With the recent news that BOOM! Studios had acquired Archaia Entertainment, the steadily growing publisher wanted to make sure fans knew that it realized the now-merged companies were two of a kind. But along with the opportunities and increased media attention the acquisition brings comes the realization that the publisher suddenly has two staffs, two offices, two lines of comics and up to this point two leaders.
CBR News reached out to the men at the helm of each company in BOOM! CEO and founder Ross Richie and Archaia President Jack Cummins in order to better understand the deal and its implications for the companies’ comics — not to mention the people who make them.
In their first interview since the deal’s announcement, the pair tell the story behind the story of how Archaia became part of the BOOM! family, explain the merger’s immediate and long term impacts on Archaia’s line-up of original and licensed properties, address what happens next as the Archaia staff picks up stakes and moves their offices across Los Angeles to join the BOOM! team and share why they feel the two companies were always on the same page creatively.
CBR News: Congrats on the merger, gentlemen. I think this is a move that will be turning a lot of heads, if for no other reason than the fact that up to this point, BOOM! and Archaia have had very different mission statements and approaches to comics publishing. Can you each tell me a bit about what advantage you saw in this relationship for your respective company?
Ross Richie: There are actually two different parts to this question so let’s start with the first.Â
I would actually disagree with you regarding a difference in the mission statements between the two companies. I think the similarities in our philosophy are what drew us together. Archaia participates with their creators in new original creations, which is a core tenet shared with BOOM!. The comic book industry has been polarized far too long by publishers who own their properties and don’t share their success with creators. We don’t believe that a relationship with creators has to be adversarial and I think that’s something we’ve proven with the massive success Steven Grant has had with “2 Guns.”
Keith Giffen was the one who pioneered this deal with me back in 2005 when I was launching the company. He told me that he wanted BOOM! to have a stake in the projects that he published with us so that we would be as committed as he was. It’s that equal partnership with creators and alignment that have driven our success thus far. We’ve had an exciting line of creators embrace that philosophy in 2013 with the arrival of Mike Carey, Paul Jenkins, new original Clive Barker work in comics, Si Spurrier, Max Bemis, and Brian Stelfreeze, just to name a few.
Meanwhile, on Archaia’s side, Royden Lepp’s massive success with “Rust”Â has proven out this kind of reciprocal relationship between publisher and creator.
Sure, we work with different creators to create different kinds of projects. Archaia publishes a lot of original graphic novels, BOOM! publishes a lot of individual comics. But at our core, we share a philosophy that creators can have a positive, productive collaboration with their publisher.
Jack Cummins: I agree with Ross. We have very similar values and missions. We both believe in a relationship-driven approach, internally and externally, that has long-lasting partnerships. We both have passion for moving the industry forward and want to stand for doing great things well.
But we also both believe the business needs to change. We have to fix flaws in the distribution model that provides for better analysis and information. The digital and print distribution part of the industry needs to be more aligned with publishers and creators. All industry participants need to “get” that it is about growing the market and building a broader industry-wide readership, regardless of creator, publisher, or channel. Stay tuned for how Ross and I keep this moving.
That said, how did this deal come about? Who approached whom, and how fast did all this come together?
Cummins: For my part, I have made a point to know the different heads of my peers. In getting to know Ross over the past year, we found we had many common values, viewpoints and concerns about the industry. Over many discussions, it seemed like something that not only could happen, but should happen. After you come to the conclusion there is a good fit, you find a way to get it done. If you look at the interview I gave to CBR in October of last year, shortly after I took over, I highlighted the need to look at the industry differently, including strengthening distribution and marketing. Ross is a great partner for this.
Richie: Jack sums it up really well.
There are a lot of logistical questions surrounding this, but let’s start on the basic branding and publishing side of things. You’ve said Archaia will remain an imprint of BOOM! — what does that mean for current and future titles at Archaia? Will that side of the business continue to put its focus on big graphic novel releases, or is there some cross pollination going on where we’ll see even more serial comics publishing than they’ve done in the past?
Richie: I think our first priority is to focus on the business side of Archaia — on a logistics side, how we enable them to carry their product forward in a smooth, clean, straightforward way. BOOM! is a larger company so we will be able to use our mass to make product more attractive in trade terms to retailers.Â
On a secondary level, carrying Archaia’s pre-existing schedule forward is the next objective. Any way on an infrastructure basis we can enhance, augment, and strategize to improve matters is key.
After that we’ll want to see what Archaia’s wish list and wildest dreams are, and how we can fulfill that in the near and short term, because their creativity is smart and innovative.
We’ll want to listen to Archaia’s team to see what they think the relationship with BOOM! can trigger. I’m sure that on a day-to-day basis as they get to know us better they’ll see things that we don’t, because we’re too close to those issues, and that will create organic ways we can complement each other.
