Where Are The Personalized Comics?

By | Wednesday, May 06, 2009 3 comments
When I was a kid, I had one of those personalized storybooks. They had fairly generic art, and a simple story about (in the book I had) losing a pet honey bee, and getting a bunch of friends and relatives to help track it down. The "personalized" parts were that my name was used for the main character, my friends' names were peppered throughout, and my street address was used the protagonist's home. Not to mention that the whole story took place in my hometown.

It was a clever notion, actually. Mom (or maybe Grandma -- I don't recall) filled out a simple form asking for some basic information and some (probably severely underpaid) worker typed out a standard script on top of pre-printed art pages dropping my particular details in various blank spaces. Some time later, I got a book with those bound pages making yours truly the center of attraction.

That was all done manually.

Obviously, with computers and database capabilities being what they are, it's easy to personalize any material much more quickly and efficiently. Heck, my father sends out solicitations for his magic shows all the time that specifically geared towards the individual. And he's just doing that in his basement off his personal computer. He does a simple mail-merge and, before you know it, he's got five hundred personalized letters with his color logo at the top, and five hundred matching envelopes. Three months later, he sends out five hundred personalized postcards.

Marvel actually tried this back in the 1990s, cleverly taking advantage of their Captain Universe character. (Bill Wahl provides a summary of the issue with some good scans here.) It was an early use of digital lettering and, as you can see in some of Bill's scans, not necessarily an ideal result with HUGE gaps left in the lettering balloons to allow space for longer names. I should point out, too, that they had male and female versions of the art available.

Now, it clearly wasn't a hot seller for Marvel -- I only recall seeing ads for it for a few months before they disappeared. But people still produce those personalized books, so it must be at least somewhat profitable. With the cost of digital offset printing decreasing and no need to be typed by hand, I'm certain that they must be cheaper to produce than they used to be. Heck, doesn't Shutterfly have a book type feature available where you can print your own selection of photos into a one-off book with your own completely customized text? A totally one-of-a-kind book with a hardbound cover for only $30?

Question One:
How come no one is doing comic book versions of the same? Marvel's Captain Universe is an IDEAL candidate for this, but even without the "hero who could be you" shtick, you could produce an comic where a character is drawn in alongside the Licensed ProtagonistTM whether that's Batman or Hellboy or Savage Dragon or whomever. For that matter, any company could pull out some of the old copyright-free Nedor characters that have gained some popularity in recent years and use those.

Furthermore, with digital coloring and POD, you could let every individual select what skin tones are used, so that it's not just an option open to Caucasians.

Question Two: How come no one does this on their webcomic? There, the cost would literally be NOTHING. Fill out a quick form with your name/info, and every time you come to the new comic page, you get word balloons that reference you as the hero (or whichever character). Talk about bringing your readers into your comic!

PLUS -- and here's the particularly clever marketing angle -- their filling out that form initially gives the creator(s) a database of their readers! Better than just checking your site metrics to see how many hits you got, you'd be able to see AND MARKET TO almost every Tom, Dick and Harriet that was a regular reader.

The other marketing angles are enticing, too! Customized mugs and t-shirts and whatnot featuring the comic art and the user's own name/info in place! Maybe a customized URL to go to! I think that would TOTALLY be a engrossing way to bring readers in and get them on board as not only readers, but as advocates of your comic!

The more I think about this, the more brilliant it seems. I think the first person/group to really capitalize on this and do it well will make a killing! (At least as far as webcomics go.) The technology is readily available, and I'm not THAT brilliant, so how come no one is doing this already?
Newer Post Older Post Home


Pj Perez said...

Least I Could Do has been doing customized webcomics for a few years, with its Valentine's Day contest (most recent: http://www.leasticoulddo.com/comic/20090213) -- people write in and the winner gets drawn into the strip for a storyline where he or she dates one of the strip's characters.

Right. Similarly, I know that the In His Likeness, Tozo and Sergeant/Prof. Skeary Winslow strips have placed fans into their comics on special occasions. But what I'm talking about is an ongoing character (possibly even the protagonist) that is unique to each and every reader. So that if I read the strip, there's a character called "Sean" but if you read the strip, there's a character called "PJ" etc.

The cameos of fans in comics is definitely a great idea, don't get me wrong! I'm just saying that it's an idea that could be exponentially expanded given the technology that's available.

Pj Perez said...

True. I would imagine that would be something that would involve one of a few technological options (speaking to webcomics):

1. Something that is generated based on IP address/cookies.
2. A login-based site.

I would imagine Flash technology could be used (similar to those personalized videos that were going around during election season), but I have no idea how it would be executed save for being tied into the aforementioned "push" methods.

But yeah, someone has to do it eventually.