Circle of Confusion hopes to mine franchises from comics

NEW YORK — Not everyone can be Marvel or DC Comics and have a seemingly endless supply of comicbook heroes with tentpole potential. Indeed, even those companies’ characters are getting a little stretched by Hollywood: Sony is gearing up for “Spider-Man 3,” and Warner Bros. releases “Batman Begins” next year.

In the absence of known properties, producers are increasingly banking on independent comics (like Dark Horse Comics’ “Hellboy”), and some, like the management-production company Circle of Confusion, are starting from scratch.

The Sony-based shingle is in talks to partner with a comicbook publisher and launch its own label in order to generate new titles, which, ideally, will lead to franchises that include videogames and movies.

“I think, clearly, the big-name, iconic (comicbook) titles are almost gone,” says Circle of Confusion founder Lawrence Mattis. “After you go beyond those big titles, it’s just about good material. What we’re doing, beyond tapping the independents and the smaller labels, is building things from the ground up.”

Because Circle already represents about two dozen comicbook creators — including Marvel illustrator Brian Michael Bendis, whose independent title “Jinx” was just set up at Universal with Charlize Theron; as well as James Hudnall and Dan Brereton, creators of “The Psycho,” also at Universal (Circle is producing both) — the company is banking on cross-fertilizing its talent and product pools.

In a sign of what’s to come, last month Circle announced it was developing a film (which Larry Guterman is directing and co-producing) and a comicbook based on “Death, Jr.,” a series that doesn’t exist yet.

“Death” — about a teenager whose luck is to be the son of the Grim Reaper — is being developed as a videogame for Sony’s forthcoming PSP (a portable version of PlayStation 2). Circle’s film and accompanying comicbook will be released in conjunction with the game. The comicbook version of “Death, Jr.” will likely be published under Circle’s new imprint.

Circle of Confusion didn’t begin with such complicated plans.

Formed out of New York City by Mattis in 1990, the company was originally more slanted toward management. Always on the lookout for off-center talent (“with a 14-year-old boy sensibility,” according to Mattis), the producer-manager discovered and signed the Wachowski brothers when they were “carpenters in Chicago,” he says.

“I answered a query letter that no one else would,” Mattis says with characteristic modesty.

Other clients include scribes Simon Kinberg (“Mr. and Mrs. Smith”), and Gregg Chabot and Kevin Peterka (“Rain of Fire”).

In 2002 Circle’s West Coast office was opened by partners David Alpert, David Engel and Jason Lust, to up the company’s production ante and expand into areas that weren’t being explored, such as comicbooks and videogames.

“Videogames grew for us as an offshoot of the comicbook business, because there’s so much overlap of creative talent,” Alpert says. “A lot of comicbook writers are being hired to write scripts for videogames.”

Circle reps several vidgame developers such as Backbone Entertainment (which owns the “Death, Jr.” property) and Taldren Korea, one of the leading developers of MMOs (massively multiplayer online games — games that are played by hundreds of thousands of players at the same time.) Taldren Korea developed the “Star Trek” online games for Paramount.

The shingle also has projects springing from more traditional areas — Circle has set up “A House Called Awful End” at Warner Bros., and is adapting the Jack Ketchum novel “Red” for United Artists.

In the end, Mattis says, it comes down to “creating worlds.”

“Be it a smart, $5 million thriller or a $100 million tentpole, we’re interested in thinking in that macro way. We think in terms of worlds.”

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