Protecting the brand?

Protecting the brand

Yesterday, I wrote about Amazon’s

Kindle Worlds (at AmazonSmile: support a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

licensing new properties, including G.I. Joe.

Now, in this interesting

Seattle Times article by Jay Greene

which talks about Amazon’s publishing efforts generally, and how they affect the publishing world (I recommend you read it), we get a bit more detail on the deal…and something really stood out to me. According to the article:

“Hasbro is putting few restrictions on authors. Writers can’t produce pieces that are sexually explicit, racist or sexist. Given that G.I. Joe is a military figure, violence is expected.

“Gritty is OK, but gratuitous is not,” Kelly said.

And Hasbro, based in Pawtucket, R.I., deep in Boston Red Sox country, threw in one other restriction: G.I. Joe’s comrade, Snake Eyes, cannot be a portrayed (sic) as a fan of the New York Yankees.”

Banned: sexually explicit, racist, sexist…Yankees fan?

Yep. 🙂

I think that last one is quite amusing.

I know a little about G.I. Joe (I like to know a little about everything), but I’m not quite clear: why Snake Eyes specifically? Would it be okay to show another Joe as a Yankees fan? How about a bad guy? 😉

I think their other restrictions are reasonable, although all of that gets to be interesting. The snippet in this report doesn’t mention a number of other protected groups…profanity also isn’t mentioned. That might, arguably, make for a more realistic military unit.

So, that gets to my point in this post.

Some companies (Disney, famously), are very protective of their characters and properties. Disney went after cartoonist Dan O’Neill (of the marvelous Odd Bodkins strips) for a comic strip which they felt crossed the line. It depicted Mickey and Minnie doing things that were…um, NSFW (Not Safe For Walt). 😉 Disney won.

On the other hand, some have been much more relaxed about it, even explicitly allowing fan fiction (although sometimes with guidelines).

When it comes to Kindle Worlds, that has to be on the minds of the rightsholders. Will allowing people fairly free rein with the stories dilute (and possibly diminish) the consumers’ perception of the characters/world?

I think that’s unlikely.

First, I think that many people may see this as another medium. People don’t judge books by the movies or TV shows…or at least, many people don’t. We are talking about serious readers here, for the most part: the ones who know who the publishers are. I think that they will probably be aware that a Kindle Worlds book is something different…and not assume that, say, Kurt Vonnegut is a lousy writer because they read a Kindle World Vonnegut book that wasn’t up to their standards.

Second, bringing in new creative perspectives has often been a contributor to the longevity of a character, I believe.

We can see this when a property is adapted, and something is added or changed during the adaptation, and then that finds it way back into the original medium…or just simply becomes part of the public mythology about the character.

I believe that companies that allow that to happen strengthen their properties, rather than weaken them.

Here are some examples (at least, this is how the stories go that I’ve heard):

  • Superman’s ability to fly was added for the Fleischer cartoons…they thought it was both easier to animate and more dramatic
  • Kryptonite was added by the Superman radio show…so the actor playing Superman could take a break (otherwise, what prevents Superman from being in the story?)
  • The snowstorm in the 1939 Wizard of Oz movie is not based on the original book, but on a 1902 musical (the original solution to the problem, and I’m avoiding spoilers, would have been quite hard to do on stage)
  • The Wicked Witch of the West wasn’t green in the Oz books: that was done for the 1939 movie, in part because they were playing with the new technicolor options. In Wicked, the “fact” that the witch is green is central to the story…presumably, the author didn’t realize that was sourced from the movie, not the public domain works
  • Sherlock Holmes doesn’t say, “Elementary, my dear Watson” in the original stories. Holmes gets quite close to it, using both “Elementary” and “My dear Watson” within paragraphs of each other in The Hound of the Baskervilles. It does appear (with an extra “elementary” at the end in a 1929 movie version. I believe it might first have been used in a satirical way in The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie
  • Alfred (Bruce Wayne’s butler) being thin and having a mustache came from casting for a film adaptation. Similarly, the Batcave first appeared in a serial, and later became part of the comics
  • Sulu’s first name on Star Trek of “Hikaru” originally appeared in an authorized novel by Vonda McIntyre, and later was used on screen in a movie

Those are just a few examples. I think the characters are richer because the owner saw a good idea and used it. They recognized the value of an outside input.

That doesn’t mean, I believe, that they should allow infringement (even though that might lead to “beneficial mutations”). However, Kindle Worlds is not infringement: it’s authorized. By allowing outsiders to introduce new elements there, the characters can be enriched.

It’s important to note that the authors of Kindle Worlds stories don’t control new elements they introduce for the characters. Quite a few people have been upset about that, but it’s not so different from the examples I’ve given above (with the exception, perhaps, of the Holmes one).

The Fleischers couldn’t very well have said, “Is it okay if we make Superman fly?” and then tried to stop DC from using a flying Superman in its comics…or asked for a royalty when they did.

My advice to rightsholders is that it is safe to put your worlds into Kindle Worlds, and may turn out to be a very good thing.

What do you think? Is it a risk to license your characters to Kindle Worlds? Are readers sophisticated enough not to judge the original “canonical” works by KW? Conversely, should rightsholders freely allow fan fiction (outside of Kindle Worlds)? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

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This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

5 Responses to “Protecting the brand?”

  1. Zebras Says:

    I remember reading “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye” before I even saw any of the Star Wars movies, and they killed off Darth Vader, and had Luke and Leia romantic, which means it must have been published between Episodes 4 and 5 (1st and 2nd movies in real life.)

    Even authorized works can get very confusing. I had to give up reading Star Trek novels, just way too much inconsistency from the TV shows.

    Love the fact that they specified that Snake Eyes can’t be a Yankee fan. I wouldn’t let my husband bring any NY sports gear when we visited Boston last year.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Zebras!

      Yes, that’s right…Splinter came out between episodes IV and V (movies 1 and 2). I do wonder about people who first encounter a spin-off or remake. For a lot of kids, Clone Wars is the “real” Star Wars, I think.

      That was an authorized book, by the way.

      The Star Trek novels…well, one can argue about whether continuity is even necessary. I remember when a “continuity cop” showed up in a comic book I was reading, to correct them on it. 😉 It’s one of the reasons why people who write tie-in novels can be so impressive to me! They not only have to write a new work of fiction, they have to please fans…who may not even agree amongst themselves about what is “canon”. 🙂

      • Zebras Says:

        With Star Trek, it just eventually got to be too much. I think a Shatner written one where he not only resurrected Kirk but managed to place him in a different era was the one that sent me over. I’m not mad that they do stuff like that it just started confusing me. Probably would enjoy them now that there is no current series on TV. My husband could not grasp the alternate reality concept of the new movies at first. I think his head was going to explode.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Zebras!

        DC Comics ran into the same thing, with Earth-One, Earth-Two, Earth Prime…they eventually did the Crisis on Infinite Earths series, which consolidated the whole thing. That actually had some sad moments, and certain continuities were discontinued.

        They had tried to maintain continuity before that.

        That’s not the way it works now, though.

        When they re-boot a series, they don’t worry about continuity. Audiences just accept that the Andrew Garfield Spider-Man doesn’t have “organic web-shooters”, when the Toby Maguire Spider-Man did.

        I think the new Star Trek would have been better if they hadn’t worried about continuity, and introduced that “alternate reality” thing. Certainly, there would have been fewer exploding heads. 😉

      • Zebras Says:

        But they wouldn’t have had the joy of having Zachary Quinto and Leonard Nimoy meeting both as Spock!

        Best McCoy line ever… “I’m a doctor, not an escalator!” (not from the movie, but one of the original episodes)

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