Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Bazooka Joe = Mickey Mouse?

Courtesy of The Beat, here's an article from USA Today catching up on Michael Eisner. One of his latest business deals was the acquisition of the Topps trading card company, makers of baseball cards and cards from other sports. One of Topps other products is Bazooka bubble gum, included in which are comic strips featuring the character of Bazooka Joe.

According to Eisner,
"Bazooka Joe could be the next big hero," Eisner, 65, says. "I'm not saying it's going to be Raiders of the Lost Ark," which he oversaw as CEO of Paramount Pictures. "But that would be the goal. Bazooka Joe is my new Mickey Mouse."
I love this because it perfectly crystallizes the different viewpoints of business people and creative people. I would have to think long and hard to come up with a cartoon character who has less personality than Bazooka Joe. Except for the name (reminiscent of a war weapon) and the eye patch, what could anyone possibly say about the character? Creatively, he's practically a blank slate.

From a business perspective, though, Bazooka Joe has name recognition. Everybody has sampled that awful bubble gum and read those mediocre comic strips. When business people sit down to make deals, that name recognition makes Joe a better financial bet than an original property that nobody's ever heard of. The fact that Joe is a cipher is besides the point.

Creators attempt to bring their characters to life; to imbue them with a soul. What concerns a creator in the development of a character is its unique characteristics. What makes this character different from all others? The irony is that a successful character achieves an existence independent of its creator, which makes it a commodity that can be bought and sold.

For business people, a character's value is not internal to the character, only in how much demand exists for it. Business people don't see the relationship between what's inside a character and the resulting demand. That's why we've gotten so many terrible character revivals in recent years.

For business people, a character is just a vehicle. James Bond or Batman can be embodied by several different actors. Comic book characters can be inhabited by several different writers and artists. For Michael Eisner, Bazooka Joe is a vessel with name value. If he can figure out the right way to fill that vessel up (and the only measure of success is profit), he's done his job for his shareholders and himself.

Will Bazooka Joe resemble Superman, Bart Simpson, or Winnie the Pooh? Bazooka Joe will resemble whoever Eisner's team decides is the most lucrative. And he will find a team, because creative people need Eisner's money to be able to afford something better than bubble gum. So while business people and creators are constantly thrown together, the gulf between them never gets any smaller.


Pete Emslie said...

C'mon Mark, "Bazooka Joe", as portrayed by Leo Dicaprio with an eyepatch - it's sure to be next year's mega-hit!! Maybe Eisner can lure Zemekis away from Disney to do it in that cool new Mo-Cap style...

Gochris said...

I've forgotten - What's the name of the guy with turtleneck sweater pulled up over his mouth?

He's the real breakout character.

I see Steve Buscemi.

Edward Hegstrom said...

Does Eisner even live on the same planet as the rest of us?

Will Finn said...

very well written Mark. all too true. the concept of originating anything seems to have become an anathema (if not an impossibility) in such circles.

Wonkey the Monkey said...

On the one hand, Eisner is banking on a stupid character. On the other hand, I'd rather have him mucking around with Bazooka Joe than with, say, Pogo or Krazy Kat.

Honestly, how can he possibly screw up a "character" who has no defining characteristics? Though I suppose that enigmatic eyepatch has some potential. Did someone say "tragic backstory"?

Floyd Norman said...

Keep this up, Michael, and you're good for another gag book.

"Michael Eisner. The genius continues." In a way, I sure miss this guy at Disney. He was so much fun. Maybe he could hook up with Jeffrey and make "C Movie."

Jenny said...

Brilliantly composed essay.

I can see ol' Joe as a character in an SNL skit--but that's the limit of his potential, imho.

Thad K said...

Thanks for the best laff of the day, Floyd!

David Nethery said...

And these are the people who made so many important decisions that affected our lives and careers ... geez ...

"Wake up and smell the homeless."

Larry T said...

Well said, Mark. We need more essays like this to drive the point home on "why there are so many revival flops in the media these days."

I like the quoted reasoning: "Bazooka Joe could be the next big hero." How many more times do we need to hear reasoning like this to know that corporate entities have no clue about the properties they rape?

That money would be better spent on dementia therapy.

Nancy said...

Mark, Michael Eisner thinks he's a creative. He's revealed himself for what he is--a poseur.
No one is going to pay attention to this 'franchise' or to him.
I don't see why he doesn't stay home and count his money, but apparently he actually thinks he has ability to spot good characters.
I saw enough good story ideas turned down by him at Disney's to doubt that this is the case.

Kirk A. Taylor said...

There is something a bit enigmatic about "Joe"...Well, if this move by Eisner stirs up anything, it will be that the artist behind the eye patch will finally be given the attention he deserves. Wesley Morse worked in anonymity much of his career, and was certainly overlooked, save for a few bubble gum company insiders.

At least until recently, when it was made clear that he had been one of two known authors of the Tijuana Bibles...but much of his life remained a mystery. I'd searched for 15 yrs to discover the identity of the artist who had created a collection of drawings left to my family from our great-aunt Avonne Taylor.

Anyone interested in Wesley Morse, and a story about a collection of lost art, please take a look at my website.