Universal Decided It Needs a Comics Imprint for Some Reason

Grant Morrison attending San Diego Comic-Con in 2014. (Photo: Jesse Grant/Stringer, Getty Images)
Grant Morrison attending San Diego Comic-Con in 2014. (Photo: Jesse Grant/Stringer, Getty Images)

“Disney has one. Warner Bros. has one. Why not us?” — some NBC Universal executive immediately speed-dialling Grant Morrison, presumably.

Revealed by Variety, Universal Content Production (the TV production arm of NBC Universal that’s behind the production of Umbrella Academy for Netflix and the newly launched Peacock streaming service) is launching its own comics imprint. It’s awfully titled UCP Graphic.

Interestingly, NBC Universal won’t publish the comics itself — it’ll be turning to third party publishers to actually release comics developed by the division. That will start with a partnership with Boom Studios to release Alex Child and Grant Morrison’s Proctor Valley Road. The series is a thriller set in a 1964 California beach town where a group of teenage girls is suspected of being involved in the disappearance of a group of teenage boys.

It’s clear NBC Universal is doing this not just because comic adaptations across TV and film are pretty big, but also because it sees that rival studios have their own comics to leverage IP from instead of having to rely on outside acquisitions — just as Universal itself has been doing with things like the aforementioned Umbrella Academy, or with Dark Horse’s Resident Alien at Syfy. But the way it’s doing it is just bizarre.

UCP Graphic is launching with a single series, and the foofaraw of getting a noted comics figure like Morrison involved is blunted by the fact that he’s not actually sticking around (he’s only co-writing the first five issues of Proctor Valley Road). It’s still having to work with actual outside comics publishers to release these titles, as well, unlike its rivals. It’s essentially what’s already been tried, but inversed.

Furthermore, it raises an altogether more perplexing question: if these comics are being created for the specific purposes of finding an IP to then translate to other mediums like film and TV… why even make them comics in the first place? Does NBC Universal think people will be on board for a Proctor Valley streaming series simply because it can say “based on the comic book” instead of standing as its own idea?

In the endless race for transmedia properties, as these studios are scrambling for their own slice of the streaming service pie, the reasons why these adaptations have become so popular, and why the comics themselves even existed in the first place, seems like it’s being forgotten.