Kunoichi to Purchase Archaia Studios Press

Kunoichi to Purchase Archaia

Despite reports circulating yesterday, Archaia Studios Press is being acquired by Chicago-based Kunoichi Inc., and not Devil’s Due Publishing.

The confusion may be because DDP President Josh Blaylock also founded Kunoichi. There remain very close links between the two companies, with one 2007 profile and at least one press release referring to Kunoichi as the “sister company” of Devil’s Due. P.J. Bickett, Devil’s Due CEO, apparently owns Kunoichi.

In addition, ASP founder Mark Smylie says he had “some initial conversations” with DDP.

“Further cause for confusion may stem from the fact that we are still in separate talks with DDP about working together on a few opportunities once the Kunoichi acquisition is completed,” Smylie writes in an email, “including a potential publishing partnership of which we are one of several players in the fold. There’ll be more on all of that soon, I hope.”

Devil’s Due CEO P.J. Bickett acknowledged that discussion in a statement sent this morning: “While DDP and Archaia Studios Press had some initial exploratory conversations, DDP is not acquiring ASP. We are continuing to have conversations with Archaia about the possibilities of working together in some capacity, as we are with many other publishers both big and small.”

Under the terms of the Kunoichi deal, Smylie will remain as managing editor of the ASP titles.

Founded in 2002, ASP has been home to Smylie’s Artesia, David Petersen’s Mouse Guard, Alex Sheikman’s Robotika, and A. David Lewis and mpMann’s The Lone and Level Sands. In addition, the company has released English-language editions of Hub’s Okko and Matz and Luc Jacamon’s The Killer.

Rumor of an acquisition spread yesterday, accompanied by complaints from anonymous creators that their contracts with Archaia wouldn’t be honored under the new deal. In his email, Smylie acknowledged changes to the publishing agreements:

… we are indeed shifting from a more traditional publishing contract to something that can be better described as a media rights contract; this is in part a reflection both of the overall direction of the comics industry, for better or for worse — every company or individual investor that had talked to us about an acquisition expressed the same sentiment, that our IP approach would have to change to match our competitors — and Archaia’s interest in working with its creators on broader and more long term IP development. Despite the changes, we have tried to put in place as many guarantees of creator control and protection as we can; at root, we’re still all about trying to find creators who have a specific vision they want to pursue and letting them do that in a way which hopefully profits both them and the company. I’m signing Artesia to the company under the same contract as everyone else and am remaining on board as the managing editor, so I wanted to make sure that creators had as much final say over their properties as possible. We’re still in the process of finalizing a few individual creator contracts, but it’s looking like most of our previously published titles will be moving forward as part of Archaia’s new publishing schedule. We strongly believe that the new contract is competitive with industry standards and has a high degree of creator control that can these days only be beat by self-publishing.

Among yesterday’s rumors was an assertion that ASP creators are being pressured, “under threat of non-publication,” to sign the new agreements.

In an email sent this afternoon, Smylie said that those creators who don’t wish to sign on under the Kunoichi agreement will be permitted to take their properties elsewhere, “eventually.”

“The old contracts are still technically in force until the exit clauses are exercised, though we will try to expedite that for creators that seek an immediate exit and circumstances permit,” he said. “Several creators are already leaving the company or have expressed a desire to do so, and while we are sorry to see any of them leave, we will do our best to make sure they exit the company in a way that is fair to both sides.

“I do not know, as they have remained anonymous for the most part, who any of the creators are who are claiming that there are strong-arm tactics involved in getting people to sign the new contract,” Smylie continued. “But it should be said that (hopefully for the better) incoming ownership is seeking to change the basic template under which Archaia operates, and all of our creators (including myself) have to make a choice about whether they are willing to work under the new contract terms or not. If they choose not, then we will work to free their books from under contract in a way that is hopefully fair to all parties involved. But unfortunately simply retaining the old contract (which I do believe was one of the most creator-friendly in comics) is not an option, and that not everyone has been happy with the choice they are being asked to make.”

Smylie said that, under Kunoichi ownership, Archaia “is seeking to do is to represent the publishing and media rights for any book it publishes for a limited term, with reversion of rights occurring if we fail to get deals made for the creators.”

“The creators retain creative control of their books, are consulted during any negotiations for media rights, and have final approval over them,” he said. “The contract terms are, as far as I am aware, competitive with what the current trends are in the industry and in most cases I think will emerge favorably in critical comparison with what other companies might offer, given the control and approvals we have tried to build in for creators.”

A. David Lewis, writer of the Howard E. Day Prize-winning The Lone and Level Sands, is among those Archaia creators staying on board after the acquisition.

“Both Marv Mann and I are re-signing Some New Kind of Slaughter to finish the series) and The Lone and Level Sands (still in print) with the ‘new’ Archaia,” Lewis said. “We are doing so happily, since we think the contracts we have been offered are fair (and necessary!).”

In March 2007, ASP hired Joe Illidge, formerly of Milestone Comics, as editor and announced the addition of a dozen titles, followed a year later by eight more. However, the publisher stumbled in its release schedule, and in May revealed it would be restructuring following the departure of co-publisher Aki Liao “for personal reasons.”

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