By the time you read this, Mystery Science Theater 3000 will be available to stream on Netflix.
I’ll Go Watch It Now Bye,
-The Guy Who Wrote This
Seriously, letter’s over. Go away
Nothing to see here, move on.
Why Are You Still Reading This?
Ok, fine. More letter. I don’t want you to perish of malnutrition. (Because you were… eating these? Somehow? Whatever, I can’t be expected to keep track of my own metaphors.)
Last time I talked about the MST3K revival, I made no pretense of it having anything to do with comics. I still say I didn’t have to. But that’s not an argument I have to use today.
Because Dark Horse is going to do a Mystery Science Theater 3000 Comic Book.
This Genuinely Takes Me Aback
See? Here’s where I was before this news, and then here, just aback a bit, is where I was afterward. That’s at least three inches of aback.
It’s not because I’m surprised that they would want to do an MST3K comic. Doing adaptations of beloved geek properties may not have been what Dark Horse Comics started out to accomplish, but it’s certainly what they ended up doing better than anyone else. After being the publisher for the comic tie-ins of internet cult favorites like Avatar, My Little Pony, and American Gods, an MST3K comic is exactly the sort of thing that would fit with the kind of publishing they do.
No, what takes me aback is trying to figure out what an MST3K comic would even BE.
What You Shouldn’t Do
Now, the obvious thing would be to just do A Comic that happens to have the characters and setting of MST3K, and then just… tell a story. This would probably end up being a longer, in-print version of the host segments from the Sci-Fi channel seasons, where Mike and the robots and Pearl would have bumbling hijinks in Ancient Rome or Observer World or something.
I don’t see any way to do this without it feeling like a pure cash-in. The plot of the host segments was only ever tenuous at best, and the writers themselves didn’t see much point in trying to maintain a continuity. At best, this would feel like fan-fic. At worst, it would come off like Dark Horse didn’t understand the point of the property they were licensing and were just trying to attach themselves to a piece of intellectual property real estate that has proven able to loosen geek wallets.
What You Should But Probably Won’t Be Able To Do
In a perfect world, the majority of the comic would be a reprint of something else. What you would want to do is take some old comics and then draw the little theatre silhouettes at the bottom of each panel, riffing on it.
I know it sounds really busy and cluttered, but I think it could work.
You might have to enlarge the panel…
So that the silhouettes…
And speech bubbles fit, but apparently even a no-training nobody like me can do that acceptably well.
We already know that the premise, “Make fun of old comics” works; I do it often enough myself. All you would need to do is find some old, silly, reprintable comics to make fun of. That’s where Dark Horse runs into a problem.
Dark Horse Is Solely a Publisher
The reason that Dark Horse is the go-to for comic tie-ins to geek favorites is that Dark Horse publishes creator owned titles. They own no titles, characters, or IPs themselves.
So if Marvel or DC were to publish a MST3K comic, they could just pull something from their own backlog—something Golden Age, no longer in continuity, like Wonder Woman fighting a racist Chinese caricature Easter Egg man. Easy pickings for riffs.
Dark Horse can’t do that. Anything they want to publish, they have to get from someone else. I see three options for this, and none of them are great.
One, they could try to find public domain comics, or comics old enough that the rights to reprint them are available for next to nothing. This would be stuff like Adventure into the Unknown, the ones I sometimes make fun of.The problem with this is that while they used to be available for almost nothing, that may not be true anymore. Rising interest in comics, in nostalgia, and in partially-MST3K-fueled tastes for “So Bad It’s Good” media, have engendered a demand for this kind of material where before there was none.
Two, you could approach creators who, while retaining ownership of their works, might consent to let the MST3K comic reprint them. Joss Whedon leaps to mind as someone who has had comics printed through Dark Horse and who would probably get a kick out of seeing them riffed. The problem with this is that Dark Horse mostly publishes GOOD comics. That’s a bit off-brand for MST3K. Even if they did put out a book that’s the statistical outlier, would you want to be the publishing intern that has to make the call to that author, and say “Hey, we loved your work, we want to print it in our new title that makes fun of really bad comics?”
Third, you could publish comics that haven’t been published yet, things that got submitted to Dark Horse by hopeful creators and didn’t make the cut. My guess is that this is the option they will end up going with—it draws from the pool of “People Probably Just Grateful to Get Their Book Published in Any Form at All,” it avoids having to pay extra money for reprint rights, and it keeps the title as indie as possible which fits both Dark Horse’s and MST3K’s image.
The problem is that it seems… kinda mean? Like, these are people hoping to break into the comics world; to ask them to do it as, let’s be honest, the subject of mockery is a little not-ok.
I suppose that depends on the tone of the riffing.
And I suppose there are worse ways to make a debut in the comics world.
Alright, that’s nearly three pages, that has to be enough to count as a real letter, I REALLY have to go now. There are fourteen episodes to stream and I am losing precious time!
In The Not Too Distant Future,
-The Guy Who Wrote This