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Cartoon Culture

Don Markstein (1947-2012)

Don Markstein may not have been a household name in animation circles, but he was one of the best friends comics and cartoon history ever had. His wife, GiGi Dane, just informed us of Don’s untimely passing.

Donald David Markstein was a comic book writer and creator/proprietor of the indispensable online Toonopedia. Among his many accomplishments was being the founding editor and co-creator (with Rick Norwood) of Comics Revue and the co-founder (with wife GiGi) of the animation apa, Apatoons.

Long before the internet, Markstein got the idea of adapting the established comic and sci-fi fanzine communication network (known as Amatuer Press Associations) to a world wide community of animation enthusiasts. I was a grateful participant in Apatoons (cover of a typical edition, with art by Dave Bennett, below). This project was a rich and rewarding experience for all involved, and helped bond fans, professional animators, cartoonists, writers and all like-minded enthusiasts in an era way before blogs and Facebook.

Animation historian Jim Korkis recalled the group’s origin:

“On May 12, 1981, Don Markstein and GiGi Dane sent out a one-page orange flyer to a select group of fans. The flyer announced the formation of an apa for animation buffs. Markstein wrote, “There’s a potential for an animation fandom lurking among publishing fans. We don’t knowhow many people there are in it, but we do know Funnyworld and Mindrot aren’t being published in a vacuum. That potential has probably always been there, but lately, with more and more lifelong cartoon buffs becoming video collectors, it’s been exploding. Just as comics fandom grew out of science fiction fandom to create its own fan movement 20 years ago, we expect cartoon fandom to come into its own very soon now.”

“The first issue of APATOONS appeared July 1981 and that first issue had only seven members: Jim Korkis, Alan Hutchinson, Don Markstein, Meera Dane (GiGi’s daughter), GiGig Dane, Marcus Wielage and Rick Norwood. I think one of the key things I remember about Don is that he loved ideas, loved cartoons and loved doing something to fill necessary gaps whether it was with Apatoons or Toonpedia.”

I asked several fellow Apatoons alumni to contribute their thoughts about Don. Disney comics historian David Gerstein wrote to say,

“I had the great pleasure of editing Don Markstein’s Disney comic book stories for Egmont Creative Center, the Denmark-based Disney comics studio, from 2000 to 2004. Many of these inspired, often outrageous stories were later reused in the American-published Gemstone Disney comics. We can’t forget Don’s original Disney creations – Sam Simian and his giant wrestling robots; the high ministers of Outest Bungolia, forever seeking the “King of the Bungaloos”; even über-cheap filmmaker Freefer F. Freefer (Don told me that the middle F. stood for “Freefer,” too, though he was sworn not to reveal it in the story). Only Don could give us a supervillain whose master supercomputer was powered by a cat brain and a dog brain – which didn’t get along very well.

And only Don had an affection for Bucky Bug, Disney’s early newspaper strip character, so deep that it manifested itself – somehow, somewhere – in a good fifty percent of all the Disney output Don created. We’ll all miss you, Don.”

I’ve posted a panel (above) from Don’s King of the Bungaloos Strikes Back (WD C&S #680, 2007), drawn by the great Cèsar Ferioli, with what I believe is a caricature of Markstein in the crowd at left, with mustasche, beard and glasses.

Harry MacCracken, now a Technology editor-at-large for Time Magazine, wrote in:

“What sad news. I still think of Don as the grand master of APA mailing comments–he was perceptive, precise, funny and engaging. Things he said in Apatoons thirty years ago still rattle around in the back of my brain and influence my writing. I was very happy to see Toonopedia succeed and bring his work to a large audience.”

Comics, anime and animation expert Fred Patten remembered his longtime admiration for Don:

“My memories of Don Markstein go back to the 1960s. We were both in CAPA-alpha, the comics-fan APA, and Don’s “Om Markstein Sklom Stu” was one of the most literate, thickest, and most eagerly-read parts of the monthly mailings. Later, after we had both dropped out of K-a, he and his wife GiGi founded APATOONS in 1981 and we were both in that for — how many years? After that, we were not in things together but I would see his name in the masthead of Comics Revue and as the author of stories in the Disney comic books. Still later, I would go to his Toonopedia website for accurate and informative details about cartoon-related facts.

Although it has been decades since we were in close contact, I am very saddened to hear of his passing. Comics fandom has lost a long-time friend and a rare expert scholar.”

Markstein died of respiratory failure after a prolonged illness. His family can be contacted via email through