Idea and Design Works, LLC, better known to comics fans as IDW Publishing, celebrated its tenth anniversary in March. From the early days of Ash Wood art books and "CSI" licensed comics to its major successes like Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith's "30 Days of Night" and titles including "Wormwood," "Doctor Who," "Angel," "Star Trek," "GI JOE," the Library of American Comics archives, and more, IDW has been defined by high production values and distinctive artwork.
CBR News spoke with co-founder and president Ted Adams and Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall about the company's development, highlights, and plans for the future.
Adams explained that he, Alex Garner, Kris Oprisko, and Robbie Robbins founded Idea and Design Works, LLC in 1999 as a creative service company, providing artwork and graphic design to companies such as trading card manufacturer Upper Deck and video game strategy guide publisher BradyGames. "We still do this kind of work, but it's much less 'public' than our publishing business," Adams told CBR.
All of IDW's founders had previously worked with WildStorm Productions prior to the Jim Lee studio's acquisition by DC Comics, and their common experience contributed to IDW's energy in those early days. "In addition to WildStorm, I worked at Eclipse, Dark Horse, and Todd McFarlane Productions. I learned different things at each place but at WildStorm, I think we all learned that it was possible to have a very driven work environment that still left room for people to enjoy what they do for a living," Adams explained. "John Nee and Jim Lee are two of the smartest people I've ever met and I respect the way they treat the people around them."
IDW's start as a comic book publisher came in 2001, when Ashley Wood approached Adams about producing an art book. That book would become "Uno Fanta: The Art of Ashley Wood," and led IDW to pursue further publishing projects, including Steve Niles' series of Cal McDonald prose novels. "Both Ash and Steve were old friends of mine and we really enjoyed publishing their work," Adams recalled. "Around that same time, we created a trading card game for Upper Deck based on the 'Survivor' television show, which meant that we were working closely with CBS. I asked them if they'd be interested in doing 'CSI' comic books. They were and that really set the direction for the company that we follow today -- a diverse publishing line that includes both creator-driven and licensed titles."
From the beginning, Ted Adams wanted IDW to stand out from the crowd. "I felt there was no point in IDW copying what Marvel and DC were doing. They did (and continue to do) superhero comics as good as they can be done and I knew that if we were going to differentiate ourselves, it would have to be by being different from the other books on the shelf," he explained. "We tried to accomplish that primarily with the writers and artists that we worked with -- in particular, our goal was to work with artists who didn't look like 'traditional' US comic book artists. We also tried to bring smart print production to our projects -- looking at what we could do with paper stock and printing effects, like the use of UV, foil, and emboss."
As IDW has grown over the years, the company has published a diverse list of titles, and counts among its fanbase comics art enthusiasts, aficionados of classic comic strips, and, of course, fans interested in contemporary TV tie-in series and original comics by prominent creators. "I believe IDW is the most diverse comic book publisher in the market and continuing that diversity is what interests me the most," Adams said. "Many fans know IDW for the books they like the most. To some fans we're Ash Wood's or Ben Templesmith's publisher. For other fans, we're the home of The Transformers, Star Trek, or Doctor Who. For many fans, we're the home of original horror comics like '30 Days of Night' or 'Locke & Key.' And other people only follow the comic strip reprints published under the Library of American Comics."
On the business end, IDW Publishing entered a new stage in 2007 when IDT Internet Mobile Group purchased a majority interest in the company. All four of the IDW founders remain with the company, though, and Adams explained that day-to-day changes have been minimal. "Howard Jonas, the founder of IDT, had a children's book division (Worthwhile Books) which we've brought to market. Other than that, they're very happy with what we've accomplished since they made their purchase and let me continue to run IDW as I always have. They've been great partners -- providing a sounding board when I've wanted one and giving us access to capital in a way that we didn't have before."
As to plans for 2009 and beyond, Adams indicated that IDW would continue to expand its list of art books, reprints, licenses, and original material. "We've got an amazing editorial team that is putting together a terrific publishing schedule."
