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Rolling Out: Where Does IDW Go Without Transformers?

Comics, FYI
Rolling Out: Where Does IDW Go Without Transformers?
By Graeme McMillan • Issue #7 • View online
The Californian publisher will say goodbye to the Hasbro property (as well as G.I. Joe) after almost two decades at the end of the year. So what’s next?

It’s the end of an era.
Late last week, it was revealed that IDW Publishing will be losing the comic book licenses for both Transformers and G.I. Joe at the end of the year. The Hollywood Reporter broke the news, with a story that included a statement from IDW reading, in part, “We’re exceedingly proud of our stewardship of these titles — 17 years with the Robots in Disguise and 14 years with A Real American Hero — and thank the legion of fans for their unwavering support, month in and month out. We’re also eternally grateful to every one of the talented creators who helped bring these characters to four-color life through our comics.”
The loss of both properties is a big deal for IDW, but that’s especially true for Transformers, which holds particular historical significance for the publisher. Not only was a Transformers title the first IDW release to break 100,000 copies sold – 2005’s Transformers #0, released just months after IDW gained the license and specially priced at 99 cents – but there’s an argument to be made that it was the success of its Transformers comics that made it a destination for IP owners looking to bring their properties to comics.
The loss of two of its more high-profile licensed properties likely stings just a little more in light of a couple of other departures in recent months. Last September, Marvel pulled the license to publish all-ages comics based on its characters. A couple of months later, Marvel’s corporate sibling Disney Publishing followed suit, pulling the all-ages Star Wars comics license that IDW had held since 2017. That license moved (back) to Dark Horse; it’s still unclear if another publisher has picked up the all-ages Marvel periodical license, although Scholastic’s Graphix imprint seems to have taken up the slack in the short term with its all-ages Marvel graphic novels, at least.
When asked if, considering these developments, the company would be moving away from licensed material in the future, a spokesperson pushed back pretty definitively. “IDW remains the #1 leading publisher of licensed comics in the world, from Sonic The Hedgehog to My Little Pony, Godzilla to Star Trek, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Dungeons & Dragons, and everything in-between[*],“ I was told via email. "We’ll be announcing new publishing partnerships throughout the year, and let’s not forget that our 2022 will be packed with new offerings from Transformers and G.I. Joe, as well.”
Tom Scioli's 'Transformers vs. G.I. Joe' remains a surreal highpoint for both franchises, as far as I'm concerned.
Tom Scioli's 'Transformers vs. G.I. Joe' remains a surreal highpoint for both franchises, as far as I'm concerned.
Among those new offerings will be the 300th issue of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, the expansion of Larry Hama’s original Marvel series (still written by Hama, amazingly), two Transformers mini-series to wrap up IDW’s time with the property, and a number of one-shots and special issues reflecting on the long histories of both properties.
As the appearance of a couple of specific titles in the IDW statement above may suggest, despite two of its biggest properties going elsewhere** next year, Hasbro is nowhere close to severing its ties with IDW. THR’s initial report mentioned that the company will keep comic book licenses for both My Little Pony and Dungeons & Dragons – new projects for the two are set to be announced in February and March, respectively, according to the company – but it turns out IDW will also be holding on to the comic licenses for both ROM Spaceknight and Micronauts, as well. The two properties were added to IDW’s line up in 2016 as part of a shared universe with Transformers and G.I. Joe that ran for a number of years.
Such is IDW’s focus of maintaining the presence of licensed material in its portfolio that, following editor-in-chief John Barber leaving the company last month, an entirely new position has been created specifically to oversee licensed publishing: the new Executive Editorial Director will, according to IDW’s spokesperson, “focus on leveraging our current licenses to their fullest extent and expanding our library.” No name was given in connection with the position, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see an announcement sooner rather than later.
There is a name connected to spearheading IDW’s non-licensed projects, however: Mark Doyle, formerly of Vertigo and DC Black Label, who joined the company early last year. Under the position of Editorial Director of Originals, Doyle is developing material for multiple audiences, including young and middle grade readers. “We are scaling up to develop substantially more than we’ve ever done before with some of comics’ best talent at the helm, plus newcomers who are destined for great things,” the spokesperson teased, adding that an announcement of the first releases from the Originals line should be coming soon.
Even as IDW builds out the upcoming Originals line, it should be remembered that it’s been publishing original content all along, quietly successfully. Something not to be overlooked when considering IDW as a comics publisher is the importance of Top Shelf, which IDW purchased back in 2015. Not only does the imprint, described to me as “an invaluable component,” broaden the publisher’s audience and offer critical acclaim and indie credibility to IDW as a whole, it also fits IDW’s larger transmedia aspirations: Apple TV just announced a live action adaptation of Top Shelf’s Surfside Girls. Also consider Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s Locke and Key, published under the IDW banner, which got both a Sandman Universe comics crossover and a second season for its Netflix adaptation last year.
Nevertheless, the importance of the new Originals branding to IDW’s future shouldn’t be understated — the spokesperson I was talking to suggested that the company’s longterm plans will be clearer once the rollout of the Originals begins, suggesting that Originals will be central to the identity of IDW from that point onwards. At the same time, though, it’s clear that licensed material will continue to be essential to IDW as it re-emerges from a particularly turbulent couple of years, and looks towards the future***. As the company’s spokesperson put it, “IDW’s heritage is in licensed publishing, and we wouldn’t want to change that part of our identity.”
*It perhaps says something about my biases that I didn’t consider Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to be a licensed property — it is; it’s actually owned by Viacom now — nor did I realize the scale of Sonic the Hedgehog’s success, but apparently, they’re two of IDW’s biggest sellers. “TMNT: The Last Ronin alone broke new records for the company, selling hundreds of thousands of copies, topping sales charts, and generating huge reader excitement,” I was told by the spokesperson, while Sonic “continues to be one of IDW’s bestselling comics with its monthly series (hitting its 50th issue milestone in June) and concurrent Imposter Syndrome miniseries.” Now I know.
**It’s not been officially announced where the Transformers and G.I. Joe properties will be going, although Robert Kirkman’s Skybound has been strongly rumored as the most likely candidate.
***A future that, by the way, includes following Marvel into an exclusive distribution deal with Penguin Random House, starting in June.
File under breaking news: literally as I’m putting this email together, I get an email that Anne Leung DePies has been named as SVP and General Manager of DC, replacing Daniel Cherry III who left the company last week. DePies has been with DC since 2011, most recently as SVP, Global Brands and Franchises. While it’s too early to predict what, if anything, this shift will mean in the longterm, it’s worth noting that I’ve already seen two tweets from DC editors in the ten minutes since I posted the news on Twitter suggesting that this is a very welcome announcement inside the company.
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Graeme McMillan

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