When The Stuff of Legend was introduced on Free Comic Book Day in 2009, its creators weren't sure how many issues the comic would last.
But two years later, Stuff has been so tremendously successful — even making the New York Times bestseller list — that it's finishing its second volume this week and triumphantly heading toward a third.
Published by small, indy firm Th3rd World Studios, The Stuff of Legend tells the story of some World War II-era toys who go on an adventure to rescue their young master from the treacherous Boogeyman. Co-written by Brian Smith and Mike Raicht, Stuff features amazingly detailed artwork by comics newcomer Charles P. Wilson III.
This week sees the conclusion of the series' second volume, "The Jungle," and the collection of Vol. 2 is available for order now. The series will get another boost on Free Comic Book Day this year, and the third volume is set to begin this summer.
But the company is changing its strategy a bit, choosing this year to concentrate its Free Comic Book Day issue on the beginning of the series, instead of previewing the third volume. The formerly oversized, bi-monthly comic will also be switching to a monthly format, with smaller issues.
Why the change? And how has this tiny comic survived so well for so long? Newsarama talked with writers Raicht and Smith, along with the company's publisher, Michael DeVito, to find out more about what makes this small comic so successful — and what's next for the little series that could.
Newsarama: Michael, as the publisher at Th3rd World, did you have any idea this comic would be such a success?
Michael DeVito: When we started out, we all felt like we had something special, but there's always that nervousness whenever you launch a news series that you won't get the numbers needed to keep going. Fortunately this wasn't case for us. We saw the first volume not only sell out and have to go back for a second printing. It eventually went on to make the New York Times bestseller list. The second volume, "The Jungle," has been building on that success and we hope that it only keeps going with volume 3.
We've had the help of a lot of awesome people, from retailers to fans to comic journalists to reviewers. As clichéd as it sounds, we would be nowhere without all the word-of-mouth and can't thank everyone enough. Their support combined with a great book has us awaiting the arrival of the 6th issue of the series from the printer and there is still plenty more Stuff of Legend to come.
Nrama: After all this success, it's tough to understand why you would change your strategy for Free Comic Book Day. What are your thoughts behind the change?
DeVito: Initially, we had planned to do a straight preview of the upcoming volume of the series, but the more that we got to thinking about it, and listening to some retailer feedback, it seemed like we were missing the spirit of what FCBD was trying to do. The goal, or at least the way we see it, is an opportunity to reach out to new readers, that might be coming into a comic shop for the first time.
The first year that we did FCBD, we felt that the Stuff preview we had worked, because it was a nice primer, but last year, admittedly, the preview of Vol. 2 was great for existing fans was probably pretty confusing for anyone new picking it up.
So the goal this year is to have it be more of a pitch for the series, similar to how we might describe the series for people who haven't heard of the book at conventions. It will be very designed up and in keeping with the visual style of The Stuff of Legend, but we wanted to try something a little different. We will also be previewing a couple pages of the new series for existing fans, just not as much as we did last year.
Nrama: Brian and Mike, as co-writers on this series, what can you tell us about the current volume? And how does it lead into Vol. 3?
Brian Smith: We just put the final issue of "The Jungle" to bed, and I think our readers are going to be pretty shocked by the conclusion. It was a fun one to work on, for sure. Overall, the Jungle arc leaves our characters in a really bad spot. We learn the real reason our toys entered the Dark, and why the Boogeyman was able to kidnap their Boy in the first place. Some big answers and reveals, but also big questions that set up some exciting new ideas for the next part of our tale.
Mike Raicht: Volume 2 really gave us a chance to explore The Dark some more and just have a good time world building. To see some places like the ruined zoo and The Jungle, which expand on the history and mythology of the Boogeyman and his world. We also get to meet some of the factions that are within it. Not everyone is on the side of the Boogeyman, but of course that doesn't mean they are on the side of Max and the rest either. We're just starting to explore this world and all of the characters within.
I think overall this volume was our chance to reveal some uncomfortable and difficult truths about all of our characters. This includes characters new and old, good and evil alike. Nothing is as black and white as it may have seemed at the start of the toys' journey. These revealed secrets end up changing the dynamic of the whole world. The aftermath of these difficult truths lead us directly into our third arc, The Jester's Tale. I feel saying too much will ruin chapter 4... I'm bad at these teases, aren't I?
I will say, we've seen some of Charles P. Wilson III's design work on some new characters for this next arc and they are awesome. I can't wait for people to see them.
Nrama: Are you guys planning now for Volume 3?
Smith: Volume 3 is already underway, and I can tell you for certain it is going to focus on the Jester, and it will be absolutely action-packed.
Nrama: Sales have certainly indicated this series is doing well. Have you guys heard a lot of positive response from fans?
Raicht: The response has been great from readers, shop owners and reviewers which is about all you can ask for, right? The greatest thing is that it seems like our fan base just keeps growing through word of mouth, reviews and shops that just keep pushing the heck out of the book. I know of more than a few stores who keep our trade and back issues in stock all of the time, and that is a huge help. We can't thank all of them enough.
It feels great. It's humbling and a little intimidating. You don't want to mess it up by putting out a clunker or disappointing anyone. I know we just want to make sure we keep delivering a compelling read with awesome art and a great package so that everyone stays on board.
Nrama: Michael, what are the publishing plans for Vol. 3, and are they hindered at all by the intricate art style this book has? It seems like this would be a slow art process, and the schedule in the past has been tough for you guys, hasn't it?
DeVito: Yeah, his work is amazingly intricate. Anyone who has seen the original pages can tell you how much work goes into them.
But one of the things that we realize has been a major hindrance to the success of the series is its release schedule. It's been sporadic to say the least. Largely, we have stuck to the bi-monthly schedule, but there have been some hiccups. More importantly, the large gap between volume 1 and 2 definitely cost us some traction. With 6 issues under our belt, half of which were over-sized 40-56 pages each, we have a really good idea of what Charles' output is going to be.
Our plan is to switch Stuff to a monthly series starting with volume 3, reducing both the page count and the price point to be more in line with a normal comic, all of which should help reduce any delays and allow us to deliver Stuff much faster.
Nrama: What are your hopes for the series as you guys head into this summer's beginning of Vol. 3?
DeVito: Our hope is to keep building on the success of the first two volumes of the series. (There are still copies of Vol.1 The Dark available for $13 each, and Vol.2 The Jungle is in Previews this month under FEB111143 for $16.99.) We plan on doing a big retailer promotion that will hopefully help anyone who has been reluctant to get on board jump in. The upcoming volume is action packed and focuses on the fan-favorite Jester character from the series, it should be a great time to pick up the series if you already haven't.