State of the BOOM! STUDIOS Union Address with FILIP SABLIK

Lumberjanes Coloring Book
Credit: Brooklyn Allen (BOOM! Studios)

Since its launch in 2005, BOOM! Studios has become  an industry leader in finding original and licensed works that are not just appealing to longtime comics fans, but can bring in new readers to a medium that’s long struggled with expanding its audience. BOOM! is a diverse publisher, with everything from classic superheroes to memoirs, surrealist horror, and lighthearted all-ages series.

BOOM! Studios had high-profile successes across a number of mediums in 2017, and seems poised for an even bigger 2018. As the company begins the first-ever Mighty Morphin Power Rangers comic book event, prepares for Adventure Time's finale, Lumberjanes #50, and the prospects of being partially owned by the Walt Disney Company should the 20th Century Fox buyout go through, Newsarama spoke with Filip Sablik, president of Publishing and Marketing at BOOM! to see what readers and retailers alike can expect in the year ahead.

Filip Sablik
Filip Sablik
Credit: BOOM! Studios

Newsarama: What were some of the big successes for BOOM! In 2017? What are the big goals you see for BOOM! in the year ahead?

Filip Sablik: 2017 was certainly a year of change - both for for BOOM! Studios and the industry as a whole. The investment by 20th Century Fox as a minority investor in the company was an amazing validation of the hard work and creativity of our creators and team over the years. It has allowed us to pursue opportunities we couldn’t in the past and take a long term view in challenging market conditions rather - but still retain true autonomy to run the company in the way that has made us a success over the last 12 years.

That’s important to us because it’s that approach that led to breakout new series like Grass Kings (by Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins), Mech Cadet Yu (by Greg Pak and Takeshi Miyazawa) and Fence (by C.S. Pacat and Johanna the Mad) alongside acclaimed original graphic novel releases like Jane (by Aline Brosh McKenna & Ramon Perez) and Bolivar (by Sean Rubin).

A big factor in that success was the BOOM! Studios Guarantee program, our retailer initiative that gives retailers returnability with no strings attached, advance insights, and personal one-on-one relationship with BOOM! Studios that better allowed them to order with confidence. We believe in putting comic shops first and you’ll see that further emphasized in our plans this year - most notably thus far with comic shop exclusive advance releases of collections through our “Discover Now” program.

At the same time, we continue to make significant inroads in the book market as we work to expand the readership for comic books. We believe comics can be enjoyed by anyone, so our commitment is to making comics for everyone and we’re seeing that approach pay dividends in bookstores, libraries and more.

On the development side, we were able to announce new projects like Goldie Vance with stars like Kerry Washington and Rashida Jones at the helm of a feature film adaptation and Snow Blind as a television show helmed by Prison Break creator Vaun Wilmott. And that’s just the beginning of where we’re taking BOOM! Studios beyond comics in a really exciting way.

Credit: Takeshi Miyazawa/Triona Farrell (BOOM! Studios)

Nrama: You mentioned the BOOM! Studios Guarantee program, offering full returnability on some key titles to retailers. How has that worked so far? Are you adjusting the plan, with more or less titles being made returnable?

Sablik: The BOOM! Guarantee program has been a significant win for us. The credit largely goes to our Direct Market Representative, Morgan Perry, who successfully increased enrollment 300% over our previous “Innovator” program and manages the program day in and day out. Every month we offer returnability on six issues with no strings attached. We’ve been able to offer returnability on at least the first two issues of our launch titles and we’ve seen that success lead to series like Mech Cadet Yu and Fence being upgraded from limited series to ongoing.

Our overall goal is simple: put comic shops first by eliminating risk with no hoops to jump through for new projects that we believe will bring in new customers - and more dollars - to the industry.

We’re looking at some additional benefits to make the program more valuable for our retail partners, but the core of it, including the number of titles will remain the same. I believe it’s already the best retailer support program in the industry, but we never like resting our laurels!

Nrama: BOOM! has seemed to cement itself as a top contender for the young reader market in comics, adding original series like Mech Cadet Yu and Heavy Vinyl alongside licensed titles like Rugrats, Regular Show, and Steven Universe. Has courting younger comics fans been a goal for BOOM?

Credit: Nina Vakueva (BOOM! Studios/BOOM! Box)

Sablik: BOOM! Studios believe comics are meant for anyone, so we make comics for everyone. That’s something represented by all our imprints - BOOM! Studios, Archaia, BOOM! Box and KaBOOM! - which allow us to be a truly four quadrant entertainment company. We find that the most successful comics and graphic novels published for kids are also the ones appeal to older readers as well. That could be something like Sean Bolivar’s incredible Bolivar graphic novel and prose hybrid to Lumberjanes - which has sold over a million copies worldwide - to the series you mentioned as well.

