comiXology Execs Pursue 'Super-Diverse' Comics for New Originals Line

It's been a newsworthy year for comiXology, the Amazon-owned, industry-leading distributor of digital comics. Back in May, the company announced comiXology Unlimited, an all-you-can-read program offering an array of select comics available to read (not own) for a monthly fee. This week, comiXology took another step closer to the model of popular entertainment platforms like Netflix or Hulu with the launch of comiXology Originals, with comics only available on the digital service.

The initial comiXology Originals consists of the "Adventure Time Marshall Lee Spectacular," a one-shot from BOOM! Studios featuring creators including Mariko Tamaki, Audrey Mok, Melanie Gillman, Trungles, S.M. Vidaurri, Asia Kendrick-Horton and Fabio Moon; comedic series "Valiant High" from Valiant Entertainment, placing Valiant's superheroes in high school with creators Daniel Kibblesmith, Derek Charm and cover artist David Lafuente; and "Marley’s Ghost," a completion of Harvey Kurtzman's adaptation of "A Christmas Carol," courtesy of Shannon Wheeler, Gideon Kendall and Josh O’Neill.

CBR News spoke with comiXology co-founder and CEO David Steinberger and Senior Director of Communications Chip Mosher about the philosophy behind comiXology Unlimited, the type of comics they're looking to feature and what the future may hold for the line.

CBR News: David, Chip, let's start at the obvious place -- we know how important original content for been for other online content platforms. Netflix is a huge example -- original content has defined that brand as something different than what it was just a few years ago. For comiXology, how important is this line in terms of moving things towards where you want them to be going forward?

David Steinberger: I think it's an important element, and it allows us to create some uniqueness and bring some unique content to the consumers that maybe wouldn't get made, or is a little off-center in some ways. We're trying to find really unique projects to further the capability to bring in new people to comics, as well as serving the core. The Kurtzman book, for instance, is an amazing, posthumous completion of a graphic novel that I think many, many, many comic book lovers are interested in seeing.

On the flipside of that, you've got "Adventure Time" or "Valiant High," where we're doing something unique and fun, and able to use those properties to reach out to audiences that should be reading comics, but maybe aren't right now.

It seems there's a definite philosophy behind the type of comics you're looking to do in the line; there's been an emphasis in the discussion about comics that are a little different, off center, and maybe not seen in other places. A big thing about the comiXology message is "making everyone a comic book fan;" giving people things they might not know exist in comics. What types of comics do you want in this line?

Chip Mosher: I think you hit the nail on the head there. When we were curating these debut titles, what we're looking for is titles that were unique in their own way. The defining criteria is, "Would these be great entry points for different people to start a love affair with the comic book medium?" With "Adventure Time: Marshall Lee," you have a one-shot based on one of "Adventure Time's" cult character, headlined by New York Times-best-selling author Mariko Tamaki, whose "This One Summer" is one of the graphic novel phenoms of the last year or so. I think that's going to bring in a whole new host of people, on a couple different levels, to comics, through comiXology and Kindle.

On the other hand, you have "Valiant High." You might have some people out there that are familiar with the Valiant superhero universe -- or aren't -- and this gives them a different way to go into that Valiant Universe in an interesting manner, and get exposed to Ninjak, Faith and Bloodshot in a wholly unique way, with some amazing creators -- Daniel Kibblesmith, who's an up-and-coming writer, working with Stephen Colbert on his show; Derek Charm, who's working on "Jughead" right now.

With the Kurtzman book, it's fantastic for anyone who wants a great graphic novel for the holiday season. In addition, for those who are really interested in comics history and output by one of the legendary creators in the medium, this also gives them something to experience.

"Adventure Time" and "Valiant High" are both done through existing publishers, BOOM! Studios and Valiant. What's the relationship between comiXology and the publishers here -- is the material produced solely by the publisher and comiXology is the platform for release, or is there a partnership in terms of getting those creators on board and shaping that content for comiXology?

Mosher: We have really deep relationships with the publishers on the day-to-day business level. We work with them on different marketing campaigns, different sales, and this is just another extension of that -- working with them to come up with different creative endeavors that will be unique to the platform, and get new customers into comics. We work with BOOM! all the time on a number of different things, so this is just another thing that we're working with them on. Same thing with Valiant. When it came to the Kurtzman book, we were working with Kitchen, Lind & Associates, which packages books for a number of different publishers, and the Kurtzman estate.

Steinberger: You can see we're not genre-bound at all. It's a super-diverse set of books, purposefully picked. If you think about how Amazon Studios approaches their work -- they have "Transparent," and "Catastrophe," which is a comedy, and they have "Man in the High Castle," which is a very serious drama -- they have this huge rage of stuff, but there's a core quality. Often, they try to fund things that wouldn't necessarily see the light of day.

I don't think for a second that something like "Adventure Time" isn't going to see the light of day without comiXology. At the same time, we like the idea of partnering with these publishers to make sure they're top quality, so we can really feel confident putting all our efforts behind it.

It feels like the natural next step would be comiXology publishing original content not in coordination with another publisher -- comiXology acting as its own publisher, effectively. Is that the plan for this line as it evolves?

Steinberger: No, it's really not. At this point, we have no inkling to try to go soup to nuts with this stuff. We really trust in the creators and publishers that we work with. If you think about, for instance, the Marvel TV shows, ABC and Marvel Television make all those shows, and yet they're distributed across ABC, Netflix and Hulu upcoming, for "Runaways." TV studios don't have the kind of presence in the market segment or the the name recognition from customers like comic book publishers do, so it's much more obvious in comic books that those types of partnerships are taking place. But it's the same as Amazon Studios -- generally speaking, not a lot of studio production being done by the actual Prime guys, or Netflix.

For the most part in the past, digital exclusives took advantage of that format specifically -- Marvel's Infinite Comics, for instance. This isn't that, at least not necessarily, which seems like a meaningful distinction -- do see a significant of doing titles which aren't what would traditionally be thought of as "digital exclusives" in regards to format, but are simply stories that are available digitally only?

Steinberger: I think the difference is a couple of things. Particularly when we did it way back in the day -- "Box 13" and the Infinite Comics that Marvel has done on Guided View Native -- what we were trying to encourage publishers to do was take advantage of the unique storytelling possibilities of the medium, which I still see as having a lot of value, and I wouldn't rule out some of that in the Originals line. At the same time, I think we're proven from the very beginning that reading comics on any form in comiXology -- with Guided View, without Guided View, on your big iPad or your small device -- is a pleasurable experience. We're much more, "How do we get unique stories and great creators working on them?" rather than specifically demanding a certain format.

It sounds like this is a long-term proposition -- how much do you want to grow this line? How ambitious are you in terms of its future and its importance to comiXology?

Steinberger: We have future plans, and Chip and company are working on what else will be a part of this. We're in a great position to be able to put things out, test different windows of release patterns, see how they're doing, rinse and repeat. I'm very, very bullish and excited about the program, and the opportunities to use it to bring more people to comics, and to comiXology and Kindle. Hopefully, it'll be as big as it can be, as long as it's serving that purpose.

This is the initial run -- ask me in a year how we're doing, and I'll be able to give you more information about how big we think it can get.

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