Meet STELA, The Creator-Owned ‘Next Revolution’ Of Digital Comics

Stela preview
Credit: Stela
Credit: Stela

What if you could read digital comics as easily as you read your Facebook wall or Twitter feed? A new digital comics company named Stela wants to give you that -- direct from comic creators themselves.

Launching in early 2016 on iOS with an Android release afterwards, Stela sees itself as both a digital comics platform like comiXology and a publisher like Image Comics. Like Image, Stela’s original content is creator-owned comics by some of the American industry’s top names. Stela has five titles planned for its launch, amounting to the equivalent of 170 new pages of digital comics per month starting out.

Headed up by former Ubisoft (and AiT-PlanetLar) staffer Ryan Yount and editor Jim Gibbons, Stela is based around the idea of vertical scrolling to read comics like social media instead of the pinch and zoom that currently pervades most digital comics reading.

Newsarama talked with Yount and Gibbons about this upstart company and how they plan to change the way digital comics are read.

Newsarama: There are many digital comic platforms, including the major one with comiXology. What makes Stela different?

Credit: Stela

Ryan Yount: The way we’re looking at it is that there are a lot of things out there, but when we launch we’re aiming to be the premier mobile app for comics. The primary difference between Stela and others is that we’re not trying to take the printed comic book page and wedge it onto mobile devices. Our comics are all new original comics, all commissioned to be created specifically for mobile and specifically for our format. It’s mobile native.

Stela’s format is a vertical feed you just have to thumb down to read. It’s a feed like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and other widely used social platforms. So readers aren’t trying to pinch and zoom – it just works.

The other big thing is we’re not trying to “CD-ROM” it and add extra features. It’s just comics; no sound effections, no semi-automatic animation. We’re not trying to create an interactive experience: it’s just comics.

Jim Gibbons: I’ll expand on that a little. The main thing for me is the fun potential of Stela is that it’s launching at a time where comic books are maybe more accessible than they’ve ever been with digital and print. With Stela we’re taking what we think is the next evolution of the process to make the digital format even more accessible.

For readers who can’t figure out the Direct Market or can’t find a comic store easily, it takes about 30 seconds for someone to download a phone app and read comics.

Credit: Stela

The other thing is Stela isn’t just a platform; we’re a publisher as well. We’re going out, partnering with creators and publishing brand new, creator-owned works exclusively here at Stela.

Nrama: And one of your first titles will be Out With A Bang by Stuart Moore, Tony Talbert, John Heebink, Chris Marrinan and Marissa Louise. What can you tell us about it?

Yount: It’s an offbeat superhero title. All of us here at Stela are fond of superhero stuff, but we don’t feel like we’re chained to it. Since we’re not launching to the Direct Market, we can explore other genres. Anytime we consider publishing a superhero comic, there’s got to be something there in terms of a hook or heart.

Out With A Bang’s hook is it’s superheroes in a retirement home. That could be just a flat joke to play off of, but Stuart and the artists really open up the heart of the main character.

Nrama: ComiXology dabbled in original content with Box 13, but isn’t pursuing that currently. For Stela, do you consider yourself a platform first, or a publisher?

Credit: Stela

Yount: Chicken or egg? Don’t try to label us. [laughs]

We are doing both. Our core team is in two groups: development and editorial. Jim and I are editorial, and our development team is building the app. We’re working together on features.

Gibbons: We’re a platform because our delivery method requires a new format. Many webcomics creators post their work on Tumblr and the like where you can vertically scroll to read it, but for publisher’s it’s a new format.

Yes, we could just be a platform and just find content that works, but instead we wanted to work with creators. To see what they bring to us, and be there on the ground floor to make sure the comics we do are optimized to be the best and most exciting when delivered in the Stela format.

Nrama: That being said, do you have any intention of putting comics by outside publishers or creators on Stela’s app?

Credit: Stela

Yount: We’ve talked about the potential of that, but nothing is in the works. The big hurdle would be adapting it to our format.

If we get to a place where everyone wants to be doing our format, it might make sense.

Gibbons: The great flexibility of being a digital publisher is that many things are possible as we grow and evolve.

Nrama: Can you tell us about the Stela company, and who makes up the team?

Yount: We have about seven of eight on staff, and we’re a fairly tight team. Most of our staff comes from mobile gaming. Jim, as well as our PR person Steve Sunu, comes from Dark Horse. But most of our staff comes from mobile gaming and other app platforms.

Gibbons: When I started talking with them about joining Stela, one of the things that impressed me was that it as a group of people who wanted to do comics to reflect the way comics are in 2015. So many publishers have been around for a while and have a certain way they do things, and that leads to very glacial changes in comics. I was very excited to be approached by a publisher who wanted to launch a new line and a new company for 2015 and the modern comics audience.

Nrama: Stela won’t be ala carte like ComiXology, but will be subscription-based. How will that work?

Yount: Simple – all of our titles, all you want, for one flat price.

That subscription rate covers not just Stela, but also pays the creators as well. Stela works off a profit-split model that allows for dividing up the revenue for these creator-owned titles.

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