BOOM! Studios is a small publisher, but they think big. As their marketing director for the past four years, Chip Mosher has come up with some memorable stunts, including the "Mark Waid is Evil" viral marketing campaign for Waid's "Irredeemable" and the first-ever simultaneous print and digital release -- "North Wind," which was published on MySpace for free the same day it went on sale in comics shops. When Shannon Wheeler's "I Thought You Would Be Funnier" was nominated for an Eisner award but left off the first version of the online ballot, Mosher made sure the comics news sites knew about it and distributed copies of the book to journalists and Eisner voters; in the end, Wheeler's book won the award. And when Disney pulled the licenses for BOOM!'s well-regarded Muppets and Pixar books, Mosher countered the following week by announcing the new kaboom! line of children's comics that included the Roger Langridge series "Snarked!" as well as Peanuts and Word Girl graphic novels.
Last week, Mosher announced he was leaving BOOM! and today we learn he's joining digital comics distributor comiXology, where he will serve as Vice-President of Marketing, Public Relations and Business Development. CBR News caught up with him in his brief hiatus between the two jobs to get some insights into the past and clues as to what will be coming next.
CBR News: Chip, after the success you've had at BOOM!, why the move to comiXology?
Chip Mosher: After four years of trying to get everyone to capitalize "BOOM!" with an exclamation mark, I just saw how comiXology spells their company's name with all lower case, and with a capital "X" in the middle... and I just said to myself, "That is my next challenge!" [Laughs]
Seriously, you know, I love BOOM! and working there the last four years has been an incredible rocket ride. When I arrived in 2007, you could count the people that worked there on one hand and the number of titles BOOM! published on the other. And now... wow! BOOM!'s gotten so big with so many titles, it's really been just a phenomenal trajectory. Being part of the team that has taken BOOM! from not even being ranked in the top 20 comic companies to being firmly entrenched in the top ten has been a huge privilege. Honestly, there really wasn't that much out there that could take me away from BOOM!, but when this opportunity came up with comiXology... I just knew I couldn't pass it up.
People in the industry who know me well know I am a big tent guy, a big picture guy, so this isn't going to strike those who really know me and my passions as a giant leap. Going from doing PR and marketing for just one comic company to doing PR and marketing for "comics" as a medium is a big draw for me -- and a huge challenge. And I like to be challenged.
What will you actually be doing at comiXology, and how will things be different there than they were before?
I'd like to think that I've built a reputation as a relentless and aggressive marketing and PR guy, and part of the impetus in my hire is that comiXology wanted to take their PR in-house. Honestly, I really just pulled a Dick Cheney. [Laughs] David Steinberger, the CEO of comiXology, asked me for my advice on who to hire as their new in-house PR guy -- and in doing the search, I picked myself as his Vice President! [Laughs]
Of course, I'll be out in L.A. opening up the new office here, and not just doing PR, but working on marketing and business development as well. So the position grew from those talks. I don't know how different things will be at comiXology. They've done a pretty damn good job before me coming on board. I'm really there just to get the word out about their great products -- for instance, the comics.comixology.com web store and reader has never received enough attention, in my mind -- and help build some bridges in areas that I have expertise in. You know, there are a ton of comic book publishers out here in Los Angeles and on the West Coast that I'll be able to be more responsive and proactive with. I also have pretty deep relations in the comic retail community and I am sure I will be interfacing with all the friends I made in the BOOM! RV the last couple of years.
As you mentioned, you were at BOOM! Studios for four years, which is a long time in the comics world. What were some of the high and low points of your tenure there?
Oh boy! That's a loaded question. Lowest point had to do with getting the word out on Mark Waid's "Potter's Field" miniseries. "Potter's Field," in my mind, is one of the best things that Mark has written. Just a superb crime comic... with fantastic art by Paul Azaceta and with brilliant colors by Nick Filardi. The series was solicited right when I was hired and if it had been a year or so later, Mark would be exclusively known as a crime writer. It's that good. And I just didn't have the experience or the runway at the time to get the word out. It is still a book that to this day I evangelize to people. Seriously, if you haven't read it, you must.
