Disney checks out graphic novel biz

Will create titles as basis for film projects

Disney is getting into the graphic novel business with a plan to adapt the works into movies.

Walt Disney Studios has created Kingdom Comics and signed a multiyear deal with writer-actor Ahmet Zappa, executive Harris Katleman and writer-editor Christian Beranek to oversee the division.

The aim is to create titles that will be the basis of new film projects for the studio as well as reimagine and rejuvenate movies from the Disney's library of live-action films.

No writers or artists have been announced, though the trio is on the hunt for new and established talent to create the books. Kingdom, which will be located on the Disney lot, has a first-look deal with Disney Publishing Worldwide to distribute the publications. If Disney chooses not to publish a book, Kingdom will explore other venues. Also, there is no set number of graphic novels that are mandated to be published per year.

The studio will pluck titles, putting them into development on a case-by-case basis.

"Some of these exciting publications will be inspired by films and characters in the vast and storied Disney library, while other original graphic novels are sure to spark great ideas for future Disney classics," studio president Oren Aviv said. "Our vision for Kingdom Comics is to bring a fresh, contemporary approach to Disney properties."

The creation of Kingdom Comics positions the studio as a player in the scorching comic book scene. Many studios have aligned themselves to the big companies -- Warner Bros. owns DC Comics, Marvel has a distribution deal with Paramount, Universal has a first-look deal with Dark Horse Comics -- leaving very few players up for grabs. It also will put the company in business with established and untapped talent in what essentially will be a R&D division, letting it develop possible franchises in a way that will cost less than a low-end spec.

Zappa started out as an actor on such shows as "Roseanne" and "Growing Pains" before becoming a host on reality and game shows. In 2006, he sold the rights to his first novel, "The Monstrous Memoirs of a Mighty McFearless," to Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer Films. He is writing the second installment in that series and is executive producing a feature version of "Fraggle Rock" with the Jim Henson Co.

Katleman served as president and CEO of 20th Television from 1980-92, during which time the studio developed such landmark programs as "L.A. Law," "The Simpsons," "In Living Color," "NYPD Blue" and "Doogie Howser, M.D." (in association with Steven Bochco Prods.). After 20th Television, he joined Mark Goodson Prods. and then Jonathan Goodson Prods., working on such syndicated shows as "House Calls" and "Dirty Rotten Cheater."

Beranek formed his own publishing company, Silent Devil, in 1996, producing such titles as "Dracula vs. King Arthur" and "Super Frat." He parlayed that success into consulting for such companies as Universal Music Publishing, Harley-Davidson, AOL and Mazda on graphic novels and their value as intellectual properties and marketing devices.

The deal was negotiated by Steve Katleman of Greenberg Traurig.