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Design_lead_play’s Darren Lee Phillipson, SBC’s Sophie Bloomfield, Vonner Studios’ David Vonner, Aardman’s Danny Heffer, footwear designer Chris Hill and Larkshead Licensing’s Lindsey Chester tell us which characters and brands should get the comic book treatment.
This year, we’ve seen plenty of brands make the move into comics and graphic novels; some expected, and other less so.
Asmodee’s smash hit card game Dobble – or Spot It as it’s known in some territories – moved from the tabletop to the page with ABLAZE and Spot It: Double Trouble. The graphic novel follows Dobble mascot Dobbly who lives in a world filled with symbols that have power when matched in pairs – mirroring the way the game is played.
“At the start of the project, the gameplay needed to be essential to the story,” said Rich Young, VP Creative and Managing Editor at ABLAZE. He added: “Comics are a marriage of story and art, words and pictures. Strong storytelling and an engaged audience are essential elements, and I think we have all those things in place here.”
Also proving that brands of all kinds are ripe for the comic book treatment is Z2 Comics, an independent publisher focused on IP from the music industry. 2022 launches from the firm includes Elvis: The Official Graphic Novel, Blondie: Against the Odds and Freddie Mercury: Lover of Life, Singer of Songs.
Dark Horse Comics has enjoyed a busy year with blockbuster brands. The publisher continued a partnership with Ubisoft for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Forgotten Myths, launched an Avatar mini-series and also debuted a new Minecraft graphic novel called Minecraft: Open World—Into the Nether. Elsewhere, over at Marvel Comics, licensed launches included a new Alien mini-series and a Fortnite collaboration in Marvel x Fortnite: Zero War.
For Titan, this year has seen new launches for brands including Blade Runner, Sherlock and Doctor Who, as well as an official graphic novel adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera.
To find out which other brands might thrive in the world of comics and graphic novels, we spoke with design_lead_play’s Darren Lee Phillipson, SBC’s Sophie Bloomfield, Vonner Studios’ David Vonner, Aardman’s Danny Heffer and footwear designer Chris Hill…
Darren Lee Phillipson, Creative Director, design_lead_play
I would love to see Netflix’s Squid Game adapted into a graphic novel. I really thought the art direction of the episodic content was intriguing and graphically stunning. The series of staircases that the contestants climb to the games are an obvious nod to MC Escher and there are so many other visual easter eggs throughout each episode. The imagery created within the games would translate beautifully into a Manga-style graphic novel – as some have already explored through fan art, like the image below…
The story would also be very interesting to explore in an expanded universe. A comic book could tap into the various types of Squid Games that are being held all around the world, giving a different cultural outlook and style to the Games. We could also find out more about the history of the Games. How far do they go back in time and how did they start? It would also give you the ability to jump back and forth in time and even look at what the Squid Game would look like in 2050 – or take it to a whole other level and envision the games taking place on other planets!
A graphic novel could dive deeper into the development of each character and help to give us a better understanding of what is going on in their minds and the mental anguish that they experience as they survive each Game. It would be interesting to explore the idea of a Squid Game that brings together all the champions from around the world to take part in an Ultimate Champion Squid Game.
Of course, the bloodthirsty nature of Squid Game would also lend itself well to the more adult themed Manga genre. I see the illustrations being handled in a very stylistic way that would be just as over the top as the scenes from the Netflix show.
Sophie Bloomfield, Founder & Creative Director, Sophie Bloomfield Consulting
From a trend forecasting perspective, there is a clear move towards all year round, gothic/grunge/emo trends. With this direction in mind, I would say a brand like Addams Family would make a fantastic graphic novel! Now would be the perfect time with the approaching launch of their latest offering, the Wednesday Addams series by Tim Burton on Netflix – it would be a great novel series.
The other one that might sound a bit random – and perhaps niche – is Shrek. Ok, stay with me on this one! There’s a massive growing appetite for nostalgic and Nineties/early Noughties content on TikTok with Gen Z’ers. Shrek has gone viral for this demographic on the platform, both in the content they are consuming and producing.
It would be great to see a graphic novel with this beloved character and franchise. Like what happens next with Donkey and Elizabeth? What’s the latest with Lord Farquaad? There are so many great extensions of the original story that could be explored through this medium.
David Vonner, Design Director, Vonner Studios
Being a lifelong fan and lover of comic books, I’ve always viewed the genre as an important pillar of entertainment.
Just as television programs, films, or audio recordings are considered entertainment, so too are comic books. They’re just as engaging on the senses and imagination as any flickering film from a projector or song playing from your device. With broad subject matters, storytellers and creators of all backgrounds, the comic book medium is more diverse now than ever before.
I love straight up ‘Smash ‘n’ Bash’ action with adventure, mystery and nail-biting suspense. Add in a few monsters, ghosts, mechanised-aliens and amazing art, and I’m hooked. Plus, I love a good team up. Team books such as Marvel’s X-Men and Fantastic Four have always been fun. DC/Wildstorm’s The Authority and Planetary supercharged everything with their take on team dynamics, intrigue & adventure – and not to mention some very cool mind-bending plots that really take you on a ride!
