Tom Bilyeu made his name (and fortune) in the nutrition industry, launching a protein bar manufacturer which boasts it has $400 million in revenue and was dubbed the second-fastest-growing company in North America by Inc. Now, the Quest Nutriton co-founder is setting his sights on the comic book industry with his new publishing company, Impact Theory.
"We will be creating lines for both mature audiences and kids, but our themes around the hero’s journey will always be consistent," Bilyeu told Newsarama. "We want people to know that when you interact with one of our stories you’re going to come out the other side feeling like you can do anything. Said another way, we want to tell stories that both entertain and give people hope."
It all begins March 27 with the comic book limited series Neon Future. The six-issue series is created by acclaimed DJ Steve Aoki, working with comics writer Jim Krueger and artists Neil Edwards and Jheremy Raapack.
Neon Future imagines a near future in which advanced technology is outlawed for everyone but the wealthy - for reasons the publisher is saving to reveal in the first issue. The central character is Clay Campbell, an anti-tech crusader whose life is changed when he dies and is resurrected by the very thing he crusaded against. Reborn a messianic figure of sorts, Sovee leads a rebellion to bring technology back to the masses.
"It’s character-driven sci-fi with a host of memorable characters. Our aim was to make a smart action story that never loses its heart and soul to mindless plot," Bilyeu said. "As for its genre and visual styling, I’ll dub it 'optimistic cyberpunk.' There is some awesome technology and cool futuristic locations for fans of the genre, but it’s only set 30 years in the future, so the world is still very recognizable. We tried really hard not to completely over-exaggerate how much the world will change in the next 30 years."
Overall, Impact Theory's goal is to publish empowerment stories - "stories that make people feel like they're capable of more by the end."
"Nothing impacts people as deeply as awesome stories. They get under your skin and shape your mindset," said Bilyeu. "Most of the belief system that has helped me be successful in life has been cobbled together from reading comics and watching movies. Stories have shaped me and given me a more powerful way to conceptualize the world. For that reason (and many more) my absolute deepest passion is visual storytelling, and comics pack a lot of punch in that department."
Why comic books? Control and cost.
"You can also take chances in comics that you can’t afford to take in other media. Comics let you explore ideas rapidly as both a creator and a reader, and the relatively low barrier to entry (compared to say films), means that the creators have a lot of control," said Bilyeu. "That and I’m just a total freak for comic art. It is not an accident that I married a world-class artist or that I have an entire room in my house dedicated to my comics collection. Everything about the art form speaks to me. And the thought of being able to speak to others through the medium was just too exciting to pass up."
Bilyeu's history as a comic book fan goes back to to the early 1990s and Image Comics. He says one of the first places he went to after receiving his driver's license was to his local comic shop in Tacoma, Washington to buy those early Image books.
"I was so blown away by the quantum leap forward that they represented in image quality and even quality of paper. I was hooked right away," he said. "Then as I started studying film, I met other comic buffs who introduced me to the great storytellers of that generation (especially Frank Miller and Alan Moore – two of my favorites from that era). Once I realized the depth of story that could take place on the page, I was hooked for life."
Bilyeau found a kindred spirit in DJ Steve Aoki, whom he met while filming an episode of his online interview show Imapct Theory.
"While I was researching him, I realized that he plans to have himself cryogenically frozen when he dies. That’s right up my alley! I sincerely want to live forever and Aoki and I bonded over that immediately," Bilyeu said. "We stayed in touch, became real friends, so when I pitched him on doing a book together about the power of technology to unite people, he was all for it. He’s got a whole album series called Neon Future, so it all just made sense to do as a collaboration."
In addition to the flagship title Neon Future, Bilyeu's Impact Theory has two other series in development: a superhero story about identical twins called Power Les, and a showcase of real-life high-profile women imagined as superheroes called Women of Impact.
"Beyond that, I’m also toying with the idea of creating some American manga," Bilyeu said. "I know the streets are littered with the bloodied corpses of U.S.-based companies that have failed to capture the magic of manga, but there is something very compelling about the storytelling style in the best of manga. It’s very cinematic. There’s lots of paneling, smaller pages (usually) and often less economy of storytelling. That should make it terrible, but it doesn’t.
"When it’s done right it creates a sense of momentum and allows the storyteller to guide the reader’s attention in a more filmic way," he continued. "Don’t get me wrong, there is god-awful manga as well. And I’m not at all interested in the infamous 'fan service.'. But it is something I’ve been thinking about. We’ll see. I’m not committed to that just yet."