The comic book industry, namely publishers outside the “Big Two” of Marvel and DC, saw a major shift last week, when BOOM! Studios acquired Archaia Comics. BOOM!, a major player in the indie world in the direct market with licenses like Planet of the Apes and creator-owned stories like Suicide Risk combining with the major book store presence of Archaia with everything from dark stories like Last Days of an Immortal to brilliant Jim Henson collaborations like Tale of Sand is unquestionably a major event in the world of publishing.
Looking forward at the now combined company, we spoke with the founders of each: Ross Richie of BOOM! Studios and Mark Smylie of Archaia to see why the merger took place, how Archaia will fit within BOOM! and what makes each publisher similar – and unique – in the current marketplace. Richie and Smylie also revealed some of their initial growth plans, and how Archaia is going to refocus on the Direct Market.
Newsarama: Ross, let's start with you and the obvious, broad question, what about Archaia interested BOOM!?
Ross Richie: It's fascinating how things work out over the years. On the day of the big announcement, Mark Smylie and I had a great phone call amid all the chaos and excitement and remembered for a second how back in 2004, the first time I set up at San Diego Comic-Con as a publisher, I set up next to Mark. We instantly hit it off—it's been nearly a decade since that incident and it's clear from the first moment you meet Mark that he is a brilliant mind focused on quality with a clear artistic vision. We have been following each other's careers ever since.
Nrama: Likewise, Mark, How does BOOM!'s publishing style and philosophy align with Archaia's?
Mark Smylie: I think we run on parallel but separate tracks, which is what makes this interesting for us. BOOM! and Archaia do similar things, but we’re complementary to each other rather than being mirror images. If we were doing the exact same things I don’t think you’d wind up with the same breadth of material as the combined companies now represent. Both companies tend to be interested in very strong genre work — action/adventure, drama, crime-noir, fantasy, science fiction — but approach the genres with different materials and methodologies. So we get to combine strong licensed properties with two sets of creator-owned properties and titles brought in from Europe all under the same roof.
Nrama: And, just to be clear, since Archaia is remaining as an imprint, their staff comes along for the ride?
Richie: Yes. They've been our pals for years.
Nrama: Both of you, the comic book industry as a whole has been seeing a period of growth for the last couple of years, even as far back as a decade now – how is this merger of companies built to play off that strength and even increase it?
Richie: BOOM! is here to augment what Archaia is already doing and help it grow. We have the best book trade deal in the business with Simon and Schuster in the USA and HarperCollins in Canada. We have a better discount with retailers which means that retailers will make a better profit margin now on every Archaia book they buy, which will enable them to carry the Archaia catalog deeper in their stores.
We're excited about their addition to the family and the distinct style they bring to the table and are looking forward to cheering them on as it grows.
Smylie: As the industry has grown over the last decade, I think you’ve seen a broad proliferation of both the kinds of books and titles that are available to readers and then also an expansion of the kinds of readers that are (re)discovering comics and graphic novels. We’re really in an incredible period for comics, with an amazing amount of creative talent and energy pouring into the industry. And with the combination of BOOM! and Archaia, I think we’re starting to approach the idea of a one-stop shop company where readers can find a rich, broad, and deep catalog of genres and styles and creators all in one place.
Nrama: Archaia is known for a certain style, with high-quality graphic novels in more ways than one – critical successes that also use high-end paper, cover treatments – they're designed for a book shelf next to any classic novels. While Archaia will remain an imprint, will the look and feel of their books stay the same as well?
Nrama: And on the flip side, what sorts of ways do you think Archaia will influence the BOOM parent company moving forward, and vice versa, how might BOOM influence the Archaia part of the company? Or, more specifically, what one thing from each company do you think the other can most learn from?
Richie: I am not bringing in any preconceptions about either company.
It's important that Archaia remain Archaia no matter what. Archaia has built a sophisticated, dedicated fan base and we absolutely want to honor that relationship. Any BOOM! influence will be a discussion and ultimately, their choice.
I'm excited to find out what they can teach us! I’m looking forward to learning from the smart team over there! They do a lot of things well.
Smylie: As Ross noted earlier, he and I first met a long time ago, and Filip Sablik, BOOM!’s VP of Publishing and Marketing, was Archaia’s first brand manager at Diamond Comics back when I started self-publishing. So I think the sense for us was that if there was anyone out there that would understand what Archaia has been trying to do it would be the guys at BOOM!. At the same time, we’ve watched in admiration as BOOM! has grown and expanded, and we hope there’s a lot that we can learn from the skill they’ve brought to the business side of things. I think for us this is an interesting moment to grow something new that combines the strengths and energies of both companies.
