IDW @ 15: Surprising Origins & Bold Futures

IDW art
Credit: IDW Publishing
Credit: IDW Publishing

In its 15 years in business, IDW has made some large strides find itself neck-and-neck with Image to be the 3rd largest comics publisher in the United States. Not bad for a company that didn’t even plan to publish comics when it first started out.

2014 marks the fifteen year anniversary of IDW as a company, and on that occasion Newsarama spoke with Ted Adams, IDW’s CEO, publisher and co-founder. Back in 1999, Adams and three others – Ales Garner, Kris Oprisko, and Robbie Robbins – left WildStorm Productions after it was bought by DC and started a small creative services company providing art and design for other companies. The company transitioned in short order to become a boutique publishing outfit that quickly went blockbuster with successes like 30 Days of Night and licensed books like CSI, Transformers and others. They’ve become a trusted comics partner from licensors like Hasbro, Paramount and even DC Entertainment’s parent company Warner Bros. Entertainment, and has found another role as the publisher-of-choice for high-end reprinting of classic books – even printing deluxe editions of DC and Marvel stories like Jack Kirby’s New Gods stories and Walt Simonson’s Thor. Here and now in 2014, IDW has the most multi-faceted and successful licensed comics portfolios in comics, and recently made steps to enhance its creator-owned projects with new divisions to develop television series, games, and other media spinning out from these original ideas.

Newsarama spoke with Adams about the history of IDW, the growth he’s seen over the past fifteen years, as well as the new initiatives and growth he has planned for the next fifteen.

Newsarama: Ted, let’s begin at the beginning: when IDW was first founded in 1999 it wasn't even as a comic publisher -- how would you describe the original iteration of IDW?

Ted Adams: IDW was a ‘creative service’ company, which meant that we provided art and graphic design to a wide range of entertainment companies.

The four of us who started IDW all came from WildStorm Productions. Kris Oprisko and I ran a creative service division for WildStorm that had a very robust roster of clients. When Jim Lee made the decision to sell WildStorm to DC they didn’t want to continue the creative service business so he and John Nee very generously allowed us to take over those clients, ensuring we had plenty of work before we even officially opened our doors for business.

One of our earliest clients was Upper Deck Entertainment (UDE). We produced a wide range of collectible card games (CCGs) for UDE, including Survivor, Bionicle, and others. Jerry Bennington who used to run UDE now works for IDW where he runs IDW Limited and IDW Games.

Nrama: What happened to precipitate re-orienting IDW as a comic book publisher?

Adams: Our creative service business was quickly successful so we decided to take a gamble on one new venture per year. The first year, we shot a pilot for a reality television show called Bar Talk. That was a fun experience but we had no idea what we were doing and the footage we got was pretty lousy.

Credit: IDW Publishing

The following year, Ash Wood called me up and asked if we wanted to publish an art book with him. That book was Uno Fanta: The Art of Ashley Wood. That same year, another old friend of mine, Steve Niles, asked if we wanted to publish a novel called Savage Membrane. That led us to publishing our first comic book, 30 Days of Night, which was the #1 graphic novel the month it was released. We kept going down the publishing route with CSI, a success right out of the gate, and have been publishing steadily ever since.

Those books really set the direction for IDW as it is today in 2014: a wildly diverse publishing company. This year we’ll average 75+ books a month – including licensed books, creator owned books, Artist Editions, classic comic strip reprints, prose books, art books, and more!

Nrama: In 2013 IDW launched two new divisions, IDW Entertainment and IDW Games, to develop IDWs original comic properties as television shows and board games respectively. What precipitated this investment to do it internally as opposed through third parties as most publishers do?

Adams: When IDW first started publishing, we were fortunate that the first comic we ever published, 30 Days of Night, was heavily courted by Hollywood executives and we ended up in a big bidding war between three different companies. That experience led to us being represented by CAA and allowed us to plant our flag in the Hollywood sand.

Over the years we’ve done a bunch of option deals and have been fortunate to cash some pretty big checks but we’ve only been able to get one project seen by an audience (30 Days of Night).

A few years ago, we did a deal with 20th TV for Locke & Key. They shot a terrific pilot that unfortunately didn’t end up on air. That experience was extremely frustrating for me.

Credit: IDW Publishing

Last year we decided to put our own money on the line and started IDW Entertainment. This division is financing pilot scripts based on a handful of our properties. So instead of allowing studios to option our materials and having them develop the material, we’re going to do it ourselves. As shows head to production, we’ll also be providing funds to cover the actual financing of the shows. We’ve had conversations with many broadcast, cable and alternative distribution outlets so when we’re ready to find a home for our content, we have interest from a variety of places.

IDW Games was started by Jerry Bennington. As I mentioned before Jerry and IDW worked together on games when he was at Upper Deck Entertainment. When he joined IDW it made sense that we would start to think about doing some games and Kill Shakespeare quickly rose to the top of our list.

Nrama: Just to confirm, IDW Entertainment and IDW Games is to develop the creator-owned/company owned comics IDW does, so no focus on the licensed books right?

Adams: IDW Entertainment will only be developing IDW owned or co-owned properties but IDW Games may have some surprises in the near future.

Nrama: A large percentage of IDW's publishing line is licensed titles -- could IDW be considering focusing more on creator-owned/creator-shared and company-owned titles that could be developed as games and TV shows?

Credit: IDW Publishing

Adams: It’s fair to say that many of our best-selling titles are licensed titles but it isn’t fair to say that a large percentage of our line is licensed titles. We’ve been publishing creator-owned titles since 30 Days of Night and have published hundreds of them over the years – Locke & Key, Wormwood, Zombies vs. Robots, Kill Shakespeare, The Dreamer, and many, many more.