For me, the one character I’d love to take on in a very different way would be Bruce Lee’s character from Enter The Dragon: Lee. I’ve always loved Bruce Lee, but I always wanted to know more about Lee, and what he did after Enter The Dragon.
Also, who could forget John Saxon, Betty Chung and Jim Kelly? And Mr. Hand!? We’re talking Bond-Level villainy here! And even though he was in a different Bruce Lee film, I would love to bring in Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s Hakim character from Game Of Death as a cyborg/Terminator out to seek one more round. One could only image the other international – or interdimensional – threats Mr. Lee and Crew could face.
In my mind, there was always more to their story and I always wanted to take it further, with more characters, locations, and themes.
Danny Heffer, Creative Design Lead, Aardman
The why bit of this question interests me the most. Brand collabs are an entrenched ‘thing’ now… How can comics bring depth to these partnerships? I worked with the V&A and Fila recently. Bringing Shaun the Sheep into the mix was fun and it felt like a bigger story could’ve been told, but due to timing and budget, animation wasn’t an option. A comic strip could have been a quick win here… A quick and engaging way to deepen the experience.
At Aardman, we’ve always looked at the written or illustrated word as a way of telling stories without constraint. Budget, technical ability and even the baggage around what can and can’t be done in a character’s world can be a hold back on screen. So, the page is liberating and seems to be a safe and unfettered environment for heading off into all sorts of creative possibilities.
The suspension of disbelief is much easier on the printed page – comics can be a simple space for exploring more abstract concepts by providing a liminal space between two brands. How would Peppa Pig interact with Batman?! We’d probably never find out on screen but on the page at least it feels technically possible and it’s easier to accept.
What if Harry Styles turned up too? And they teamed up against Ernst Blofeld? Thanks to Marvel we’re all familiar with the idea of a multiverse, so I say comics are a great space to explore it! Let us boldly go…
So, unlimited budgets, an infinite sandbox, a safe place to play… What’s not to love? I’d like to see some really weird and wonderful brands and IP coming together. Shaun the Sheep and Tom Cruise in Mutton Impossible? Or Ncuti Gatwa and Shaun the Sheep in Doctor Ewe? I’ll subscribe to that.
Chris Hill, Footwear Designer ETW, Jordan Brand, Nike
I’ve actually chosen an existing comic character that deserves the spotlight once more: Man-Thing from Marvel Comics. Growing up I always loved DC Comics’ Swamp Thing, and how dark and gritty a story it was to me as a kid. I was also really into Muckman from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I guess I liked gross things growing up!
Then I discovered Man-Thing from Marvel Comics and thought he was way creepier and cooler looking, so that really drew me to like him even more. Marvel always did things a little cooler and the designers were always better on my eyes. I was always and still am a Marvel Comics guy over DC comics.
The story was kind of sad, about a man who was transformed into a monster and who hurt his lover. For some reason that made me like him even more. His red eyes were so creepy – it was cool! His powers were super cool too… The acid from his hands burning people was so gross – it was awesome. I loved his runs with Midnight Sons and Legion of Monsters – and I’m so excited we will finally see him in the Werewolf by Night TV special on Disney+.
The antagonists he fights – interdimensional beings, ghosts, monsters, demons, time travellers – was so cool to me as a kid, and still as an adult. All that makes him a very fun character that I think people would really be drawn too in current times.
Man-Thing was the first comic character that introduced me to that weirdness and I absolutely loved it! As an adult, I’m really into weird and campy horror – probably too much! – and that all started with Man-Thing.
Lindsey Chester, Senior Licensing & Retail Manager, Larkshead Licensing
Comics and graphic novels are a fantastic way for a brand to engage their audience, be rediscovered, or bring new fans to the fold with new stories whilst being authentic to the brand or show. I’ve recently experienced this with Award Winning British Indie Comic Book Publisher Time Bomb Comics with their ‘Spectrum Anthology Comic’ – featuring Gerry Anderson shows Terrahawks, New Captain Scarlet and Space Precinct in brand new stories and with cover art drawn by the legendary Steve Pugh. The comic community embraced it, and they smashed their Kickstarter goal – fans not only wanted the comic but an opportunity to be part of the journey of bringing it to print.
I think many amazing classic British TV shows could be developed into comics or graphic novels. Ones with limited series and great stories that would be relevant today. They are untapped and some are niche but the format can answer ‘what happened next’. The original show artwork may be very limited too so where comic book artists with their superb imaginations help bring the stories to life without the constraints of a special effects budget.
From a purely personal perspective, there is a what happened next cliffhanger that I ponder still – did Sapphire and Steel ever escape that café floating in space? Yes, that fabulous Si-Fi show about interdimensional time operatives ran from 1979 to 1982 starring Joanna Lumley and David MacCallum. Surely these characters would make a great comic or graphic novel particularly, Sapphire – there weren’t many female Sci-Fi leads quite like her at the time – she was intelligent, knowledgeable, strong and well-dressed compared to some of her female Sci-Fi peers. A comic or graphic novel would be perfect for her and as we know strong female lead characters have a long history in comics!
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