Friday, January 21, 2022

IDW Loses Transformers License After 17 Years

IDW has confirmed that the company has lost the Transformers after a 17 years. No reasons were specified on what cause the license to be lost (I have a theory, see further below). It is currently rumored that Image imprint Skybound is in talks to take over the license. Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead, runs the imprint but all indications are he would not write for the comic series as he tends to prefer to focus on his creator owned properties.“

At the end of 2022, IDW will bid a fond farewell to the publication of G.I. Joe and Transformers comic books and graphic novels,” the company said in a statement provided to THR. “We’re exceedingly proud of our stewardship of these titles – 17 years with the Robots in Disguise and 14 years with A Real American Hero – and thank the legion of fans for their unwavering support, month in and month out. We’re also eternally grateful to every one of the talented creators who helped bring these characters to four-color life through our comics.” 

Other Hasbro properties like My Little Pony and Dungeons & Dragons will remain at IDW. Since IDW has until the end of the year, the company is currently working on finishing out its run of Transformers and GI Joe. The main Transformers series and Beast Wars series will all end by end of summer. G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero will end its run at issue 300 and then the remainder of the year will be filled with a mini-series and spotlight one-shots.As for what this means to fans collecting the trades is unknown. Usually when a license is lost, trade publishing also must end and is transferred to the new property owner. Likely ending the main series by summer gives IDW a chance to finish out the trade collections of their current runs but they may also choose not to bother. For example, its unclear what this means for the Transformers: The IDW Collection Phase Three which appears to have enough material for at least three more volumes but now will no longer have the time to complete the project.

Usually when a new publisher takes over an IP they start over across the board and reboot the entire line. As a quick and cheap infusion of money, they will also reprint old trades as "legacy" or "classic" editions but its a rare day they complete a previous companies incomplete storylines or publishing projects. Image as a whole tends to publish in "waiting on the trade" style with everything being in six or so issue mini-series form. Skybound is the exception with multiple Kirkman properties going on for years until the story planned for the series is completed. However, I expect Transformers mini-series to be the norm.

As for why IDW lost the license, we may never get a real answer as neither company likely wants to risk burning bridges. Hasbro may have revoked it as punishment for IDW not putting meaningful effort behind continuing to publish other Hasbro properties like ROM, MASK, and others. Even GI Joe has been effectively abandoned in the last few years with 80s era A Real American hero their only continuing effort. More than likely IDW stopped trying because all were commercial failures, likely costing them money with every issue. 

Personally, I think IDW made no effort to keep the Transformers and GI Joe license. Hasbro's attempts to boost their other properties really only had the effect of hurting the Transformers line, causing it to reach lows in sells. Before the relaunch, a Transformer comic (Lost Light, Optimus Prime) were hitting sells of less than 6000 copies to comic stores. After, the numbers increased to around 9000. It shows the relaunch worked, but probably at not enough volume to cover the license fees to Hasbro and still turn a worthwhile profit.

As their most recent financial statement shows, the company continues to lose money but not nearly hemorrhaging it as badly as once were thanks to Wynonna Earp and Locke & Key TV shows. While IDW still remains (too) reliant on licensed properties (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Star Trek and others), they have become more picky about what they publish. Instead they are allowing many of their licenses to stagnate or expire (see Ghostbusters, Back to the Future and others) with indications of a renewed focus on original content that they hope will lead to more TV series deals. End result is Transformers is simply no longer worth the expense to deal with. I wouldn't be the least surprised if IDW continues to jettison not just all Hasbro properties but most other ones too with the possible exception of TMNT.

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