Fact: Two fandoms are better than one. When your favorite fictional worlds collide, it’s a mashup made in fandom heaven. Fandom mashups are becoming more popular, with crossovers popping up in TV shows and movies, fan art, original cosplays, and even new collectibles, making pop culture hybrids a top trend in the geek world.
Fandom mashups have such a powerful impact because they join together two groups of extremely passionate fans — or two halves of your own geeky heart. While products and entertainment moments that feature themes from two separate worlds may be a little more niche — not every Dungeons & Dragons fan would get schwifty with Rick and Morty — they have the ability to draw fans from one property into another. And the most accessible way for companies to pull off this concept is with gotta-have-it merch — and lots of it. With the right properties and the right fan bases, the collaborations can be seamless and maintain the integrity of each brand.
Take FOCO’s line of Game of Thrones MLB Bobbleheads, for example. The cross-licensed series pairs Major League Baseball players and mascots with Game of Thrones characters and settings. The first series merges three distinct bobblehead styles — the Iron Throne, the Night King, and the Ice Dragon Viserion — with mascots and branding from all 30 MLB teams.
“We definitely think it’s an emerging category, this cross-licensed mashup that we’re going to explore,” says Matthew Katz, licensing manager at FOCO. “… We tried to make sure we had the right balance. You don’t want to go too far one way or the other because you want to capture the people who are superfans of either baseball or Game of Thrones, and then capture those people in the middle as well.”
The bobblehead collaboration started off as a partnership for MLB’s theme nights, during which every fan who walks through the stadium gates gets a promotional item, like a bobblehead. The promotion opened the door to a conversation on how to expand at retail, especially for people who couldn’t make it to the promo nights or desired a more high-end collectible than the ones handed out at the games.
A unique aspect of pop culture mashups is that it gives the creators a bit more freedom in playing around with storytelling. The Night King was an ominous Game of Thrones villain, but he’s a bit more lighthearted when he’s wearing team-themed armor and ditching his spear for a baseball bat made of ice with the team’s logo on it.
“Developing a non-traditional product line like this gives a fresh perspective and allows a fan who has love for both brands to get a refreshed look,” says Josephine Fusezi, MLB’s vice president of global consumer products. “Being able to play with key elements from both baseball and Game of Thrones gives the consumer something different and refreshing. It also gives us an opportunity to have a little fun with our fans.”
Response to the first bobblehead series was so positive that FOCO quickly developed a followup series in just six weeks, featuring characters such as the direwolf, the Kingsguard, and a White Walker, available now for preorder. New MLB theme nights began in June for a Netflix Stranger Things collaboration, too.
Fans will also know exactly who to call with Hasbro’s new Ecto-1 Ectotron figure. The Transformers universe already has heroic Autobots, evil Decepticons, and now ghosts! The iconic Ecto-1 Cadillac from the 1984 Ghostbusters movie is now a Transformers robot — a converting Paranormal Investigator called Ectotron. The figure comes with its own Proton Pack and Slimer accessory, and it converts between Ecto-1 and robot in 22 steps.
This year marks the 35th anniversaries of both Transformers and Ghostbusters, making it an ideal year to combine the best of both franchises. A five-part origin story from IDW Publishing will also be available this year, giving fans insight on Ectotron’s background.
“Brand anniversaries not only allow us to celebrate a franchise, but we can also tap into nostalgia around a brand,” says Tom Warner, senior vice president for the Transformers franchise at Hasbro. “The Transformers and Ghostbusters brands are filled with waves of millennial nostalgia as new parents share the toys and brands they loved as children with their own kids.”
Ectotron preorders sold out within 24 hours after the figure was revealed at Toy Fair New York in February, so additional preorders were made available. Fans should also be on the lookout for other potential Transformers and Ghostbusters collaborations soon, according to Warner.
“On the surface, the Transformers and Ghostbusters franchises may seem vastly different; however, they share more in common than one may expect,” Warner says. “Both have two passionate fandoms, sharing a mutual bond over out-of-this world storytelling rooted in science fiction. When combining both worlds, our goal was to create stories and a product that stays true to the origins of both brands.”
The Avengers movies are probably the most well-known, most popular crossovers, but they weren’t the first. Think of all the “most ambitious crossover event in history” memes that circulated around the time that Infinity War came out — and how we were reminded of Disney Channel’s That’s So Suite Life of Hannah Montana, which came out in 2006, or 2003’s The Rugrats Go Wild, in which the band of babies met Eliza and her family from The Wild Thornberries, on Nickelodeon.
