For five years now, Zenescope Entertainment has provided a certain horror niche for comic fans with their Grimm Fairy Tales series and The Waking, and now has branched off into sci-fi realms with titles such as Merc and Agon, providing an eclecitc pallet for mature readers. Newsarama spoke to Zenescope founders Ralph Tedesco and Joe Brusha about their success, failures, and what their future could possibly hold.
Though first, they open up about their early days in the business and the beginning of Zenescope.
"[Joe and I] were both struggling screenwriters," said Ralph Tedesco. "I was an actor living in Los Angeles at the time, Joe was back here in Philly working some job he probably hated. And we sort of just started brainstorming one day when I was home in Philly for a visit. We just came up with this idea to start a company that would allow us to do what we wanted to do full-time, which was write and create properties."
"I was a huge comic book fan as a teenager and had started to get back into comics as an adult. When I started to look into the business side of the industry I was surprised to find that the majority of comic book readers were adults when it didn't seem like there was a lot of adult oriented material out there," added Joe Brusha. "Now I realize that most adult comic readers are reading superhero books and I enjoy Spider-Man and the X-Men as much as anyone else but it just seemed like there was a lack of books being published in other genres. Things like horror and fantasy. So we felt we could help develop that niche in the industry and maybe bring more mainstream readers to comics which is one of our main goals."
"I mean we didn't really know what we were getting ourselves into when we started this all," said Tedesco when asked about if he ever thought they'd last this long. "Neither Joe or I had a publishing or really any sort of comic book background at all so we went into this blind in many ways.. but we always had high hopes and we always had confidence. That being said, we were behind the eight ball so to speak in a lot of aspects of the business when we started out which put us at a bit of a handicap but at the same time not having preconceived notions about the industry helped us think outside the box with our titles and our approach and that turned out to be a very good thing."
"In the back of my mind I was always worried that something might happen and we might have to stop publishing at some point. But you're so busy with the day to day operations of the company that you can't let it effect how you do things." replied Brusha on their longevity. "Our goal is to be creating content and to be publishing for the foreseeable future. We've had our ups and downs over the first four years but we've always kept a positive attitude and tried to take the approach that we'll succeed no matter what obstacles might get in our way."
When facing the realization that most independent comics' success rate is less than stellar unless they have an established name attached, the founders had some rough patches along the way. "2008 was a tough time financially and we fell behind paying artists and rumors rapidly spread that we were going under," Tedesco explained. "We were frustrated because we grew so quickly for the first two years then the economic downturn sort of blindsided us and we needed to reel back on everything so fast and it caused a cashflow problem. It was certainly a difficult and trying experience and although it was frustrating and stressful at the time it was a reality check that we learned a lot from."
"It was kind of the perfect storm for us and not in a good way," Brusha added. "Some of the new titles we published didn't do as well as we hoped and we moved over to Diamond for book distribution where we had to buy back all our inventory and basically start all over with them. It really killed our cash flow at a time when it was almost impossible to get a loan and the banks were reducing our lines of credit. We are very fortunate that we were able to be able to stay afloat."
While times may have been tough in the past, they are optimistic towards the what has yet to come and do not believe they've reached their highest point just quite yet. "Definitely not. We're still in our infancy in terms of a company; we're still the new kid in this game," commented Tedesco. "If you look at all the other top 10 or so publishers, most of the successful indies out their that we respect such as Avatar, IDW, Boom and others have all been around for at least a few years longer than us. But we're striving to get to a point where we're one of the top 5 in the industry."
And their goals for the future? Tedesco said "Our goal is to grow this into something bigger and better each year while at the same time finding ways to set ourselves apart from the other publishers out there." Brusha added with "I kind of feel like we're just getting started. We've been able to build a solid base and now we can start to really expand on that. These first few years have been a real learning experience and I think we have a much better handle on the comic book business than we had a year or two ago. We expect 2010 to be a very big year for us and our plans are to keep growing and improving every year until we are a top 5 publisher."
With Zenescope's flagship title being Grimm Fairy Tales, they have had a blast thus far with the book and look towards the future. "We've got big plans for the Grimm Universe going forward," said Brusha. "I think we've only scratched the surface of what we can do with the series. We've got several more spin-offs planed and a second monthly series in the works. It's really amazing that we've made it to a milestone 50th issue. I guess that means that we have a pretty good fan base out there for the series which we hope to keep entertaining while bringing even more readers to the series and the Grimm universe. It's been a great ride so far and we hope to keep going strong for years to come."
Tedesco agreed. "It's been an incredible ride, it truly has. Looking back at all we've gone through to get to this point and all the hard work, care and effort we put into this series we are so appreciative to have made it to #50 and we love the way this series has matured and grown over the past four years. It really is an achievement that I'm both humbled by and very proud of."