Zenescope at Three: Talking to Ralph Tedesco

Zenescope at Three

About three years ago, a new company hit the scene, bringing a unique look to stories we’ve all seen, read, and heard a thousand times. They put the “Grim” in “Grimm,” and showed that those old stories still had some kick to them, especially when some horror was infused (the hot women didn’t hurt, either). A few years, a few licenses, and a few spin-offs later, Zenescope Entertainment is going strong, with more titles hitting the scene, and a lot more stories to tell. They even have properties turning into films, including the horror re-imagining of the classic Alice in Wonderland story. Small publishers crop up on a near constant basis, but very few get past one or two titles. We sat down with Ralph Tedesco, one half of Zenescope’s founding fathers, to talk about what makes a small publisher last, how they’ll break out of that stigma, and what’s to come.

Newsarama: Ralph, you and Joe Brusha started Zenescope in 2005. Why start your own company? Had you taken your story ideas anywhere else, or was it self-publish all the way?

Ralph Tedesco: Joe and I had been good friends for a long time and were both aspiring screenwriters. We were a bit frustrated with the inability to get our screenplays looked at so we turned to comic books and figured that it was a great medium to get our stories out there. Everything we wrote seemed to translate well into comics, or at least that’s what we convinced ourselves. The idea right away was to self-publish but I’m not sure if we knew exactly what we were getting into at the time... actually I know we didn’t realize what we were getting into at the time. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. At first we simply wanted to put one or two titles out there but then it turned into a much bigger project to say the least.

NRAMA: What did/does Zenescope have to offer that wasn’t already being offered in the industry?

RT: In my opinion it’s our not hesitating one second to think outside the box. And that’s not to take anything away from other publishers because some do and some don’t even have to think outside the box and they still kick ass. But we have to think differently than most in order to succeed. Plus I just feel that Joe and I tend to not worry about what anybody else thinks about what we’re doing. We simply create and publish stories that we would want to read ourselves and we’re really thankful that our fans get it.

NRAMA: How has the growth process worked for you? Obviously there are many more employees/creators than when you started…

RT: It’s been bumpy at times; every young company has growing pains, especially in the first few years. But we had some luck early on and I like to believe that our drive and passion has steadied the ship whenever we did hit a storm. Plus it helps that over the few years we definitely have found some amazing artistic talent which has also helped us get to where we are.

It all started with just Joe and I in an office in the basement of his house and now we have 8 employees and a great office in the Philly ‘burbs… Let me just say, I do not miss the basement!

NRAMA: Do you see the company growing at a faster pace than you planned? There seem to be several new titles in the recent months, and more to come.

RT: When I stop to look back and take it all in I realize that the company has grown pretty darn fast but it feels like a snail’s pace to us most of the time. I think we’re both pretty impatient guys so we constantly need to take the time to step back and make sure we continue to expand at a steady pace and not get overly aggressive which is difficult for us.

NRAMA: You’ve had some solid licenses- what have those done to help the company? Any others in the pipeline?

RT: I definitely think it has helped. We wanted to do a license right off the bat in order to garner some notoriety and we actually contacted Stephen King about a year before his Marvel announcement because we really wanted to do some of his lesser known short stories as comics. We spoke to his literary agent for a bit but obviously that one didn’t work out... After that we approached New Line Cinema about the license for Se7en. We didn’t have much out as far as a track record for New Line to get excited about us but they were really cool and listened to our pitch, looked at some art samples we put together and they gave us a shot.

To answer the second part of your question, licensing is not the main focus of our business model any longer but there are a few things we’re interested in doing that could happen down the road so we’ll see.

NRAMA: What’s doing better for you right now, single issues or collections? Are you seeing penetration into the bookstore market?

RT: Well our collection of trade paperbacks and graphic novels are just now starting to accumulate. For awhile we only had a couple collections out but now we’re at six I think and we’ll be at close to twelve by the end of the year. Book distributors want you to have that library so they can push your stuff to the Borders and Barnes & Nobles, etc. But we are finally beginning to get bookstore penetration which is a very big deal for any publisher and especially so for smaller guys like us.

NRAMA: Is there a single “secret to success,” or a large combination of factors?

RT: Wow. I’m still trying to figure that out myself. I believe it’s a combination of factors though. It starts with the drive to succeed, then it’s the going out and doing it on your own terms and not being afraid to fail. From there it’s working your butt off and if things don’t work out at least you have no regrets. I know that’s an overused cliché but I live my life by that cliché so I’ll keep spouting it off.

NRAMA: What have been the best and worst parts of being a small publisher? Can you speak to the advantages and challenges?

RT: Best part of being a small publisher…. Still thinking….hmmm…. honestly the best part is being able to watch something that we started from almost nothing grow as it has. I hope one day we aren’t considered ‘small’ but at least ‘decent-sized’ now that would be nice.

The main challenge to being a small publisher is what you’d probably expect it to be: our budget certainly isn’t that of a powerhouse like Marvel or DC or Dark Horse or a few others so that hinders our ability to reach new fans as quickly as we would like.

NRAMA: One hot button topic is that of digital comics, both legal and otherwise. What is your position on bittorrent comic sharing? How about legal services like Wowio.com or ClickWheel.net?

RT: On one hand you worry that such sites take sales away from publishers and in turn creators, artists, etc. but on the other hand I feel that a majority of fans and of course collectors ultimately want to have that book physically in hand because it’s not just written words on paper, it’s artwork and it’s also a collectible. So perhaps these sites can actually help promote comics and reach fans that might not have otherwise been into comics before. Next thing you know those new fans are checking out their local retailer. At least that’s what I hope will happen.

NRAMA: Well, three years down. What’s coming next for Zenescope?

RT: We do have a lot planned. We have the sequel mini-series to Return To Wonderland shipping now, Beyond Wonderland. It’s incredible because we have some amazing artists doing covers for the project including superstars like David Finch and Mike Deodato. We also have The Straw Men coming out soon, that’s based on a best-selling novel by Michael Marshall and is a scary-as-hell thriller about a network of serial-killers. Coming soon this fall we have Stingers being released and that’s a sci-fi ‘Aliens’ type miniseries. On top of those titles we are pretty loaded up for the end of ’08 and early ’09. We’re keeping busy, let’s just put it that way. We’re tackling Pinocchio in Grimm finally, too.

Newsarama Note: Check out art from that project above

NRAMA: Thanks Ralph, and congratulations. Anything you’d like to say to the readers out there in comic book land?

RT: One quick thing: Whether or not you read Zenescope titles I just want to thank those of you reading this for continuing to support comics, trades and graphic novels, it’s the fans like you who make this industry go and it’s very much appreciated.

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