Malibu Comics – A Look Back at 20 Years of Independent Innovation

Malibu Comics – A Look Back at 20 Years of Independent Innovation

Posted by July 25, 2012 Comment

Mark Robert Bourne write for Bleeding Cool from San Diego Comic Con.

20 years ago, working from the back porch of Dave Olbrich’s Southern California home, Tom Mason was viciously attacked by a deranged slobbering Squirrel. Havoc ensued.

Well, that’s sort of what happened, if you told the story stone drunk.

Actually, because Malibu Comics, then Malibu Graphics, (or what is Malibu Inc. or might have been Eternity Comics – anyway…) had no money, the small group of soldiers worked out of Dave Olbrich’s home nestled in the hills of Southern California. All the original artwork, the story as told by Tom Mason, was all kept in boxes in the back, real physical artwork way before digital files or in other words – important stuff to keep nice. One day he opened a box of artwork and a pulled out a squirrel which sent everyone jetting around with brooms checking on the valuable works. Not as dramatic as a deranged squirrel but still very comical.

Thursday’s panel at Comic Con International reeked of nostalgia as original Malibu Comics founders, Chris Ulm, Tom Mason, Scott Rosenberg and Dave Olbrich trekked back to a kinder, gentler 1986. Paul O’Conner moderated the panel leading the participants in a trip down memory lane remembering its humble begins, thru its launch of the Image Comics line, to the ultimate ending with the purchase by Marvel Comics and the dismantling of the Ultraverse.
My association with Malibu began back in January of 1996, right after the big layoff where everyone who wasn’t a colorist got a pink slip. Marvel had given then Malibu Media editor the reigns of the Ultraverse in an attempt to bring up sales and to handle some of the Hollywood type properties under the Marvel name. Since we were based on the West Coast, it made it easier for us to deal with Paramount on Star Trek, Mission Impossible and the Adventures of Snake Pliskin, and with Fox for Independence Day. Thru a couple of friends I heard they were looking for an intern to I got in touch with a good friend that worked in coloring. I had an interview where I had to write a press release and got the gig the next day. The Job lasted about a year and a half when Marvel came out and said it was done which is a moment I will remember forever. The chill of it all ending just shook me to the core.

Through working there, I met many of the fine folks that had called Malibu home. I felt like one of the family and I embrace the role I played with great affection. I was extremely pleased for the opportunity to attend this panel and to revisit something so amazing as the beginnings of Malibu Comics.

A lot is known about the company’s history but what is little known is the “behind the scenes” story of a group of gents working through whatever means necessary to set up a pioneering independent comic company. Black and white published was just bursting on to the comics scene and Malibu was there pushing out titles such as “Trouble with Girls,” “Dinosaurs for Hire” and “Ex-Mutants.” Right up to the launch of Image and the Ultraverse, the cast behind Malibu Comics were a group who seemed like family.

The panel explored some great stories and reminiscing about each of the milestones in the Malibu Comics story.
How the Image Comics/Malibu publishing deal came to be. Thinking that they would never be in the running with Marvel, DC or Dark Horse and how Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood was pitched in 1987, years before its 1992 Image launch.

How ticked off were some Editor at DC that Malibu had won the Star Trek Deep Space Nine license.

Anyone remember the Uncensored Mouse controversy?

Tom Mason explained:

“We had a relationship with the late Bill Blackbeard…he had this giant archive of stuff. He came to us and said here’s a whole bunch of comic strip that was in the public domain. He came to us with a bunch of Mickey Mouse strips that he said were in the public domain. And we said ‘No they’re not. This is Disney’s Mickey Mouse and that’s not in the public domain.’ And he said ‘Oh yes they are. They’re in the public domain.’ We said ‘They’d sue us.’ He said ‘No they won’t sue you; this is before the copyright law came into effect. If they sue you they have to go to court, and they have to admit that its public domain.’ But we don’t have the money to go to court; we can’t take the risk. So we thought we would publish it anyway and we had 4 issues in the can, 2 issues in the can and we got a cease and desist order from Disney. And they said, essentially, ‘Stop it.’ And we said…”

Scott Rosenberg continued:

“This is the same Disney that sued a pre-school for painting Mickey Mouse or Snow White on walls. I figured they weren’t mean people. They had to be practical people and they couldn’t let work out that Mickey shot people. But there was one technicality… Bill was wrong on one little detail. Out of the hundreds of strips, one wasn’t in the public domain. So that’s kind of a bummer. And Disney said ‘Look, we really don’t want you to cure it… by just taking that one panel out’ I said ‘…tell you what, let us sell out of our inventory, including stuff that was about to go to press. And we’ll limit to the 2 and sorry about the ‘Entertainment Tonight’ and the press stuff… and just stop. Don’t put out #3 or 4.”

Tom Mason added: “Or that any of it is in the public domain.”

Paul O’Conner: “Well I guess that’s out!”

What was most striking about the conversation among these four were the constant reminder of how they were committed, as a company, to creator’s rights and to publishing the kinds of books that they themselves wanted to read. Word among the creative community was always positive about those involved and by most considers Malibu to be the Pioneer in Digital Coloring, publishing gimmicks and for the rights they granted the Creators.

Attending the panel was a bit of a reunion for many who worked for Malibu over the years. Myself, Hank Kanlz, Jim Chadwick, Gerard Jones, and many others were there in the audience to remember how it all began and it was wonderful to see everyone laughing, talking and shaking hands like no time had passed.

2013 will be the 20 year anniversary for the Ultraverse. Many in the online communities who love the Ultraverse are hoping for some sort of retrospect or maybe word from Marvel that it will return to the newsstands. We all hope because there are so many more stories to tell about a small, Indy comic company that became 2nd to Marvel on the charts, started many of today’s top creators and was a pioneering force in technology and creators rights. Where’s Morgan Spurlock when you need to tell this story?

(Last Updated July 25, 2012 9:28 am )

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About Rich Johnston

Chief writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. Father of two. Comic book clairvoyant. Political cartoonist.

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