I recently discovered that Bryant Heating & Cooling is using a character named Bryantman as their mascot. As you might guess, he's a superhero who battles the evil forces of extreme temperatures that can affect your home heating and cooling system.
I'm generally bemused by marketing campaigns that borrow heavily from comic books. It rarely strikes me as truly appropriate, and seems to come more from an ad agency whose creative lead happens to like comics. It does give me pause enough to take notice of the company and their marketing, but I suspect that it rarely has a positive impact on sales.
But in the case of Bryantman, I began sorting through the character's microsite, to see A) if they had any online and/or downloadable comic books and B) who designed/developed the campaign. I haven't found any information on the agency responsible, nor do I see any comic books. Interestingly, though, they do have some illustrated text stories and a pair of movie clips. And it dawned on me that Bryant is NOT actually emulating or borrowing from comic books at all, but from superhero movies.
The key, if you don't check them out for yourself, is in the second movie where the hero utters the line, "I'm Bryantman," as if he were Michael Keaton portraying Batman for the first time. Indeed both video clips are fairly well done, and it's clear that they both had not insubstantial budgets applied to them. The text stories, by contrast, are less well-executed, and seem to have been cranked out relatively quickly with only a few modest (and generic) illustrations.
What does this mean?
This means that the comic book -- once the defacto source for superheroes -- is not as important as it once was when it comes to adolescent power fantasies. Technology has become sufficiently advanced that it's feasible to generate new superheroes in a medium other than comics expressly for the use of marketing. One could understand seeing new superheroes being created for movies, as those often have substantial budgets for special effects. But that it's now affordable enough for a 30-second commercial...?
And this gives me, at least, some concern. The comic book industry, collectively, has not been overly healthy for several years, but what it did have going for it was the unabashed creativity that could be borrowed from for larger, mass market operations. We got movies like Hellboy and Men in Black and Mystery Men because of this. And the reason that could be done in comics is because the creation of comics costs the same regardless of how many aliens and zombies and spaceships you throw into it. It's just about the creator's imagination. Whereas creating those same ideas in some sort of movie or film format tends to be cost-prohibitive.
(When going from season one to season two of Red Dwarf, the producers wanted to brighten up the mostly battleship grey sets. Due to cost limitations, about the only thing they did was add a giant, inflatable banana to hang near one door.)
Rather, creating those same ideas in some sort of movie or film format tended to be cost prohibitive.
So does anyone NEED to look towards comic books for inspiration for movie and TV ideas any more? Not really. How many people who saw and enjoyed The Incredibles ever read a comic? How about Sky High? My Super Ex-Girlfriend? Zoom: Academy for Superheroes? It'd certainly be cheaper if the movie studio didn't have to option the rights to use somebody else's character, certainly. But when that gets down to TV (Who Wants To Be A Superhero, Heroes) and now basic commercials and marketing (Bryantman), where does that leave the comic book industry?
Don't get me wrong; I 'm not a big fan of translating comic book stories to other mediums. Personally, I simply enjoy the comic book format more than other media, but in a society that, by and large, prefers TV and movies, is the comic book industry sustainable as it currently stands?
Notice that I said "as it currently stands." I don't doubt that comics will continue to exist in some form and I know I, for one, will continue to seek out good comics regardless of whether I track them down through my LCS, download them from the web, or have them beamed into my brain through some yet-to-be-invented implant. But I continue to see signs that the market is not equipped (technologically, logistically, or financially) for the changes that are inevitably coming.
Oh, don't worry. Batman and Spider-Man and all your favorite characters will still be around, but you can already see there's less focus on their comic book adventures than on their filmed ones. (C'mon! They're seriously considering an Ant-Man movie, for Pete's sake!) But I will be keeping my eye out for systematic changes that will likely have a dramatic impact on the comic book industry over the next couple of decades.