Cowboys & Aliens: All that effort for a flop

Oh, the lengths some people will go to to get their comic made into a Hollywood film

Cowboys & Aliens

Cowboys & Aliens

Mike Selby

The big budget, big studio, and big star 2011 film ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ was based on a comic book nobody had ever heard of it, leaving many to wonder just how this exactly happened?

The quick and most popular version begins with Scott Rosenberg, who — after created a self-published comic titled ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ — was just a little more obsessed with the idea that it could be made into a great film. To create buzz, he called every comic book store he could find in the yellow pages, and asked if he could send them numerous copies of his comic for free. As expected, those contacted said yes.

Rosenberg prints thousands of copies, and sends them out to the stores that wanted them, who are free to sell them, give them away free to customers, or throw them away. He then releases a press release about the tens of thousands of ‘Cowboys and Aliens’ comics available at all these comic book shops.

So far so good, except Rosenberg lies in the press release, and calls his give-aways “sales.”

The comic book industry press immediately smelled a rat, and nobody ran Rosenberg’s less than truthful press release. Nobody that is, except for Entertainment Weekly. Their brief mention of Rosenberg’s comic sales was enough for Hollywood to seek him out, and purchase the rights from him. All this lead to a Spielberg produced film sporting a $200 million budget featuring two of the absolute biggest names in film: Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig.

All of this is true, except —like Rosenberg’s press release — it leaves out a few facts.

The first is Rosenberg wasn’t just a guy with a self-published comic book trying to get it noticed. He was actually a heavy hitter — either owning or running independent comic companies such as Malibu, Eternity, and Aircel Comics since the late 1980s. While running Malibu comics, he broke just about every industry sales record possible with movie and television options, and tie-in merchandizing. Malibu was so successful it was bought by Marvel Comics in 1994, which enabled Rosenberg to finance yet another comic book company, Platinum Studios.

Unlike other publishers, the sole purpose of Platinum Studios is to create and adapt comic book stories and characters to feature films, television programs, video games, and more. It is also a publicly traded company, which currently “consists of approximately 5,600 characters that have appeared in comics in 25 languages and in approximately 50 countries.”

So Rosenberg wasn’t simply a guy with a self-published comic who fibbed on a press release. And ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ turns out to be anything but a self-published comic.

Its origins start way back in the mid 1990s, when Rosenberg strategically placed a full page ad in Variety, stating ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ was an upcoming feature film based on the comic. Again, no comic at the time existed, so this was just a move by Rosenberg hoping to get his idea noticed. One it turns out, that worked, as a massive bidding war between major studios took place, with Dreamworks winning the option rights for half a million dollars, which would immediately double once filming began.

Filming however, never did start, as half a dozen writers turned in unsuitable scripts as the months passed. Those involved lost interest, and the project is eventually scrapped.

A decade goes by, and Rosenberg still wants this film made. He has a team create not a ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ comic book, but a ‘Cowboy & Aliens’ graphic novel. He knows more than most that a new and unheard of comic would never outsell or come close to matching the numbers that a Spiderman or a Batman comic routinely bring in. Graphic novels however, at this time, sold in very low numbers. With some business savvy — like lying about sales numbers on a press release —he could create a bestselling graphic novel.

Unlike the short version, he didn’t just give ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ away to comic book stores. He had certain stores purchase thousands and thousands of copies, which he then reimbursed them with for.

The rest of the story is exactly as it happened above. Nobody believed his press release for a second, except for Entertainment Weekly, which got Hollywood’s interest in it for a second time.

And that is the long version of ‘Cowboys & Aliens,’ and Rosenberg’s quest to have his comic (which didn’t exist, then did exist, but only as a graphic novel), have enough imaginary sales to have Hollywood make a big budget film that (besides some great acting) rates 5 out of 10 at best and is seen as a flop by its own studio.

Mike Selby is Reference Librarian at the Cranbrook Public Library

Just Posted

Residents line up outside the Vernon Recreation Complex for their COVID-19 vaccine Saturday, June 5. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
No appointments necessary for first dose COVID-19 vaccine: Interior Health

People can just show up at clinics, register on the spot and get the shot

1914
It happened this week in 1914

June 6 -12: Compiled by Dave Humphrey from the archived newspapers held at the Cranbrook History Centre and Archives

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Thursday, June 10, mentioned Grand Forks among two other COVID “hot spots” in B.C. Photo: Screenshot - YouTube COVID-19 BC Update, June 10, 2021
PHO Henry says West Kootenay city is a COVID ‘hot spot’ in B.C.

There are 11 cases of COVID-19 in the Grand Forks local health area, according the BC CDC

Supporters — and shoppers — lined up waiting at the Cranbrook Health Care Auxiliary Thrift Store on 8th Avenue South, waiting for the doors to open on the store's first day of operations since the pandemic forced its closure. (Photo courtesy Kate Fox)
CHCA Thrift Store re-opens in Cranbrook

After a closure of 15 months, due to the pandemic, the Cranbrook Health Care Auxiliary Thrift Store on 8th Avenue South has once again opened its doors for business.

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

The Queen Victoria statue at the B.C. legislature was splattered with what looks like red paint on Friday. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Queen Victoria statue at B.C. legislature vandalized Friday

Statue splattered with red paint by old growth forest proponents

Most Read