Former Marvel Comics publisher Bill Jemas has had an undeniable effect on the comics industry. As a part of Marvel in the early ’90s and again in the early 2000s, Jemas helped launch Marvel’s Ultimate line, revitalizing the publisher for a new era. After nearly ten years away, Jemas has returned to the administrative side of comics as head of Take-Two Interactive’s newly revealed graphic imprint.
If Take-Two sounds familiar, it should. As the parent company of both Rockstar and 2K Games, Take-Two is huge in the video games word, producing hits such as the “Grand Theft Auto” series, “Max Payne,” “Borderlands,” “BioShock Infinite,” “Civilization” and more. Although Take-Two has many different existing properties under its umbrella, don’t expect any in-house graphic novel tie-ins any time soon. The goal for the new comics imprint is to develop new, original content unrelated to any of Take-Two’s existing properties.
In order to get a better idea of what to expect from the fledgling comics publisher, CBR News spoke with Jemas about the development of the graphic imprint, how it plans to distinguish itself in a crowded comics landscape, the possibility of cross-pollination between the imprint and Take-Two’s other companies and more.
CBR News: Bill, Take-Two is responsible for some of the most iconic and well-received video games of the past decade. What was the impetus to start a graphic fiction imprint?
Bill Jemas: Take-Two prides itself on its entertaining properties, and they’d like to expand the means for developing good, new content. They feel, I feel, that comic books, graphic novels, digital storyboards — the whole range of graphic fiction is a very efficient, effective, really fun way to do that. They’ve set up a small group and asked me to lead it to create new properties.
You have a wealth of experience in the industry, helping to launch the Ultimate line at Marvel in the early 2000s. What about Take-Two made you decide to take on the task of starting a brand new imprint?
Well, hope springs eternally. I’m taking on the task because I’m confident we’ll be successful. You could certainly make the argument that it’s really hard to be successful, that it is a monumental task, to create a new imprint from scratch, especially in today’s business and economic climate. But I feel we’ll be successful partially because Take-Two has really good assets to support creative content. There’s always the worry that you come up with something good and no one ever sees it, but given the power of Take-Two’s marketing presence and the massive size of their fan base, I’m pretty confident that if we do great work, people will see it. Everybody who leads a creative team has to be confident that they’ll do something that’s really worth reading.
When I first saw the announcement that Take-Two was starting a new graphic fiction imprint, I immediately jumped to the assumption that it planned to release projects based on some of its properties from Rockstar and 2K Games. What is the actual intent of the imprint? Is it to draw from Take-Two’s existing properties, develop new original properties on its own, or a combination of the two?
Right now, I’m focused on brand new. But I would say over time it’s possible, maybe likely, that we’ll take a look at Take-Two’s game properties and tell stories within those universes. Certainly, the comic industry does a lot of things incredibly well — one thing that we’ve never done particularly well is game adaptations. There may be some good ones out there, and I know DC’s made some in-roads with crossover between their game division and their comics division, but by and large that’s not nearly as exciting on day one as creating brand new things. Take-Two has that same feeling — let’s focus on tapping the talent in the comics industry to create new things, and in the fullness of time, we’ll take a look at what might be the best initiative to dovetail with Take-Two’s existing game properties. But you’ll probably never see us do a straight-on game adaptation; to take an existing, wonderful game story and turn it into a derivative comic book. I don’t think we’ll be doing much of that, but we may explore developing new stories set in one of the Take-Two game universes.
It’s certainly difficult in today’s marketplace to start a brand new imprint, as you mentioned. What’s your approach to building Take-Two’s graphic imprint as a brand, as something distinct from the company’s presence in the video game world?
That’s a good question, and you’d think that would be something I’ve thought about. [Laughs] The focus really is to tell the best stories we can, and we’ll market them. We’ll certainly do our best to tap Take-Two’s audience, and we’ll tell stories from the ground up as brand new content about brand new characters.
Some of Take-Two’s games have already had comic book adaptations — specifically, IDW’s recent “Borderlands” series, based on the 2K Games property. You mentioned that you hope the new imprint will get to Take-Two’s game properties eventually, but what does the existence of the imprint mean for some of these games that have already been adapted as comics?
I don’t expect to interfere or affect in any material way anything that a studio wants to do with their games in terms of reaching out to another comic book publisher to create content. Take-Two for the most part on the game side is business as usual. If a game developer likes a particular writer, a particular company, wants to do something in the comics space, they’ll certainly reach out and talk to me about it and we’ll figure out a way to get a comic book done. If they want to do it through my group, that’s wonderful. If we come up with a content idea we want to work on together, or if it happens independently, it’s not a big deal. It’s a big tent, there’s plenty of room. Really, the purpose of the imprint is to focus on brand new. What the studios do with the content that they generate outside of what the imprint is doing, it’s just not of particular concern to me, and I don’t think is of any particular concern to anybody at Take-Two.
In the past, there have been comic publishers who specifically approached comics and graphic novels as a proof-of-concept for film and television. Considering Take-Two’s background in games, are there any plans to build some of these new properties with a mind to expand into other media?
