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The Licensing Lookout: The beauty of licensing and art

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes explains why licensing and art are such a good combination.

My week in licensing reaffirmed to me that it is well worth making cold calls and backing your sales instincts. In the hurly-burly of the licensing world it is easy to let ideas drift away and find reasons not to make calls to new businesses. I try to focus on new ideas and new business as an anecdote to a flat party and tougher trading conditions. So it was very uplifting this week to see Horace Panter’s Beano art collection officially launch.

I called Horace out of the blue about 15 months or so ago to pitch the idea of him developing a Beano Art Collection to help mark and celebrate Beano’s 80th anniversary. Horace is an accomplished artist who has created a reputation built on his pop art style paintings. However Horace also has another life – he is the bass player with The Specials. In this capacity he was part of a band that was one of my favourite bands in my teenage years – in the days of vinyl, Top of the Pops and gigs you could just turn up at.

So I was aware of Horace and his artwork. I thought he would be a great fit with brand Beano not least because of his musical history and his art style. I also knew that he had recently produced a bespoke piece of art for footwear brand Dr Martens which is in its Camden store.

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The risk of a cold call is that the person or company will say no. So I was delighted when Horace told me he was a comic fan and specifically a fan of Beano. He saw the potential in the project and was keen to come on board. It also helped that Horace had recently bought a Beano print by Sir Peter Blake, who had created two prints for the 70th and 75th Beano anniversaries. This seemed like a very positive sign.

I met Horace and his business partner (and wife) Clare to agree a deal and way of working. Creatively it was agreed with Beano’s blessing that Horace could have free rein in the direction of travel in terms of art style and subject matter. We supplied a range of reference materials such as original comics and reference books. Horace undertook his own research and investigations.

The end result which launched this week in Beano’s Fleet Street office is a collection that features signature Beano characters Dennis and Gnasher, Billy Whizz, Lord Snooty, Minnie the Minx and the Bash Street Kids. Horace has coupled the characters with a homage to a number of pop artists’ classic works. The paintings are bright, colourful and contemporary creating a new perspective on the characters while remaining faithful to Beano’s rebellious heritage – a great example of this is the painting that features Dennis & Gnasher diving into a Hockney style swimming pool. It’s what they do!

A real plus point of this partnership has been the tremendous publicity it has generated so far with Horace featuring on BBC Breakfast and being interviewed by a number of radio stations. More publicity is planned and once the ‘pop up’ exhibition moves out of Fleet Street it will visit a number of other galleries in the UK, plus make an appearance in Beano’s spiritual home of Dundee.

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The original paintings will be sold, as will a range of screenprints. The deal will generate revenue and create some fresh momentum. We also hope to licence Horace’s Beano artwork to a selected range of licensees and products. I think this is a really good example of a partnership working and one that has added to the original brand. The fact that Horace is a real Beano fan and a comic reader gives it an authentic touch which is an important component of any partnership of this kind.

For me it has been a great project to be involved in and Horace has been very patient in indulging my memories of The Specials. Although he is clearly a patient man – he handpainted the dots on the Billy Whizz painting to make sure they had an authentic comic look, mirroring the pixelated print style of some of comics from the 1960s and 1970s. A real labour of love for him.

We identified art as an appropriate category to develop Beano products in not least because the comics themselves are celebrations of art themselves.

We have had a long-standing partnership with screenprinter John Reynolds. John’s company Comic Art has had a number of pop up shops and exhibitions featuring his work which celebrates the ‘best of’ Beano characters. We have also, as mentioned earlier, worked previously with Sir Peter Blake so Beano has a positive track record in this category.

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For this year we have also worked with Art & Hue to create a range of prints which focus on design aspects such as Beano lettering and offer consumers the opportunity to personalise prints. Art & Hue has managed to create a distinct look using its unique art style. We feel we have provided a range of products to cover a wide sweep of the market.

In my view, licensing and art are a good combination and a business area that provides licensors and agents with some good opportunities to create products that are outside the mass market but are still very commercial.

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Outside of the formal gallery world, I found some time to see some street art in Shoreditch. One piece caught my eye – it featured Tweetie Pie cleverly placed in a No Tweets sign. I thought this was a clever use of the character. I did what I thought I was expected to do and immediately tweeted a photo of Tweetie Pie telling me not to tweet it.

I think good ideas for licensing can be found in a variety of ways – from street art, from chatting to licensees and from playing your record collection. Just remember to make that cold call.

Ian Downes runs Start Licensing, an independent brand licensing agency. His Twitter handle is @startlicensing – he would welcome your suggestions for what to look out for.

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