First World Problem: The Search for Merchandising

Lisa Tate

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Some shows are so merch-heavy, it is hard to avoid. Take Stranger Things, for example.

I love the series. It mixes just the right amount of creepy and comedy in an original story celebrating the neon-colored decade of my high school years. However, you can’t swing a dead Demogorgon without hitting some type of product tie-in. There’s the New Coke, the t-shirts, the little “mystery box” vinyl figures, and the Baskin-Robbins “Scoops Ahoy” summer flavors.

The same goes for the Disney/Marvel/Star Wars world, DC Comics, Pokemon, Harry Potter’s Wizarding World, and Manga titles. Video games have their own clothing and costume lines, and “grown up” action movie and gritty shows from John Wick to pretty much everything on AMC offers “collectibles” bearing inside jokes fellow fans would get.

This marketing isn’t just a product of ‘Merica. The BBC offers plenty of goods for fans of Doctor Who, Downton Abbey and other favorites (heaven knows I have my share of Sherlock goodies). If you want to indulge your fandoms in consumerism and extended universe reading, there are are no limits for some fans.

I have absolutely no problem with this. If people are buying, why not sell? If they demand, why not supply?

My problem, which I fully admit is the very definition of a “first world problem,” is I want more, as some of the series I thoroughly enjoy are dreadfully lacking of “official merchandise.”

In my own case, I’ve become fully absorbed in Peaky Blinders, and Ripper Street. Both are fictionalized (very fictionalized) representations of historical figures and eras. Both are filled with a sort of Shakespearean sense of storytelling mixed with gore, guns, vulgarities, and well-dressed bursts of pure testosterone. Both are beautifully rendered depictions of place and era, from the costuming to the setting to the dialogue.

However, Peaky Blinders offers official apparel and merchandise choices on their websites. There is also beer and whiskey to be had (albeit not all available for export), and an official companion book coming out in October.

Ripper Street, however, has next to nothing, except for the DVDs and a soundtrack. It may not have as big an audience, but thanks to streaming service more and more folks are discovering this grimy trip back to Whitechapel in the 1800s.

It's easy to scoff at the hungry “consumerism” of needing a physical souvenir of every literary, musical or theatrical experience as if that somehow cheapens it. Not every piece of merchandise has to be Hot Topic or Think Geek fodder. I would love some “Art of” books complete with historic maps, and concept art for more shows. These are my favorite movie or show tie-ins and I’ve found myself looking through books of shows I haven’t seen, because the art and design behind them is impressive.

I wouldn't be against some small prop or costume replicas, art prints or (yes, I’ll say it) little statuettes or action figures.

In the meantime, what are fans that can’t find merchandising for their shows to do?

Creative capitalism, my friends!

Support those independent or amateur artists and makers creating tribute products on the many maker-driven sites like Red Bubble or Cafe Press.

BBC isn’t offering any Peaky Blinders “Garrison” pub signs, but I found one from a British craftsperson on Etsy, by Jove. I saw one artist who created some custom Shelby Brothers Funko-style figures that went viral a while back. I love seeing someone’s inspiration find an outlet to make a little modest income, and share their work with people who appreciate it.

You might dismiss it as mere “fan art,” but I just call it art, and many times these artists are as good, if not better, than the commercial images available. That’s certainly the case in movie poster art today. Look at any of the "alternative designs" on sites like PosterSpy and compare them to the the lackluster one sheets hanging in theaters.

This works with music as well. There is no official Peaky Blinders soundtrack filled with all the gritty contemporary sounds it contains, but there are plenty put together on Spotify created by avid fans.

If you can't find official merchandise, peruse artist driven sites. If you still can't find something, make it. Images: Lisa Tate

Finally, if you can’t find it, make it! Everyone, no matter their artistic ability, has the capacity to be creative. Write something. Draw something. If you can’t make it, find a crafty friend who is itching to make something.

This past week, my teen daughter and I made a Ripper Street wanted poster replica by screen capturing an image and manipulating it on plain old Photoshop and InDesign, then mounted on some varnished wood. Family bonding and homegrown merchandising achieved.

Next time you want to indulge in a fandom underserved by the “officially licensed” products world, take it as an opportunity to discover new artists and fellow fans, as well as an excuse to get creative.

If enough fans and makers are out there showing off the potential for marketing a certain show has, then perhaps some savvy marketer will see some money to be made.

Until then, search the artist sites, and support the independent makers who are peddling their custom wares. Licensed or not, we can’t purchase it, if they haven’t made it.

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