ComiXology Originals Moves Into Creator-Owned Comics, Adds Print Option

ComiXology looks to take a big step forward with its comiXology Originals line -- comics exclusive to the digital distribution platform -- with Friday's announcement of both moving into publishing creator-owned comics for the first time, and offering a print-on-demand option for select comiXology Originals titles.

This is a significant expansion of the comiXology Originals, which has been primarily driven by comics released in tandem with publishers, such as Marvel's Avengers: Back To Basics and Valiant Entertainment's Valiant High. It's a move that could have a real impact on the comics industry: By publishing original creator-owned material directly, along with adding a print option, the leading digital distributor has moved closer to an analogous position to Netflix or comiXology's parent company, Amazon -- creating its own unique content while still distributing the work of a variety of other publishers.

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The news is set to be unveiled Friday afternoon via a livestream on Twitch, with the initial lineup of creator-owned material unveiled: Savage Game, created by Ryan Kalil of the NFL's Carolina Panthers, written by Shawn Kittelsen, and art by Chris B. Murray; Superfreaks written by Elsa Charretier & Pierrick Colinet and illustrated by Margaux Saltel; Elephantmen 2261: The Death of Shorty, the latest from the long-running Richard Starkings franchise, with artists Axel Medellin and Boo Cook; and Ask For Mercy from Starkings and artist Abigail Jill Harding. All are available now and free to read for members of Amazon Prime, Kindle Unlimited and comiXology Unlimited, and available for purchase on comiXology and Kindle.

In a nod to the binge-watching method of Netflix and Amazon, the complete Superfreaks series is available to read now (as individual issues, not in graphic novel format). Savage Game is now available via print-on-demand as well as digitally, and collections of Elephantmen and Ask for Mercy will also be offered in print.

And that's not all: comiXology has also made public an impressive list of creators with upcoming, yet-to-be-announced creator-owned comiXology Originals: Tyler Crook, Kristian Donaldson, Alti Firmansyah, Sam Humphries, Megan Kearney, Kel McDonald, Hope Nicholson, Mike Norton, MK Reed, Mark Sable, Tim Seeley, C. Spike Trotman, Jen Vaughn and Magdalene Visaggio.

For more, CBR talked to Chip Mosher, comiXology’s Head of Content, and David Steinberger, comiXology's CEO and co-founder, about the large-scale plans for comiXology Originals, what this lineup of creator-owned comics says about the program, the talent involved and whether or not these moves may make comiXology a competitor to some of the publishers they work closely with on the distribution side of the business.

CBR: David, Chip, this announcement feels like a big deal for comiXology Originals, and you're definitely positioning it that way with the Twitch livestream. comiXology Originals had been a comparatively smaller part of the overall comiXology picture -- how big of a piece of the puzzle do you see this program, and how important is it to keep growing it?

David Steinberger: I think the way I position it is, we are looking for the opportunities for us to be able to experiment; changing and experimenting with release windows, releasing things episodically versus the binge method with Superfreaks. It's something that's really important to us. Putting great content into our subscription program is also incredibly important to us. Having those two things together just makes us want to experiment, try a few things. If they work out, we'll increase how much we do it. If they don't, we'll change tactics and try again, you know?

Looking at the specific projects being announced, what significance do you see in these books in what they say about the overall vision of the Originals program?

Chip Mosher: Given that we're making all these titles available via Prime on release -- so internationally, if you're a Prime customer, you'll be able to read these books for free -- our guiding principle on content has been, "Are these projects great for people who have never read a comic before?" Savage Game, for instance, it's a 60-page, one-and-done graphic novel. It's super-strong, and if you've never read a comic book before, it's a great starter comic. I think you can say that for Elephantmen, I think you can say that for Ask For Mercy, and I think you can say that also for Superfreaks.

One thing that's clear, from both the new titles and previous comiXology Originals, is that it looks like deliberately wide swath of genres and tones. How important is that element?

Mosher: We're looking at experimenting with different release strategies, be it the subscription services, or be it binge-reading. We want to have content that has mass appeal. Our mission is to make everybody on the planet a comics/graphic novel or manga fan. The whole comiXology Originals program really serves our mission.

You've announced a pretty major league list of additional creators with comiXology Originals titles to be announced in the coming months. How aggressively are you developing this line, and the types of creators you're working with?

Mosher: We have these titles that we're announcing and releasing at the same time, and then at San Diego Comic-Con we'll reveal the other series and titles coming out. We're super, super-happy with the group of people that we're woking with for the 2018 rollout, and we'e definitely looking to add more.

Not to ask either of you to speak for these creators, but in what you've observed in your positions, what do you see as this programming offering that's unique? Given the profile of the talent named, you could imagine they'd be able to bring their projects to other, more traditional outlets.

Steinberger: The way I think about it is, obviously this initial group of creators for us are creators that are experimental and excited by the idea of being part of a line that's going to get some amount of visibility throughout comiXology and Kindle. For us, the way we think about it is, comiXology has been part of Amazon for over four years now, and one of the things that really resonated with us when we joined Amazon was, they're very customer-obsessed. It's one of their leadership principles, and that was true for comiXology, as well.

What's interesting is, you can also be customer-obsessed towards creators -- what services you provide, what environment you provide them to flourish in. I think everybody would probably say it's super-interesting to be able to be a part of something where we, as a part of Amazon, can highlight these works and provide some assistance to some of the other places where IP is being presented -- whether that's Amazon Studios, or video games, whatever. Even Amazon Publishing, who do a lot of prose books. So I think that's one reason they like working with us.

I think for the most part, it's, we talked to them at the right time, so they were excited by the prospect of being highlighted this way. They didn't mind us playing with release schedules. And I think even having seen the [print-on-demand] quality, feeling like, "Oh, I can have my work in print as well, and it looks amazing," is a big highlight for a creator.

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