anonymous W Michael Novotny, at 2:54 PM  

  • Harvey, I'm an old friend of Tom Mason (really, I used to work with him over at the Comics Journal, and for him when he was at Malibu). I'm looking to contact him can you either give him my e-mail or me his? Thanks.

    Robert J. Sodaro

    By Blogger Robert J. Sodaro, at 7:02 AM  

  • If there is anyone who is interested in the Ultraverse, or is an Ultraverse collector, please contact me by e-mail at Michael@ArrowpointRealty.com

    Your address will be shared with about 5 other people as of now who are on the Ultraverse e-mail distribution list.

    If you come across another person interested in the Ultraverse or an Ultraverse collector, have him or her send me an e-mail to be added to the distribution list.

    I have been researching for weeks and have created a list of issues and variant covers which should be close to complete. If you would like pdf copy e-mailed to you, let me know -- even if you do not want to be on the distribution list.

    Once you get the pdf list, if you have, or know for sure of a cover or issue not on this list, please let me or the group know.

    Any future e-mails are intended to be very infrequent, primarily to distribute collector updates.

    Next year marks the 15th anniversary of the Ultraverse (1993 -2008) and I have been on several websites asking people to write to Marvel managing editor Joe Quesada to do something to mark that anniversary, such as a trade paperback of all the first issues, or a "Best of the Ultraverse.' I have even added Joe to our mailing list -- hope he doesn't mind.

    You can join in encouraging Joe to consider this by e-mailing him at Joe@joequesada.com

    Btw, I was at San Diego Comicon this year and thought that next year might also be a great occasion to present a look back at the very interesting story of little upstart Malibu comics and the origins of The Ultraverse.

    Best wishes,

    Michael

    By Anonymous Michael Novotny, at 4:28 PM  

  • I recently came across a lot of Malibu comics from my Church. If you would like to discuss which ones I own, for trading or buying, you can contact me at benjaminsadai@yahoo.com

    By Anonymous Benjamin Sadai, at 6:20 PM  

  • One of the reasons why I like visiting your blog so much is because it has become a daily reference I can use in order to learn new nice stuff. It's like a curiosities box that surprises you over and over again.

    By Anonymous Indian Pharmacy, at 12:25 PM  

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