French Publisher Guy Delcourt and ComiXology's David Steinberger Talk Bringing Delcourt to America

Ahead of Comic-Con International: San Diego, some of the biggest news for digital comics leader [...]

Ahead of Comic-Con International: San Diego, some of the biggest news for digital comics leader ComiXology was that they would be importing French-language publisher Delcourt to the United States for the first time in new, digital English translations of a number of their ongoing titles and graphic novels.

The initiative is an aggressive one, with dozens of titles hitting in the first few months, building up a substantial library that will likely make Delcourt one of the largest international presences on the ComiXology app by the end of 2015.

Delcourt Group President Guy Delcourt and ComiXology CEO David Steinberger joined at Comic-Con for a brief discussion about the deal, its goals and ramifications.

What was it that drew you to ComiXology?

Guy Delcourt: Well, what first drew me was all the French-language content. We were the first publisher in France to sign up with ComiXology, and I was immediately impressed with their approach to digital comics, which I had known very little about. I was a very traditional publisher at that point.

So three years ago, David [Steinberger] did a presentation and explained the Guided View system, which I found extremely convincing, very simple, very efficient. We could ask creators whether they wanted it or not, while we assembled their pages. So we signed up and we were very happy with the relationship, and as time went on, he said, "Well, this could also apply to English-speaking comics."

I had been wanting for a long time to make our books available in English, so it was a huge door, opening suddenly.

For ComiXology, were there any engineering difficulties in terms of working with Guided View? Obviously European and American comics tend to have different layouts.

David Steinberger: I think the chief differences are the page size. I'd say that in the bandes dessinées, you're much more likely to see very tightly-gridded layout. Not a lot of punching through the panels and huge amounts of what I might consider more difficult pages for Guided View to handle well. Guided View really is kind of masking and navigating, so as long as there's a clean panel, it's totally simple to do. I really feel like we created a solution to make it readable on a phone because the iPhone was the first thing we put it out on, and even on a tablet, you're still talking about quite a bit smaller sized-pages than a bandes dessinées album, so I think it's even more necessary than for U.S. comic books to do it.

So, no, I don't think there's any particular challenge at all. In fact, I think for the most part, the storytelling is very delineated and clean within the panels.

Moving into the English-speaking market, what's your approach in terms of getting the word out? There's huge awareness in your existing market, but the U.S. market is very dominated by a handful of publishers and the direct market of print bookstores.

Delcourt: Our approach was to put ourselves in the hands of ComiXology, really. We had a very good exchange about that, saying that we need to have some visibility, so we agreed to the exclusive with ComiXology, and they agreed to push our content, to make it visible.

Do you think having a project from somebody like Charlie Adlard makes a great way "in" for American audiences, especially considering how well The Walking Dead does on ComiXology?

Delcourt: Well, yeah. We definitely tried to use all of the assets that we have to make people notice us and Charlie is a very good artist who does very well in America, so he has one foot in each culture. We're very lucky that he did that book for us, and it's a great story -- a World War I story with monsters -- so I think it's a good bridge between cultures.

How long did it take you guys to put it all together?

Steinberger: Well let's see. We entered the French market three years ago, and two and a half years ago, we announced with Delcourt in January at Angoulême that we were getting their content in French, for our French-language localized app. And we must have talked even briefly about this type of thing even then.

Delcourt: I fantasized about it! [laughs]

Steinberger: And Guy has been very focused every couple of years, every time I've seen him, to say "Okay, how do I do this?" We've talked a lot about -- Marvel brought over some Soleil books in the early 2000s and putting them into the retail market, selling to retailers and no availability of back issue unless you get as far as having a trade done, is a very difficult market to start in. Marvel, bless their souls, has their own books to take care of as well and the fact is, the amount of effort to penetrate the comic book retail market, it's like a brand-new publisher coming into the U.S.

As you know, over the past three or four years, the amount of new content coming into the English-language part of ComiXology is enormous. Tens of thousands of books that would never have gotten into a comic book retail store are available, and forever available, and so you can build this up. We've talked about a dedication to establish that. We've taken the French angle to start with because we have spent the last few years talking about France as a great model for the U.S. market. Our friends in France spend way more money than we do, per person, on comics -- so they're a little bit bigger than the single-issue retail market than the U.S., with one-fifth of the population. It's insane, right?

So the one thing I feel like I tried to contribute to this discussion was, "Let's do something that has some length." So we have two years of plans. Over the first year, we'll have over 150 titles and next week we'll have a whole new debut of a bunch of new #1s on Wednesday. Week after that, we'll do the same thing and week after that we'll do the same thing. So you have four starting points in a month, and then the four books or five books that started with issue number one this week, will be out again next month. And so it has a cadence that English comic book readers understand.

At the same time, we're putting out full-story graphic novels. We're not only giving a taste of the stuff that will appeal as a serialized book that you get month after month after month until the story's done, but also more literary graphic novels, all at once. We're very lucky to have a partner in Guy who will spend the resources and understand that we have to build over time.

And if we have a breakout hit next month, or in three months, or in four months, all of those books are still available, unlike in the retail channel. They're available for somebody go to, "Oh, that's interesting," and we'll start to see a hit come out. That's my hope, is that we start to see a couple of hits come out in the next six months and prove out this model of investment.

One thing that strikes me is, do you think that if you have great success with, say, three or four specific stories in ComiXology that there's potential to bring them to print, knowing that you don't have to spend a lot of money on all of these books because you have a test market in what works?

Delcourt: Yeah, down the line that's possible. We hope that some of these books will be in print, of course. But I don't want to set my hopes too high on that, first of all. You have to be modest and persistent. Publishing is about persistence and we're in it for the long run. We have established a business plan that is about very reasonable sales and we'll see how it goes. Some of these books could end up in print, it would be great, probably through some other American publisher like Archaia or NBM.

Even greater if some of these stories are read by people in the film or TV business, who knows? I'd love to have some of these turned into movies or series.

Do you think that the availability of back issues will help to contextualize the books in a way single issue sales never really could with a new publisher to the marketplace?

Delcourt: Very much. Also, our translations. We hired American translators and then we had that read by another translator. We didn't want the books to read as "foreign" but as something that has been originated there.