Stephen Christy was announced as editor-in-chief of Archaia Comics in April of this year during the C2E2 convention in Chicago, having previously served for about a year as the publisher's "director of development."
In that short timeframe, Archaia has seen steady buzz grow over upcoming projects like Tale of Sand, an adaptation of an unproduced screenplay by Jim Henson, and Return of the Dapper Men, an original graphic novel written by Hawkeye and Mockingbird writer Jim McCann and with decoupage art from Janet Lee. Then there's the company's most popular comic, Mouse Guard, which continues to inspire a variety of spinoffs.
But what might be most impressive is Christy's age. At 25, he's even a couple years younger than comic book prodigy Jim Shooter was when he became editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics in 1978. Christy himself downplays it — stating "I'm very lucky" — but is already a veteran of the business, having previously worked at Devil's Due Productions.
Newsarama talked via phone to Christy about how he's adjusting to the EIC position, the advantages of making comic books for comics' sake, and the subtle yet vital differences between licenses and partnerships.
Newsarama: Stephen, you’ve been on the job for four months now. How has it been so far?
Stephen Christy: The day-to-day of my job actually hasn’t changed a huge amount. I was previously director of development before this, and I was focusing a bit more on the Hollywood side of the business, and the partnership side. Being in LA, we have a lot of strategic partnerships and relationships with companies out here. It’s actually been really nice to kind of pull back from that a little bit and focus on the editing a little bit more. Archaia has never been a comic book publisher that chases Hollywood money.
We felt that there was an absence in the marketplace of a publisher that really put heart and soul into every single thing they did; that wasn’t motivated by Hollywood stuff, or that wasn’t tied to trying to chase the pre-existing superhero market, that could really be creating comics, really for people that don’t read comics, in a weird way. Creating comics that anyone can pick up and enjoy. Creating them in hardcover format as opposed to going the standard issue to trade paperback, the way the rest of the industry kind of does it. It’s been really fascinating to see the increase of brand awareness that Archaia has seen over the last year and a half.
Nrama: What would you credit that increase to?
Christy: I think it needs to be credited to the entire staff of the company as a whole. Archaia has an interesting space of being primarily a creator-owned company. When we came on board, we looked at Archaia in this way — PJ [Bickett, Archaia's president] and I both saw a company that established a really high level of quality in all of its releases, which was spearheaded by Mark Smylie, our founder. It also had a certified hit, which was Mouse Guard. No matter what anyone says, you can’t manufacture a hit — a hit happens because of quality, right place at the right time, and a really unique story. Mouse Guard had all three.
The obvious place of where to go from there was bringing brand awareness, so that Archaia wasn’t just Mouse Guard Obviously Mouse Guard is our flagship book. We wanted to be known for that, that’s our highest-selling title and it’s something we continue to put out, not only new volumes, but also spinoff series. We really wanted people to know Archaia for its reputation for quality, and we wanted to show people that there was a different way to think about comic books.
Nrama: It definitely can be easy to tell when comics are being released to be as friendly to a movie adaptation as possible.
Christy: There’s some books that we publish where we know there’s never going to be a film or a TV show that will happen from them. Or video game. Ever. But the reason why we want to publish them is because, we are a publisher. We exist to publish books. Just because something doesn’t have life as a film or a TV show doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be out there. I don’t think there’s ever going to be an Asterios Polyp movie or TV show, or a movie or TV show of R. Crumb’s Genesis.
Nrama: You mentioned partnerships earlier — a big one for Archaia is with the Jim Henson Company, having put out Fraggle Rock comics and announcing last week an adaptation of the unproduced Henson screenplay Tale of Sand. How important has that partnership been to the company?
Christy: Our partnerships have been huge. We’ve been very lucky — we’ve partnered with Henson Company, we’ve partnered with Gene Roddenberry Productions, we’ve partnered with Before the Door, which is Zachary Quinto’s production company. The goal of any partnership is that we want to bring more people into comics. We want more people reading comics. There’s a ton of people that have read our Fraggle Rock comic books and have never, ever, ever read comics before in their entire lives. We get a ton of fanmail and tweets and Facebook things, people saying, “oh, my child has never read comics before, but Fraggle Rock was the first thing I gave him and they love it. And they’re addicted now.” So that’s a really satisfying thing.
When you can go up to the hundreds of thousands of fans of Jim Henson out there, and say, “hey, we’re doing a graphic novel of the last screenplay that Jim wrote that no one’s ever seen before, do you wanna read it?” most of them are going to say “yes.” Archaia isn’t in the licensing game, we’re never going to be in the licensing game. We’re interesting in creating original material.
Nrama: Could you differentiate between “licensing” and “partnerships”? To the unfamiliar, at face, they do seem pretty similar.
Christy: When you’re licensing a product from someone, you’re going to them, and sometimes you’re paying them an upfront fee just for the rights to that license, sometimes you’re not. What you’re doing is spending your own money to create product, where you don’t know if it’s going to sell or not, that you don’t own at the end of the day.
A partnership is us going to another company, or another company coming to us, and saying, “hey! We have this idea — we know that you guys put out incredibly good looking books and have a really loyal fanbase and following, let’s collaborate together.”
Nrama: Archaia definitely puts out a diverse crop of books, but I feel that with other publishers that do the same, I have much more of a sense of what to expect from, say, a Top Shelf titles, even if the individual books being released by them are all quite different. What do you see as the niche that Archaia fills in the industry?
Christy: Mark Smylie founded the company on, essentially, “adventure comics.” Every comic being some kind of an adventure story, even if it’s a horror story or a science fiction story, it’s still an adventure story.
Imagine if you took your 10 or 15 most interesting film directors, and imagine if they went off and were all working at one studio that consistently put out good movies. You might not like some of them, but it’s by this group of people that you know is really phenomenal. That’s kind of the way that I want Archaia to be seen in terms of creators.
I want every Archaia book to be positive, in the sense that there’s something in there that is positive about the human journey, the hero’s journey, the human spirit, our species as a whole, and there’s something in there that challenges you to think about the world around you. I talk a lot with our creators and with people that submit to us and people that we work with about the “intention” behind the project. What are you trying to say? What is the reason for this to exist? That’s a really good way to kind of weed out the best projects. We do get projects where it’s just essentially a movie pitch, and there’s really no reason for it to exist as a comic book. Or it’s something that, subject-matter wise, there’s no opinion behind it. It’s telling a horror story for the sake of telling a horror story. There’s nothing there. I always want our books to have a point-of-view. I always want our books to hopefully have something positive to say, and if there’s nothing overly positive to say, I want it to at least make you think about the world around you. Tumor is a very dark, noir book. But at the same time, it's about redemption, it's about correcting mistakes that the main character made years and years ago, and trying to do one last thing right, essentially.
Preview art from Return of the Dapper Men.
Nrama: What are some upcoming releases you’d like to note?
Christy: Return of the Dapper Men, coming out in November, which I’ve been screaming to hell and highwater to anyone that can hear what a great book it is. It’s incredible. It’s one of the best scripts that I’ve ever read in my time working in the industry, and to have an artist like Janet Lee, who’s a fine artist from outside of comics come in and do such an amazing job on her debut book, I just can’t say enough good stuff about that.
Then we have Fraggle Rock volume two continuing, we have Days Missing volume two. We have more Mouse Guard — Black Axe is coming. We have The Dark Crystal. We have The God Machine. We have a phenomenal story about immigration and werewolves called Feeding Ground. We have a really, really strong lineup of books that I’m really, really proud of.