Book-to-movie-to-Newbury Comics merchandise franchises seem to be increasingly common these days. T-shirts bearing the logos of franchises based on books are popping all over the place, and the buzz of an upcoming movie adaptation might launch a book to must-read status, so that half your school is walking around with a paperback copy. In order to analyze these phenomena, I’m going to take a look at the rise to fame of a book series that doesn’t exist: The Vampire Dragon Chronicles by Gertrude Fantastic.
Ms. Fantastic was a blue-collar writer doing freelance work for the odd home and garden magazine when she realized on a taxi ride through her native New York City that she was being untrue to her creative integrity and invented a character on the spot: 17-year-old honor student Mary Smith. Mary receives a mysterious letter carried by a crow, falls through the mirror in her closet, and finds herself in a mystical land. She meets and falls in love with a vampire-human hybrid, hatches a dragon, and discovers that her memory has been partially erased. She is forced to fight for her life for the sadistic entertainment of the evil emperor she is fighting against, and finally manages to overthrow him by embracing her heritage as the daughter of Zeus. All of this takes place over the course of a four-book series.
It took Ms. Fantastic, a mother of two, three years to write the first book. Never dreaming of publication, she gave the manuscript to several of her friends and relatives. All of them raved about the story and encouraged her to send it to some agents. Ms. Fantastic had to endure the rejections of fifteen agents before she was finally asked to send in her complete manuscript. This forward-thinking agent, Maximilian Fabulous, took Ms. Fantastic on. Random House eventually bought the manuscript. Thanks to a brilliant social networking-driven marketing scheme, Book One, The Beginning, made it to the bestseller list a week before its release. Warner Bros. purchased the movie rights.
The Beginning was quickly followed with The Hatching, The Fighting, and The Triumphing. All of them topped bestseller lists for weeks on end. Just as fans’ euphoria from the release of the epic conclusion, The Triumphing, was wearing off, the release date of the movie adaptation of The Beginning was announced. Merchandise bearing the images of mirrors, dragons, vampires, deadly arenas, and Zeus flooded stores. Fan sites abounded, and the buzz from the trailer had the media talking for weeks.
The blockbuster films were fairly true to the books, although they did spend most of their time focusing on the romance between Mary and her half-vampire boyfriend, or, as Ms. Fantastic puts it, “irrevocably unconditional soul mate.” The films were populated with attractive 20-something-year-old actors trying to pull off teenagers and slick soundtracks featuring the work of popular artists. The final film was split into two parts, as is traditional these days–producers said the split was purely to do justice to The Triumphing, although critics claim it was intended only to increase revenues.
Ms. Fantastic is now a multimillionaire and has legions of devoted fans who own every t-shirt and action figure the mall can offer. Theories as to what made the franchise so successful are varied. Some say it was marketing, while others say it was the star-powered films that truly launched the Vampire Dragon Chronicles to fame. Some even acknowledge that good writing might have had something to do with it, even if popular devices were somewhat overused.