Confessions of a Comic Book Guy--Pre-Awareness Is Priceless
Column by Steve Bennett
Published: 07/25/2012 01:45am
In these hard economic times your best investment isn't gold but old popular culture characters, for example DreamWorks' recent acquisition of Classic Media (see "DreamWorks Acquires Classic"). For a mere $155 million they got a library of iconic entertainment characters which includes Casper the Friendly Ghost, Lassie, The Lone Ranger, Where's Waldo, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Veggie Tales, Magnus, Robot Fighter, Doctor Solar, Little Lulu, Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer, George of the Jungle, Frosty the Snowman and Rocky & Bullwinkle (which makes sense, seeing as how the company is releasing a live action/CGI feature based on Mr. Peabody & Sherman in 2013),
The story was picked up all over the Internet, like the piece that appeared on the Bloomberg website titled "DreamWorks Animation Seeks Magic Kingdom Beyond Movies" by Michael White and Christopher Palmeri. I mention it mostly because it featured this quote from Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive officer of DreamWorks Animation, "We continue to see a migration to new forms of delivery and new forms of consumption." In the context of DreamWorks bypassing pay cable for an agreement to steam their films on Netlifx it makes sense. But besides sounding like an astounding piece of business doublespeak, it kind of seems like Katzenberg is somehow planning on shipping cartoons directly onto our brains telepathically.
My favorite, though, was the piece on The Beat titled "DreamWorks buys Casper the Friendly Ghost, LIttle Lulu and many more classic comics licenses." It was posted sans byline, which is a shame because it contains a single line that crystallizes exactly why a bunch of dusty old pieces of intellectual property might actually be worth something: we live "in a world where pre-awareness is priceless." Meaning even if you don’t care about Lassie or The Lone Ranger you at least know who they are, And even if you’ve never heard of Little Lulu or Doctor Solar, being pre-existing makes them more "real" (and potentially profitable) than a character someone came up with last week. That's the theory anyway; your results may vary (see John Carter).
Stories about classic popular culture characters getting revivals are commonplace enough, so it wasn't exactly news when Hermes Press announced they would be doing a new Buck Rogers series (see "Chaykin to Create All-New 'Buck Rogers' Comic Book"). Still, it was odd the way it went mostly without comment online, because although his last couple of comebacks were less than overwhelming Buck is a lot more than just another "classic popular culture character." In its own way the comic strip was just as influential as H.G. Wells and Jules Verne in popularizing science fiction; Buck may not have been the wellspring of SF in North America but he made it mainstream as well as serving as its first real brand name, i.e., "that crazy Buck Rogers stuff."
There were a couple of other odd things about the announcement; first that Howard Chaykin was going to be doing it. OK, sure, he's known for his love of classic characters from the 1930s but he's also known for bringing his unique vision (i.e.a blend of politically charged sex and violence) to his comics. Something fine on its own but not something you’d expect in a Buck Rogers comic. The other odd thing was that it was coming from Hermes Press, a publisher who heretofore has been primarily known for producing comic strip reprints. Honestly, the first time I read that initial press release I genuinely thought it must have been a misprint; "Hermes Press? They must have meant Dynamite Entertainment."
So my expectations were pretty much stuck on neutral, until I saw a piece on The Beat titled "More Details on the Howard Chaykin Buck Rogers" by Todd Allen that revealed a number of items of interest about the project. Like that Hermes has a five year license to produce Buck Rogers comics, covering a wealth of previously unreprinted material, and, surprisingly, the new series by Chaykin will be a "riff" on the original comic strip and will remain relatively true to its spirit.
Not that there isn't plenty of room for improvisation; every time the character has been revived he's been changed to the point where he's virtually unrecognizable, which nobody much minded because while groundbreaking the original comic strip was pretty bad. It became a pop culture phenom due almost exclusively to an endless supply of gadgets and space ships; it certainly wasn’t the art, which was unbearably awful and "characters" which were incredibly thin even by the generous standards of the times.
If I could own a pre-existing fictional character it would probably be Bomba the Jungle Boy, not because of any affection I have for the Roy Rockwood books or B-movies. No, I just figure that a series of young adult novels about a good looking teen boy with a license to be nearly naked with an eco-friendly theme could really rake in the babysitting money. And yes, I've thought about this entirely too much.
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.
|Confessions of a Comic Book Guy--Certainly the End of the Beginning|
|Some Assembly Required--Advertise, Rinse, Repeat|
|Rolling for Initiative--There's No Business Like Snow Business|
|DVD Round-Up: 'Despicable Me 2,' 'Fast & Furious 6' & 'Futurama'|
|Confessions of a Comic Book Guy--All-New, All-Different|
|$75 Million 'Hobbit' Suit
About 'Greed and Ingratitude'Weinstein says the case is about greed and ingratitude.