Looking inside the Speakeasy/Ardustry Deal with Adam Fortier

Mon, November 28th, 2005 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Jonah Weiland, Executive Producer/Publisher

Eight months ago Adam Fortier launched Speakeasy Comics, a new publisher who took on a wide variety of creator owner properties as well as published their own in-house properties. The company's made some noise with books like "Rocketo," "Ravenous," and "Beowulf," but now they're headed in a new direction as a partnership has been formed between the Toronto, Canada based publishing company and the Los Angeles based Ardustry Entertainment, headed by Barry Levine. While news of this merger has come out in bits and pieces, no one's spoken with Speakeasy head Adam Fortier just yet. CBR News sat down with Fortier to learn more about what this deal means for the company and where they're headed in the coming months.

All right Adam, start by explaining what's going on with Speakeasy?

Recently we partnered with a company called Ardustry Entertainment. There are a bunch of different aspects to this partnership, but one of the keys is getting into the entertainment industry-- which is fun and cash filled, from what I hear. Please tell me nobody's lied to me about that.

(laughs) Oh, there's loads of money to be found there, but it's also been known to be filled with massive amounts of frustration, too!

It absolutely is! This all started back during Comic-Con International in San Diego. The business model for Speakeasy has been focusing on publishing good comic books, and just letting everything else take care of itself for now. We always knew that there were possibilities in terms of entertainment, but San Diego really beat us about the head with that. I probably met with 30 different movie people during the show. That is not my world, that is not my job. I run a full-time comic book company and I really had no proper opportunity to pursue it. Apparently, that made them want me more. (laughs) So, they eventually began to get rather belligerent with me about wanting to work with us and wanting to work on some of our projects. We got some help out in Los Angeles and it kind of went from there. Once we saw all the opportunities, I realized that while I didn't want to be doing this full time, this did seem like a world I'd be interested in pursuing. That's why the partnership really made sense to us.

What does this mean to Speakeasy?

It means a lot of different things. For one, a very big key is that we'll have someone available full time representing our interests in the entertainment industry. We've already talked to apparel and video game companies. We've had entertainment people approach us about bringing their properties to the comic book medium. There's been a lot of creative back and forth.

I'm sure, as you know from living in Los Angeles, comic books are quite often considered an untapped resource in the entertainment industry: low cost, quick turn around and you get your vision out there. But, of course, aside from DC, who's handcuffed to Warner's, and Marvel, who does their own thing, outside of that there aren't very many venues. Realistically, there's Dark Horse and that's about it (in terms of medium to large sized comic book company). So, what this will mean for us is we're definitely going to be changing our business model. We'll still be publishing creator owned product, but we're also going to do some licensed properties that have been brought to us that we think would be bloody awesome. And we'll continue to publish our own properties. That means the Hawke Studios books will be continuing along with some new properties that we're developing.

So you'll be adding new titles from Hawke Studios as well?

Yeah, and as a result we'll be subtracting from the creator owned. We'll probably end up with a 1/4 to a 1/3 creator owned, 1/4 to 1/3-book properties that we own with the rest being licensed properties.

Can you reveal what some of those licenses might be?

That's quite a ways down the line right now. We've had a lot of communication and there's definitely going to be some interesting stuff, but until the ink's dry I can't talk about it.

Speakeasy's Adam Fortier and Chris Stone at Wizard World LA, 2005
Let's talk a bit more specifically about what the deal is between Ardustry and Speakeasy. Has Ardustry purchased Speakeasy? Is it a partnership? Or is it a merger?

You know, there's no real good word for it. I guess the best word would be merger. There are a lot of different elements to this and there's not exactly one word that reflects all aspects of this arrangement. Ardustry found us because they were very interested in exploring the comic book medium. We have a lot of content that we own, plus we have even more content that we get to develop and they needed a vehicle for their own properties to get made into comic books. So, it seemed like a very good opportunity. This is more about how they'll make us bigger and how we'll make them bigger.

