If you frequent stores like Atwoods or Hobby Lobby, and you’ve seen reproductions of retro gas station signs and other bits of advertising Americana that have seeped into the collective memory of pop culture, chances are that these bits of signage came from Wichita, Kansas-based Open Road Brands…and the company hasn’t stopped there. In recent years, they’ve been licensing decidedly less old-timey pieces of pop culture and gracing them with the same raised-relief metal sign treatment.
Open Road had already licensed numerous characters and classic covers from DC and Marvel, but has now ventured into similar waters with the venerable Star Trek and Star Wars brands. While there are several examples of more up-to-date designs featuring characters, concepts and catchphrases from both sci-fi franchises, I found myself irresistibly drawn to the classic comic book covers from both. I was in the process of redecorating my home in “period geek” anyway, so why not?
I appreciate not only the reproduction of the artwork, but that fact that it hasn’t been messed with or modernized even one iota. Much like my memories of the stories contained in the classic Marvel Star Wars comics themselves, action figures of cantina creatures barely glimpsed on-screen, and Meco’s disco album covering much of John Williams’ film score, the cover art was part of the ’70s Star Wars experience – an all-too-brief span of time where the story of Luke and friends could’ve gone anywhere, because The Empire Strikes Back and everything that came after it simply hadn’t happened yet. As far as we children of the ’70s knew, the Star Wars Holiday Special and Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye really were official. Because where was anything that contradicted that?
I’m a little bit less closely attached to Gold Key’s Star Trek comics, which began their run while the original series was still on the air and proceeded to tell baffling stories that barely resembled anything that Star Trek or its characters would actually do on TV, but there’s still some great, trippy, vintage 1960s artwork to found on the Gold Key covers, at least half a dozen of which have been immortalized in sign form by Open Road.
Open Road has also stuck its toes into the Doctor Who waters, though I’m a bit less enthusiastic with the results. Not only are they only available as larger MDF wood signs, but they literally use comic-style artwork from the BBC’s Doctor Who branding guide, slap some random phrases barely associated with the series itself on them, and call it done. Where are the classic “Marvel Premiere” covers from 1980’s American reprints of the Doctor Who Magazine comics? There’s wonderfully nostalgic material just waiting to be mined…but one suspects that the dual licensing costs involved (Marvel and the BBC) will leave them untouched, although that didn’t stop them from cranking out Marvel Star Wars cover art.
Open Road has also more recently acquired licenses to such classic publications as Gold Key’s equally classic (and hokey) Twilight Zone comics and Amazing Stories Magazine, so there’s doubtless further vintage decorative goodness in the years ahead. I’d argue strongly that there’s a demand for later iterations of Star Trek, especially the huge pile of nostalgic cheese that was DC’s run of Star Trek: The Next Generation tie-in comics, which depicted Picard and Riker as bemuscled behemoths on the verge of hulking right out of their Starfleet spandex. I’d buy that for the chuckle factor alone.
There’s a whole market waiting for Open Road Brands to do more. Hopefully they’ll get the hint – there’s a whole other wall across from this one waiting for some signage, after all.