There is a new comic book publisher on the block. Magnetic Press made its debut earlier this year at San Diego Comic Con with a number of gorgeously bound hardcover English translations of famous euro comics like Naja, Mekka, and Zaya, by major international comics creators \JD Morvan, Bengal, and Huang-Jia Wei.
Founded by Mike Kennedy and Wes Harris, Magnetic Press focuses on premium graphic novels from a wide range of international talent. Establishing itself quickly with a diverse and impressive publishing catalogue, the publisher has a whole slate of releases lined up for 2015 including a high-profile project from Blink-182's Tom Delonge.
Comicbook.com sat down with Magnetic Press' Co-Founder Mike Kennedy to get to know the new publishing company and to hear about their plans for 2015 and beyond.
So give us the background on Magnetic Press and how it came to be.
Mike Kennedy: Cliché (but true) opening line – I’ve always loved comics. Never considered it as a career, and it never occurred to me that anyone made a living making them. It was always just a fun hobby while I focused on a day job as a designer and producer in the video game industry. 20 years of straddling that fence and -- surprise, surprise -- an opportunity came up to make comics a full time focus as Publisher for Archaia. It was an incredibly fresh, exciting, educational, and challenging experience for three award-winning years. Not too dissimilar to producing video games (albeit on a much smaller budget), but with a lot more intimate, creative satisfaction at the end of the day.
That period was an eye-opener to what else could be done as a publisher, what optional routes could be taken, what other creative choices could be made, and what other amazing titles could be brought to market. Archaia had a very particular filter for what fit that brand, a filter well-established before I arrived, and it was sometimes a bit disappointing what was left on the table at the end of the day. That fed some early fantasies about what a new publishing label could consist of, but they were just that – fantasies. When Boom! Studios acquired Archaia, however, it seemed like the right time to chase those fantasies. Dig into savings, outline a lean-yet-aggressive business plan, and beg for the support and patience from my incredible wife. Starting a business is no small thing, but she graciously and bravely encouraged this crazy dream.
With some plans in place, and a handful of collaborative conversations with start-up partner Wes Harris, we reached out and immediately acquired NAJA, ZAYA, and MEKA, which were all titles we both wanted to bring over for years. Wes had worked at Viz, Boom!, and Whitewolf, so we shared a lot of similar interests and ideas. Those first three acquired titles all proved to be an amazing baseboard for the launch of this new brand, and that quality foundation helped to start collecting other great titles. We put all of our existing experience and contacts to the task, setting up a pipeline for quality book production and worldwide distribution. Now it’s just a matter of building on that launch, and turning an indie dream into a self-sustaining, long-term venture.
Would you say you're trying to fill a particular niche?
MK: To a degree, sure, though not necessarily by design. We’ve come across a lot of awesome material in Europe, South America, Asia, etc that we believe would really be welcomed here with open arms. Stuff that isn’t necessarily capes-and-tights of the Big Two or four-color American Blockbusters of the other big-tier pub houses. Books like Naja, Zaya, and Doomboy are fantastic graphic novels that really should have fans in the North American English-language market. They are cool, and not in a weird, foreign, heady sort of way – they’re cool in a way American readers would define cool. And we want to be the collective that best represents those sorts of titles. Artists like Bengal, Tony Sandoval, Huang-Jia Wei, and Matteo De Longis are so incredibly talented and inspiring, they are way overdue for recognition here, and we want to build the clubhouse that those guys and their uber-talented peers gather inside.
Tell us a little bit about your publishing strategy. It seems like you’ve had a really strong launch and there is a lot of interest in the work you’re publishing. Already there is a certain level of high-quality associated with Magnetic brand. What’s next?
MK: In all honesty, we sprinted out of the gate, which was exhausting, but it put us in a nice visual position within the field. Having six gorgeous hardcover books on the shelves in less than five months is admittedly pretty aggressive, but the combined gravity of that collection has helped draw a lot of exposure to each title in the library, and helped the Magnetic brand itself rise just above the treeline in a relatively short period. We’re still barely off the ground, but we’re not looking to reach orbit any time soon. In fact, we’re pumping the brakes slightly to focus on roughly one release a month in 2015. We want to keep a comfortable reign on Quality over Quantity, and producing one quality hardcover a month is a lot of work on its own. We want to make sure each title gets the TLC it deserves, not only in production quality, but in public awareness as well. It’s a tough juggling act, but we’re learning from experience.
We also want to insure that everything we do measures up to a quality standard, and that includes some non-graphic-novel projects currently in the works – art books (such as VOX by Matteo De Longis), tabletop games (such as Bengal’s WORLD OF CASSYNO), and some collectible merchandise being discussed with a few premiere vendors. If it’s going to bear the Magnetic logo, it should be quality you can count on.