Ensuring there is high quality material for kids is something BOOM! Studios has been dedicated to since 2009, back when the prevailing wisdom was that that kind of material wasn’t commercial. Bringing new audiences to comics - from younger audiences to those underrepresented groups as well - is of paramount importance because that’s how we grow and sustain the medium.

Nrama: BOOM! has several projects in development for film, and this comes as your first-look deal partner Fox (and minority owner) is going through a partial acquisition by Disney. Can you give us an update on the status of the deal, and any talk about where BOOM! will end up (with the Murdochs' slimmed down company or Disney) if this acquisition is finalized?

Credit: Vanesa R. Del Rey/Michael Garland (BOOM! Studios)

Sablik: While we don’t have any information beyond what has already been reported in the press, we are excited for the new opportunities that this partnership provides for our friends at Fox. Both Fox and Disney are world class organizations with exceptional teams, so we look forward to their shared success in the future.

In regards to BOOM! Studios, there will be no immediate changes to how we operate day-to-day. Fox is a valued partner as well as a minority shareholder, meaning we will continue to operate independently and pursue the same opportunities that have made BOOM! Studios such a success for over twelve years.

Nrama: As part of this, can you say which BOOM! project is closest in development in terms of a movie or TV show coming out?

Sablik: We’re in the final stages of bringing our first feature film with Fox, Empty Man. The horror film is based on the fantastic series by Cullen Bunn and Vanesa R. Del Rey. Our film and television division led by President of Development Stephen Christy has been hard at work on a variety of projects including an ambitious adaptation of David Petersen’s Mouse Guard that’s developing nicely. I expect we’ll have some exciting announcements and updates in the coming months.

Nrama: Novelists have been making a splash in comics this year, but C.S. Pacat seems to be the first high profile novelist to make the leap to comics for BOOM! with Fence. How did you develop this relationship?

Credit: Johanna the Mad (BOOM! Studios)

Sablik: Just taking a step back, I have to clarify that we’ve had other successful novelists on the BOOM! Studios team, including James Dashner with Maze Runner, Delilah S. Dawson with LadyCastle, Sam Sykes with Brave Chef Brianna, and Victor LaValle with Destroyer. And these are only the novelists we’ve worked with in the last year or so. Bringing in voices from world outside of traditional comics - or comics at all - is a big part of the company’s DNA.

Nrama: Thanks for the correction!

Sablik: Our relationship with C.S. was nurtured by editors Dafna Pleban and Shannon Watters. They were fans of her Captive Prince series and that lead them to reach out to her about a potential comic series.

Nrama: Are you working on getting more longform fiction writers to make the leap to comics?

Sablik: As I mentioned above, we’re looking for the best talent to make the best comics - we’re less concerned with where they’ve earned those stripes (prose, film, TV, video games, comics, etc) and more on what kind of unique voice they bring to comics. We’re working on finding voices to tell the stories that aren’t already being told so that everyone walking into comic shops can discover their story at BOOM! Studios.

Nrama: The WWE franchise also recently brought on two wrestlers, working with Headlocked’s Michael Kingston on stories for the Survivor Series and Royal Rumble specials. Did Michael approach BOOM! about bringing them on based on his other work?

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Sablik: Our WWE editors, Eric Harburn and Chris Rosa, knew Michael from his work on Headlocked and knew he wanted to be involved with the official WWE series. Given his work with wrestlers over the years, Michael came in to BOOM! Studios not only with the connections to some of the biggest wrestlers in the world but also experience writing with them previously (specifically with Samoa Joe). We've had a great time working with Michael. And I think the fans have enjoyed the extra layer of insight he's brought to these stories.

Nrama: BOOM! has a major comics event coming up this year -- Power Rangers: Shattered Grid, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the television series. What can fans of both PR series expect from this event? Will it be new-reader friendly?

Sablik: Power Rangers: Shattered Grid is something truly historic - the first Power Rangers comic book event! Working closely with our partners at Saban Brands, writers Kyle Higgins, Ryan Parrot and a team of incredibly talented artists including Daniele di Nicuolo and Dan Mora, and our editorial team led by Dafna Pleban, we will deliver a Power Rangers story unlike anything fans have seen before. We’ve been resetting the bar for Power Rangers comic books since we launched with issue #0 in January 2016, by following it up with a first issue that outsold everything Marvel published the month of release, then introducing the first new Ranger to Mighty Morphin Power Rangers continuity in over 20 years, and even revealing a new team of Rangers from the 1960s.

