Is there a superhero who saves businesses from liquidation?

The Virgin Group has exited Virgin Comics, founded in 2005 by Richard Bransons Virgin Group, filmmaker Shekhar Kapur, author Deepak Chopra, and entrepreneurs Sharad Deverajan, Gotham Chopra (Deepak Chopra’s son) and Suresh Seetharaman who formed the management team. The stake has been picked up by the management team, as per Variety and the official release.

Last month, there were rumours of the company being shut down – we’d heard about the Bangalore operations being shut, but we didn’t get a response from CEO Sharad Devarajan. Virgin Comics had then announced that the company was being restructured, shutting down its New York office, and moving to LA.

What happens to the deals?

The newly formed Liquid Comics has deals in India with Studio18, UTV, Jump Games, Cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, and actress Priyanka Chopra, as well as international deals with filmmakers John Woo, Guy Ritche, Terry Gilliam, among others. At one point, it appeared as if they were announcing a deal every couple of months (if not more).

As per the company, Liquid Comics “plans to proceed with a number of the projects (ED: Not all?) previously announced as Virgin Comics and will make announcements shortly regarding those projects and the restructured launch dates.”

Virgin Comics had focused on creating intellectual property in Bangalore – series like Devi, Shakti, Sadhu, Snake Woman, and then exploiting them across platforms with mobile comics, games, MMOGs, Movies etc.

Some thoughts on Virgin Comics, and the Cross-Media business

Like I’ve mentioned above, leveraging the credibility, fame and backing of Richard Branson, Shekhar Kapur and Deepak Chopra, Virgin Comics was on a deal signing spree; none of the movies have been made yet, so the revenues for the company appear to have been dependent on the comics business. The success of the comics business depended on the hype, for sure, and the portability of cultural themes: much of the content was created in India, based on Indian mythology and themes, and if that didn’t work…whoops!

According to Wired, their most successful series was “Directors Cut”,with comics from John Woo, Guy Ritchie, Edward Burns and others. So Devi, Ramayan 3392 AD, Sadhu, even though they had “universal themes” didn’t quite make it across the cultural divide, at least in the comics business.

While companies like ACK Media, which acquired Amar Chitra Katha, and Geodesic, which had acquired Chandamama, have been eying a similar model, and this is a time for them to take another look at their businesses, and more importantly, at their consumers.

Even within India, is the generation that they’re looking to cater to, growing up on a diet of Panchtantra or tales from the Mahabharata or Ramayana, or characters from Cartoon Network and Hungama TV? Sure, nostalgic fans will pick up compilations, but they’re of the older generation. TV – not even the Internet – is the medium, for the audience they’re targeting, and above all, they need content which connects with the generation that isn’t in their teens yet.

Finally, on the cross media business – the notion of creating a property and then monetizing it across platforms…it’s great for the press, it sure interests me, but it doesn’t really work out unless you have a successful property to begin with. For example, take a look at the Munna Bhai series, the first movie from which, I thought was based on Patch Adams: they films were a phenomenal success, it’s been established as a brand – the recall, the associations, have all been established, and you really don’t need to popularize it. But if it fails to be established as a brand, it flops, across the board.

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The irony of it – on my first visit to the Liquid Comics site, I’m greeted by a screencap of Shekhar Kapur’s Devi commanding troops to “Shoot it down”. (Pictured above)

Disclosure: I have a few shares of Network18 Fincap, a shareholder of Studio18, which has a film deal with Virgin Comics