Entertainment crossover content is so successful because fans of these franchises can see all of their favorite characters interacting in situations they normally wouldn’t, like when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles visited Gotham in Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2019). In this movie, the heroes in a half-shell and the Dark Knight team up when Shredder joins forces with Ra’s al Ghul, and all of the heroes need to work together to defeat the combined might of the Foot Clan and League of Assassins.
These crossovers can also span multiple age groups, such as Sesame Street’s “Respect Brings Us Together” campaign. Two commercials launched in April featuring Elmo and Cookie Monster, one of which starred the notably at-odds Lannister siblings from Game of Thrones. And if anyone can convince Cersei and Tyrion Lannister to get along, it’s Elmo.
Fan demand for this type of content is loud and clear, as is the case with The CW’s DC Universe. The network has created crossover content yearly since 2014 through its DC TV shows, starting with Arrow and The Flash. At the time, in December 2014, the two-part Arrowverse crossover between the two shows was the most-watched December telecast in seven years for the network, and the most-watched episode for both shows since their respective series premieres.
In 2016, the network’s #DCWeek event delivered The CW’s most-watched week in six years, featuring a four-night DC crossover between Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. The CW’s fifth-annual Arrowverse crossover last year, Elseworlds, introduced Gotham City and Batwoman into the mix, and concluded with a tease of the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover, set to air this fall.
The ratings for The CW’s crossover events clearly show that fans crave this content, and it’s safe to say we can expect more of it in the future.
Pop culture mashups also come from the most important community: the fans themselves.
While manufacturers and entertainment companies have the power to bring pop culture mashups to the masses, fans can express themselves through cosplay and fan art — without the shackles of licensing rights getting in the way. And here, creativity is key. Out-of-the-box fan mashups, including one-of-a-kind cosplays and stunning illustrations, all have one thing in common: They fuse two things that would likely never be together otherwise.
Eric Proctor is a digital artist at TsaoShin who draws vibrant fantasy pieces, with a heavy focus on pop culture artwork. His gallery features bright, fun, and whimsical pieces that incorporate characters, such as Stitch from Lilo & Stitch and Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon.
“For me, the crossovers are a Venn diagram where the two circles completely overlap of things that I absolutely love,” Proctor says. “So, any crossover that I’m currently doing is going to just be just that I love A and I love B, and I’d love to see A and B together.”
Proctor is currently working on an ongoing Grumpy Cat and Disney series, which had accidental roots. Proctor bought a new rig and tablet for his illustration setup and was practicing with his new equipment. He sketched out the iconic The Little Mermaid scene in which Ariel is singing on the rock with water splashing around her, and because he doesn’t like drawing people, he drew in Grumpy Cat as a last-minute decision. He showed it to his friends, expecting to delete it, but then people asked him what Disney scenario he was going to put Grumpy Cat into next — and the series was born.
“I say that I love both of those things, but one of the things I felt so guilty about making that particular series is that I really, really love Disney, but I’m putting Grumpy Cat in a scenario where it’s just ruining it,” Proctor says. “It’s this little bit of dark humor where you’re like, ‘I really love Disney, but honestly if Grumpy Cat was in it, this is probably what would happen.’ So it’s taking something that’s a little sacred and then ripping it to shreds a bit. I think the humor was one of those things I had to play around with.”
Proctor is currently working on his next Grumpy Cat Disney installment, a Cinderella-themed piece titled “Bippidi Boppidi No.” It will show the scene from the animated film in which the fairy godmother grants all of Cinderella’s wishes, but with everything completely ruined, such as a pumpkin dress, Lucifer the cat being the size of a horse, and other mishaps.
“It’s one of those situations where it’s so easy to imagine a lot of those crossovers together; they seem so real and fitting that it just feels like a marriage of two ideas that you’ve enjoyed both of those things so much,” Proctor says. “For me personally, when I look at a crossover that just succeeds so well, I just get so happy because someone else saw the thing that put those two things together and they made that real.”
With pop culture mashups, fans get to express themselves in a whole new way, and manufacturers and entertainment companies are taking note of the increasing fan demand and creative potential. The possibilities are limitless.
This article was originally published in the Pop Insider’s Summer 2019 Issue No. 4, click here to read more!