San Diego Comic-Con: Licensed! Overstreet Looks at Licensed Comics

The pros, cons, and strange stories of working with licensors were the focus of this enlightening panel.

From the pages of the San Diego Comic-Con Events Guide, “Licensed comics have long been an important part of the tapestry of the comics industry.” Such comics can be a gateway to a publisher’s other titles, as well as sell products associated with the franchise. These comics interest me, so I had to attend this panel. Moderated by Overstreet’s J.C. Vaughn, panelists included Mark Wheatley, Andy Mangels, Ed Catto, Mark L. Haynes, and Chris Ryall.

The first question asked of the panel was what their favorite license is. Chris Ryall sported a huge smile when he said, “Rom.” As a side note, Chris has stated for years that his favorite comic book growing up was Rom published by Marvel Comics. Last year, IDW Publishing, where he works as the Chief Creative Officer and Editor-in-Chief, acquired the rights to create new adventures of the spaceknight. ┬áMark Haynes stated it was Stargate: Universe and Stargate: Atlantis, which are two series he and J.C. wrote for American Mythology Productions. Ed is an unique position on this panel as he is a licensor. He owns the rights to Captain Action. His favorite license is The Planet of the Apes, “With the Ploog art,” he added. Andy stated his was Wonder Woman ’77, which he happens to be writing in Wonder Woman ’77 Meets the Bionic Woman for Dynamite Entertainment. Tarzan and Jonny Quest were Mark Wheatley’s two favorites, and are two series he’s worked on.

J.C. next asked what the similarities are with a licensed character and a creator owned character. Mark Wheatley went first stating, “Not a whole lot different as a freelancer. The characteristic most prevalent is you have caretakers instead of characters.” Andy added, “I include super heroes because those characters are licensed. The similarities are the canon. How much the licensor cares is a big deal.” This thought lead smoothly into Ed’s comments. “As licensors, we have a high degree of passion. When I was involved with a Captain Action team up with the Green Hornet, (those licensors) gave us the car keys (to do what we wanted), while the Phantom (licensors) said “Wait!” This comment got a lot heads on the panel nodding. Mark Haynes said, “Having someone (like a licensor) double and triple check you work could rub you the wrong way. When you pick the licensor’s favorite show every day is like Comic-Con all day.” Chris closed out this question with a neat response, “Things are very different from the 80’s. Transformers and G.I. Joe were to sell toys.” Characters and vehicles had to be inserted into stories to sell them. “Now the licensor says to make (the book) good. ‘Enhance our brand.'” C.J. interjected that “Hasbro was the first to catch on to this,” in part due to Larry Hama’s storytelling on G.I. Joe. Ryall continued, “(Licensors) are more editors that licensors.”

When stories regarding difficulties with licensors were solicited, the responses varied. Chris stated, “On one side, (I’ve worked with) Disney, on the other side KISS. KISS allowed more freedom, but I’ve never had a bad experience with licensors.” Mark Haynes had an issue that everyone on the panel had heard of or experienced: “I’ve had problems with a licensor who was rejecting artwork from approved artwork and photos.” Several panelists said this was frustrating because the visuals they were using were the same as those they were given by the licensor to place in a book. Ed said, “It’s fascinating when a licensee knows more than the licensor. ” This had J.C. stating that he had to get approval from someone at Marvel Corporate for the pencils, then the inks, then the colors, then the final image used for the cover of the newest Overstreet Price Guide. It was an illustration of Thor by Walter Simonson. “The person was friendly, but had no history of Walt Simonson.” Mark Wheatley put an interesting spin on difficulties. “My first license was for Jonny Quest. I had nothing to really reference because there wasn’t much available. There were no DVDs yet. If I was lucky I could tape an episode from tv.” He went on to say, “I did the Baron Munchausen adaptation and I couldn’t see anything because of the secrecy involved. We had seven photos and Terry Gilliam’s storyboards. They let us go from that. I sent it in and I got a note from Gilliam, ‘Why did you switch dialogue between two characters?’ I sent back, ‘We don’t have the script.” He sent us the script then. Issues 2 and 3 were much better.” This lead Mark Haynes to add, “Scripting 24 had us (he and J.C.) not knowing the surprise (at the end of the season). We didn’t know that our series featured a character that was huge for that season.” Thankfully, everything they wrote worked into the season fine. Chris said, “I was doing a Land of the Dead adaptation of the George Romero movie. It got published and I got an angry letter from someone at the studio about it. Redemption came when I gave a copy to George Romero who said he really liked it.”

Going from Mark Wheatley’s Munchausen issues, Chris told a story he heard about Walter Simonson doing the adaptation of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It was a secret set, with nothing allowed to leave it. Walter went into a room where there was production art and photographs. He asked if he could take pictures, but was denied. He then asked if he could make sketches. Walter was told he could, but only on paper he had with him. All he had was a napkin and on it he sketched the mothership. People came to his house to take the napkin back after a few days. Wheatley countered that a lack of information could be freeing. He stated he was approached by Gene Roddenberry’s people, after the man had passed, to do a series based on a scribble on a napkin — “Lost Universe.” He went on to help write a series bible for the Lost Universe comic.

When the weirdest commentary from a licensor was asked for, Chris stated that IDW did a Saw comic and there was a complaint from the actor who played Jigsaw. He, actor Tobin Bell, didn’t like the way the back of his head was drawn. Chris’s comment was, “How would he know what the back of his head looks like?” They changed it. Mark Haynes spoke about the Pink Panther. “There are very specific style guides. I didn’t work on the comic, but I heard that whisker placement had the artwork rejected.” He mentioned that personally he had character eyelid issues for four weeks while working on a Stargate comic. Chris jumped in and said that on a CSI comic one actor wanted to be drawn like he looked in college, while a female wanted a bigger chest because she was in a comic book. Andy said that on one book the Seal of the President of the United States had to be changed because it’s illegal to use it, it cannot be paid for in any media. After this, Andy recounted a story where he was flown to the set of A Nightmare On Elm Street: Freddy’s Dead to take pictures of him with Freddy to be included in the comic. He wanted to have his shirt ripped by Freddy in the picture, so he changed shirts, which left one of his nipples exposed. It was a pierced nipple and at the time was a new thing. Those on the set who saw the photoshoot weren’t disturbed by Freddy’s actions, but Andy’s piercing. He later got a call that the publisher wasn’t sure they could use the picture because of the nipple ring. It was officially voted on by the studio, who approved it, then voted on by the comic book publisher. The picture was published. “The world didn’t end. Freddy killed people, but not my nipple ring.” The laughter that followed this story lead to Mark Wheatley stating that while he was on Batman the editorial staff had a meeting to decide if Batman could meet with James Gordon in the commissioner’s garage while Gordon worked on a lawnmower. The question that had to be decided was if Gordon had a lawn.

It was a licensed property that made me a fan of comic books, so to hear these individuals speaking about the pros and cons of licensed characters was entertaining and enlightening.

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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