Chris Ryall is a prominent member of that editorial team, having served as Publisher and Editor-in-Chief for five years. Ryall reiterated Adams's vision of an increasingly diversified IDW, citing the publisher's joint effort with ComicMix.com, which will offer John Ostrander and Tim Truman's "GrimJack" and Mike Grell's "Jon Sable, Freelance" later this year; upcoming Library of American Comics archives like "Bloom County" and "Family Circus"; and deluxe editions of "The Rocketeer" and "Captain Canuck" as examples of IDW's forthcoming product.
IDW has also begun offering comics on the iPhone through iVerse.com, with "Star Trek: Countdown" being a Featured App in the iTunes store. However, Ryall and Adams were tight-lipped about future plans for digital media.
Commenting on IDW's move up Diamond Comic Distributors' market share charts, where it generally sits as fourth largest publisher but overtook Dark Horse for the number three position in March, Ryall remarked, "I don't mind the air up here, so hopefully the moves we're making keep working for retailers and fans alike and allow us to keep growing like we have over the previous decade."
In his time with the publisher, Ryall has gained a few insights into the comics industry. "I've learned that there are no sure things in comics other than 'work hard to keep both retailers and fans happy,'" the editor said. "Because not only are we absolutely dependent on both, but both sides are understandably opinionated about what they like and what they don't, and they make sure to let us know what they think, good and bad. Which is great, because then it means we're all in this together, more partners than anything else.
"It's been important to me personally in my time here to let people know that we actually care about what we're doing, we take pride in being a comics publisher and trying to provide books that help grow retailers' business and gives fans entertainment enough to justify their loyalty to us. "
Ryall continued, "We also operate under a guiding principle of doing comics that we like, not just doing comics only for a quick buck. If your head and heart aren't in the titles you're publishing, that comes across pretty quickly to fans. Also, working on books you don't like just feels a bit too much like work.
"Also, I learned that there are really no days off in comics. And if there ever are, I find that I'd rather be working on comics anyway."
Looking back at highlights from IDW's founding to the present, Ted Adams identifies prominent projects as well as recognition from within and without the comics industry. Some of Adams' memories include:
- Publishing "Uno Fanta" by Ash Wood and "Savage Membrane: A Cal McDonald Casebook" by Steve Niles. Ash and Steve were friends before IDW and I'm proud that we still publish them today.
- Selling the movie rights to "30 Days of NIght" and going to the LA premiere with Steve and Ben Templesmith.
- Being named "Publisher of the Year" by Diamond Comics in 2004. We've gone on to win the award 4 more times out of the last 5 years.
- Picking up the comic book rights to The Transformers from Hasbro.
- Publishing "Angel: After the Fall" by Brian Lynch, with a plot by Joss Whedon.
- Being named one of the "Top Global Licensees" by License! magazine. IDW was the only comic book company to appear on the list.
- Seeing Dean Mullaney's "The Complete Terry and the Pirates, Vol. 1" win an Eisner Award. Dean's Library of American Comics is a personal favorite of mine.
- Publishing "Locke & Key" by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. I love the comic and Joe and Gabriel are two of the most talented and nicest guys I've met.
An in-depth history of IDW Publishing can be found in the hardcover volume, "IDW: The First Decade," on sale in May. "This book is an oral history of IDW by the founders of the company, Chris Ryall, and key writers and artists," Adams said. "It's impossible for me to be objective about something I've spent so much time working on but I think it's a unique look at the creation of a comic book company. My hope is that it'll be interesting for anyone who wants to learn more about the 'business' or 'art' of making comic books."
"The book also offers up some fun interviews/chats with interesting and creative types like Clive Barker, Joe Hill, Gene Simmons, Ben Templesmith, Steve Niles, Ashley Wood, and many others," added Chris Ryall. "And comes with a bonus comic book with all-new 'Locke & Key,' 'Fallen Angel,' 'Wormwood,' and 'Zombies Vs. Robots Meet Popbot' stories, too. Along with a second book that features every single freakin' cover we published through December 2008. So it's a pretty interesting and visual artifact of where we've been and a glimpse into where we're headed, too."