Animation and comics have always been somewhat related. The latter is, after all, a more polished version of the storyboard for the former. Using one as the inspiration for the other is a long-standing practise dating all the way back to the Fleischer Superman shorts of the 1940s. Tie-ins are nothing new either, being around at least as long as shorts but only really hitting their stride with the advent of television. So how do things stand today? Well, the relationship has become ever closer and could even be considered a full-on marriage.
Strategies relating to using comics as a supplement to animation have been around for ages. Indeed plenty of early shows depended on the sales of comics as the basis for their audience. Things haven’t changed all that much excepting of course that comic book sales are not as large or as mainstream as they used to be. What has changed though, is that producers are starting to see the real complimentary value that comics can offer to fans in addition to the benefits of a constant release schedule.
Animation shows tend to run in seasons (yes, even webtoons operate on a seasonal basis) but comics can be produced and distributed on a dependable, regular schedule year-round. Such a trait is extremely useful at keeping fans aware of, and interested in the show during the off-season or even after the show has concluded (read: Avatar: The Last Airbender.)
The shows that have realised this and taken advantage of it down through the years are numerous, but it is the most recent iterations that offer the clearest evidence yet that comics and animation are essentially joined at the hip. Adventure Time is an obvious example, but we’re going to discard it because the comic only came out after the show. Nope, instead we turn our attention to the other Frederator properties.
Over on Comics Alliance, Juliet Kahn makes a very commendable argument that Cartoon Hangover short (and Kickstarter success) Bee & Puppycat is a show that is setting the template for all who come after to follow:
Bee and Puppycat stands out among them, and marks a sea change in comics — particularly in how franchises are formed, what is considered marketable, and what demographics are seen as worthy of being catered to. In its weird, witty way, I believe that Bee and Puppycat emblematizes the future of this industry.
Kahn touches on the content and nature of the show and the boundaries it appears to break, but what piqued my interest was when she mentioned that the show has been on hiatus (ostensibly being produced) and yet the marketing team continues to be hard at work. There are the now-mandatory clothing lines, but there has also been comic books. Yes, the show is still on its way, but the comic is already here. Ditto for some of the other Cartoon Hangover properties, most obviously Bravest Warriors which is up to number 21.
These comics are no mere afterthought; their goal is to compliment the animated series but to also expand upon it; to increase the appeal and value of the animated show to the audience and vice versa. Although there remains a certain distance between the writers (they aren’t necessarily the same team), they nonetheless work a lot closer than similar examples. DC animation operates out of Warner Bros. but is run independent of the comics, even though are owned by the same conglomerate (Time Warner) and even form part of the same division of that company (Warner Bros.)
Bee & Puppycat could be considered the production-ready model for this kind of business plan (Bravest Warriors could be considered the trial run, or prototype.) If it proves to deliver in terms of audience, engagement and revenue, it’s safe to say that it will be replicated not only by Frederator but by others as well. The melding of animation and comics will continue apace.