Nrama: The press release mentions Hollywood and feature films – how much of a focus is it for the joint company going forward to bring your properties to the big screen?
Richie: It's hard to do press without mentioning 2 Guns because it's coming out from us on August 2nd (right around the corner). With two gigantic movie stars like Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, it's naturally going to be an attention magnet.
We're lucky to work with a wide range of talented creators who are making engaging projects. Naturally, we've seen that Hollywood gets excited about that and tries to translate it over into their arena.
But our focus is telling great stories in comics. If Hollywood does something with that, great. But if they don't it doesn't change what we do.
Smylie: The primary focus of publishing is and always should be publishing. That said, no one working in comics can ignore the ways in which film and TV development play an important part in establishing both individual titles in a broader mass market audience and also the companies that publish those titles. I think there’s a lot of interesting momentum to look at when you combine both what Ross and his crew have done with 2 Guns coming out this summer and what Stephen Christy has been doing for us in getting projects set up in development at Fox and Warner Bros.
Philosophically I think an interesting question for us from a publishing perspective is trying to reach the point where the film and TV side of things doesn’t matter. But oddly enough, the best way to get there is through success in both publishing and ancillary development, particularly in exploring new models that can increase control over rights and production on the film and TV side of things. And not just film but all aspects of gaming as well, from roleplaying games to video games.
Nrama: Archaia's focus has been largely the bookstore market rather than the direct market – does BOOM have plans to increase Archaia's DM presence?
Richie: Our job will be to serve the Archaia brand by increasing their presence in all channels. One of the strengths BOOM! has is we’ve always focused on growing a variety of channels including the direct market, book market, specialty markets, international licensing, and beyond.
Smylie: Agreed, and personally I do think that Archaia has moved away from the direct market over the last few years and I think it would be interesting to see us use this moment to reconnect a bit there. Aside from Mouse Guard, we haven’t been doing much in terms of traditional floppy comics, which is a format I still have great fondness for, and it would be interesting to see if we can pick a few interesting projects to do in series format. The direct market remains for me your starting ground, it’s where you connect with the most passionate fans of the medium. And I think we’d like to readdress that a bit.
Nrama: Finally, gentlemen, please tell BOOM! fans why they should be checking out Archaia's stories, and tell Archaia fans why BOOM! has something to offer them.
Richie: I am not entirely sure there actually is any cross-pollination! Part of the fun of this deal is that our brands complement each other without cannibalizing. I fully expect Archaia fans to buy Archaia books because they find something in there they don't get from BOOM!.
Deathmatchand Mouse Guard are very different products. But then again, so are Peanuts and Planet of the Apes. We’ve always felt our greatest strength is that we have books for all types of fans.
I think as a result of this deal we broaden our reach into having a greater variety of high quality products that intersects with more fans. If some fans naturally cross over the different publishing lines, terrific.
But that's not the focus of the acquisition.
Smylie: I do think the focus of this at the business level has been the shared love of the medium, of art and story, that we all have, along with a (perhaps surprisingly) shared vision of what role comics and graphic novels can play in the publishing and entertainment industries at large.
But for readers, I do think there are some nice ways in which the two catalogs complement each other, and I think fans of both companies may be surprised at how well the two catalogs fit. Fans of BOOM!’s many horror offerings will hopefully find books like Awakening, Killing Pickman, and Black Fire to their taste, and vice versa; fans of 2 Guns or Unthinkable will love The Killer. We have all-ages offerings like Mouse Guard and Rust and Spera (and for the more macabre, Billy Fog) to complement KaBOOM!’s classics like Peanuts and Garfield, and of course I’m a huge personal fan of Mike Kunkel’s Herobear and the Kid and think it fits in perfectly alongside our all-ages offerings. Fans of BOOM! Town should find plenty in our offerings to enjoy, and once again vice versa. And Archaia offers creator-owned and European fantasy and science fiction stories like Okko, The Secret History, Siegfried, Last Days of an Immortal and Cursed Pirate Girl to go alongside some classic BOOM! licenses such as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Farscape, and Elric.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that this is one of those situations where the whole will wind up being greater than the sum of its two parts.