Digital comics are in the midst of a transformation. The days of pay per issue aren't going anywhere, but new companies are coming in and offering subscription services for new, cutting edge product. One of those companies is Stela. Stela is a new platform for creator owned comics that are made for digital devices. Not only that, when the app launches, they're bringing some notable comic creators along with them for the ride.
Just take a look at their launch slate:
Brian Wood, Justin Giampaoli (W)
Andrea Mutti (A)
Vladamir Popov (C)
In 323 AD, a fleet of Roman ships is lost in a storm and finds themselves on the shores of the New World, 1000 years before Columbus. Unable to return home, they establish a new colony, Roma Occidens, radically altering the timeline of America and subsequent world events.
Stuart Moore (W)
Greg Scott (A)
Millville, New Jersey: a town divided by racial strife and ruled by a vicious crime boss. After the savage beating of an Indian-American student, a new assistant principal arrives at Millville High to restore order. But "Teach" brings with him a violent past and a dark secret, which may send his new life toppling down before it can even begin.
Ryan Yount (W)
Kidman Chan, Yumiki Hong (A)
In a world of magic and fantasy, a special child is born once every generation blessed with fantastic magical power. He who takes the child's life will gain that power for their own. When a retired warrior learns that his daughter has the great INHERITANCE, he dedicates his life to protect her against hordes of mages, dragons, and necromancers scheming to inherit unimaginable power from his child.
OUT WITH A BANG
Stuart Moore (W)
Tony Talbert, John Heebink, Chris Marrinan (A)
Marissa Louise (C)
Miles never thought summer would be boring—but when he breaks up his seemingly endless vacation with a job at the Huntington Institute, he realizes that the elderly care facility is housing a massive secret: retired superheroes in their twilight years! When the elderly heroes start dying under mysterious circumstances, it's up to Miles and his new friends to save the facility (and the world). After all, if they’re going to go out, they may as well go OUT WITH A BANG.
AFRINA AND THE GLASS COFFIN
Irene Koh (W/A)
Princess Afrina has journeyed to a distant wasteland to open a glass coffin, gaining powerful magical abilities she needs to save her country from imminent invasion. Unfortunately for Afrina, those abilities are not without cost. Her newfound powers come with a curse, and are inexplicably tied to what lies inside the coffin: another princess.
We had the chance to talk to Editor In Chief Ryan Yount and Senior Editor Jim Gibbons about what they have planned for the launch and beyond.
What about this new frontier excites the two of you the most?
Ryan Yount: Besides the fact that I get to work with Jim [Gibbons], I would say it's really the core of this idea which, there's two things. One is that we're getting to commission new, original, creator-owned work from all kinds of creators, while also making a big play to expand the readership of comics. That's hand-in-hand with the format itself that we're trying for. This phone native format with the vertical scroll allows anybody who has the instinctual knowledge of how to use their phone to use Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, to read comics. It's an instinctive process to do. Those are the two big things for me.
Jim Gibbons: The second thing Ryan mentioned is one of the main things for me and one of the reasons I wanted to work at Stela. It's one of those things where I feel like you get into comics at a certain age. You're in comics for life as a hobby, but figuring out how to get people into comics is the eternal problem of comics. How do you bring in new readers? We're seeing the largest evolution of a more diverse audience with more female readers, and people looking for more diverse content. I think the other thing is that it's tricky to get into comics sometimes, and what we're doing is putting comics, literally, right into your pocket, which ups the accessibility in a huge way. I think that's just incredibly exciting, because I've always joked, I think comics is almost like big tobacco. If you hook people while they are young, they're in. [laughs] It's like by doing something via the phone which is where so many more young are finding their entertainment, we're potentially making comics more accessible to the next generation of readers in a way that they're currently not.
I would say the next thing, which is hand-in-hand in that a little bit, is we're in a position as a new publisher and as digital publisher, so working outside of the direct market, to really be responsive to changes in what comics are looking for, what audiences are looking for. We don't have to worry about the same sales considerations that other publishers need to when they're working through the direct market, because we can hopefully, work with more diverse creators, newer creators that don't necessarily have a tried and true track record in the direct market, but have a huge following on Tumblr or something like that. So we're in a position to do different kinds of content and new and exciting content because of that.
Now, let me ask only because I heard Ryan pronounce it one way, and, in my head, I pronounced it another way, how do you pronounce the company name. Because I want to just go, Stellaaaaaa....but I’m sure that’s not correct.
Jim: I know, I know. It's Steel-a. It's Steel-a, but, you know what, like anything like this, we're just going to get over the fact that people are going to say Stella.
Jim, you had mentioned one of the key things, obviously, is accessibility, and because you're not a traditional print publisher, you can operate a little bit differently when it comes to price. Do you guys have an idea on what the pricing structure is going to look like? Is it going to be a la carte? Is it going to be pay for a service? Obviously, it's creator-owned material so it is up to them?
Jim: We will announce the official price when we get a little closer to the launch date. Right now, we're looking at something comparable to most streaming services, because, in essence, that's what we are, we're a subscription service. You sign up and you're getting about 160 pages of traditional size content a month, which is a really good bang for your buck when you're looking at the other comparative kind of subscription model.
