They say the 1980s are back in pop culture; indeed, that decade's two biggest toy icons have certainly come back with a vengeance. Hasbro, the nearly century-old toy company, has spent the last couple of years expanding its global publishing program with successful forays into comic book and graphic novel publishing. The company has had tremendous success with the G.I. Joe series, licensed to Devil's Due comics company, and the Transformers series, licensed to Dreamwave Productions
Since his 1999 arrival at the Rhode Island company, Tom Klusaritz, v-p of global publishing for Hasbro, has sought to reinvigorate dormant Hasbro brands. At the top of his list were the now 21-year-old Transformers—robot action figures that can be converted into cars and other machines. Hasbro sent out an open solicitation to most major comic book companies and, Klusaritz tells PW, "every other proposal seemed to have Pat Lee's name on it."
Lee is the president of Dreamwave Productions, an eight-year-old comic book company based in Toronto. Klusaritz chose to license the property to Dreamwave and Lee on the basis of what he calls Lee's "three-dimensional style," dynamic, manga-inflected graphics that reflect the size and complexity of the Transformer characters. For his part, Lee has been a Transformers fan since boyhood, and brought a team with him that was well versed in the toy's history and mythos.
Although Klusaritz declined to provide specific figures, the Transformers comic book series launched in 2003 and spent six months as the top-selling comic book for Diamond Distribution. Since then, Dreamwave has published more than 70 Transformers comic books and graphic novels (10 trade paperbacks collecting 60 periodical comics), including Generation One and Armada, as well as a Transformers/G.I. Joe combination title. The company has also taken on Hasbro's Duel Masters property, a Japanese manga and merchandising import.
For Dreamwave, producing content for two such high-profile properties has increased the company's visibility and allowed Lee to fulfill a childhood dream. Each month, he and his team come up with ideas for Transformers stories, which are then vetted by the Hasbro brand team before going into production. Besides retaining the look of the toy and its venerable characters, Lee has also developed new ideas and characters, carefully expanding the Transformers universe. Keeping the brand consistent is a priority for both teams, even extending the Dreamwave look onto the box art for the toys.
For Klusaritz and Hasbro, their success with Dreamwave represents "a new paradigm for reintroducing older brands." Dreamwave's comics reach the same adolescent male market as many Hasbro products, so a combined branding effort is a natural fit. It is also the beginning of what both companies hope will be a long-term relationship. Among the possibilities for the future are: a first-look deal for any properties developed by Dreamwave; continued efforts by Hasbro to find and develop more of its dormant properties for Dreamwave to revive; and new properties developed by Hasbro, for which Dreamwave could supply a back story.
With a long-term plan to move ahead with one foot firmly rooted in its past, Hasbro's publishing program is set to continue expanding into comic books (alongside children's titles and other licensed merchandise), with more Transformers and Duel Masters titles on the way from Dreamwave, including 2005's Transformers Cybertron.