The inarguable success of Marvel Studios has Hollywood's attention. In an industry forever nervous about new ideas, the strategy impulsively becomes how to duplicate it.
DreamWorks Animation's $155 million purchase of Classic Media was inspired, at least in part, by the record-shattering performance of Marvel's The Avengers, DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg told Reuters. And similar to Marvel's pre-Iron Man days, Katzenberg sees this as a strong opportunity to farm out the newly acquired characters to other studios for adaptation. Aside from its Mr. Peabody & Sherman 3D movie already in the works, DreamWorks has no plans to create new live-action features based on the Classic Media characters. But the small screen may be another matter: The studio is setting up its own television or Internet channel, but whether this is to re-run classic episodes, like Cartoon Network does with Boomerang, or for new series is still unknown.
"A channel is one of the many opportunities we see for combining the DreamWorks brand with this extraordinary library of characters," Katzenberg said. "It could be a domestic cable channel, international, even an Internet channel."
But more immediately, the purchase provides DreamWorks additional leverage as it negotiates to renew its distribution deal with Paramount Pictures.
All of this studio-driven activity around comic book properties sounds great, but where does that leave the comics themselves? Will DreamWorks open a comics publishing company? Will Doctor Solar be reunited with the recently revived Valiant Universe? Will The Lone Ranger vanish from Dynamite Entertainment's line-up? What about Ape Entertainment's Casper the Friendly Ghost and Richie Rich relaunches? Will the world finally get a new Fat Albert comic?
It's too soon to know for sure, but most likely very little will change in the near future. DreamWorks has barely mentioned comic books in the press so far, deciding instead to focus on licensing for "motion picture, television, home entertainment, consumer products, digital, theme park and live entertainment channels." The other factor is that a good deal of those properties are either co-managed by another company (Jay Ward Productions still co-owns Rocky & Bullwinkle, for example), or Classic Media only holds the TV rights (such as in the case of Masters of the Universe, which is owned by Mattel). While it would be amazing to see a comic book universe where Lassie and Bravestarr co-exist, if we're going to be honest with ourselves, it's probably low on the DreamWorks to-do list.
Instead, a comics future for many of these properties will probably be up to an enterprising comics publisher with a vision to license them from DreamWorks. The animation studio has already shown a willingness to do this with its own feature film properties, which has resulted in Ape Entertainment's mini-line of DreamWorks comics: Shrek, Madagascar and Kung-Fu Panda. I don't hear a lot of buzz about how those books are being received by readers but they must be doing something right. And as mentioned, Ape already has new Casper and Richie Rich comics, so perhaps they're the right fit. As the all-ages section of comics continues to grow, a lot of Classic Media's properties could find a very welcoming audience in comics form.