TIES TO TIE-INS!
I got an e-mail from DriveThruComics the other day. On it I was offered a free digital copy of the very first issue of a series titles ADR1FT. Always the social pariah that enjoys free stuff, I clicked on the link to download my watermarked PDF. As the bytes travelled from the internet to my computer I read the synopsis of what I was about to delve into. “ADR1FT is a forthcoming FPX (First-Person Experience) from Three One Zero and 505 Games. 505 Games will publish ADR1FT for Steam, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in September 2015 and for VR headsets when available.”
Oh, boy. It was one of those.
Tie-in comic books are one of the oddest beasts a reader might encounter on their day to day journey through life. No one really asks for them but, somehow, companies of all walks of life keep dumping them galore over our heads. And it’s our fault. Even though we should know better, we keep consuming them if only because human beings tend to act on impulse rather than logic. Maybe it’s because we believe in our hearts that, perhaps, this is going to be the one tie-in that’ll leave something of value behind – a tidbit of important information regarding life itself, a lesson to be learned, a breathtaking experience that could’ve only be delivered via printed media, an alternate lens through which you can observe known events taking place; anything. But they rarely, if ever, deliver. Deep down we all know the only reason they sell is the same one The Asylum keeps making films: we are simply that stupid.
STOP ME IF THIS HAS HAPPENED TO YOU BEFORE
Worst thing is tie-ins seem to be a by-product of spontaneous generation. There you are, minding your own business, when a comic book cover catches your eye. That wasn’t before yesterday and, yet, you feel like you’ve seen it before, somewhere else, somewhere that definitely was not the window of a comic book shop, somewhere that didn’t tie that image to a collection of drawn panels in book form. A Facebook post, maybe? A random retweet? You want to keep on going with your business, but curiosity’s grasp is undeniable. You give the poster a second glance. You have definitely seen it, just not quite like this. The image looks a bit off, as if it was the print of a fan artist on a comic convention trying to emulate something popular despite their talent not been quite there yet. As soon as you are ready to scoff it up as an unexpected déjà vu of no importance, the piece’s title sticks out. You’ve seen that title before. You’ve even heard it being pronounced.
“Wait!”, you think out loud, scaring the little kid that was running right next to you. She now believes you were able to read her mind and know exactly what she was planning to do with that pair of scissors as soon as she got home and saw her brother. “That’s the name of the movie YouTube keeps advertising to me, right? The one starring that sitcom actor Patrick keeps sending me .GIFs of!”
Unfortunately, it is. Your brain signals you against interacting with the thing, motions you to continue walking down street until you reach your original destination, but, regrettably, your heart still holds on to a healthy serving of hope. You have an innate urge to see what’s inside.
“It wouldn’t hurt to check it out”, you conclude to yourself, inadvertently instilling even more fear into the child’s heart. She’s now sure you can not only read her thoughts; you can read her heart. You’ve saved a little boy’s finger by emulating badly-written comic book characters that speak to themselves out loud in public. Well done, you. Your reward is now having in your hands a mediocre comic book whose only purpose is to force you to spend even more money on an intellectual property you never even cared about.
ACTUAL SPACE: MORE EXCITING THAN THIS COMIC!
More often than not, tie-in comic books boast the names and last names of well-known industry veterans that are known for either working hard or being flashy in one way or the other. Despite this, they almost always taste like these so-called creative people winging it in order to cash in their checks ASAP and assure at least another five days of food for their families. They’re stale, both to look at and to think about, nor are they worth the paper they were printed on. They’ve been around for decades and, throughout all those years, they’ve always felt like something companies tacked on to whatever property they’re launching into our faces and are uncertain of how to “hype” people into it. They want you to think about their new thing, to see their title on multiple places so you believe it ubiquitous and, therefore, add the “good” adjective to it because no one would ever invest so much money on something that was actually bad, would they? [insert Zack Snyder’s Justice League joke here]
The only thing these sort of comic book tells you is that a company is desperate to make their thing a thing, but they don’t actually want to spend the time, effort and/or money to make something decent to promote it. A tie-in reeks of corporate people not having a clue how things work and expecting people are still dumb enough to buy their ads. And that’s when the IP is something somewhat recognizable. But what if the tie-in is trying to convince you to give a chance to something new? What if it ties to something that you have never heard of? What if your point of entry to a completely new IP? What if your point of entry to the IP is a cover featuring a black void, a half-obscured photograph of the Earth and a title written in 1337speak? Wouldn’t that make you think “oh, hell, yeah, this looks awesome, Imma buy this comic book and the game of the same name when I get home?”
Not me, at least.
COMICS ARE CHEAP AND EASY, RIGHT?
“So, we have this brand-new game, ADR1FT, coming out this September”, said Hannah, an executive producer of 505 Games in order to begin a marketing meeting that everyone agreed should’ve been an email. “And we need to ‘hape’ it, as the kids call it today. Start the ‘hape’ train and have everyone board it. Any ideas?”
