Confessions of a Comic Book Guy is a weekly column by Steve Bennett of Super-Fly Comics and Games in Yellow Springs, Ohio.  This week, Bennett looks at licensed comics.

If you've read these things on even a semi-regular basis you probably know there are subjects I like to revisit on a regular basis, and one of those is licensed titles.  I'll happily admit my opinions are all over the board on the subject; as a genuine child of the 60's I desperately wish there had been regular Space Ghost and Jonny Quest comic books available to me when I was growing up.  But that was back when the VCR was science fiction; I frequently wonder just how necessary they actually are in today's On Demand DVR world where you frequently can get the actual article for free 24 hours a day.  I know they're supposed to be a promotional tool but in my heart of hearts I just don't believe they're as effective as they once were at creating a new audience of comic book readers as they once were.  On the other hand I'm a big fan of Disney Comics who keeps bugging Time-Warner to actually do something with the thousands of pages of Bugs Bunny comics that are just sitting on shelves in their archives.  I freely acknowledge just how important "starter" comics for kids are, especially those of the Free Comic Book Day variety.

But I believe that they are, by their very nature, less creative than unlicensed ones and that no matter how good (The Simpsons, Adventure Time) or weird (Hey Gabba Gabba) they are they give you something you frequently can get for free on television.  And, ultimately, they're just more merchandise, the literary equivalent of a collectible bobble head, something else that a devoted fan of the source material just has to have.

And yet, here I am, a man in his 50's who keeps wondering why there isn't a My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic comic book.

So, clearly, it's a lot more complicated than me "not liking them."  Mostly I suppose I just believe there are too many of them.  "Too many" at least for a shrinking market where all of the time, energy and money involved in putting them together might be better served by creating actual new comics, preferably ones their creators actually own.

To back that statement up last night I did something I seem to do every couple of years when I suddenly find myself with a block of unscheduled downtime; I went through the last couple of Diamond's Previews catalog and counted all the licensed comics I could.  I'm sure I've missed a few (otherwise I wouldn't be me), but the list, so far, includes.

The Shadow, Conan, Popeye, Flash Gordon, Red Sonja, Zorro, The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet, Peanuts, Dark Shadows, Bionic Man, Bionic Woman, Planet of the Apes, Godzilla, GI Joe, Dungeons & Dragons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Magic: The Gathering, True Blood, Disney Fairies, Transformers, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Star Wars, Ghostbusters, Voltron, The Three Stooges, Logan's Run, The Simpsons, Futurama, Adventure Time, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Strawberry Shortcake.

If that's not a lot it sure feels like a lot.

The list also seems to me to be more than a little regressive.  It sometimes seems like we're strip mining the past, relying on sometimes second (and even third-hand) nostalgia for characters we have no real connection to without devoting enough time and attention to the new and what's next.  A couple of weeks ago I mentioned Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett's book Frank Reade: Adventures in the Age of Invention (see "Confessions of a Comic Book Guy--Forward Into the Past") about a pair of dime novel inventor/adventurers.  I keep thinking tomorrow I'll wake up to discover online a press release about the upcoming Frank Reade comic book series; usually I imagine it's from Moonstone but Frank would also be a good fit for Antarctic Press' steampunk line (Steampunk Palin, Steampunk Fairy Tales and of course Swimsuit Steampunk).

Because one of the things Frank has going for him is that being in the public domain, he's absolutely up for grabs.  And while Dynamite Entertainment has discovered that public domain isn't quite as cut and dried as they thought when they launched Warlord of Mars and Lord of the Jungle (see "ERB, Inc. Sues Dynamite") I wouldn't be a bit surprised if we also see the return of such Dime Novel and Penny Dreadful staples as Nick Carter, Frank Merriwell, Buffalo Bill and Old Sleuth.

Don't get me wrong; I know that there a lot of good original independently owned and operated comic books out there now (Mudman, The Li'l Depressed Boy, Super Dinosaur, Thief of Thieves) and more coming (Ragemoor, Saga, The Manhatten Projects, Hell Yeah, Atomic Robo: Real Science Adventures).  But there could always be more because I believe the best comics are based not on a TV show but an original idea.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of