On History: Multiple Publishers IP

By | Tuesday, May 23, 2017 4 comments
Random question of the the day... what comic has been published by the most number of publishers? As in, what property has been run by the widest variety of publishers discounting foreign editions? (I should probably also discount individual works that are repeatedly re-adapted over and over -- like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.)

A couple of examples spring to mind. ElfQuest started basically as a self-publishing venture. (WaRP Graphics literally stands for Wendy and Richard Pini.) Marvel published it for a while in the 1980s and DC has picked up some rights. Currently, Dark Horse is printing collected editions. Apple Comics and StarBlaze both had the title for a bit in the '80s as well. That's six US publishers who've run the series.

Another that I can think of is Groo. The character debuted under Pacific Comics, and soon after went over to Eclipse. Marvel had the title for a decade, and Image ran with it for a year. Graphitti Designs ran a special, and Dark Horse has been running them most recently. That's also six. Plus, IDW had an Artist's Edition version -- arguably, that might not count, but it could be a potential tie-breaker.

Interestingly, Star Wars does not have many comics publishers to deal with, despite a more robust publishing history. There's Marvel and Dark Horse, naturally. Blackthorne did a 3-D version in 1987, and Tokyopop did a manga version a couple decades later, but I think that's it.

Star Trek has actually been passed around more. It started at Western Publishing, but later hit Marvel and DC. Malibu had it for a short while in the mid-1990s, and Tokyopop has done manga versions of it as well. It's currently published by IDW.

Tarzan might be a good candidate, just based on the character's longevity. A lot of the major comic publishers have taken turns on the series: Marvel, DC, Dark Horse. Both Dell and Western took their turns. Malibu's and Blackthorn's names pop up again. NBM did some collected editions, and Williams Publishing based some books off Burne Hogarth's newspaper strips. Although technically illegal, Charlton did a short run in the mid-1960s too. That's ten publishers, for those of you keeping score.

What about The Shadow, another long-lived property? Here again we see Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse. Archie Comics also took a stab at the character briefly in the 1960s. Dynamite is the current publisher. Only five, it appears.

I'm drawing a blank on who else to check. I know several that have had two or three publishers like Airboy and Bone. There are a few more than float in the five-to-seven-ish range -- a lot of the bigger Disney titles and Conan, for examples. There are some, like Judge Dredd and Tintin, that I wouldn't even count since they didn't originate in the US -- America's versions would be the foreign editions.

So, Tarzan then? Tarzan's had the most publishers of any comic? Am I missing anything?
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Matt K said...

Good post. Elaborate a bit on what separates Tarzan from properties that have been adapted to comics repeatedly?

Nice question Sean! I'll put in John Carter: Dell, Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and now Dynamite. It may not beat Tarzan, but it's interesting to see another ERB character get so many turns.

Matt --
My distinction is that the Tarzan stories are, by and large, new/original. There have been some adaptations directly from the original ERB work and from the movies, sure, but many of the stories are brand new, taking the character in different directions. For the most part, any time we see Captain Nemo aboard the Nautilus, it's a direct adaptation of Verne's novel and nothing further is done with the character. (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen being an obvious exception.) So with Tarzan, the character is adapted to comics, but with Nemo, it's the story that is adapted.

Chris --
What's really interesting, now that you mention John Carter, is how notorious the ERB estate has been with licensing the characters. I recall an interview from several years back where Roy Thomas complained a lot about the hoops they had to jump through with Tarzan, both before and after securing the license at Marvel, while Howard's Conan was infinitely easier. Which is partly how Red Sonja came about -- the Howard estate said something to the effect of "New characters? Sure, go ahead! Even if you do retain ownership of them!" But the restrictions of what Thomas could do with Tarzan severely limited his storytelling potential.

So that an ERB character saw such proclivity relative to other comparable characters is fascinating, the more I think about it.

Matt K said...

OK, this is why we rely on you to know all this stuff, or at least have a decent awareness of it. :-)