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Tom Mason On The Malibu/DC Comics Deal That Wasn’t

“The DC deal was first in the wind when Paul Levitz approached Scott Rosenberg at a WonderCon distributor party in 1994. It was one of the last big open bar con parties. In May of that year, at an impromptu Board of Directors meeting with Scott Rosenberg, Chris Ulm and me and our investment partners WSE in Tulsa, it was urged that we pursue Paul ASAP. A secret meeting was arranged at the Universal Hilton in Universal City between Scott, myself, Dave Olbrich, Chris, Paul, Bob Wayne and Bruce Bristow. This was followed a short time later by a secret dinner meeting at a Chinese restaurant in Woodland Hills, where the prior participants were joined by Lillian Laserson, DC’s then in-house legal person. All were in agreement that a deal should proceed. DC even picked up the check.

“Shortly thereafter, the potential acquisition was turned over to Warner’s Mergers & Acquisitions department in Burbank for due diligence. The M&A people would come into the office after hours and scurry out with boxes of files & records so that a potential deal could be kept secret. Negotiations continued throughout the summer and as Malibu’s sales fell (because at the time the industry was in a state of free fall as the investment bubble was bursting), Warner kept lowering its offer – we suspected they were trying to find that magic number where they could acquire the company for the cheapest possible price before Malibu’s finances were permanently damaged. And Malibu needed to be sold. The company was losing $200,000 a month. WSE was pushing hard to get back their investment and Malibu’s once-strong video game division had collapsed (because of rapidly-changing game platforms and mismanagement) and the comic book portion was holding up both halves of the company.

“The potential sale to DC was still a secret by the San Diego Con that year, and it looked like a deal was about to happen. Ulm and I had a not-so-secret breakfast meeting with Paul at the convention and he really wanted the company and wanted to grow it. One thing that was clear was that he was less interested in the characters and the Ultraverse and more interested in the organization itself – how things were run, how fast we could get things done, and ideas for what the company wanted to do next, beyond the Ultraverse.

“After the convention, we took a few people on staff into our confidence and held an off-site retreat to figure out ways we could work together with DC. Aside from restoring, we hoped, market confidence in the company and benefiting from the kind of business stuff people don’t really think of (access to new markets, better printing discounts, increased overseas sales, potential for greater newsstand/bookstore space, plus DC’s trade collection policy that collected stuff and kept it in print), we had a couple of short-term boosts that we wanted to fiddle with. I believe it was an idea from Hank Kanalz about bringing in Green Lantern (this was when GL was still a much lesser character in the DCU) for a line-wide crossover event. None of us were interested in Flash, Atom or Hawkman. The GL idea never made it out of committee and was never pitched to DC, because the winds were about to quickly change.

“Shortly after the retreat, there was some kind of Oregon-based convention that was affiliated with Dark Horse. Word had apparently been around the con that Malibu was close to a deal with DC. That prompted a post-con call from Marvel’s then-head Terry Stewart to Dave Olbrich and ask if the rumors were true. Marvel wanted in and, we were told, been instructed to buy the company to keep it away from DC (the reason why would make a good panel discussion). Because of various time factors, Marvel then had 7 days to do the due diligence that Warner had been doing for several months.

“And now…I’ve said too much!”

— Tom Mason, former VP Marketing for Malibu Comics

(For more inside information on the secret history of Malibu Comics … including the birth of Image Comics and the fate of the Ultraverse … be sure to see Tom at Longbox Graveyard’s Malibu Comics Retrospective panel at San Diego Comic-Con, Thursday 7/12, from 2-3PM in Room 32AB!)

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Posted on July 3, 2012, in Quotes and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Fascinating. Just amazing. I never get tired of hearing about The Ultraverse, how it was formed, how it got sold, and how it was ruined after it was sold.

    Like

  1. Pingback: The Sun Shines On Malibu « Longbox Graveyard

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