Screencap Comics & TV Spin-Offs: Can Kids Tell?

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Marvel recently announced its new “Share Your Universe” plan, but details are slim. With San Diego Comic Con coming up, we will find out more soon. The hope is that it will be a way for parents to share the comics they love with their kids and turn them into new readers. This is an excellent direction for the company. Making stories that kids can enjoy as their parents could growing up and building a connection between all-ages comics like Ultimate Spider-man and the new Avengers Assemble and Hulk Agents of SMASH is a great idea. I want to hear more about the Share Your Universe pitch, but more importantly I want Marvel to make better comics.

All-ages comics can be fantastic. They get nominated for awards like Bandette. They enjoy big-name creators like Scott McCloud on them. They could add to continuity like Mad Love, the origin story for Harley Quinn that started out in the Batman Adventures comics. Or they can go the easy route — and that route is full of self-fulfilling prophecies of poor sales and reception.

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A while back, when I read and reviewed the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes comic, I wasn’t blown away. It was a standard comic, but what bothered me was the Ultimate Spider-man mini-comic inside. It used screencaps from the TV shows. It literally took screen stills from the televised cartoon to tell a story, and it was obvious. Unfortunately this has become standard for Marvel. When they launched the Marvel Ultimate Spider-man comic on Free Comic Book Day, not the Bendis-penned series of the same title, they used the same screencap setup — and, again, it was obvious.

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This year for the Free Comic Book Day Hulk Agents of SMASH comic, they did the same thing. They don’t even have actual writers on the titles. Instead, there are story adapters on hand, who cut up scripts from the show and turn them into comics. That’s really a shame when it comes from a company that wants to bring in new readers.

In the back of the Free Comic Book Day issue, there was an ad for the Ultimate Spider-man comic and the continuation of the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes comic. The problem: Both of them are now screencap comics, and Avengers: EMH is now retelling episodes from Season 2. While I am a person who loves the series, I have a problem when you charge $3 for a book that is full of stories we’ve had before. These are comics in which the images are blurry and discolored, and there is a major image difference between the text on the comics and the images themselves.

Can kids tell? Maybe. Maybe not. But is it fair to rehash graphics in a medium that depends on the graphic itself to tell the story? DC seems to think not …

DC is hitting the comics out of the park. The Beware The Batman FCBD comic had its own story that was entertaining and original – it even had original art.

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It served to introduce a new villain, tell a new story and set up a direction for the series itself. And while they didn’t have a new comic for Teen Titans GO! (I’d love if Dan Hipp illustrated a monthly comic), they still reprinted a fantastic issue of the original Teen Titans spin-off comic. DC is making comics for all-ages readers by producing original content. And that’s a good thing.

From BOOM Studios, we have had four spinoffs now of Adventure Time, and those series launched with extra printings. We have Samurai Jack and other cancelled cartoons getting star talents like Jim Zubkavitch to continue the stories in comics.

And I will level with you: All-ages comics and spin-offs of comics from popular TV shows rarely sell very well. They can seem like a no-brainer. But with Marvel, if you want people to actually buy comics based on well-received shows, bring on big-name creators and advertise them just like the rest of your catalog. Printing screencaps of comics telling stories that readers know from cartoons isn’t just lazy, it hurts the brand, and it turns away new readers.

Let’s hope Share Your Universe will turn that trend on its head.

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