Is Time Inc UK hoping to revive its British Comic Characters for new films?

A modern take on the Steel Claw by Martin Baines, for an abandoned mobile comics project

A modern take on the Steel Claw by Martin Baines, for an abandoned mobile comics project

Admittedly reading between the lines a little, Time Inc UK – formerly IPC, owners of many pre-1970 comic characters ranging from The Spider and the Steel Claw to Faceache – announced the formation of a dedicated advertising film division at the end of August, aiming to change its approach to “better serve the film industry and putting film at the very heart of the business”.

The move might – and I stress might – pave the way for renewed interest in the old IPC comic characters, last seen in action in the comic series Albion, written by Leah Moore and John Reppion, drawn by Shane Oakley and published by the DC Comics imprint Wildstorm back in 2005 and 2006.

At present, DC Comics handles all enquiries about reprints of old IPC comic strips, although Time Inc UK has also offered the characters for licensed use on merchandise through Drawn Ink, a separate company in the past.

Announcing the new film unit, Time Inc said its ambition is to deliver “bigger, bolder and brighter ideas that will engage Time Inc UK’s 20 million consumers by concentrating strategically on increasing film content and delivering it at scale, with live media and editorial integration opportunities”.

A newly appointed film team across both commercial and editorial has also been created, driving a significant increase in Time Inc UK’s film output and follows the company’s recent successful film partnerships between celebrity and style weekly Now with the releases of Fifty Shades of Grey and Magic Mike XXL.

“Film is a sector we see a great opportunity in through both our products and advertising solutions across all platforms,” says Sam Finlay, acting managing director of Advertising. “We have had real success so far this year and are now investing to take this to the next level. The recent acquisition of Invnt, by Time Inc. will add another dimension to our film proposition, creating an opportunity for live media and transitioning Time Inc UK from media to activation partner.”

What’s intriguing about the news item is a comment from Holly Bishop, the newly appointed head of Film, who said “This is a ground-breaking development for Time Inc. UK as we make it our mission to become a challenger brand in the film space.

“We have an unrivalled portfolio, and this, coupled with innovative and market leading products, means we can deliver the content we are famous for, at scale to our film loving audiences.”

A frame for a proposed new look Steel Claw drawn by Martin Baines, updating on an alien invasion story first published in Valiant

A frame for a proposed new look Steel Claw drawn by Martin Baines, updating on an alien invasion story first published in Valiant

Now of course, Time Inc UK has built up a huge amount of non-comic related Intellectual Property since January 1970 – the cut off point at which comic characters created after that, with some notable exceptions such as Dan Dare, are now the property of Egmont UK. But back in 2007, when I had discussions with IPC staff about adapting some of their characters for mobile comic presentation, we were told that although creating new strips featuring, for example, the Steel Claw was at that point out of the question (no matter how good our samples, the work of the hugely talented Martin Baines, looked), IPC remained open to the possibility of licensing the characters for animation or other media.

Robot Archie by Dave Gibbons

A convention sketch of Robot Archie by Dave Gibbons, a character owned by Time Inc UK

The agreement on the split on character ownership between Time Inc UK and Egmont works like this. Essentially, anything created by IPC/Fleetway for their comics after January 1970 is owned by Egmont (for example, Adam Eterno, who first appeared in THUNDER). Note the word ‘created’ – just because, for example, Faceache appeared in comics after 1970, the character is still owned by Time Inc.

So Time Inc owns characters such as “The Spider”, Robot Archie, Steel Claw, Black Archer etc. who were first published in comics such as Lion and Valiant before January 1970, even though those titles were published in the 1970s as Egmont titles. Some, but not all the characters from Buster are owned by Egmont, even though Buster was first published in the 1960s. Roy of the Rovers is also owned by Egmont despite first being published in the 1950s. All the characters published in Eagle and New Eagle, including Dan Dare and Doomlord, are owned by the Dan Dare Corporation.

In 2008, when my discussions about mobile comic re-use ended, the sticking point, as ever with securing any deal on re-presenting the classic comic material owned by Time Inc UK, was agreeing a deal that was both affordable by the potential licensee and equitable in terms of costs incurred to the licensor. Along with an unexpected company closure, an agreement was not attained.

At present, Tim Inc. UK continues to present its comics characters for licensing in other areas and DC Comics remain in control of any use of the characters for comic strip use. But we can still hope that some company, even if it isn’t Time Inc themselves, might see the potential of some much-loved characters and breathe new life into them…

The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Explorer (previously known as Star Trek Magazine) and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of "Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies" for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.

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