Has your favorite TV show been canceled, gotten stuck in repeats or gone off the air for a long hiatus? You might find solace at your local comicbook store.
The racks these days are still filled with comics about Batman and Captain America, but they also contain their fair share of four-color titles about “Star Trek” and “My Little Pony.” IDW Publishing recently restarted a series about Fox’s “24,” in tandem with the network’s new limited series “24: Live Another Day.” In March, Lion Forge Comics launched a digital comic about an old favorite, NBC’s “Miami Vice,” the latest in a series of comicbook partnerships with the Peacock. The company also produces digital comics based on old series like “Saved by the Bell,” “Punky Brewster” and “Airwolf.”
Networks have long adopted popular comicbook tales for the smallscreen, as made plain by series that range from 1978’s “The Incredible Hulk” to 2001’s “Smallville” to next season’s debuts of the Batman-inspired “Gotham” on Fox and “The Flash” on the CW. But the networks have also recognized that comics can do more than inspire. They can also help keep a veteran property out of mothballs.
“Publishing today is very much a key driver for television properties,” says Liz Kalodner, executive vice president and general manager of CBS Consumer Products. “There is just a tremendous amount of flexibility. What it really offers us is an opportunity for fans, in a world that they know with characters they love.” Canceled shows can live on in the pages of a comicbook. Check out a popular series about “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” which offered up new “seasons” of the show.
The comicbooks represent just one kind of foray by the networks into licensed products; there are dozens of others. This industry has been part of the TV business for decades, taking the form of T-shirts and lunchboxes among other items. In 2014 licensing efforts carry new weight: Networks and studios are placing more emphasis on the revenue they can generate from sales of their programming not only into syndication, but to overseas outlets and to streaming-video sites like Netflix and Amazon. Keeping current and canceled TV programs in the public eye is a means of stoking demand for the content.
The goods also have worth in and of themselves. During a recent conference call with investors, Viacom president-CEO Philippe Dauman suggested that economic stabilization in Europe and new opportunities for retail in developing foreign countries created a good market for products related to such Viacom properties as “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”
For comicbook publishers, the chance to tell stories about recognizable TV characters can be quite a boon. “We launched the company with a few of our own original titles, and we wanted to do something to engage audiences with something they were very familiar with,” says Dave Steward, chief executive of Lion Forge. While others were snapping up current properties, Steward said, “We found this group of properties that have very high recognition” but were best recalled by fans who had already grown up, and who might share the characters with their own kids. “It was a great opportunity to explore a new avenue.”
Lion Forge hired a fan of “Miami Vice,” Jonathan London, to write the series, which takes place during the original era and offers a combination of the TV episodes plus new material. Executives at NBCUniversal’s consumer-products division declined to comment.
To have a real success with the books, some publishers try to enlist talent associated with the TV show being made into a comicbook. “What you want is the involvement of the showrunner. You really want (‘The X-Files’ creator) Chris Carter. You want (‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ creator) Joss Whedon,” says Greg Goldstein, president and chief operating officer of IDW, which has published series related to “Star Trek,” “The X-Files” and “Buffy” spinoff “Angel.” “You want them to see it as an opportunity to tell stories.” Their involvement also draws the interest of hardcore fans of the various shows.
Indeed, some showrunners see the comicbooks as a place to continue activity that was cut short by the traditional demand for ratings.
After the 2009 cancellation of “Pushing Daisies,” a critically acclaimed series on ABC about a pie-maker who could bring dead things back to life, creator Bryan Fuller made public his intention to continue his efforts in comicbook form. Unfortunately, the company that was to have published the comic was shut down unexpectedly.
As freeing as it may be to transform a TV series into the panels of a comicbook, certain restrictions remain. Kalodner, the CBS executive, says executives from the company are kept apprised of storylines involving its properties and must be consulted for general approval.