I was looking at their line-up of work on their Web site. They have a number of feature film properties in the pipeline.

I should point out that Web site will be updated and relaunched very soon. They don't have the home entertainment division anymore. This is basically a new entity and we're starting from the beginning with Barry Levine.

Yeah, tell me a bit more about Barry Levine. I'm only familiar with him on a cursory level. He's been working with Dark Horse for a while, right?

Yeah, he's worked for a few years with Dark Horse Entertainment. He's set up a number of films with Mike Richardson and, of course, with other people as well. You'll have to ask him the number of properties he's set up, he keeps on adding to that list! He looked at this as an opportunity to go off and do his own thing and partner with some other people. He and Mike have amiably parted ways. This is an opportunity for him to be his own boss, kind of how I felt when I started Speakeasy Comics.

So, Barry is Ardustry then?

That might be a bit too simpleā€¦.there are others involved with the company as well that are vital to its running It just would likely be too complicated to get into the minutiae right now. He'll also serve as President of Entertainment with Speakeasy.

What does this mean for the creator owned books you guys publish? Will this mean that you will represent your creators in Hollywood and shop them around?

This is something that needs to be worked out with the contracts. In the future, that's something that we'll offer people bringing their projects to us. It's going to be great for the creators because it will present a very valuable vehicle for them. So, it's basically one business model versus another.

How did you come to the attention of Ardustry and Barry Levine?

It's one of those friends of a friend of a friend type situations. Basically, we had a property Barry was interested in. We met in San Diego and started talking and got along really well. He then approached me in joining forces, partnering if you will. I wasn't adverse to the idea, but I'll be honest with you, I've been approached by a number of people to do this and I've pretty much turned each of them down because it's not enough to just say, "Hey, you get to make some money off this." That alone isn't worth it. But, if it's a partnership that gives me access to areas that I don't have access to and, as a result, I can not only make my company bigger, but also work with people that have the same goals that I do, that's awesome!

What's the immediate impact on Speakeasy going to be like?

Well, we'll bring some more people on. We'll be focusing a lot more on our own projects. In terms of November, December and January, you won't see much in the way of change. This does not mean that any contracts are being cancelled or that any projects won't go through to their appropriate end. When you start talking about March, April and May, that's really when you'll start seeing changes and a shift in projects.

All right, with only eight months in business you don't have an extensive track record of work to point to. With that in mind, what made Speakeasy so attractive to Ardustry and Barry Levine?

Speakeasy was interesting because we were open to the different possibilities that Ardustry were offering. We have never been afraid to take a risk in taking a different approach to the industry we work in. They are very interested in licensed properties and interested in doing more than that, such as merchandise. With my experience with other companies, that becomes very valuable. It was important that along with the IP Speakeasy had, that I remain with the company. It's not just about publishing. If it were just about publishing, why not just launch an imprint? So, it's more than that. I think a large part of it was just how well we got along together and the different abilities we could bring to the table. It's fantastic when everyone at the table genuinely likes and respects each other, rather than sitting there trying to find an Achilles heel to exploit.

Given this development, where do you see Speakeasy a year from now? Two years out? Three years out? Will this be a much different company?

We definitely are going to have a stronger presence in the overall market. And more importantly we'll get the opportunity to go after bigger things. There are companies and individuals around a lot longer that have never been given an opportunity like this one. It's up to me and the people I work with to try to take advantage and maximize every single opportunity we are being given. It's for sure going to be a different company as well. Up until now we've followed one clear business model that we will be altering. So, it will be bigger and I think it'll be more successful for it.

As you know, there are a lot of problems in the industry right now and I think diversification is always good. What I have said previously about the company isn't going to change. Another big aspect of why they wanted to do this with us was our belief in the foreign market, our belief in the mass market and our belief in non-traditional methods. So, I think that's very important to them and none of that's going to change. Really, just the properties we'll be publishing will change and we'll get an opportunity to have some fun with some other stuff. Hell, I want toys!

 
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