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Games play well with print heroes

Biz opens up opportunities for comicbook writers, artists

While comicbooks’ relationship with the bigscreen has been at times rocky, comics have a more compatible business partner in the world of media: videogames.

The industries have more than a few similarities, not the least of which is a shared creative sensibility, yet videogames enable their players to finally take full control of the roller-coaster ride experiences they’re used to merely reading on the page or watching on the screen.

Activision has held exclusive licenses and achieved great success with A-list Marvel properties, including Spider-Man and X-Men, well before they were films.

Will Kassoy, VP of global brand management, says Activision’s comic-to-game success stems from “the rich literary history infused into each of these properties that have a built-in level of awareness that stands on its own — with or without a movie.”

But not all comicbook heroes are perfect for games. Dave Jaffe, creative director for Sony Computer Entertainment and creator of hit game “God of War” has been a comics fan since he was a kid, but questions the sense of licensing titles when even top-selling comics struggle to move 100,000 copies a month.

“You really might as well create your own characters that your company owns,” he says. “Then you don’t have to pay a fee to someone else for every copy you sell.”

Other game publishers see an inherent value in comicbook adaptations. Majesco has licensed Top Cow’s “The Darkness,” which also has a pending film deal. Majesco senior project manager Liz Buckley says these games’ appeal transcends their fan base.

” ‘The Darkness’ fans will be good to market to, but this is definitely a title that gamers will appreciate even if they’re not familiar with the property.”

The gaming industry also has opened up lucrative opportunities for comicbook writers and artists. Scribe Paul Jenkins, who won a Will Eisner award for his Inhumans comicbook series at Marvel and has penned “Spider-Man” and “The Darkness” comics, spent the last two years writing the upcoming games “Hulk: Ultimate Destruction” and “The Darkness.”

Jenkins sees videogames as a new playground for storytelling. “Gameplay and storytelling should have equal billing in any videogame,” Jenkins says. “As long as you get that commitment from the publisher, then you’ll probably end up with a good videogame.”

Sometimes surviving the mix of media can be tricky, as comicbook artist Christian Gossett can attest. After his own Eisner-nominated comic “The Red Star” sold nearly a million copies, videogame publisher Acclaim bought the rights and kept Gossett, a 10-year videogame veteran, creatively involved. “Being not only the licensor but also the creator of the intellectual property, I can do my own sketch, rewrite my script or make any other approvals that the licensee requires,” Gossett says.

At the 2004 E3 game trade show, the “Red Star” demo won an 85% approval rating from players. The game was completed that summer but in October Acclaim filed for bankruptcy, leaving the game in limbo. Now, Gossett is working to have the title rescued from Acclaim’s bankruptcy trust so that it can be released to gamers and comics fans still awaiting its debut.

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