What could possibly entice you as a reader to try a new comic book line? How about making the company's first issues available for 75 cents? Check. What about reprinting quality European books? Check. How about placing model Cindy Margolis on the cover of your comic? Check - Check - CHECK!
Well, you can expect all of the previously-mentioned incentives and more from one of the newest companies to join the comic industry, Alias Entertainment. CBR News contacted Mike Miller, Executive Director for Alias, for more information about this company and their plans for success in this finicky market.
To begin with, Miller gave us some background by detailing the company's origin. "Basically, the timeline goes like this: I met Everett 'E-Roc' Fitzgerald when he contacted me for an interview for a magazine article some three or four years back. I had just put together a business plan for a comic book company and E-Roc wanted to help me get it into the hands of some investors. The business model I had designed was quickly losing basis in 'reality' because of the falling sales of the comic market. Soon I hooked up with Roaring Studios (run by the Dabel Brothers) and didn't have time to redesign my business model. I thought that perhaps I would make a permanent home with them and forego my previous desire to start my own company.
"As time went on, E-Roc and I kept in touch, and he eventually introduced me to Brett Burner, a friend of his who was both a magazine publisher and a printer. We hit it off right away and would talk about producing a comic magazine of some kind. I then introduced Brett to the Dabel Brothers, and through them, Image Comics. Brett's company, Lamp Post Publications, started taking on printing work for various comic companies including Image, IDW, Arcana and others. As Brett got more into the comic world, he became more interested in actually producing comic books. Since he and I spoke regularly, we bounced ideas off each other about how to make that happen.
"As things with Roaring Studios, now known as DBPro, began to change, I turned to Brett to see if we could make some things happen," continued Miller. "I had been in production on several titles ('Lullaby,' 'Imaginaries,' 'Deal with the Devil,' just to name a few), most of which were holdovers from my wanting to be my own publisher. I had already gotten several of these titles approved by Erik Larsen to publish at Image, when Brett and I worked out a deal where he could secure funding to produce these properties at a more regular pace, so that the artists involved could make a living creating the books, rather than have to do them on the side while making a living at their 'normal' jobs. We then formed Alias Enterprises as that production company."
As Miller indicated though, several of these books were already approved by Image. In fact, you probably recognize "Lions, Tigers and Bears," "Lullaby: Wisdom Seeker" and "The Imaginaries" as titles in the Image section of your store's shelves. However, this will change shortly. Miller explained, "As we went to press forward with our plans, it became obvious that working solely with Image Comics would limit us in our scope and vision. Image had been fantastic up to that point, and we didn't want to cause them any grief by pulling our previous commitments from them. Thus, (the previously mentioned titles) all remain Image books through their first miniseries. Each of these titles will eventually be published directly under Alias in the near future."
Those who follow the comic industry know that it's not easy to start up a new company in this market. The risks involved are high, and the success rate is low. What makes Alias believe they can succeed where so many others have failed? According to Miller, it's all about having a plan and patience.
"We are not coming in saying 'we're going to beat Marvel in a year.' No matter how much money you've got, you can't expect to compete with a 60 year old company with the kind of loyal fan base Marvel has. What we would like to do is compete with Marvel in twenty or thirty years. That's going to take starting strong, staying consistent, building a fan base in the market, but more importantly - most importantly - reaching readers outside the market with our properties. We plan to get our comics to the people, rather than trying to get the people into comic shops where there are thousands of other choices they can make. We do have plans to do so. Hopefully by Christmas, some of those plans will have started to come to fruition."
Miller continued to elaborate, "We at Alias believe the future of comics in America is very much akin to the present comic market in Japan. There is a comic for everyone there, whether you're into fishing, golfing, superheroes, sushi…everyone has a comic to read, and almost everyone reads comics. The one thing this over-dependence on superheroes has garnered the comic market is an aging and shrinking fan base. The best selling comic in the USA is 'Shonen Jump.' The second is the line of Archie comics. Neither of these are superhero books, and neither of them do very well in the direct market. This is another example of getting comics out to the people, rather than getting the people into the comic shops. It works, when you have the right property, and the right marketing strategy. Hopefully we'll have both when the time comes."
Part of this marketing strategy includes the enticements mentioned at the beginning of this article. The first item in the plan includes inexpensive premiere issues. "The .75 cent promotion really came from me thinking about how easy it was as a kid for me to get hooked on comics. They were only 60-75 cents! I could buy comics for pocket change, and believe me, I was hooked. I wanted to just run an entire miniseries for .75 cents to get people into the characters, but the plan was not feasible. These books are a loss-leader, and we expect that. But more people will be reading them now than would have if they were only offered at the standard $2.99 price point. Did it work? Yes. The .75 cent books tripled the orders of our standard titles, and hopefully those who buy the first books will come back for the rest! We won't know the results of that until after the second issues hit stands, but we're optimistic."