What’s the publishing strategy thus far? Are you mostly going to be bringing over European books into the American market? Will there ever be Magnetic books from US creators?
MK: Leading our launch with so many European titles was indeed a strategic decision. We were able to secure completed, quality books with which we could plant our flag in the ground quickly. To develop and release 6-8 similar original titles for launch would have taken much, much more time and money. We probably would just now be announcing our first title for release next year had we gone that route. By building a foundation on completed material that we believe in, we were able to confidently start production on some original titles on the side with individual creators who didn’t want to be rushed by looming imposed release deadlines. That said, there are currently 3 original graphic novels in wrapping up production right now for release in 2015, and we’re excited to announce them before the end of the year.
Do you think you’ll ever get into publishing in the monthly single issue format?
MK: As a matter of fact, to our own surprise, the answer is “yes.” We recently started production on a very exciting project that we’ll be announcing in the next few weeks, and it will represent our first single-issue series debuting in the Spring. We were originally quite happy focusing on high-quality hardcovers and the book trade, but this project was too cool to pass up. Whether that opens the door for other single-issue series down the road, we’ll have to wait and see. There are a couple of potential series in talks right now.
You’ve got a lot of work from Morvan and Bengal in this first round of releases. How did you end up working with the two of them?
MK: NAJA was a title Wes and I both individually had our eyes on while at separate companies (me at Archaia, he at Boom). So it was a no-brainer that it would be the first title we went after. I was excited to share the news with a good friend in Paris who introduced me to the book in the first place, and it turns out that he knew Bengal personally, and was happy to make the introduction. From there, we built a great, friendly rapport, and even developed a successful Kickstart campaign for THE WORLD OF CASSYNO together. We’re pretty happy to be his (non-exclusive) stateside publisher, with four Bengal titles in the library!
ZAYA was the second title in our sights, and the fact that it was also by JD Morvan was absolute coincidence. We just thought it was really cool! But considering how many books JD has written in France, it was statistically guaranteed that there’d be several other titles of his we’d be interested in (and there are). He has become part of the family, too, and we hope to build his library in our collection as well!
The price point is low for such high quality books, and I think that’s a really smart decision. I work at a retailer here in San Francisco, and we sell through the Magnetic books really quickly because they are reasonably priced, which makes people willing to actually buy them. Was price point something that you carefully considered before the launch?
MK: Yeah, especially considering that we are a new publisher and an unknown player, and most of the names on our titles are relatively new and unknown. The cost-of-entry for an un-initiated reader needs to be inviting, or they’ll never give the book a shot. $19.99 for a 100 page hardcover seems pretty reasonable, and just inside that “impulse buy” margin. A few of our titles are $24.99, but we try to insure the production value and page count justify those extra dollars. And while books like NAJA and ZAYA are $29.99, they are large (8.5 x11”) and roughly 250 pages each. Considering the current 20-22pg floppy comic costs $3.99 these days, you’d pay almost $45 for the same amount of content. And we’re putting it in a sturdy coffee-table-quality hardcover!
We try to consider the added value of design decisions, such as paper quality, binding, lamination FX, curved corners, ribbon bookmarks, etc. We want each book to be an item that people want to hold and display in their homes. Everyone, not just discerning collectors, but average readers and art fans. And we want everyone to be able to afford it, too, not just super-fans with disposable cash. We offer limited editions of certain titles for those who want more, but the core book itself needs to be accessible, or we won’t be doing this for long.
What future releases can you tell us about?
MK: Tony Sandoval’s DOOMBOY is on the shelves now, as well as Bengal’s LUMINAE. We’re so excited for DOOMBOY, I can’t even contain it in words. There’s just something about his ink-and-watercolor art style, and the way he tells such an honest, heartfelt story from one organic panel to the next that is so original and moving. I really hope people respond to it the same way we have, as there are many other Sandoval titles we’d love to bring out next. LUMINAE will also blow people away, since it is Bengal telling a sword-and-sorcery tale his own way. The art, design, characters, and story concept are so rich, we’re hoping to help him find time to make and/or direct more!
Right behind that, just in time for the holiday is Matteo De Longis’s VOX, our first artbook, filled with some gorgeous rock and roll art unlike anything you’ve likely seen so far. We’re also lining up the release of DAOMU by best-selling Chinese author Kennedy Xu, fully painted by Ken Chou. It is a dark, 244 page tomb-raiding adventure filled with gun-toting mercenaries and ageless demons fighting over supernatural ancient secrets. The original novel series has over 20 million fans in China, and this graphic novel adaptation should definitely help build on that number here. The art is stunning.
As for what’s around the corner in 2015, we’ve got some exciting announcements to make in the next 60 days! Stay tuned to our website and Facebook page for news!