Ryan: The other thing I'd add on to that is to say that, the subscribers, their fees are not just going to be going up. You mentioned creator-owned, Jim, and that's a big portion of what we are doing. The way we set up our profit distribution model is that we're doing profit sharing with the creator-owned books so those subscription fees don't just go to us. They get split, and they also go to the creators.
Jim: I'll kind of leap off of that again [laughs]. One of the things we've looked at, and one of the analogies I kind of like using is, the nice thing about comics, in many ways you see them a lot in entertainment right now, a guy with a camera and two actors can go make a movie, but if you give that person a budget, the odds that that movie are going to get a little bit better can go up. We're in a position where we're going to finance creator-owned material to really have a curated line of excellent comics that make us that kind of HBO Go style subscription service where it's exclusive content, it's new content, and it's going to be one of those things where that subscription money is then funneling back into these creators, we are partnering with them, and we're really a creator-fueled publisher and delivery method.
Are there creators that you guys are now actively pitching to, or are you guys looking to just do an open call and see who comes to the table?
Ryan: We've actually been going after creators all through this year, so we've got, I think, right over 30 projects that are currently signed that are in the works, and maybe another dozen more that are on the edge of that. We've already got content. It's been a little tricky, because we've been undercover in the sense that we haven't been able to publicly talk about what we are doing. Yeah, it's been a little bit of word-of-mouth, and then just hunting down people that we specifically want to work with and people that we know from industry.
Yeah, I'm a little excited now that, once we go public, it'll be a little easier to talk to people about what we're doing. It should make it a little easier, yeah.
Jim: Just to jump off that a little bit, is I like that one of the things is that we have been undercover so we've had to keep our conversations a little secretive, but the great thing is everyone we're reaching out to is usually very quick to say, "Oh man, I've been waiting for somebody to do comics for the phone and make comics that much more accessible." People have been very excited, so we've lined up people like, to name a few names, like Ron Wimberly and Joe Casey and Hayden Blackman, Evan Dorkin, and Sarah Dyer. Then some more up-and-comer people like Jen Bartel and Coleman Engel, Caleb Goellner and more. It'll be good to be public, because then that word can go a little bit broader, and then, hopefully, yeah, we have a lot more people coming to us, but just us going out to people has been very successful, so far, which is nice.
The model sort of sounds a little bit along the lines of what the company, LINE, is doing with Webtoon. Is there something that differentiates you guys from that in the sense that you're doing short, creator-owned content in a digital space, or do you see this as a platform and a space that is going to get very crowded very quickly?
Ryan: Yeah, there are similarities with Webtoon. Where we really see ourselves being different is that the way we're leading with commissioning all of them being creator-owned series. We're paying fair rates, and then back to what I was saying before, the difference between us comes down to working to doing it ourselves. When we launch, we're aiming to be the premium comic app on mobile, so that subscription cost, again, doesn't just go to us, but it also is distributed amongst the creator-owned projects.
Jim: I think a word like “premiere,” in many ways, is a good way to think of it, because we're going to be paying people good rates, we're going to be sharing revenue with them, but, then along with that, you're working with not just a product, you're working with publishers, so you're going to have access to editors, and you're going to have a guy like our good buddy, Steve Sunu, doing PR for you. You're getting a whole package that, if you're just putting your work out there on another digital platform, you're not necessarily getting that type of support and the type of partnership that we're offering.
Then from a creator-owned standpoint, who gets to hold what rights? Is this more of an Image model where the creator holds all the rights to their stuff, or is there a bit of a share?
Ryan: It is soooooo creator-owned, man.
It is more along the Image model, and when I came on board that was one of the goals. I want to get us to the point where we have the best deal in comics. Paying advances, and, as far as creator-owned rights, we don't take anything. The one thing that we have is digital exclusivity for a set amount of time just so that when it's running on our platform, it's not running on other platforms, but other than that, we don't take anything. We don't take copyright. We don't take percentages of other media, right, TV, film, what have you. We don't take merchandise. We don't take any of that stuff. We don't even take print, is the other thing. For the creators that are coming in and for the ones that are totally sold on digital and for the ones that are in the digital, but are not as native to it as other folks, these are creators who are used to making money off of their print catalog, we're not taking the print rights from them. If they want to go to another publisher after their run completes with us and collect their comics there and print it, we're fine with that.
So would they be allowed to go do issues or just collections?
Ryan: Any way they want to do it. Yeah.
This is more a question about functionality of the app, and the reading experience. Outside of the continuous scroll, is there something on the road map to make the experience more dynamic or is the continuous scroll the Stela model?
Ryan: In terms of how we display the story, and how people interact with it, that's essentially it.
We're not planning to add sound effects or semi-auto animations. Those things are neat, but that is more of an interactive experience. We don't consider that actually comics. We're just trying to do comics that are mobile based.
Jim: One of the things I like about it in a way, and the way I like to think about is, sequential story telling isn't broken. It works, and comics have gone along for a long time with that and it's fun. You can do different variations of how you do it, but we keep going back to that same traditional method. What we're doing in many ways is not trying to evolve what comics are, we're trying to evolve the way in which you read them and where you read them. I think that's the nice thing. We're kind of sequential story telling in a pure form where you're seeing one panel after another as you scroll, but the way you're going to be able to read that and where you're going to be able to read that is going to change because of the delivery method.
Are there any ambitions to port it over to the new Apple TV or is that way far down?
Ryan: That's probably way far down. At this point, we can just think about iPhone or Android.