In 2014 we’ve got a bunch of great creator-owned books that I’m excited about, including:

-- V-Wars by Jonathan Maberry and Alan Robinson. This is one of our Free Comic Book Day comics this year and it spins out of a successful prose anthology we published.

-- Winterworld by Chuck Dixon and Butch Guice, expanding the world that Chuck created with Jorge Zaffino.

-- Little Nemo in Slumberlandby Eric Shanower and Gabriel Rodriguez. A new version of the classic Winsor McCay comic strip.

Credit: IDW Publishing

-- Ragnorak. Walt Simonson. Norse Gods. ‘nuff said?

Nrama: One of your earliest artists Gabriel Rodriguez has risen up through the ranks doing licensed work to just this year finishing the final volume of the creator-owned series Locke & Key with Joe Hill. I know it's rare for a creator to stay with one publishing company so exclusively for such a long stretch of their career, but how do does IDW see Rodriguez given he's been there so long and grown into such an artist?

Adams: We're still working with all of the creators who have been with us from the beginning -- Ash Wood, Steve Niles, Ben Templesmith and, of course, Gabe. Those guys aren't just creators for IDW, they're our friends, they're my friends. We've been through many fires together and they all always have an open door at IDW.

I'm the Godfather to one of Ash's kids and, even though we live on different continents and very different time zones, we talk every week. I look at Ash as the brother I never had and I'm so proud of him for the way he's built his own company, 3A Toys. He shared some top secret designs with me this week that are going to make him a fortune. And, his new IDW comic, Beautiful War, launches in May.

Credit: IDW Publishing

Steve and I probably send each other 20+ emails a week and his new IDW series, Monster and Madman, drawn by Damien Worm, launches in March and we've got a new ongoing series planned for the two of them that we'll be announcing soon.

Ben and his partners at 44 Flood (Menton3 and Kasra) are going to publish their books with IDW and the first book, Libretto, comes out in April, which will be followed by Lust in June. Wormwood is one of the books we're planning to develop through IDW Entertainment and I know Ben would like to do some new Wormwood comics in the relatively near future.

I mentioned before that Gabe's next project will be Little Nemo in Slumberland with Eric Shanower. Gabe's growth as an artist at IDW is another thing that makes me extremely proud. His work ethic and desire to always get better and better is inspiring. Locke & Key is, of course, a masterpiece and will outlive me, but if you haven't checked out his work on the Great and Secret Show adaptation, you should. My girlfriend, who has zero interest in comics, loves Gabe as a person but also shares my love for his art. So much so, that we have five pages of original art from Locke & Key that you can read as you walk up the stairs in our house.

Credit: IDW Publishing

I'm a lucky man and an extremely fortunate publisher to have these four guys in my life.

Nrama: In addition to licensed work and creator-owned, you do a number of historical reprints from the Artists Editions to the Library of American Comics imprint and others -- even publishing properties owned by Marvel, DC and others. What is the role of those historical reprints in the grand scheme of things for IDW?

Adams: It’s extremely important.

We have two imprints that are critical parts of the company:

-- Dean Mullaney and Bruce Canwell’s Library of American Comics focuses on classic American comic strips. I grew up devouring Bill Blackbeard’s Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics and would have given anything to be able to read that material in the way we’re publishing it now. You have no idea how exciting it is for me to be the publisher of Dick Tracy, Little Orphan Annie, Bobby London’s Popeye, Terry & The Pirates, The Gumps, and on and on. I love these books. And the three-volume biography of Alex Toth that Dean and Bruce are producing is one of the best works I’ve published.

-- Craig and Clizia’s Yoe Books usually focuses on classic comic books and just like with our Library of American Comics (LOAC) books, as soon as an advance copy of a Yoe Book arrives from our printer it goes right into my briefcase so I can read it that night. In middle school, I was obsessed with Popeye (weird I know) and I love the fact that we’ve published 20+ issues of Bud Sagendorf’s Popeye with the Yoes.

And, of course, Scott Dunbier’s Artist Edition line is another dream come true. I’ve published original art by John Romita, Gil Kane, Joe Kubert, Sergio Aragones, Will Eisner, Jeff Smith, Mark Schulz, Walt Simonson, and so many more. Honestly, when I think about the fact that IDW publishes everything from Archie to Spider-Man to Thor to EC to MAD Magazine, I sometimes can’t believe it.

Nrama: A few years back IDW grew to overtake Dark Horse as the 4th largest comic publisher in America according to Diamond. How much of a goal was that, and how did realizing it change things?

Adams: Our goals are not based on what our peers are doing but are rather based on improving on what we’ve accomplished. I’m proud of the fact that IDW has grown every year we’ve been in business.

Nrama: Does IDW have its sights on moving even further up to be #3 at some point?

Adams: We’re very focused on building on the success we had in 2013. And, for what it’s worth, we’ve been #3 many times, including as recently as December 2013.


Exclusive Reveal of Judge Stigmata
Exclusive Reveal of Judge Stigmata
Credit: IDW

Nrama: What are IDW's goals in 2014, and how have they changed since 2000?


Adams: Our goal has always been to publish as many great books as we can and 2014 is easily our best publishing schedule yet.

Our Artist Edition line-up alone is mind-boggling Charles Schulz, Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko, Mike Mignola, Steve Ditko, and more.

In addition to the aforementioned creator owned titles, we are also looking forward to new Kill Shakespeare and Wild Blue Yonder releases. We plan to continue the care and quality IDW has become known for in regards to our licensed book lines, including some exciting new 2000 A.D. Judge Dredd series. And last but definitely not least, we will also continue to develop and expand our all-ages titles, which will include a Cartoon Network event too cool to be believed.

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