Bananaman

The superhero parody is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year; we look at what Start Licensing has been working on.
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2010 is the 30th anniversary of Bananaman’s debut in DC Thomson’s comic Nutty.

The humour-based comic strip was essentially a parody of the superhero genre: Eric, our hero, was an ordinary schoolboy who eats a banana to transform into Bananaman, wearing a distinctive blue and yellow outfit with a two tailed cape resembling a banana. His special powers included the ability to fly, superhuman strength and apparent invulnerability.

Bananaman eventually transferred into The Dandy and is now published in The Dandy Xtreme Magazine.

Elsewhere, in 1983 there was a cartoon series on BBC, with voices provided primarily by The Goodies – Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie. The show ran for about three years and consisted of 40 episodes.
With the current nostalgia theme still going strong on the High Street, agent Start Licensing has put together a comprehensive programme for Bananaman.

“We have a very tight knit group of licensees; our licensing programme has been up and running for about three years and we are now looking to expand it as we have a proven track record of success to build on,” MD Ian Downes, explains to Licensing.biz.

One of the lead licensees is Smiffy’s, which has seen consistent sales of its adult dress-up kit. The firm is due to add a female suit and a children’s suit this year. Truffle Shuffle, BC International, J Fox Sox, Hype, Tanside, Robert Harrop and Delta are also key partners.
Downes is now actively targeting stationery, giftware, novelty giftware, promotional items, bags, canvas art and posters, while he is also keen to develop more fun products, for example confectionery ‘foam’ bananas in gift packs.

“Product has been well supported at retail. Smiffy’s have achieved pretty wide distribution – this includes websites, which for a character like Banana man is important; core consumers (adults 16-34) tend to use the internet to search for and purchase product. BC International’s listings have included Next, Topshop and Matalan – the graphics and style of the series seem to appeal to fashion buyers and also the character has a dual male and female appeal. Delta has been in retailers such as HMV, but also get coverage in specialist catalogues, mail order and websites.”

A special 30th anniversary logo has been created for licensees to use on new packaging, while a new style guide will feature fresh poses, line art, key slogans, accessories, props and patterns.

“Its main purpose is to make it easier for existing and new licensees to visualise the potential for the character,” Downes says. “It will also allow existing licensees to refresh product and, in the case of apparel licensees, it is providing more elements for them to build their designs from. We felt a key part of Bananaman’s appeal was the humour and we think the guide captures this well. It also provides artwork of ancillary and support characters, which should encourage more collectable product ranges like PVC figurines.”

Start is also looking at a number of promotional ideas to tie in with the anniversary; the character has linked up with charities before and the opportunity to work with fresh fruit vendors is also a good one. DC Thomson will be featuring Bananaman more heavily and Downes is also considering other anniversary publishing ideas, including a graphic novel type product reusing classic strips from Nutty and The Dandy. The firm is also in discussions with a gallery about a Bananaman retrospective.

“From a licensing point of view, the property hasn’t been over exposed and in the current suite of products there has been a good eye for design to ensure a consistent range,” Downes continues, when asked why he thinks Bananaman is still so popular 30 years on. “I think Bananaman has been a character that people have chosen to work with rather than being oversold to. In a sense, Bananaman has grown bigger as the retro trend has grown, but is not really marketed as a retro character. We think he is a popular character that happens to have been popular for 30 years.”

Going forward, and the immediate focus is on increasing the licensing programme, although Downes says he is keen to allow licensees room to sell through successfully. “We would be keen to see some more promotions and we think apparel should be a growing sector for us.”

And in another 30 years? “Hopefully Bananaman will still be a comic in some shape or form in 30 years,” says Downes. “We are looking at iPhone applications, this could be a way of delivering comic strips in a new way. I think content and characters will be at the centre of any new applications and I am sure that Bananaman’s qualities will ensure a bright future.”

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