It’s 2024, and that means another group of creative works falls into the public domain. Alongside current and soon-to-be public domain creations like Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood, King Kong, Frankenstein, and Winnie-the-Pooh (and Tigger, too), Mickey Mouse–the Steamboat Willie version specifically–can legally be used in works not authorized by Disney or their respective IP owners. Our new comic series featuring Mickey will launch later this month and--what? You mean there's more to the story?
In just a little more than a decade, the likes of Superman and Batman will also join the arena of public domain characters free for the taking. The idea of doing a gritty, noir version of a gun-toting Batman from Detective Comics #27 is interesting, but even when that becomes a possibility in 2035, creators wouldn’t be able to use most of the core characters, story elements and iconic devices that make Batman the character we all know and love. Alfred, Robin, Joker and the Batmobile all came later--some things much, much later. The name “Batman” or “Bat-Man” would not be able to be used in titles, covers, etc. So, given all the restrictions, why not just create your own characters (and not have to wait over a decade)?
Even a character like Mickey or Minnie Mouse, who is seen on a lot of merchandise and continues to be iconic hasn’t been a major hitter in a movie or TV show in a long time. Like Pooh, there will likely be a horror version of Steamboat Willie Mickey, but can it really go much further than niche projects? Disney still owns the trademark, so like our Batman example, you couldn't use the name "Mickey Mouse" on a t-shirt or merch in a way that could dilute the Mickey Mouse brand. Do consumers want "Black and White Boat Mouse" or do they want Disney's Mickey Mouse?
But what about other works? We love taking a character like Frankenstein’s monster (not the Universal Monsters version, of course, the Mary Shelley version) and using him to tell new stories. Granted, these are pretty loose interpretations. Marvel did something similar in the 70's with their Frankenstein and Dracula comics. DC created the Creature Commandos (soon to be reborn as part of the new DC movie universe). Even the Hammer versions of the monsters or the more recent movie "The Shape of Water" was as close to a modern version of "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" as one is likely to get without the Universal stamp. The actual Universal Monsters movies, starting with Dracula and Frankenstein lapse into the public domain in 2027, but Universal has effectively copyrighted certain elements of Karloff's look--like the neck bolts. These all appeared in much later movies.
Public domain comic book characters from the 1930s and 1940s are ripe for reinterpretation. These characters, usually from companies long defunct, may have only appeared in one or two stories. The potential to bring the concept of these characters to modern readers keeps their creators’ vision alive even in a small way.
So, no, Cereal Creatures won't be publishing any version of Mickey Mouse (or any mouse at all). I can't say I never tried to draw Mickey Mouse as a kid (we did have the early Disney Channel on some of the first home satellite systems), but as a consolation here's our reinterpretation of Steamboat Mickey.
And because we don't want you to have to wait until 2035, we proudly present "Bruce Wayne: Leather Wing."
P.S. I really had fun drawing this one. And yes, the caped crusader did just snap that man's spine! "Crack"