And then finally, we can bring some ideas to the table that we can suggest to the Archaia team, that they can choose to incorporate or not incorporate.
Cummins: Thank you, Ross. [Laughs] What’s left to be said?! Our creators will be happy to know that we are true to the vision and quality but leverage the business platform of BOOM! We are confident BOOM! will add to our ability to deliver our mission providing great stories in a sophisticated fashion. In addition, we feel our combined management teams will be great in leading the industry in innovation and quality while working side-by-side with creators regardless of the brand or imprint. We will each contribute to each other’s success as a single team. At Archaia, we have been looking at ways to slowly re-introduce serial comics on select titles as a way to introduce certain properties. In one of the first discussions Ross and I had, we had a great discussion of the pros and cons of hardcover graphic novels versus serial floppies. It shouldn’t be dogmatic, and it shouldn’t be exclusive. You have to evaluate titles on a case-by-case basis.
Another difference between the two publishers has been the kind of deals you’ve each worked out with your talent. BOOM! has staked its claim with a 50/50 ownership deal across the life of comics IP while Archaia has had a strong focus on creator-owned titles. Does this merger mean that Archaia will be a creator-owned arm of BOOM!, or is there some way the two ways of publishing will meet in the middle?
Cummins: We have both met creators’ needs in marginally different ways. Fundamentally, they both involve an inherent share in the economics of deals 50/50 and are partnerships.
Richie: As I pointed out in the first question, they’re actually both shared creator-participation models. That will make this a smooth and easy transition.
Central to our core values is that we seek out collaborations with creators who want to build properties with a company that can exhibit excellence in support of what they want to do — editorial talent that is non-obstructive and brings a keen, analytical eye to improve a project. Some of the best marketing in the space, the power of Simon and Schuster book distribution in the USA, HarperCollinsCanada in Canada, and powerful UK book distribution through Titan.
The nuts and bolts of our deals may vary slightly, but the core approach is the same.
In a practical people sense, will the Archaia crew be picking up stakes and joining the BOOM! offices or will they have a sort of “satellite campus” at their current digs? Are there expected to be any redundancies in staff due to the merger?
Cummins: Alas, we will be leaving our historic digs at Hollywood and Vine. Kidding aside, we have one team that will be in one location. We are delighted to have the Archaia half of the team move over to BOOM!’s offices.
Richie: Our intent is too keep the two teams intact. Beyond that, it’s really too soon to comment on something like this. Part of the appeal for us acquiring Archaia was bringing the incredibly talented people they have on their team into the BOOM! family.
Cummins: Some of this is pragmatic. But, the intent here is not to make any significant changes as the teams run pretty lean to begin with. I don’t think you can ever make promises on any employment — nor can you ever comment on employment issues in press releases. That is not responsible or appropriate.
In terms of specific Archaia properties, will all titles and partnerships currently under the Archaia banner be traveling along to BOOM! — both in terms of creator original titles and licensed deals like the Henson books? We understand that some books like Joshua Hale Fialkov’s “Tumor” have gone fully to their creators of late. Are you interested in resigning some of those titles under the new arrangement?
Richie: It’s a still too early to get into specifics, but yes, the mass majority of Archaia titles will continue to be published under the Archaia imprint at BOOM! The projects the Archaia team has been developing for the rest of the year will be released as planned. Again, our goal is to help Archaia maintain their creative vision and help assist them on the operations side. As far as any Archaia titles that have reverted back to creators, we’d absolutely love to have a conversation with any creator that would be open to it.
Cummins: Our collective plan in the short run (inherently through the end of the year), is to publish and distribute BOOM! and Archaia titles as previously planned, but obviously to take advantage of marketing and publishing synergies as soon as possible. As for Archaia titles that have reverted, those are on a case-by-case basis.
Specifically for Jack, you’ve been very forthcoming about “righting the ship” at Archaia in terms of the business and distro side of things since you came on. How much of that work was settled when the BOOM! deal happened? In other words, at this stage in the game, are all the assets, contracts and debts Archaia was dealing with coming over to BOOM!, or will some of those issues be a non-factor for BOOM! moving forward?
Cummins: First, the Archaia team did a magnificent job of righting the ship since last August. I could not be more proud of how they banded together, got about the business, and delivered. We have righted the ship. We really completed that within the past two months and our projected slate and revenues — as well as deals to be announced — over the next quarter are pretty impressive. All of our assets come over and I would say the debts are generally “ordinary course of business” issues that we are resolving as such.
I would say that this accomplishment is what actually enabled our deal with Ross to happen — we are in the best shape we have been at any point in the past couple of years. I would have been very comfortable staying independent, but this combination will be very powerful and dynamic. It is an incredible opportunity for the stakeholders of both companies. The best is yet to come.