It’s been a big year for BOOM! Studios. In addition to acquiring and merging with Archaia, they also had a hit film adaptation with “2 Guns” and announced a groundbreaking first-look deal with Fox which means the studio gets first crack at any and all BOOM! intellectual properties when it comes to big and small screen adaptations. That’s a pretty productive year for a comic publisher established less than a decade ago by co-founder and CEO Ross Richie.
Even with so much going on, Richie and company still found the time to travel from California eastward for the New York Comic Con where BOOM! held a panel that not only recounted the company’s history but also explained their three main focuses: creator-owned comics, well-crafted licensed books and all-ages content.
That three-pronged plan of attack is reflected in the company’s slate of ongoing titles, which includes “Adventure Time,” Mike Carey’s “Suicide Risk,” Ryan North’s “The Midas Flesh” and “Day Men” among many others. And while the deal with Fox is a huge opportunity, the company remains focused on making the best comics they can first and foremost.
CBR News spent some time speaking with the very busy Richie about the importance of making good comics, the process of developing their publishing gameplan and how the deal with Fox came about.
CBR: At the NYCC We Are BOOM! panel, you talked about the focus of the company being threefold when it comes to content: creator-owned, licensed and all-ages comics. Was that the idea from the company’s earliest days or did it develop as you went?
Ross Richie: The original focus of the publishing was the main BOOM! Studios brand and original content. If you go back and look at what I launched the company with, it was things like “2 Guns,” “The Savage Brothers” and “Zombie Tales.” “Savage Brothers” was the first North American book that Rafael Albuquerque was published in. The original content was really the focus.
“Warhammer” was one of the first licensed books we did, and then later, “Farscape” happened. It was a real learning curve. That’s when the world of licensing opened up to us and we learned how it can enhance your brand and how doing it well can be very gratifying because a fan can come to you and say, “Hey, I really care about this, and you guys clearly care about it as much as I do.”
Later, we saw the opportunity to do kids content. I was immediately like, “This is a great idea,” and a lot of the people that were on staff were like, “Yeah, but kids comics don’t sell.” That’s when I asked, “Why?” What if you did them really, really well? Good stories, at the end of the day, are why we’re getting up in the morning. Why are we discriminatory about the “that’s for kids” [label]? Maybe I’m too stubborn for my own good — that’s probably pretty true — but it was also an opportunity. It was something our rivals were not doing. What worked out for us was that we were able to create a space in the business that, for the most part, had not been a real commercial space. That gave us a nice advantage.
A lot of it has to do with, if you chase what you love and focus on that, good things will happen. I really believe that if you’re aware of what you’re good at, and aware of what you’re not good at, then that will often show you the path forward. That’s been the fun of BOOM! for me, coming into work and seeing how we’ve grown and changed and how we can continue to double down on our strengths. And the things that the market are not embracing, those are things that we need to get away from because people are very clearly telling us, “We don’t want you to do this.”
One of the problems facing comics for the past several years is that the general public doesn’t always know that these books even exist. Are there certain strategies you have implemented to try and expand the public perception of what a comic is and can be?
It’s a huge problem, and it’s true for everyone. If you look at Vertigo, it’s a part of mainstream DC that doesn’t do superhero material. It’s something that I’m sure is conversation for the marketing and editorial folks at even the biggest companies. I don’t have any immediate solutions. Our focus has been to create great stories.
[Vice President of Publishing and Marketing] Filip Sablik and I call it “comic books that you can give your girlfriend.” Now, that’s a sexist statement because it presumes that your girlfriend isn’t reading comics, but quite often we found ourselves dating girls who didn’t read comics. There was always that opportunity to hand them a graphic novel and say, “This is a really great story. I bet you didn’t expect that comic books could do this.” In my 20s, I bought many copies of “Bone” as a trade that went to a girlfriend.
It’s hard to get out there and say on a mass media level, “Hey, comic books aren’t just superheroes.” The answer is, what are they? When we have opportunities like “2 Guns” where we can say, “You’re broadly familiar with this because a studio spent an insane amount of money buying billboards and TV ads. This is based on a comic book.” We have a pack-in in the DVD which is the comic. It’s not the whole thing, but it’s a good swath of the “2 Guns” comic. That’s a great opportunity to show people that this Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg movie is based on a comic book.
You have to pick your moments and pick your shots. I think the key is that we need people in the space that are doing non-superhero content. For heaven’s sakes, we’re doing “Suicide Risk” and we’re known for “Irredeemable” and Grace Randolph’s “Superbia,” but, the majority of what we do isn’t superhero. What helps the medium is things like “Y: The Last Man” and “The Walking Dead” that become something that people who aren’t close to the comic book community can recognize. You can meet people now who have read some “Walking Dead” or “Y: The Last Man,” and they don’t really read comics, but they’re familiar enough with that. That’s the way forward: do great series’ that you can be very proud of.
Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen the culture change. The culture used to be antagonistic to the material and now we’re seeing that it’s popular and cool and people are interested. It’s just changing one mind at a time.
Part of that change in perception comes from getting properties out there into movie theaters. Clearly, the people at Fox agree with that sentiment, because you guys signed the first-look deal. How did that come about?
There’s definitely an energy at Fox, where they have a lot of new executives that are coming on board and have decided to chart a different direction in the kind of material they want to do. I think what they see is that comic books consistently deliver a great source material for franchises. They’re enjoying a lot of success with the X-Men, but with the X-Men, there’s a way in which it’s Marvel’s movie still. I think they had the desire to get a comic book company that could supply them with a consistent amount of material they could look at that’s critical for the business moving forward.
We were really pursued by Fox. It was a great experience. There were a large number of conversations. If you do the wrong deal, it can really consume a lot of time, energy, resources and be bad for the company’s creators which is something that would be our biggest nightmare. We felt a comfort zone when they approached us and it was clear that their goals lined up with something that we wanted to do. That’s how the conversation originated and developed. It took a lot of time and a lot of conversations and a lot of deal points to figure it all out. They really came through and proved very straightforward in what they were looking for and how they wanted to get it done.
At this point, what’s the process in taking a BOOM! comic and turning it into a film? Do you present Fox with the books you think might translate well, or do they come to you and ask about potential projects?
It’s a mixture of all those things. One of the things that we do as producers who are involved in the Los Angeles film scene is, we have relationships with the agencies and the management companies so we can identify writers and figure out who would be great people to adapt this content, or directors who would be a great match for the material. We do that in concert with the studio so that they’re excited about it and it makes sense relative to their plans. If they’re excited about a certain writer, it just so happens that that certain writer has a relationship with BOOM! That writer has come over to BOOM! and hung out and really loves a certain comic book series. Maybe that’s a match.
A lot of it is a discussion, a relationship. The creative things, even in Hollywood, have to come out of a really organic place. The same way you try to match a writer and an artist into a great combination, you try to match Hollywood talent with a comic book.
The deal sounds like it works well both ways. The old, cynical mentality when it came to marrying comics and movies was either a studio coming in, grabbing a concept and changing almost everything about it but the name, or comic companies turning into Hollywood pitch farms. This deal sounds different from that.
We’re one of the biggest comic book companies publishing. I think what Fox did is, they recognized there’s a level of quality and creativity here and said, “They had a movie made and it was a successful film and they understand how the Hollywood machinery works.” What’s damaging for BOOM! is a creator creating an amazing comic book, the studio taking it, completely changes it and disrespects the material. Nobody’s ever set out to make a bad movie, you just recognize that’s the process.
Mistreatment of the creator or a situation where the material doesn’t resemble the original idea isn’t a scenario that helps BOOM! in any way. One of the things that [Vice President of Development] Stephen [Christy] and I do is safeguard and protect the comic book. You’re adapting it. You’re going to have to change things. You can’t take a four graphic novel series and do the whole thing; you only have two hours.
At the core of it, one of my proudest moments was Steven Grant, after seeing “2 Guns,” coming up to me and telling me that halfway through it, he turned to his wife and said, “I can’t believe how much I love this movie.” Box office is great, I’m not complaining at all, but the thing that really gets me excited and makes me happy is seeing Steven Grant happy.
The creators must appreciate that BOOM! is in their corner, helping to shepherd their creations along to another medium.
Something that we do that is unique, is, because we’re here in Los Angeles and because we have relationships with the studios already, we can explain to creators, often, why certain choices are made. A lot of the stereotypes about Hollywood are very true, that’s where the stereotypes come from. You know, “Let’s put a robot dog in it.” That happens. A lot of times some of that misunderstanding can come from just not knowing what the reality is at that particular studio. Having contacts and an understanding of how the agencies works and how an actor comes on board, to be able to demystify some of that in a way that a creator can understand as not random acts of violence but something propelled by a different ecosystem.
It’s the same way for helping Hollywood understand how comic books are done. It’s just as mystifying a process, where they have no idea how a comic book is originated. I just had lunch with a guy that thought that I came up with every single idea that we published, which, of course, I don’t. That’s not out of malice; he just doesn’t understand how the business works.
To see BOOM!’s latest Hollywood team-up, check out “2 Guns” when it hits home video on Nov. 19.