This is a guest post from Mitch Joel — President, Twist Image and author of “Six Pixels of Separation.” His new book “CTRL ALT Delete” was released in May 2013. See the original post this is adapted from and more like it on his blog.
I went to the Montreal ComicCon this year and it was crazy. It wasn’t San Diego ComicCon crazy, but it was crazy. Over 50,000 people took part over one weekend. It’s a number that I just can’t wrap my head around. Why?
Growing up, I was a massive comic book (shocked, I am sure). How bad did I have it? I had it bad. One of the best comic book stores in the city, Capitaine Quebec, used to have its main store right around the corner from my dad’s pharmacy. The owners of the comic book store knew my dad. They shared a common driveway, and they would often grab coffee or a meal at the same diner a few doors down. Most adults would have considered what I was doing — day in and day out — at Capitaine Quebec as loitering, and my parents probably saw it as free babysitting. For me, it was a place to escape, imagine, get inspired… and kill some time.
There are lessons in these comic book pages.
When I first started going to comic book conventions, they were pretty desperate. They were held in random dreary two-star hotels across the downtown part of the city. And, without joke, they were very similar to the comic book store on The Simpsons.
Still, these were my people. Yes, I collected comic books (placed them in a bag with cardboard support and stored them in proper conditions… like fine wine), but the most fun I had would be crawling into bed, pulling the covers over my head, and letting the pages of a comic book take me away (flashlight held in place between my cheek and shoulder).
Weaving magical stories.
Thumbing through the aisles of comic book boxes at Montreal ComicCon, it’s hard not to get both sentimental and reflective. Regardless of how you feel about comic books, imagine the creativity of people like Stan Lee. It’s easy to dismiss the story-lines and art, but that would be very foolish.
From Wikipedia: “An American billionaire playboy, industrialist, and ingenious engineer, Tony Stark suffers a severe chest injury during a kidnapping in which his captors attempt to force him to build a weapon of mass destruction. He instead creates a powered suit of armor to save his life and escape captivity. He later uses the suit and successive versions to protect the world as Iron Man. Through his corporation, Stark Industries, Stark has created many military weapons, some of which, along with other technological devices of his making, have been integrated into his suit, helping him fight crime. Initially, Iron Man was a vehicle for Stan Lee to explore Cold War themes, particularly the role of American technology and business in the fight against communism. Subsequent re-imaginings of Iron Man have transitioned from Cold War themes to contemporary concerns, such as corporate crime and terrorism.”
Stan Lee is just one of the many geniuses behind some of the most legendary super heroes. You know, the ones that are killing it at the box office, on TV, in video games, toys, books, t-shirts, and beyond. Stan, without knowing it, created this Steve Jobs-like technologist (albeit a super hero too) back in 1963. The creativity and thinking is astounding, considering he came up with the idea in 1963!
What does this have to do with your brand?
When these comic books were created, there was no money. Times were tough. These artists and storytellers would sit, side by side, banging out idea after idea. For every Spider-Man, there were plenty of duds. They kept at it. For years, comic books were dismissed. For years, comic books were at the fringe. Slowly, over time, they became valued (some, even collectible).
The ones that withstood the test of time are the ones with big stories that can evolve over time. These stories have managed to find relevance with each passing generation. Even as the technology evolved from comic book science fiction into reality, there are many characters and titles that have evolved with the times as well. These creators and artists were true visionaries.
It makes you wonder why brands don’t do their best to embody some of these values. Imagine brands with a story so strong that people would get sentimental and reflective when they use them. It may not be for every brand, but it’s still something that every brand can consider.
Great storytelling doesn’t take much more than imagination and the desire to see it come to life.
How many people told Stan Lee that his vision for Iron Man — in 1963 — was silly or childish? He was probably told — more than once — that it was downright stupid. Now, in hindsight, it was visionary. Comic books are amazing. They tell stories of struggles and their bold outcomes. If that’s not perfectly aligned with business today, I don’t know what is.
Still think that comics are for kids… or for the fringe audiences? The next time a ComicCon comes to your town, do yourself a favor: buy a ticket, walk the floor, stop and look at some comic books, and think about how these stories got created, why the artists created them, and how do they get readers to follow along with every issue for years on end. There are probably more business and marketing lessons in those pages than you could ever imagine.
You will become a true believer.