What Happens in Licensing in Vegas Has Staying Power July 13, 2011 – Posted in: A Picture's Worth, Blog, Featured Columns – Tags: , , , , , , ,

Last month I attended my first annual Licensing Expo in Las Vegas. My goal was to scope it out to see if it would be worth getting a booth for next year.  (I’m promoting my new site, LicenseCharacters.com, as well as seeking opportunities to license artwork. The Expo actually has a special section just for artists.)

There was a nice-sized section just for licensed artwork, including a company that sold some amazing art prints from the 1800s and 1900s, as well as the official licensee for Norman Rockwell’s name and art. Other booths had the artists themselves, such as noted wildlife/Americana/train painter Ted Blaylock (at the easel, painting away).

I took lots of pics and will share a bunch with you here. Cool thing was, the square footage of the exhibit floor was about half that of Comic-Con but with about 1/100th of the attendance—meaning the aisles were mostly clear and the booths were easy to photograph. It will be interesting to see how many companies also exhibiting at Comic-Con in San Diego will use the same displays…You saw them here first!

It was quite an experience; met a few people, made a couple pitches and learned a great deal. Some comics and art-related highlights:

Regarding “the big two”, DC was part of the Warner Brothers pavilion, though they had a great display (see photo). Marvel, however, had a section completely separate from Disney. (This may be more due to booking the event before the acquisition was finalized rather than presenting a more separate identity, but I don’t know.)  When I asked each company if any of their creatives were at the show, they both said it was only the marketing and licensing department…which turned out (for both companies) to be a much larger contingent than what typically attends San Diego. That’s what I expected and suspected—though I was hoping otherwise.

Warners had a nice display of DC stuff, including rotating lights which displayed names of several brands (err, characters) right on the carpet. (I walked around Batman but all over Superman…HA!)

Marvel had a nice mix of “classic” and “modern” characters. To get a sense of scale, the Iron Man was life-size.

I can see art by Kirby, Kane, Cockrum and Buscema…Who am I missing?

Outside of them, I found and talked to three comics publishers: Dark Horse, Zenescope (Grimm’s Fairy Tales) and SLG Publishing. The woman from Zenoscope was very nice. Met Jim Benton, fellow Michigander and creator of the insanely successful “Happy Bunny” franchise, which has gross sales of half a billion so far. (“Sure beats working”, he told me.) Also met Chad Carpenter, hilarious and dedicated creator of the hilarious strip TUNDRA. Chad came all the way from Alaska to promote his self-syndicated strip. If your paper doesn’t carry it, shoot them an email and ask them to! Visit www.tundracomics.com to learn more–and be prepared to laugh! I had a few nice chats with SLG’s Supreme Commander Dan Vado (yes, that’s what it says on his business card) and his assistant, Mike. Dan has really nailed the digital model for comics from what I’ve seen. Printed editions, free previews and low-priced digital formats for iPads and such. Check out slgpublishing.com for more. Killer stuff.

Dan Vado and Mike from SLG Publishing, one of the longest-running AND coolest in da biz…One of the few to really nail the whole digital format and promotion.

I was fortunate enough to meet and chat with the creator of TUNDRA, Chad Carpenter. I was unfamiliar with it before the show, and left a diehard fan (with a signed book…thanks, Chad!)

Speaking of comics, a firm I’d not heard of, Radiodays, had the most impressive display for this comic-book geek: nearly two stories’ worth of Golden Age comic covers! The most obscure titles and heroes, presumably being marketed as posters and decoration. I asked if they had the comic-book rights to the characters but the person in charge was in a meeting and no one else knew. I offered my card in case they were interested in publishing new adventures—it would be a fun project to be sure! (Though probably not as lucrative.)

Check out the size and colors on those G.A. covers! (Yes, BLUE BOLT is Simon & Kirby.) That’s me smiling, in comic-geek heaven.

Another firm which has the licenses to Zorro and some ERB properties had a huge, at least 15-foot poster of Joe Jusko’s brilliant Tarzan painting (see photo). I asked the gentleman at the booth if Joe was in attendance. “Joe M______?” he asked, referring to someone in management. “No, “ I said, gesturing to the poster, “Joe Jusko, the painter!” The guy replied with a detectably, derisively dismissive, “No.” As in, “Why the hell would anyone care about a mere artist being here? We’re doing business, baby!” (My words, not his.) My, how the Artist is revered these days.

Who wouldn’t want a fifteen-foot Joe Jusko TARZAN on his wall? (Guessing even Joe didn’t get one…)

Several “exclusive announcements” were made during the show; mostly about companies acquiring licenses or new products and projects. For instance, famed syndicate King Features announced a line of Beetle Bailey wear to be sold exclusively at Bloomingdale’s. (Are there that many Bloomingdale’s customers that are fans of the 60-year-old strip? Someone thinks so.) Also, a new cartoon based on the ubiquitous Peeps candy; and the new Batman “Live” stage show, which premiered in the UK. Let’s all pray it has nothing in common with Broadway’s Spider-Man!

Special display promoting the new Beetle Bailey “line” at Bloomingdale’s this fall. Of special interest was a nice assortment of Mort Walker originals, a few from the early years of the strip. Also, two nice hand-colored Sunday pages.

C3 Entertainment, owner of the Three Stooges, had a cool looking booth promoting both the upcoming film as well as other projects. I had a brief but very nice talk with a couple of the folks, including one of the heirs and executive producers. They, like me and other fans, want to make sure the film is done right and does right by The Boys. Nice to see family and fans at the top!

Lastly, the biggest thing I came away with was the amazing scale of money—both on display and being negotiated. People were mostly there to ink major deals that had been in the works since the previous show. Paramount was seeking licensees for the next Star Trek film. The largest children’s property in Europe was seeking a US TV show. Other brands were being bought and sold—all for millions; multiple millions. The amount of brands seen in everyday life and throughout history, and the revenues generated, was staggering.

Companies like Classic Media (above) and others show that not always do the creators/owners of the characters and brands handle the licensing. It’s a multi-million dollar global business that requires a unique expertise and dedicated staff.

Another approach is to take public domain characters and put a unique (re: marketable and merchandisable) spin on them.

There were also a few costumed Smurfs walking the floor. I asked to photograph them but they gave me the finger, knocked me down and took my lunch money. YOU BLUE B******S!!!

The Twilight Zone toys should be in San Diego as well…A Wednesday’s Heroes scoop?

No licensing show would be complete without the king of the franchises, good ol’ George and crew!

One of my favorite shows, TOP GEAR, was well represented by BBC Worldwide, who also promoted Doctor Who. (The Stig was unfortunately a mannequin!)

Even elephants and apes get along fine at the Expo! (I think Badou tried to grab my butt…thankfully he had no thumbs.)

Who needs Captain America when you can meet the living symbol of your country? (Who also happened to be trolling for licensees.) Yes, some corporation even owns and licenses Uncle Sam. *sigh.* Only in America.

I can only hope to gain a tiny slice of that gargantuan licensing pie next year. (I’ll be satisfied with even a nice scoop of the licensing icing.) If your company seeks new and custom characters, let me know.

Speaking of licensed properties, wouldn’t it be cool to have an original piece of art of your favorite character? I’d be happy to create one for you. Just ask Craig here!  There’s still time to get at least roughs done beforeSan Diego, so do it now!

 

 

 

 

Thanks,

Mike

 

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