Here’s a surprising (and exclusive) tidbit: In the 1990s, when Marvel’s fiscal situation was in shambles, upstart Dark Horse comics was making covert plans with Disney to take control of their far more established rival.
“This hasn’t been out there, but we were in serious talks with Disney about buying Marvel,” Dark Horse founder Michael Richardson told me the other day. “I met with Michael Eisner, who is a good friend of [my mentor, producer] Larry Gordon, and they were going to buy Marvel and put Dark Horse in control of it.”
Richardson told me this over lunch in Milwaukie, Ore., the small town near Portland where Dark Horse is headquartered. (I was there working on a Sunday Calendar cover on the Hollywood success of Dark Horse.) Richardson told me that he thought the proposed take-over of Marvel was quite viable and he was absoutely giddy at the prospect of taking control of the Fantastic Four, Captain America and the other iconic characters he adored as a young fan in the 1960s.
Why did the gambit fail?
“There was some skepticism about numbers we were getting from Marvel. And in the end the [Disney] family just didn’t like the idea of seeing Wolverine products on the same shelf as Mickey Mouse.” Dark Horse Comics today has sales approaching $40 million a year (which doesn’t include their Hollywood ventures, such as “Hellboy 2”) and almost 10% market share, but gobbling up Marvel, the sector’s no. 1 seller, a decade ago would have been a case of the canary eating the cat.
“I know,” Richardson said with a smirk, “it would have been great, wouldn’t it?”
Update: An earlier version of this post was missing a few words that changed the meaning of a quote. It previously identified Michael Eisner as a good friend of Mike Richardson. This updated post reflects what Richardson actually said, which is that Eisner is a good friend of producer Larry Gordon, Richardson’s mentor.
Photo of Michael Richardson in Milwaukie, Ore., malt shop by Robert Durrell/Los Angeles Times