I’m — I don’t want to say trained — but I think my natural disposition has always been to tell the story and then adapt the story to every possible form of media and merchandise. I think Marvel has always been good at that and both times I was there — in the early ’90s when Marvel exploded out into television and electronic games and multiple forms of merchandise, that petered out during the bankruptcy and then we came storming back. When I look at a comic story, I’m always thinking about how the costumes could be Halloween costumes, how the footwear might become sneakers, how the storylines would adapt to games. I just think that’s a good way to think about development.
Look, Brian Bendis always says, “Job one: you create a good comic book and worry about everything else later.” He’s right, from a writer point of view. But from a business manager point of view, from the inception, I do like to think about the thousand and one things any comic book story can be adapted to. So, I guess the shorter answer to your question is it would be absolutely great if we came up with a story that turned into an electronic game and a movie and a television show and t-shirts and hats and DVDs and trading cards and all that other wonderful stuff. That’s one of the most fun things for me about being in the entertainment business, is to come to market with dozens of marketing and media partners all doing the same thing at the same time about the same great comic. That’s something that Marvel forgot how to do in the late ’90s, it’s something we really came back and did really well with in the early years of 2000 to 2004.
One of the other companies that I thought of after the initial reveal of Take-Two’s new imprint was Legendary Entertainment, which recently started up a graphic novel imprint, releasing two or three graphic novels per year. What is Take-Two’s plan in terms of release format?
Certainly the market has changed a lot since 2001. In 2001, with “Ultimate Spider-Man” and “Ultimate X-Men” in the lead, Marvel flipped the model from periodical books all tied to each other — a never-ending pile of continuity where a book couldn’t be used for very much more than a monthly comic book — [to a model] where the books were written in a format so that they could become graphic novels and the content was immediately flipped to the first online comics, Marvel DotComics. There’s a model we established where you create the content first with an eye towards distributing to as many possible medias and adopting the content for distribution through multiple media. And that’s the approach we have toward Take-Two comics.
In terms of in-house talent at Rockstar and 2K Games, there are many talented writers under that umbrella. When looking for talent to start up the imprint, has there been talk of cross-pollination to use some of that in-house talent?
In the fullness of time, it would be great to — I’m an enormous [“BioShock” writer] Ken Levine fan, I’m an enormous [“Civilization” creator] Sid Meier fan. I love a lot of the stuff they do all over Take-Two. But for now, it’s really about reaching out comic book writers to bring comic book talent into Take-Two as opposed to bringing Take-Two game guys into comics. Although, I’m pretty sure that in the fullness of time there will be some cross-pollination among the groups. Again, I have a very tiny group in an enormous company and our focus really is to reach out to the comic book community — we have a bunch of comic book guys in the company and we talk about what we’re going to do and we chat about it back and forth. None of us try to interfere with anybody else’s day job.
It’s readily apparent that the comic book marketplace is far more crowded and complicated than it was even five years ago. In such a crowded marketplace, what do you think will set Take-Two apart from other publishing companies?
There’s a style of comic book storytelling that is — for as many companies as there are in the business, there are few publishers that choose to or want to tell stories in that “Ultimate” style. I think what will set us apart is we’re going to be telling Ultimate-style stories intended to reach out to new readers. I sort of have a knack for putting those types of teams together, and a particular stick-to-itiveness to make sure the comics come out that way. So, I think what will set us apart to a degree is the storytelling style. Even though the market’s crowded — and it certainly is — my happy surprise after a ten-year vacation is there seems to be a lot more talent available in the industry. People doing their own comic books or working for independent companies — back in 2000s, and I won’t name names, you could count on your fingers the guys who could write an Ultimate-style book. Now, you’d need all your fingers and all your toes and you’d probably have to get a few others if you wanted to do the counting. I’m really thrilled that the talent level that’s available in the industry who can, if they’re so charged and coached, write that kind of a book.
Any chance of you assuming the position of writer as well? You did a bit of writing for a Zenescope book a while back.
[Laughs] Writing is a funny word in comics, just like creator is a funny word in comics. I think I’m the most helpful in a creative team pointing them toward the demographic, helping craft plots — in that range. At Marvel, I did take a pretty heavy hand in a handful of projects. At Take-Two, I intend to take a pretty heavy hand in a handful of projects. But when I start writing scripts is when there’s a lot of trouble. So, my hope and plan is to hand things off to people who are much more talented scripters than I am, and stick to marketing in terms of the target audience and in terms of helping to guide the content to something that’s palatable toward the audience, but then turning over the day-to-day work to talented people. You saw that happen with “Ultimates” if you were around at the time. I did a lot early on with the Ultimates line, but when Mark [Millar] and Brian [Bendis] hit their stride, they needed me like a fifth wheel. Occasionally, I’d pop in and craft a new story arc, but for the most part, really good writers once they get going in that vein are better off acting like creators and acting independently.
It’s still early days, but when can people expect to see some content from the Take-Two imprint?
If all goes well, we’ll be releasing significant amount of digital content in the spring and a handful of printed books in the summer.
I’ll tell you, we are very much interested in new talent who’d like to come in to comics, or who have been published elsewhere and have a story to tell that they’re having difficulty economically to see the light of day. I encourage you to publish my email address (Bill.Jemas@take2games.com), and I will read any script — I can’t promise to read it fast — that anybody wants to submit.
Stay tuned to CBR News for more on Take-Two’s new imprint.