Marvel to behold
Marvel Entertainment is ramping up its animation slate after joining the Disney fold. The company's president of animation, Eric Rollman, tells C21 Kids what's next.
Marvel Entertainment has a business spanning comic books, films, television, toys, theme parks and video games, and since officially joining the Disney family at the turn of the year is planning to expand its animated interests considerably.
The US$4.24bn acquisition by Disney instantly added an enormous trove of valuable comic book properties to the Mouse House, with applicability to nearly every entertainment medium. Additionally, relatively few Marvel characters have been exploited as either film or TV franchises.
It's great news for Eric Rollman (above), a former Fox Kids and Saban executive who has helmed Marvel Animation for six years as president.
While Marvel is building up what it does on the live-action film side - in the shape of Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, The First Avenger: Captain America and The Avengers - it is also growing its TV toon development.
"Marvel is very bullish on animation and has fully funded its third 52-episode series," Rollman says. "In the past, we never did that and the great thing about being part of the Disney family is that the company is made up of animators. They respect it and understand that it's animation that drives consumer products, and so our strategic business is the same."
Marvel has some 7,000 characters in its library and now it is expected to roll out new adaptations of The Hulk, Iron Man and Spider-Man, as well as lesser-known characters such as Black Panther, Nighthawk and Tigra.
"We're a 360-degree entertainment company and we're concentrating on what Marvel does best, which is managing our brands. We understand our characters and have several thousand in the universe that in some way interconnect. So to build these integrated universes but at the time keep them separate is something of an art form," explains Rollman.
In TV, Marvel is on air in several territories with Superhero Squad (left). Rollman said the show is Marvel's first attempt at comedy and the first time it has taken all the universes of Marvel and put them in one programme. So as well as targeting teens and adults of all ages, for the first time it has attempted to make an entry-level show for kids.
While the show is aimed at youngsters, Rollman says that some characters are included "as a nod to the fanboys," such as Screaming Mimi. "We like to write a show on multiple levels, so it's accessible to new fans, but also to let the fanboys know we are writing for them as well," he says.
Marvel has also just announced an animated take on Ultimate Spider-Man for Disney XD, beginning in 2011.
While a high proportion of Marvel programming will now automatically go to the Disney XD boys' channel, Rollman says that some will not because it is not necessarily the right content for kids. "We have a primetime series called Marvel Knights, which deals with more adult themes. The tagline reads, 'Move over kids, daddy's watching Marvel,'" he explains.
"In terms of distribution, Marvel has in the past worked with different sales teams around the world and we had little control over what was going on air or when. We would have liked to see our properties on certain channels that were aligned with the brand, but our distribution partners may have been looking at where was going to make us the most money.
"Of course, it would be ideal to have both, but it's great that we're now working with the best. For me, it's such a welcome to have that kind of expertise, manpower and enthusiasm since the deal started," he says, referring to Disney's distribution muscle. "The product keeps growing exponentially and we can feed the pipelines."
Looking ahead, Rollman says the company is now planning to take its properties into markets where Marvel is unexploited, such as Japan, India and China. "There is great room for us to grow our brands in these countries," he says, adding that traditionally such markets have been difficult to produce in, particularly Japan, which has been reluctant to air Western content.
Marvel has, however, now struck a deal with Japan's Madhouse Studios (Ninja Scroll, Vampire Hunter). "Madhouse has said that it is willing to work with us and interpret the characters into animé. We've really let Madhouse run free with it, as long as it respects the integrity of the characters," Rollman says.
Marvel is understood to be talking to Madhouse about a number of properties, which will be released in Japan this year and across the rest of the world in 2011. Marvel has done the same thing in India with the adaptation of a show called Defenders. "It's going to reach very broadly and tie in with lots of pieces of the culture there," adds Rollman.
6 Jul 2010
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