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Russian Mickey Mouse Mag Sells Out on Day One

May 31, 1990

BURBANK, Calif. (AP) _ Big Macs wowed Moscow, so perhaps it should come as no surprise: Walt Disney Co. said Wednesday that Muscovites gobbled up all 200,000 Russian- language Mickey Mouse comics magazines the first day of release.

The 32-page magazine, designed as the first in a quarterly series, was released May 16 and sold for 1.5 rubles a copy - $2.40 or so. It contains five comics of various lengths already published in other countries, with dialogue in the ″word balloons″ translated into Russian.

Disney’s familiar menagerie is on display: Goofy and Mickey fly a kite from an airplane on the front cover; Goofy and some little green men sail past planets in a bubble-top spaceship on the back. How universal can entertainment get?

In fact, Disney is part of a number of Western comics publishers whose sales have risen in Western Europe in recent years and now are eying untapped markets in a part of the world where officials once looked askance at capitalists like Scrooge McDuck.

Disney, for example, has sold Mickey Mouse comics in Hungary for about 2 1/ 2 years, with recent sales reaching 125,000 a month. Eastern Europe is still a tiny fragment of Disney’s annual $1.5 billion in consumer product sales, but the idea is to get the franchise in early as the trade doors open wider.

The Moscow comic sales numbers reported by Disney are strong, other publishers said.

″Two hundred thousand copies in a day? I’m impressed 3/8″ said James E. Galton, the president of New York’s Marvel Comics, home to Spider-Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Captain America and The Incredible Hulk.

Marvel, the largest U.S. comics producer, publishes in 15 languages and 25 countries. Their Conan the Barbarian has invaded Hungary and they publish four titles in Yugoslavia, Galton said.

″Right now, I’ve got a guy in Moscow checking out the possibilities of publishing there,″ he said. ″We also have German publishers shipping copies from West Germany to East Germany - that’s been going on since they knocked down the Berlin Wall.″

The Disney publication is a joint venture between the Disney-licensed Danish publisher Gutenberghus and Soviet publisher Fizkultura I Sport. The partnership was managed by Disney’s consumer products subsidiary in West Germany.

The comic book was distributed at hundreds of Moscow magazine kiosks, and the publishers reported the single-day sellout, according to Disney’s senior vice president in Europe, Dennis Hightower.

In a telephone interview from Milan, Italy, Hightower said the publishers estimated that Soviet demand was strong enough to have sold 1.5 million copies nationwide. ″The major criticism we’ve gotten is why weren’t there more copies, and that’s unfortunately a problem with the paper allocation,″ he said.

To put the numbers in perspective, Marvel expects to set a single-issue record with a new, soon-to-be released Spiderman comic. About 2 million copies have been presold in the United States and Canada, and total sales should be 2.3 million or more, said Marvel spokeswoman Pamela Rutt.

Issue No. 2 of the Russian Mickey Mouse comic book series is scheduled for July. It is expected the press run again will be limited to 200,000 copies, reflecting the amount of printing paper allocated to the magazine.

In most countries of the world, U.S. comics are produced by licensed publishers. In Spain, for example, Disney produces comics in a joint venture with Brazilian publisher Abril. All of Marvel’s overseas deals are licensed except in England, where Marvel has a subsidiary.

However, Disney itself recently began publishing Topolino (Mickey Mouse) comics in Italy, selling as many as 700,000 copies each week.

Disney also began publishing its own series of eight monthly comics in the United States in April.

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