Register talks Change

BEWARE THE BATMAN! DC NATION! DOOM PATROL shorts! CG! 2D! Yes, we all get excited about new shows coming down the Warner Animation pipeline, but the well crafted teasers weren’t the point of Executive VP of Animation Sam Register‘s keynote address at the recent MIPJunior conference in Cannes, France.  In his address, he outlines how Warner Animation, and by extension DC Comics, rebrands their libraries.

“Our Library is aging,” Register says referring to the animation library, but applicable to DC Comics as well.  And like DC, Warner oversees a vast and iconic library of characters ranging from Tom and Jerry to Scooby Doo to Bugs Bunny. However, having industry icons comes with its own problems.

“I don’t want to deal with The Rabbit,” Register confesses.

“Because the Rabbit  scares the [blank] out of me.  And the reason he does, is because he’s so good.”

He is, of course, referring to the iconic Bugs Bunny as a lead-in to talking about the Looney Tunes Show now airing on Cartoon Network.  But the approach to retooling these icons applies to how DC looked at their line.  It all starts with the questions of “What is at the Core?” and “What can I change?”

Again and again, Register talks about Core Concepts v. Changes using the Looney Tunes Show, Thundercats, Beware the Batman, and DC Nation as examples.  With every project, Register had a Powerpoint chart with the boiled down essence of each project and how the retooling builds on it.

For Thundercats, Register admits that the in-universe mythology needed serious reworking.  “It made no sense,” he admits.  But one of the necessary core concepts was the fanfare and the hero’s journey.

Now, looking at the New 52, one can see the same process at work.  ACTION #1 is a perfect example how Grant Morrison and Rags Morales boiled Superman down to his New Deal beginnings and interpreted the character to modern times.  Superman is the activist outsider, giving voice and power to the downtrodden both through physical action and verbal advocacy as Clark Kent.  Morrison captured this perfectly.

Geoff Johnsand Ivan Reis’ AQUAMAN #1 plays with the core concept of his perceived joke status and uses it as a conceit for the first arc. Online debates rage over the uses of Starfire and Catwoman and whether their core concepts were even recognized or the changes went too far.

There is always a danger when retooling franchises, but without that there’s a bigger danger.  “Every year that comes by our characters become more in danger of losing their value,” Register says.  In plain terms, loss of value means the more likely characters will slide into limbo and then into irrelevance.  But holding too close to the original is more problematic.  “If I just try to make what was core the first time, I will fail,” Register says.

It is in holding to the core concepts and using changes that add to the value of a property where success lies.  Warner Animation has a long string of hits using this philosophy.  Now is DC’s turn to use this model to guide their library back to relevance.

Bob Francis

Register talks Change