Prime-Time Comics

It's hard to be a comic-book fan these days and not be a comic-book evangelist as well. Are there fans left out there who don't want desperately for others to start reading this medium, so we can be sure it has a future? If there are, I'm not in that group. I gave my father Sin City and Whiteout as presents, I handed my mom copies of Clan Apis and I've tried to get every friend I have to read at least a few copies of something.

One of the big problems in "converting" the non-comics reader, however, is the perception they'll have of comics. If that person isn't interested in super-heroes, good luck convincing them to try comics. Even if you can convince them, there's a fairly limited range of genres to offer. A handful of crime, science fiction or fantasy comics is about the best you'll come up with. In fact, the most success is probably to be had with licensed properties, something they might already be familiar with from movies or TV. There are any number of comic readers who don't read anything but Star Wars, Xena or Star Trek comics. Do they add to the readership as a whole? Not necessarily, but the cash they're dropping on that limited set of books will help keep publishers solvent so they can publish other, more wide-ranging material.

What I'd love to see is this licensing taken even further. Rather than just grabbing the genre TV and movie fans, I'd love to see the industry make a real grab for the mainstream market. By this I mean, license some of the major prime-time shows and do comics based on them. Now, the reason this doesn't happen is probably mostly related to the fact that the potential licensees wouldn't have any interest, or their license fees would be way too high. But in an ideal world, I think you could mine a lot of interesting comics out of these shows.

Frasier: Here's a show that would work phenomenally well in comics. It's American farce comedy, based on slapstick and misunderstandings. It's got an existing backstory related to several high priced Hollywood actors. Both of these factors could be used to better effect in comics. Imagine Frasier or Niles Crane reacting with the exaggerated expressions of Francine and Katchoo from Strangers in Paradise. Instead of having a special sweeps week episode where Lilith shows up, imagine Frasier taking his dad and brother to Boston to hang with the whole Cheers crew for a couple issues. Not to mention that, freed from the restrictions of television, the creators of the Frasier comic might be able to do single issues featuring and exploring Roz, Daphne, Bulldog or even Eddie in more detail. Fleshing out the supporting cast is a story technique given much more leeway in comics than it is in television.

Law & Order: In the 50s, EC did tremendous business in true-crime comics. A series based on Law & Order should be able to compete with the best of them. Not only is it easier to get into the realistic details of the legal system in print than it is in an electronic medium like television, the vast rotating cast of the show wouldn't be so beholden to various actors. Past cast members could easily show up for a case or two, or we could follow them to see what's happened to them since leaving the New York D.A.'s office or police precincts. Hand this license over to someone like Paul Grist or Bob Ingersoll and let them run with it.

Of course, those are only two examples, and it ignores even greater possibilities. In recent years, creators have tried to merge other genres with super-heroes to get wide appeal in the industry as well as the possibility of appealing to other potential fans. Examples include the blending of the police drama with super-heroes (Top 10), romance/soap opera elements with super-heroes (Young Heroes in Love) and family drama with super-heroes (Starman). The idea of taking some of the successful elements of popular shows and blending them with super-heroic elements could lead to interesting comics as well. A super-heroic Ally McBeal would have the same appeal to young women as the equally neurotic Peter Parker did to young men, and the unusual sense of humor exhibited by the writers would find a true home in comics. Center ER around a group of super-heroes who function specifically in the medical/rescue function instead of a group of doctors, and you'd have something nobody else has done in comics. Movies and television are using comics as a birthing ground for concepts that they can then license and use, I see no reason why the flow of ideas couldn't go the other way as well.

There is one more blending of ideas I have in mind, but I think I'll save it for a future pitch. Oh, all right, I'll just tell you the name: The SuperFriends. (So no one told you life was gonna be this way...)

Randy W. Lander

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