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IDW Publishing Celebrates 15 Years In San Diego

Comic Book Company Reflects Changes In Industry

Evening Edition

Aired 5/30/14 on KPBS News.

IDW has been one of the top five comic publishers for almost 5 years. The San Diego based company celebrates its 15th anniversary and KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando visited the company to discuss how comics have changed over the years.

Transcript

Beth Accomando

Ted Adams (founder/CEO), Chris Mowry (writer, "Godzilla: Rulers of Earth"), and Chris Ryall (editor in chief) of IDW -- jobs and an office to die for.

"Captain America" and the "X-Men" may rule the box office this summer but there was a time not long ago when comics were thought to contribute to juvenile delinquency and libraries had no comic book section. Ted Adams, founder of IDW Publishing — one of the top comic book companies for the last 5 years — recalls that comics weren’t just a niche market, they were looked down upon.

"You wouldn’t read a comic book on an airplane," Adams says, "and there was this general consensus that comics was not literature, people who were reading comics were not all that smart."

"When I first started doing this," remembers Chris Ryall, editor-in-chief at IDW, "I would tell people what I was doing and they’d sort of look at you and pat you on the head, and like, 'aw that’s cute,' or look to my wife and go 'I’m sorry.' There was always a lot of like it’s a kid thing.

But Ryall says things certainly have changed.

"It’s sort of this Golden Age for appreciation for comics and just the way they have pervaded the culture," he says.

And something of a Golden Age for IDW, a company Adams started 15 years ago with three friends in a tiny office in Pacific Beach. Now IDW nearly has 50 employees in two buildings (both filled to the brim with comic books and toys) and publishes dozens of monthly comics. The company has grown because it’s been able to adapt to the increasingly diverse demographic of comic book readers. It's celebrating its 15th anniversary by expanding to big-box board games and opening an entertainment division to produce TV shows.

"For a long time," Adams says, "it was mostly male dominated and that sort of 20- to 30-year-old male was the primary reader for comics. But today we’ve got little girls who read our 'My Little Pony' comics; we’ve got lots of women who like our books like 'Locke and Key;' We still have the hardcore collectors who like our artist editions and really want to look at how the art was created; and we do some classic American comic strips which appeal to a very old demographic in many cases. So our products really span a wide demographic spectrum."

Ryall adds, "We always set out to not do superhero comics because Marvel and DC have been doing those for 75 years now and I don’t think anybody’s ever going to do better or to a degree that breaks through the public consciousness in that way. So when I started (10 years ago) we did about six or seven titles a month, and now we do about 60 to 70 titles a month. So we’re handling some of the biggest brands in the world, we are a top-tier publisher in the world, and the fact that we’ve been able to keep it in San Diego and grow from such a small company is great."

Contributing to the changing demographic is a technology that some thought would kill the industry: online comics.

"Once everybody’s fear of the unknown — that everybody always seems to have when there is a new technology introduced — subsided a bit," Ryall says, "everybody rationally sat back and saw that not only has digital helped expand the market, brought in people that don’t have comic book stores near them or maybe have drifted away from comics or just want to check out something new, but it has also helped increase print sales too. So what I think has happened is the reverse of what I think people were afraid of, which is digital has actually helped get new readers that have then come into comic stores, like what they have found and stuck with it. Where I think the market has embraced both technologies, print and electronic."

"So what that tells me is people discovered comic books in the form of eReaders," Adams concludes, "And then actually sought the physical product as well. The nice thing about comic books is they are always a kind of fun, collectible component with them as well that you don’t get with the digital version."

Adams has played up that collectible angle by producing gorgeous art books and by creating high end comics and graphic novels that people want to save.

Ryall agrees, "I’ll read Entertainment Weekly and pitch it as soon as I’m done, but with a comic book you want to keep it, you want to put it in a box, you go to conventions, you sit it down in front of the creator and have him sign it for you, and most other magazines or newspapers is disposable. With comic books you know there’s still that tactile thing of seeing the art bigger in your hands, controlling the reading experience that some people just love, most people still just love. So the fact that both are out there for people and both have thrived has done nothing but expand the audience."

Credit: Beth Accomando

Chris Mowry, writer of IDW's "Godzilla: Rulers of Earth," says his toys are for "research purposes."

Chris Mowry writes the IDW comic, "Godzilla: Rulers of Earth." He’s surrounded by an army of various sized Godzilla figures and says they are there for a purpose.

"The toys in the office are there for practical reasons and research purposes of course," Mowry insists.

Digital technology has made the publishing of comics faster but the process remains the same says Mowry: "For creating them, nothing really has changed, I mean it’s still the same old thing. I’ll write a script, I’ll give it to my artist, artist then gives it to the colorist, we put it together in production."

But now those people don’t have to be in the same room or even the same country.

"So an artist in Chile will draw a page for me," Ryall explains, "and I’ll send it off to an Australian colorist and then it will come here to San Diego and we’ll letter it up and get it approved to print in Korea. So it’s shrunk the world to a degree that everybody — no matter where you are — has an equal playing field and equal opportunity to break in."

There’s a definite romance to the old school way of publishing a comic that Ryall, Mowry and Adams admit they miss. But they still find working in the comics industry a dream job.

"It really is like a dream come true for me," Mowry says. "I’ve been a fan [of Godzilla] since I can remember, so being able to work on this property every day is just too cool. Too cool for words. The thing about Godzilla that’s really fun is it’s kind of like I get to go back to when I was a kid playing with all these toys, but now I get to write whatever I want and there are no limitations."

Credit: IDW

One of the covers for IDW;s "Godzilla: Rulers of Earth."

For Adams, "The best day for me is when we get our advance copies from our printer, typically on Thursdays, and he’ll come in and bring us a stack of books and no matter what I am doing, I’ll stop and take a look at those books, and flip through those books. That’s the satisfaction for me. The things I enjoy most about being a publisher are getting those advance copies and seeing the work that all the people around me are doing, and then also being able to give books to people, to my friends and family, and being able to say hey here’s a book I published there’s great satisfaction with that."

"Just being surrounded by creative people," Rydall says, "and seeing artwork come in, everyday it’s something invigorating and rewarding and makes me realize the 10-year-old in me would be so proud of what I am doing now because it’s exactly what I think I always wanted to do with my life so it’s worked out nicely in that way."

Not many people can say that. But then maybe that’s why comics give such pleasure to readers because they are created by people who has a true passion for what they are doing.

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