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Friday, August 5, 2011

Barbie Comics: The Brains! The Beauty! The Marketing!

One of my friends, Emilio Torres Garcia wrote today about one of my past projects, and it reminded me, just what fun it was to work on that particular series.

I'm talking of course, about the "Barbie" comics at Marvel. Barbie, you might say?! Yes indeed. And before you start talking about her painfully thin waist, or her perpetual high arches, or the much maligned Ken, I'll jump in.

I'm very proud to have worked on this series. They were intelligently written. Each story had humor and wit, and although there were certainly messages, none of them were heavy handed or hit one over the head. These comics were also designed for a very important purpose:

Getting girls to read comics.

Comic books have long had a male dominated readership... yes, I know, there are girls like me that read comics.... but we are not the norm. It was and still is, important to have comics that appeal to all at all ages. "Barbie" was a perfect introduction comic for younger girls.

I firmly believe that what will attract readers to what we do is good storytelling first and foremost. It doesn't matter what or whom the character is. Be it a purple pig, a flying super hero, or a hedgehog. Or Barbie. Write a good story, put it with some great sequential storytelling, let people know about it, and they will come.... be it that your format is print, digital or both.

So, at the time, in the late 90's "Barbie" was our hook, and I applaud whomever at Marvel had the courage to try something different at the time. And, I like to think that many girls...and guys... read them because they were just.... FUN!

Thank you Emilio for stirring up the memories.

Here is what he had to say:

Shhh--- I'm reading my Barbie Comics!
by Emilio Torres Garcia

Before Supergirl, before Wonder Woman, Barbie was my girl. Her surreal angel face and physiologically impossible body had me smitten at a very early stage in my life. I loved her but she didn’t love me (I mean come on it’s a freaking doll for crying out loud). So imagine my frustration when I had to wait until the end of 1990 so that Marvel Comics could finally release the #1 issue of their Barbie Comic Book.

Written by Lisa Trusiani, pencilled by Mary Wilshire, Inked by John Lucas, Colored by Renee Witterstaetter and edited by Fabian Nicieza to me this book is an unsung gem in the history of Comics. This issue consisted of three stories “The Fashion Show Must Go On”, “Dirty Dancing” and “Prize Pet”. Plus four one page vignettes. This issue encapsulates everything that makes Barbie fabulous. Her caring-loving nature, her witty humor, silky smooth hair and of course her unparalleled fashion sense it’s all there. This comics is excellent reading for young girls and issue included a bonus Door Hanger which I also scanned as you can see below.

(Original post and blog: http://myoldbox.wordpress.com/2011/08/05/shhh-im-reading-my-barbie-comics/)


  1. Hi, Renee, Roy & June here. We did a lot of work on those Barbie comics, and while we too have some fond memories, there are some unfond ones as well. First, the marketing: as far as we could tell, Marvel only had ads for Barbie in their superhero comics, not exactly their target market. We went to a Barbie convention after the book had been out for a year, and all we heard was "There's a Barbie comic?!"
    I realize this may have been more Mattel's problem than Marvel's. They were a real bear to work with. As you noted, we comics folk all thought of Barbie as a person (or at least a character), who we were trying to breathe life into, and create interesting stories about. Not so Mattel; they saw Barbie as product, and never referred to her as Barbie, but instead always called her "The Doll!"
    At one point, Mattel requested that June submit a bunch of cover designs. She did so, really knocking herself out to come up with a batch of interesting and well-designed sketches. The sketches were all rejected, w/ no reasons given. June was understandable annoyed, and refused to submit any revisions w/o knowing the why behind the rejections.The explanation that came back from Mattel? "The artist drew Barbie with four eyelashes, when everyone knows she only has three!"
    In spite of the above, we're proud of the work we did on the comics, and we're glad to see that they're not completely forgotten.

  2. Hi Roy and June-- You guys did some wonderful work on these books, I know! I was only on the coloring end on these first few issues, but yes, I know it was a bear sometimes. And ultimately, the reason the comic didn't catch on, was lack of gorilla marketing, and getting the book into the hands of the market. If I'd been on the marketing end of things, I would have made some suggestions for sure. And of course, I don't know how marketing was hampered by the client either.

    Having been the editor on many licensed properties, very seldom was it an easy road....

    I do applaud though that this comic ever existed. It was a bold step. And I applaud the reasons behind it. If it existed today, I'd get it for my nieces.

    Hum... I'm sure I still have them in boxes somewhere...


  3. Lisa Trusiani here, not my husband, Rick Parker. Can't understand why his name (and picture) popped up instead of mine but here's my post.
    "What a lovely surprise to see this, Renee. I was proud of the work we did, and I cared deeply about the readers, mostly girls but some boys, too and wanted to provide a good story that often did more than simply entertained. The editors were the legendary Sid Jacobsen, who was responsible for starting and developing the series, and later the sweet and smart Hildy Mesnick and the lovable Fabien. The artwork was fantastic, coloring included, and Barbara Slate's stories were fun. Barbie comics and Barbie Fashion comics received the Parents' Choice Award multiple years.
    About Mattel... yes they were sometimes difficult, reprimanding me for drawing storyboards that played up Barbie's oversized bust and butt. Mattel would circle them and write, 'Too big.' And Sid would write back, "Lisa's the writer. She's not the artist. These are only storyboards." Another time I wrote a Thanksgiving story and of course included the native Americans' relationship with the Pilgrims. The story was rejected because it was too sad. I asked Sid to let them know that the story was true and for that reason it was accepted.
    About marketing... I remember sitting at a Marvel meeting and saying, "If you can't sell Barbie to girls, you can't sell anything to girls." I went on to say that girls won't go into comic book stores. Short of going the Archie supermarket route (Marvel didn't want to supply the racks to stores), the way to girls is through subscriptions. A person of some authority at the meeting said, "Marvel is not a subscription-based company. We don't want to be subscription-based." So that was that.
    Thank you for bringing some attention to the Barbie comics series."

  4. I always loved your work on the books Lisa. Thank you for writing about your experiences!


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