What Does the Fox-Disney Deal Mean for the Comics World?

Aliens Outbreak Cover -Dark Horse Comics - Publicity- P 2017
Courtesy of Mark A. Nelson/Dark Horse Comics
Dark Horse Comics and other independent publishers currently release material based on multiple Fox-owned properties.

There's an unexpected casualty of Thursday's massive Disney/Fox merger deal.

There are a number of comic book companies that are publishing content based on Fox properties, and the fate of those titles are now in question.

While it’s far from a fait accompli that the Fox/Disney deal would result in independent publishers losing licenses to Fox properties, there is a particularly obvious previous example to suggest that it’s not only a possibility, but in terms of profitability, perhaps a probability. Following Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm, Oregon-based publisher Dark Horse Comics lost the Star Wars license after two decades, which was then given to Disney's Marvel Entertainment, becoming one of the publisher’s most successful franchises.

The first issue of its core Star Wars was the best-selling comic of 2015, with three additional Star Wars issues also appearing among that year’s top 10 sellers, far outselling Dark Horse’s earlier Star Wars releases. With Marvel’s superhero line facing increased apathy and declining sales in the last couple of years, the injection of new licensed series — especially featuring fan-favorite genre properties — could provide a much-needed excitement among readers and boost to the company’s market share.

Dark Horse currently licenses a number of properties from 20th Century Fox, including Aliens, Prometheus, Predator, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and James Cameron’s Avatar, with some license agreements stretching back decades. Indeed, Dark Horse’s first Aliens comics were published in 1988, with the publisher actually originating the entire Aliens vs. Predator brand in 1990. Dark Horse did not respond to a request for comment.

Dark Horse isn’t the only comics publisher that might be affected by Disney seeking to keep comic book licenses in its corporate family; Bongo Comics publishes material based on The Simpsons and Futurama, while Boom! Studios, now part-owned by Disney, published Planet of the Apes comic books.

There is hope for publishers currently licensing Fox properties, however. Earlier this year, Disney/Lucasfilm split the Star Wars comic license, partnering with independent company IDW Publishing to produce material aimed at younger readers, traditionally a weak spot for Marvel. Ultimately, decisions may be made purely on a profit/loss basis, which throws a lifeline to non-Marvel publishers: Prove that you can do what Marvel can’t, and everything might just work out.