“Well”, replied Johann, his hand high up in the air mimicking how things worked back when the person in charge asked for opinions in class, “we could hire some people and make this really epic short film explaining how the space station was destroyed. It could begin with the crew getting ready for takeoff and—”
“I’m gonna stop you right there, Johann”, said Hanna. “The whole point of this game is to find out what happened to the space station. We can’t just reveal our biggest spoiler on preview materials! What’s wrong with you?”
“Right”, replied Johann. “Right… Sorry…” He slumped back down in his chair, his self-worth destroyed by what he thought was a dismissive action against his value in the company.
“An aggressive ad campaign on billboards, maybe?”, asked Lucy, the new addition to the marketing team who had come from a brilliant journey in various local marketing studios from her small town. “Magazine ad spreads, even!”
“No, no, nothing like that.” Hannah dismissed her idea with a swat of her hand. “That’s expensive and this here is a small indie video game, can’t afford to balloon its budget like that. We stand to not recoup our investment as is, don’t want to make it more noticeable.”
“A game trailer online!”, jumped Sharon as soon as the idea hit her head. “It’s so obvious, we leak a trailer online before we reveal it officially and—”
“That’s a given, Sharon.” Hanna sighed. “Everyone does that. It’s standard practice. That’s how the Rabbids got to where they are now. How long have you been working in this industry again?”
“Well, it doesn’t show.”
Sharon sat back, her face drooping down in sadness, forcing her tear duct to not produce any liquids.
THE PERFECT AD: YOU PAY FOR IT!
“A comic book?”, whispered a sarcastic voice from the back of the room.
“Don’t mind him!”, interrupted the man named Sosa, motioning to the little person next to him to keep quiet while doing his best to cover their existence with the width of his body. “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about, boss.”
“A comic book prequel series?”, continued the voice with a slight increase to its volume output followed by the click of a smartphone being blocked. Finally a sigh that stated “isn’t it obvious?”
“I- I didn’t mean to bring him to the meeting, you see”, Sosa went on, “but the school expelled him for his attitude and, I don’t know, I thought he’d learn something if I brought him to work? I can have security kick him out if you need, Hannah. But, please, don’t fire me, the nanny didn’t–”
“Shut up, Sosa, and let your kid speak”, said Hannah inching herself towards the origin of the voice, ears all propped up in order to catch every syllable emitted by its owner. “You were saying, young man?”
“Name’s Clay, ma’am.”
“Yeah, you hire a bunch of comic book artists”, the kid went on, more bravado in his voice than before, “and we have them create a prequel series, short stories aimed at complementing ADR1FT’s universe, making it more immersive and interesting for potential players. That’s how they did it with Portal 2, right? And see how well that went.”
“Yeah, yeah, I heard about it”, replied Hanna, her eyes moving quickly on the top of her orbits imagining possibilities along with their respective times and costs. “But don’t comic books take a while to be made?”
“Three months or so. Less if you tell the illustrators to make really shoddy work that doesn’t have any visual flair whatsoever.”
“What do you mean?”
“Yeah, like, drawings that look like they were done quickly and without any thought whatsoever, inconsistent line quality, using pixelated photographs of the Earth whenever possible to reduce drawing time, or not having an actual color palette and just, you know, coloring things. You know, just, look lazy, make space seem like a boring place to be in.”
“Alright, I follow you. We instil no awe whatsoever on our audience, yes, that sounds cheap.” Hannah’s tone was softening. She was being convinced. “But what’s the story? We can’t really spoil much, you see.”
“Are there any side characters? In the game, I mean?”
“Yeah, some, but they’re kind of sort of dead.”
AS DEAD AS MY INTEREST FOR THIS GAME!
“There you go.”
“Where do I go?”
“The side characters! You talk about them!”
“What about our protagonist?”
“What about her?”
“Shouldn’t she be on the spotlight?”
“Nah, that’s what the game is for. I mean, you can have her, I dunno, narrate the whole thing?”
“That’s perfect! Lazy writing! That way the scriptwriter won’t really take that long writing it since we’ll have him spoon-feed us everything, have our main character wax poetic and simply reiterate what we can already see with our eyes! I love it!”
“So”, said Clay, “you like it? You like my idea, ma’am?”
“Like it? I love it!”, Hannah jumped off of her chair. She was elated, looking like a pirate ready to be photographed to appear on the cover of a pirate-themed action video game. “We’ll do it, kid, we’ll make your comic book series! It will be shoddy and lazy and every single issue will focus on one character’s past and when we finish, we can collect all issues in a trade paperback and sell it on actual bookstores! This is brilliant! We’ll make, at least, six!”
“Will I get paid for it? Credited on it?”
“You kidding? You’re not only underage, you don’t even work for me!”
They only ever made one issue.
It wasn’t good.
And I don’t want to play the game it’s advertising as a result.