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 toonopedia-at-yahoo.com.


  • Really depressed

    Please, people…stop dying on me…

    • Tak

      Sorry, but it’s what we all do best.
      *Reaches out & holds hand solemnly*

  • eeteed

    i’m very saddened to read of mr. markstein’s passing.

    the cover of apatoons that you’ve posted is the work of dave bennett. i hope you’ll consider featuring more of his work.

  • http://www.animatedviews.com Randall Cyrenne

    Another one dies too young. I really appreciated Toonopedia, and used it often. It kinda feels like those of us in the online animation fan community have lost a brother.

  • Tak

    It’s always good to learn of new folks to remember, and not just remember the ones that we already knew. My admiration to the mans life and my condolences & blessings to his family.

    Thanks for posting this Jerry.

  • http://bakertoons.blogspot.com/ Charles Brubaker

    Goddammit, this sucks. I visited his Toonopedia website everyday.

    I knew he was a comic book writer, but I didn’t realize he was also a co-founder of Apatoons.

    R.I.P.

  • Scarabim

    Ugh…I can’t stand Mickey Mouse’s human feet…

    Anyway, what a sad loss. RIP Don. :(

    • Chris Sobieniak

      Funny the little things that get on people’s nerves. I would never question something like that at all myself.

  • http://www.sangorshop.blogger.com Steven Rowe

    A slight correction or maybe explanation: Don and Rick took over Comics Review after it’s 2 (or 3rd) issue and renamed it Comics Revue and increased it to magazine-size. They also changed the content away from humor comic strips to adventure strips.
    I was in a couple of APAs the same time as Don, so while I don’t claim to be a friend of his, I was treated to his enjoyable little APAzines. Like most folks, I also knew you could trust TOONOPEDIA. Don’s yearlong illness certainly gave folks an advance notice on both the frailness of life, and the importance of Don’s work. The message boards have spent a year asking “what happened to Don?” and remarking on Toonpedia’s importance. Don will certainly be remembered for that work.

  • Michael

    As an old APA-hack myself I feel necessary to salute a fallen comrade. Especially one as accomplished as Don.

  • Bill the Splut

    My Toonpedia visit was always one of the highlights of my week. It’s still an amazing resource, sometimes the only resource, for some of the truly obscure and weird characters of comics and cartoons. The Bouncer! Who would ever remember him otherwise? Or the long list of other characters he described?

    You’ll be missed, Mr Markstein.

  • http://michaelaventrella.com Michael A Ventrella

    As an old APATOONER, I never met Don but cannot deny his influence and presence. I am sad to hear of this.

  • Coco

    I’ve felt his absence in my life since Toonopedia stop being updated; I’ve been following it since I was 14 so it’s really shaped me. I’ll always appreciate his enthusiasm; he inspired me. R.I.P.

  • http://yoebooks.com craig yoe

    i am very sad i never got to know don even though we traveled in many of the same circles. i certainly know and value his incredible work: always astute, meticulously researched, and full of good spirit. and prodigious–don created an astonishing mountain of comics and cartoon history at his website and apa work. my deepest condolences to his wife and family and his lucky friends.

  • http://www.tusconfan.com Carol

    I consider myself extremely privileged to have known Don and GiGi personally since the mid-1970s, and to have visited several of their homes as often as possible (considering the fact it was a several hour drive) over the years. I knew that I was trusted to read, or sometimes re-read, Uncle Scrooge comics (Don’s favorites) worth, each one, more than I could ever afford. And he had thousands, literally. Being there was like being one of the family, and when Don’s Toonopedia came online I was one of the first, I believe, to have a link to it, since GiGi’s pride in Don’s work kept me up to date as to when it finally came online.
    My last visit,coincidentally, was in April 2010, just before Don became too ill to contribute to Toonopedia, so my last memories of him are good ones – like a new taste experiment in his famous home-made ice cream, combining flavors which common sense said couldn’t work, but always did.
    Goodbye, Don. You set a standard in contributing to the knowledge of comics that will be hard to match. I send my deepest condolences to all his family, and thank them all for the wonderful memories I shall treasure always.

  • Bugsmer

    This is really too bad. Don’s Toonopedia site was outstanding. He wrote every one of those articles personally, and he wanted to continue until he had introduced every obscure comic book or comic strip or cartoon character that has ever existed. His articles are such a delight to peruse.

    That’s too bad. I’m sorry.