A number of comic book companies today fill their product line-ups with licensed properties. IDW, Boom, Darkhorse and Ape are among the most significant publishers outside of Marvel and DC who have found value in acquiring licensed properties from other media outlets.
The idea is simple and is a marketing tool used by scores of merchandising companies in nearly every industry. Find an intellectual property with high visibility. Purchase the rights to make an exclusive product featuring the property. Benefit from the sales generated by the customer recognition of the popular property.
Badda Boom, Badda Bing!
Licensing and merchandising is nothing new. Saint Paul built Christianity on its basic premises by marketing the popular teachings of Jesus as a new religious product.
“Merry Christmas,” two thousand and ten years later!
Comic books have used it since the beginnings of the industry. The first comic books featured licensed syndicated newspapers comics that were reprinted in color.
It shouldn’t have been a big deal in 1983 when Comico licensed the rights from Harmony Gold to publish the English adaption of the popular Japanese animated series MACROSS. But it was and it became an even bigger deal that put Comico on the map as a major player in the comic industry.
At the time, and please correct me if I’m wrong, Comico was the first independent comic company to enter into a licensing deal other than one that was of a creator owned property. Only Marvel and DC had a lock on that side of the market and, to the best of my knowledge, no one else was even considering it.
Comico’s deal was innocent enough. It was built on the enthusiasm of Carl Macek for his project that he was working on with Harmony Gold and the Comico crew’s collective interest in Anime. Comico enthusiastically became the first American licensee of MACROSS.
At the same time DC acquired the rights from Revell to publish ROBOTECH, based on a line of toys designed around assorted transforming robot molds that Revell had purchased from a toy company in Japan. When the first issue was published by DC it was clear that a number of the robots in ROBOTECH were from the MACROSS series and many of the other robots were from other series that Harmony Gold also held the rights to.
Needless to say there was lot of wrangling going on but Carl Macek and Harmony Gold held the trump card. They had an entire animated series that could be adapted to TV in the American market. As Stan Lee would say, “‘Nuff said!”
Revell and Harmony Gold worked together to build the ROBOTECH franchise that took America by storm. Harmony Gold proved their honor by awarding Comico the rights to the comic book resting it from DC since we had the original deal for the actual story.
Comico had already established its ability to produce quality product with its first color offerings, MAGE, EVANGELINE, ELEMENTALS and MACROSS. Our production and success of the ROBOTECH comics helped the marketing team behind ROBOTECH to attract more licensees and before long the ROBOTECH logo was everywhere.
Others took notice and soon we were being contacted others, most notably Hannah Barbera who was looking for a publisher for Thundarr the Barbarian. Our interest, however, was in one of their long dormant properties, Jonny Quest.
Jonny had been off their radar for so long that the people we were dealing with thought that it was a Filmation property and were surprised to discover it in their own archives.
Jonny Quest was a huge success for Comico and other properties were soon to follow. Space Ghost, Gumby, and Starblazers were all big hits. We also set our sights on Max Headroom and though we did initially acquire the property and began marketing it, creative differences arose between the editorial staff, creative team and the owners of the property, Chrysalis Records. Max Headroom never became a Comico comic book.
Other comic companies picked up where Comico left off, finding success in licensed properties. Others found even greater success in licensing their own properties following in the insanely successful footsteps of Eastman and Laird’s nearly immortal Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Now, more than ever before, with the advent of digital content and the internet, we have to closely examine what is the true value of the comics that we make. Is it the comics themselves or is it the intellectual property they are derived from?
We all would love to make money selling our comics and I can tell you from experience that you certainly can but folks, the real money is in the properties themselves.
Disney and Warner Brothers both know this and are in the process of redefining the IP of Marvel and DC for success in the long haul while producers throughout Hollywood are rummaging through comic properties regularly looking for the next Mutant Turtle.
The Internet is the comic creator’s opportunity to develop and establish rights to a property while reaching an audience that is global. Protect your assets, invest your skills and let the best properties sell themselves. This is the greatest time ever to be a comic creator. Take advantage of it!
Hey, I know the economy sucks and the market is in tremendous flux but guess what? That is exactly how it was when Mickey and Superman showed up both borne on the backs of failure and surrounded by the Great Depression. Their strength was the brilliance of their property which still shines today.
Comic properties can have tremendous economic power and there is plenty of proof. Don’t be discouraged if you are a creator or a fan. The future for comics is bright.
CO2 Comics is going into 2011 as optimistic as anybody! The content of our site is growing steadily and our readership is expanding rapidly. We have published our first book, David Anthony Kraft’s COMICS INTERVIEW: The Complete Collection Volume 1 and have new products on the horizon.
But our biggest achievement is the honor That Bill and I have of posting the great comics that have been trusted to our site by creators that we love and respect so that all of our valued readers can enjoy them.
Thank you everyone for this opportunity to do what we enjoy most.
Making comics because I want to.