With Shattered Grid, we’re raising the bar higher again and we couldn’t be more excited to share it with the world. If you’re a long time fan of the Power Rangers or our comic, you’re going to see some of your favorite Rangers from across the franchise’s 25 year mythology...and some brand new ones as well. But if you’re only passingly familiar with Power Rangers, this event is a great place to jump on. All you need to do is pick up Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #25 and you’re good to go.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Nrama: Dennis Hopeless' WWE ongoing is also gearing up for a Women's Revolution storyline. Any chance we might get a short from any of the women on the WWE roster?

Filip: Dennis Hopeless and Serg Acuna have absolutely been killing it for the last year on our WWE series. They are delivering the main story of the “Women’s Evolution” story, but they are being joined by Tini Howard and Hyeonjin Kim doing a four part back-up story about WWE Superstar Asuka.

We’ve got a lot of big plans for WWE comics this year - and if you like what we did in 2017, you’re going to love what we’ve got planned in 2018.

Nrama: What's in store for BOOM's staple series this year? What's made series like Lumberjanes and Giant Days so successful for BOOM?

Sablik: We’re proud to have a number of long-running series including Lumberjanes, Giant Days, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and Adventure Time. We also just wrapped up The Woods in 2017 after three years, a real accomplishment for an original series at BOOM! Studios, but for co-creators James Tynion IV and Michael Dialynas. It’s been gratifying to see new readers discover The Woods, in no small part to the wave of award and award nominations it has received.

Credit: Kat Leyh (BOOM! Studios)

Lumberjanes will reach a landmark in 2018 with issue #50, which we’re excited to celebrate. 2017 also saw the release of the hardcore lady-types first original middle grade prose novel, Lumberjanes: Unicorn Power, by Mariko Tamaki and Brooklyn Allen through Amulet Books. There’s more cool stuff to come with our friends at Amulet!

Giant Days is entering its third year of publishing in 2018 and is pound for pound one of the best single issue reading experiences being published today. And while I can’t share anything yet, it’s going to be a terrific year to be a fan of the girls and John Allison’s work in general.

We’re wrapping up our longest running series to date, Adventure Time with issue #75. This will coincide later this year with the conclusion of the television show. But fear not, residents of the Land of Ooo! We have new Adventure Time comics coming your way in 2018. I dare say it will be some of the most important and exciting Adventure Time comic stories we’ve ever done!

To get back to your original question, what makes our staple series successful at BOOM! Studios is they all appeal to new readers in the comic market. While The Woods, Lumberjanes, Giant Days, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and Adventure Time do appeal to folks already in comic shops, they also brought in new fans and that gives them longevity in a crowded marketplace.

Nrama: You also have a number of long-lived licensed titles based on relationships with networks like Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. Are there any other shows you're looking to bring to BOOM! in 2018?

Sablik: As I alluded to before, we have a couple huge announcements planned this year but nothing we can discuss at this time.

Credit: Naomi Franquiz/Brittany Peer (BOOM! Studios)

Nrama: Readers, start your speculation engines...

BOOM! has several OGNs slated for 2018. How is acquiring OGNs different from developing ongoing series or miniseries?

Sablik: The biggest difference is length. The length of the work and how it reads as a long form story. The length of time it takes to develop the work creatively. The length of lead time you need to solicit properly when you are launching a product simultaneously in the comic market and book market. Many of the original graphic novels you’ll see release in 2018 were projects that started in 2016 and early 2017. It’s much more of a marathon, rather than the sprint of getting comics published.

Original graphic novel publishing has been part of our history for a long time through the Archaia imprint, which had a terrific year with releases like Jane and Bolivar, but fans will definitely see more graphic novels from all 4 imprints in 2018.

Credit: Noah Hayes/Sarah Stern (BOOM! Studios)

Nrama: With the success of authors like Raina Tegelmeier, do you think there's more comics publishers can be doing to capitalize on the marketability of OGNs, particularly to younger readers?

Sablik: The success of Raina and other exciting new voices is a reminder that uniformity is the enemy of success. People often think of “comics” as a genre because their exposure to it is based on superheroes. Look, I love superheroes. But for comics to grow as a medium and continue to flourish, it’s incumbent upon all publishers to diversify their offerings.

You mentioned YA before - if we focused only on that genre, we’d miss out on books like Bolivar, Mech Cadet Yu or Grass Kings. Those are all originals projects that are decidedly not YA and which have proven to be successes for us in attracting new readers.

So while we recognize the power of the success we’ve had, our goal isn’t to do the “next Lumberjanes” - it’s to do the first something else.

The future of BOOM! Studios is the story of how we got here so far - challenging conventional industry thinking, developing new voices and making sure the stories we publish represent the world around us.

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