Next on the list is reprinting quality European comics. This came in the form of a book called "XIII." Miller told CBR News, "'XIII' is one of the best selling comics in the history of Europe. It's basically about a man who loses his memory, and when he wakes up stranded on a beach, the only clue he has to his past is a tattoo which reads 'XIII'. Soon he discovers he is being chased by assassins, and he goes on a worldwide hunt to find answers to his past. But the more answers he finds, the more danger he finds himself in... Dargaud, the company that publishes 'XIII,' negotiated a deal with DBPro to publish it here in the states. DBPro is now one of our partners (as we refer to all of our creators) and brought the property to us."
Last, but by no means least, came Cindy Margolis as the cover model for the comic "The Tenth Muse." This piece of marketing seems to be an instance of fortuitous timing on Alias' part. "The Cindy Margolis deal was made about the same time we were negotiating with Darren Davis to bring his Blue Water Productions properties to Alias. She has been very pleased with the production value on the books and we all look forward to meeting her at SDCC this July!"
For creators with projects that need a home, Alias is still accepting submissions. If you are curious about the kind of deal they offer, well, it depends on the kind of deal you need. Miller explains, "On one hand, we can offer a very 'Imagesque' deal, where creators control 100% of copyright and we only take a percentage of net profits (rather than a publishing fee). On the other hand, we have more hands-on deals where a percentage of copyright is granted to us, and we then do everything in our power to push those properties into other media through our partnership with Goldenhouse Entertainment (in Hollywood). We already have several offers on properties we've pushed through Goldenhouse, but we aren't ready to make them public yet.
"But basically, it's up to the creator what he or she wants to do. We would never force anyone to relinquish copyright on their property. As a creator myself, I would not allow a company I run to do that to other creators."
As is often the case, new companies can bring new controversies. Alias is no exception. Due to some unexpected delays, the company's first releases are running a week and a half late. Unfortunately, this means their first releases are hitting the shelves at the same time as their second set of releases. Essentially, nine Alias titles will be filling your store's shelves next Wednesday, May 11th. This has caused a bit of frustration with retailers. They argue that no customer can afford this many books at once. On the other hand, some store owners have agreed that it's a great way to bring attention to a new line.
Miller offers this explanation, "As to the books running late, it's a reality that we have to deal with. We print in Korea, so the books take longer to get to the states. After that, they have to be shipped from the Diamond warehouse in Torrance to the Diamond warehouse in Memphis. Then, after they are catalogued, the west coast copies have to be shipped back to Torrance before any of the copies can be distributed. It's a long process that has us behind, but once we get into a groove and can estimate orders more efficiently, we can get more of our product in on an earlier schedule."
Of the product hitting shelves, Miller is naturally elated. When asked which title he is most excited about, Miller responded, "My own? (Miller is writer/co-writer of 'Deal With the Devil,' 'Imaginaries,' 'Lullaby' and 'Devil's Keeper') Okay, that's not fair. I think that critically, 'Elsinore' will be our biggest hit of the first round of Alias titles. It's expertly written and illustrated, and has a hook that you can't escape from. What if insanity is the next stage of human evolution and, if left unchecked, creates mutations of the superhuman kind? It's like if the only people on earth with super-powers were locked in Arkham Asylum...and yet, they're the earth's only hope for survival!"
As for projects coming up in the future, Miller answered with a laundry list of items:
- First off, we're bringing the 'Lions, Tigers and Bears,' 'Lullaby: Wisdom Seeker,' and 'The Imaginaries' TPB's to Alias for publishing (thanks to Image graciously allowing us those rights back). Then we have the continuing stories of both 'Lullaby' and 'Imaginaries' coming up.
- We have another twist on the whole Oz mythos with 'OzF5,' penciled by 'Invincible' artist Ryan 'Wya' Ottley.
- Blue Water expands its universe with 'Isis' as well as the upcoming 'Victoria's Secret Service.'
- Spanish sensation, 'Johnny Caronte: Zombie Detective and the Revolver' comes to the states through Alias.
- 'Elsinore' creator/writer Ken Lillie-Paetz brings us a bizarre vision of WW3 if it was fought between cute little animals in 'Monkey on a Wagon vs. Lemur on a Big Wheel.'
- A fantastic take on the Biblical King David as a youth in Royden Lepp's 'David: A Shepherd's Song.'
- DBPro and best selling novelist Tad Williams bring us 'Tad William's: The Burning Man.' DBPro has also brought 'Imperial Dragons' to the table, as fans of Shidima and other Asian-martial arts/intrigue will enjoy.
- Tom Bancroft completes his vision of his tale 'Opposite Forces.'
- Scott Sava has two adventures for us, with the continuation of his popular 3D rendered 'The Dreamland Chronicles' and the adaptation of the Korean phenomenon, 'Psi-kix.'
- Ben Avery and Sherwin Schwartzrock break new ground with the fantasy adventure, 'Armor Quest.'
- Runemaster Studios brings another all-ages property to the fold with 'The Gimoles.'
- Former Wildstorm artist Ryan Odagawa lends his hand to a medieval adventure in 'Twin Blades.'
- And of course, I have a few tricks up my sleeve with 'Sixgun Samurai,' a tale of a teenage boy raised in a wild-west show by his trick-shootin' mother and a ronin samurai who mentors him in the ways of bushido; as well as my other book, 'The Devil's Keeper,' a kung-fu battle against demons that spans a thousand years.