The high point for me is something that people don't really see, and that is the people behind BOOM! Helping build that team was incredibly gratifying. Bringing current E-i-C Matt Gagnon to the attention of CEO Ross Richie and then-E-i-C Mark Waid. Meeting current editor Dafna Pleban at the BOOM! Holiday Party in 2007 as a fan and just knowing in my bones she'd be perfect for the company, knowing it would be awhile until we would be big enough to hire her, hiring her a year later and then Dafna just killing it. Stuff like that that no one sees is the most gratifying thing to me.
BOOM! has a ton of great stuff in the hopper that I am sad I won't be a part of. But I'm still going to be cheering them on from the sidelines, instead of being in the game. Most of all, I'll really miss the people, my BOOM! family.
At BOOM! you worked with most every digital comics company from iVerse to Graphic.ly to less well-known companies. What do you think the challenges are in this crowded marketplace?
To quote James Spader from his "The Office" debut: "Do I look like someone who'd waste my own time?" [Laughs] Seriously, at BOOM! I worked with all the digital vendors under the sun and I have a great personal respect for everyone at those other companies, but in actuality, comiXology doesn't really have a competitor.
The big problem right now is that all these publisher contracts were signed several years ago with confidentiality clauses, so no one is reporting digital sales numbers. So it's hard to get that messaging out and that also makes it easy for other companies to say they're innovating and kicking ass when they do just a small fraction of business when compared to comiXology. I'm all for competition, as that usually makes you better, but the great thing about comiXology is that they are just super smart and incredibly competitive with themselves.
I worked at Apple for a couple of years and one of the things that was so admirable about Apple is that they were ruthless in killing incredibly successful products and replacing them with better ones -- even when they could have rested on their laurels and just raked in the cash. ComiXology has that same mentality -- look at the 3.0 Comics by comiXology [app] update they just did. It's light years ahead of anything else on the market. And while they could have just rested on their laurels as the only real game in town, they didn't, they innovated. And that's a company I want to be a part of.
I know from your bio you have been involved in comics one way or another since you were in college. How did you get into comic books and the comic business?
[Laughs] I've actually been working in the comic book business since I was a teenager. You get to a point reading so many comics that you have to subsidize your habit -- so, of course, I started out working at my local comic shop in my home town. Then I spent a summer working at the Capitol City warehouse in Houston. Later on, in college, I lived next to Shannon Wheeler and would help him out with his early "Too Much Coffee Man" era stuff.
Going to comiXology is a bit of a professional homecoming for me. It's a long story, but the "CliffsNotes" version is that through Wheeler, I met some guys in Austin that were doing comics and ran an early Internet Service Provider and entertainment portal called eden.com. [That web address is now used by a different company.] They brought me aboard and I came up with this crazy idea to put downloadable comic books on the Web! This was back in the Mosaic days, pre-Netscape, so it was really revolutionary, believe it or not. This was my first taste at coming up with an idea, implementing it, and that idea taking off. We got written up in the premiere hipster tech mag of its day, "Mondo 2000" (that's pre-"Wired," folks!), and were the belle of the ball at Comic-Con in 1994. Of course, like most early content web plays of the day they went out of business very quickly. But through that I got a short-term gig at Marvel trying to do something interactive with their "Edge" line. But the only thing that came of that was going to the editors' retreat, meeting an unknown writer by the name of Warren Ellis, and then teaming up with Peter David and annihilating Bobbie Chase and Howard Mackie at wallyball. (Don't ask!) All in all, I'm pretty blessed as I've had a fantastic time working in comics.
But as for starting reading them: "G.I. Joe." I was one of those kids in the '80s. Thank God for licensed comics.
