Sunday, June 19, 2011

Transmedia Franchising and the Superhero

The phenomenon of transmedia franchising is nothing new, particularly in America. Pulp characters, many of whom can be argued to be prototype superheroes, were quickly turned into films. Zorro first appeared in the 1919 story The Curse of Capistrano by Johnston McCulley which was turned into The Mark of Zorro in 1920, staring Douglas Fairbanks. While the Shadow started life in 1930 as the mysterious narrator of the radio show Detective Story Hour before getting his own pulp stories. This kind of transmedia franchising has become increasingly common, mostly due to sound business reasons. Jenkins quotes an unnamed screenwriter: "When I first started you would pitch a story because without a good story, you didn't really have a film. Later, once sequels started to take off, you pitched a character because a good character could support multiple stories, and now, you pitch a world because a world can support multiple characters and multiple stories across multiple media." (Jenkins 2006:114)

A richly detailed world can support not only lots of different stories in different media, but also lots of different merchandising. This is where the superhero fits so well, because the stories do not just feature one superhero - there are frequently multiple heroes and villains, all suitable for turning into merchandising products - from action figures, to lunch boxes, clothing, bedding, school bags, computer games and so on. This is all in addition to selling the comic book and film.

This is common practice in America - but how common is it in the rest of the world?

If we consider the Japanese franchise Bishōjo Senshi Sailor Moonthis kind of merchandising does happen outside of America. Sailor Moon is a “magical girl” manga about a group of high school girls who discover that they are celestial guardians with magical powers. The manga was converted into not just an anime, but also stage musicals, a live action tokusatsu series and more than 20 computer games, along with merchandising.

It's hard to decide if this is a golden age, where our fanboy interests are pandered to by the production of films, television shows and all manner of wonderful merchandising, or a consumerist hell, where we fiddle while Rome burns?

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