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Building Worlds for IP Pitching: FINAL IMPACT COMICS

“Develop your IP!” If you’re an indie creator with a big sci-fi or fantasy world you’re building, you likely have dreams of getting into the big leagues, putting your film or novel alongside the massive blockbusters that make careers. A smart way to leverage your ideas and make them go further, creating more earning potential, is to make the most of your unique world, your intellectual property. And that’s where a company like FINAL IMPACT COMICS (FIC) can add real value.

The brainchild of artist Paul Gerrard (Evil Dead Rise, D&D, Indy 5, Hellboy) and writer/director Mike Clarke (Karli, The Sand Sea, A Light Through Coloured Glass), FINAL IMPACT COMICS does more than create comic book series. The firm works with creators to use story and world building as a means to drive their IP forward in a wide range of formats, from TV and film to audio and art, even theme parks and gaming.

Why World Building to Promote Your Dream Idea?

Gerrard and Clarke have collaborated for over 10 years on numerous projects, like co-directing the horror film The Stranger and working with a Chinese CG animated film production company. On many of their projects, Clarke writes and directs, while Gerrard handles production design, overseeing the world creation and building the art team.

The duo were inspired to launch FINAL IMPACT COMICS as they’ve worked on what Gerrard calls his “pure vanity and dream project”—RIVALS: The Loyalty of Sago Astar.

“At the same time we worked for others, we were also spearheading our own intellectual properties (IPs) individually, such as RIVALS — always coming together to develop them further,” says Gerrard. “When creating the world of Sago Astar, Mike wrote a TV pilot script while I continued to expand and illustrate the universe.”

After showing their early pitch for RIVALS to producers, the duo got a great insider’s piece of advice: “build the franchise first, then pitch the show.” Gerrard says he and Clarke took that advice to heart.

“We combined our own experiences as world builders, directing and production design, and created this universe as a graphic novel, returning to pitch a live action and an animated series later, a long game,” says Gerrard. “Through this process, we had a light bulb moment — if we can do this for our own IPs, we can surely do it for others! And that led to the formation of FINAL IMPACT COMICS.”

Digging into the Magic of World Building for IPs

To learn more about this process of expanding a story idea to its fullest IP potential, TFN News spoke with Gerrard and picked his brain. Here are some of his insights for creatives who want to make the most of the intellectual property inherent in their story ideas.

TFN NEWS:  How much work goes on in terms of world building to create the overall look and feel of FIC’s comics?

GERRARD: I believe this part of the process is where we excel (at FINAL IMPACT COMICS). We approach each series as if it was a film/TV show as well, with in-depth story arcs, world building that goes far beyond episodic comic stories. Our treatments could be used for features and pilots. The preproduction concept art process is the same as the process I would apply to Hollywood features, doing character and creature designs to the same level as movies I worked on, such as Evil Dead Rise, D&D, Indy 5, and Hellboy. To me, there is no difference.

That is the whole point of I.P creation, to plan ahead far beyond the comic. We love comics and we strive to create the best comics narrativity and visually on the market, but we also know that our clients are playing a longer game and we have to prepare for that. As I.P creators, as filmmakers, should a comic series transcend to let’s say a feature film, we are ready to work on that feature as well, with the experience to back it up.

How do writing and art combine to create a strong, comic book story? How do you and Mike collaborate?

I am style, Mike is story. It will and does overlap, but keeping that collaborative stance works for us.  I am extremely visual, and the same goes for any story elements I create. They often evolve around iconic imagery and key sequences. I can create the look and feel of everything that may be in a ‘world’.

Beyond that, it becomes Mike’s realm. He makes all the pieces fit, develops the story arcs, back stories, character arcs. The entire narrative. He is a true master of storytelling. We discuss everything and are very open and blunt in our discussions with each other; there is no ego.

When you work with someone else’s creative ideas, how do you approach it? Do you start big picture? Story first? Visuals first?

Working with the comic artists, we are very hands on. There are nuances in the designs that need to be understood. From conceptual design and narrative perceptive but also from a film-making perceptive. Each panel must work like a film storyboard, technically the same.

As for which step comes first, it changes with each client, but we do make sure everything clicks. Every decision is made with the bigger picture in mind. For example, a story came to us, written as an episodic TV show, each episode an hour long. When developing the comic series, we must remain faithful to the IP, but having cliffhangers only at the end of each one-hour episode won’t work in comic form. A single comic issue which needs a cliffhanger could be anywhere between 20-30 minutes screen time, so we had to change certain aspects of the story so that it worked in comic book form without affecting the overall story arc, which ran for six TV seasons!

At FIC, you have a unique way of looking at IP. Tell us why that matters.

We do indeed. At the end of the day, a good story wins every time regardless of whether the creators have an eye for what is next or not. Creating the best comics we can is a priority; however, we do look at the bigger picture far more than most.