Back in 2008, BOOM! released "North Wind" on MySpace the same day it went on sale in comics shops, making that the first simultaneous day-and-date print and digital release. What part did you play in that, and how did it play out?
I have to give credit to Ross Richie, who basically hired me and let me off the chain. He's just an incredibly supportive boss and really gave me the space to spread my wings and do my thing. I'll be eternally grateful to him for that. As for "North Wind," you know, I was at a Holiday Party for BOOM! and talking to Sam Humphries, who was running MySpace Comics. We concocted the idea that night. I went to Ross and Waid, who both loved the idea. And we were off to the races.
BOOM! and I were both eviscerated by some retailers for doing it, but going day-and-date digital increased print sales... and basically proved a business model that is working to this day. Today, especially after the successful same day as print release of DC's The New 52 on comiXology and print sales beating all estimates across the board -- there should be no one that thinks that print comics will suffer because of digital releases.
The thing about digital comics that is so exciting to me is that there is nothing to compare it to. It's an easy story to say print is dead with digital on the rise. Or that comic book stores will go the same way that music stores did with the advent of iTunes. But none of those metaphors work. There is nothing in the past that you can graft on and make sense of here. Never in the history of the world have you had a hobbyist entertainment medium become available to the masses through digital means. Hasn't happened. It's a whole new world.
What do you say to people who think you going from BOOM! to comiXology means you don't believe print comics have a future?
I've been pretty vocal in the opinion that I think that print comic books have a VERY long life. You know, comic books as a medium is a storytelling medium and humans gravitate to stories to make sense of our world. One medium dying and another thriving is a great story. But life and business is rarely that tidy. The reality of the situation is the print comics have been a growth business in the last 7 out of 10 years. Of course, the last three consecutive years happen to be when comics have not grown, so a lot of people feel the sky is falling. But we are in the midst of the Great Recession. And while digital comics will bring change, and some disruption to current businesses, I don't see print comics going anywhere.
The most infuriating thing to me is when people try to relate the music industry and what happened to music stores with comic stores -- this is like comparing McDonalds to specialty wine stores. We live in such an "either/or time" right now, but I firmly believe both digital and print will thrive side by side.
You were responsible for promoting individual properties at BOOM!, but comiXology has thousands of comics. How will that change the way you do your job?
Great question. Obviously, I'll be doing a lot to promote the comiXology brand itself and the comics medium as a whole. I'll be working with individual publishers and coordinating marketing campaigns on the digital side of things with those publishers. Having recently come from comic publishing, I have a unique perspective, and really know the "pains" that other publishers experience. So I think that viewpoint will be helpful in maximizing what all publishers do with comiXology. But just being in the position to market comics as a whole, with comiXology as the delivery device, is very exciting to me. I have good relationships with almost all the publishers that comiXology works with and it will be great to work with all them. Maybe I'm just weird, but stuff like that jazzes me up!
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing digital comics?
The biggest challenge facing comics, not just digital, is that people underestimate the appeal of comics in general. I know I've done it in the past. People get down on the pamphlet comic. They say it's dead. (Hello, DC's The New 52, folks!) They get down on the market. They get down on everything. While I don't think that all the comic industry's problems have been solved by the existence of a profitable digital comics distribution business like comiXology, having digital distribution has the potential to be the rising tide that lifts all ships. And I think we've seen that with DC's The New 52.
By that same token, what do you see as the biggest challenge facing comiXology?
comiXology will need to keep being ruthless in challenging itself, in making itself better. And, you know, it's hi-tech, so you never know what is lurking around the corner. Someone can innovate in a space you are not aware of. But what people don't remember about comiXology is that they weren't the first-to-market with digital comics. They were, what I like to call, "best-to-market." They came in late, came in better -- with the Guided View technology, a great store and awesome publisher relationships -- and swept up. If we keep that commitment to excellence, I don't see anything stopping us.