Here’s a perfect example of this: One of our clients is a rights holder. They have plans for their IP to become a film and/or animated show. Another client has plans for a film, then park and restaurant chain! Both clients want to start their journeys with a long-running comic series.

We can’t create the comic series without understanding what comes after. What we do in the comics, narratively and visually, will affect everything. So we’re thinking of the comic series as high-end pre-production for everything else to follow. That is a huge amount of responsibility.

How does the work of FIC create advantages for writers and artists who want to get their stories out into the world?

Creating one-off issues, a single 30-page comic, with us is a common and fantastic way for writers and artists to get their work out there. Yes, Final Impact Comics works with studios and rights holders, but we also work with the individuals and smaller companies who dream big. We can create the first issue or in some cases a smaller sample issue. They can use that to crowdfund further work, or use it along with their script to pitch to networks and studios, or for marketing and pitch meetings with publishers. We work with games companies wanting to pitch their publisher a new idea. Create a single issue is a perfect way to pitch the world they wish to create.

What’s the advantage of doing all this creative, artistic work in-house with one team?

What it come down to is, we create from the heart, as cheesy as that sounds. We trust our own instincts and have no intention to be driven by marketing themes, executives, political ideology or think-tank decisions. To hell with all that. That is the advantage — you can see what we do, what art I create. Clients can see what we do and come to us for that reason.

For example, Sago Astar is based in a savage, post-apocalyptic world where the gun has been replaced with the sword, the bullet replaced by the fist. It is a gory, horror, martial arts apocalypse comic for 80’s fans. There will be no apologies, and we are not holding back. We answer to no-one.

As a company, if we ever get so big that we can’t express ourselves the way we want, then we will shut down and move onto something else. I had all that craziness when creating the movie pitch for Hellraiser Origins, people pulling me in different directions, smelling the money and wanting to push it their way just in case it got off the ground. So I shut it down. That is the untold truth of that pitch. Never again.

How has your background with Hollywood informed what you do through FIC?

It taught me to work extremely fast, to develop art direction and character designs in hours, days not weeks, where deadlines are ridiculously tight. Evil Dead Rise, for example, was 2-3 weeks tops for all the deadline. Dungeons and Dragons the movie averaged around one monster every two days. Crazy when you think about it, but I am used to it. This process means I can create industry standard pre-production designs for Final Impact Comics clients; they are getting the same level of work and attention as 100+ million-dollar productions from me.

When you’re working with IP rights holders, what is that process like?

It depends on what they have. If they have a treatment for the story, which is a written document outlining all the major story points along with some dialogue, then we have a two-step process.

Step one: Break down the story into episodes for each comic. Write the comic scripts which include panel descriptions and dialogue. Create concept art for all the characters in the story. Costume designs, locations designs. Anything that will be in the comic visually, we will rep and illustrate so that the artists have a solid foundation to follow.

Step two: Create the art direction, taking into consideration the overall IP (looking beyond the comic). Choose the comic style accordingly. For example, if it is a hardcore horror, we may want the internal art style with some edge to it. If it is a drama, then something cleaner.

The pre-production at Final Impact Comics could go far more in-depth, depending on what the client wants from it all. We could in theory do as much pre-production and concept art as you would see for an entire feature film or TV show. We would do this before starting the comic.

Do you have any past projects you worked on, but wish you knew then what you know now about making the most of IP world building and use?

Despite wanting to bury this and forget about it, Hellraiser Origins. We would have directed the pitch trailer ourselves, and gone much further and created a comic to accompany it. The new world I created was immense, and nobody ever saw it. That being said, I wouldn’t do it now because the IP is not my own.

Other projects include a film Mike and I started to shoot called Five Hells for a Thief. We had a great time creating that, but unfortunately one unscrupulous investor screwed us over and it halted. Lesson learnt, and we went on to create The Stranger by ourselves successfully.

Why is it so crucial for artists and writers to think differently about IP these days?

It’s important more so now in this pressured market is stay true to your vision. If you don’t, then what you will end up with is the same product as everyone else. A sheep lost in a field of sheep. Remember social media gives a false sense of success. Great work gets attention. Think on this: You never know who is watching, and the important watchers don’t engage. So never judge your success by social media engagement. It’s a trap.

Advice for newer artists: Do it yourself or do it with a strong team you can trust. Keep the decision making tight and don’t listen to the naysayers.

About Michele

Michele has been writing and editing professionally since 1997. In 2017, she launched full-time into her own copywriting and editing business, serving marketing firms, service businesses, nonprofits, book publishers and consulting firms, as well as indie authors. She serves as Editor of the science fiction website Recursor.tv and The Fantasy Network News. Michele is also co-founder of Writing Well Creative Writing Workshop and a partner in Three Point Author Services.