The professional sports has always been a little more comics friendly than you might initially suspect and the Chicago Bears have been in as deep as any team in the sports world. You may recall Bears linebacker Lance Briggs writing an issue of Pilot Season a few years back. Not one to be outdone, recently retired Bears defensive end Israel Idonije started his own comics publishing company.
Athlitacomics recently released its first trade paperback collection of The Protectors. A project with its origins all the way back in 2007.
“I wrote the original concept during training camp in 2007 in a dorm room in Bourbonnais, Illinois,” explained Idonije. He ended up with a 70 page series bible, so it’s probably safe to assume the coaches were happy to have at least one player who was behaving himself at camp.
The series bible lingered until the San Diego Comicon in 2011, where Indonije had breakfast with writer Ron (Green Lantern, Witchblade) Marz. Marz eventually brought in Bart (Justice League Europe, Captain America & The Falcon) Sears as the artist.
The Protectors concerns a group of athletes who discover they’ve inherited a genetic spark, originally given to their ancestors centuries ago by an alien visitor, which is activating in the face of an extraterrestrial invasion.
“He had the whole story laid out,” says Marz. “He basically let us do the comic.”
The unusual thing about Athlitacomics is that Idonije is shunning the traditional channels for comics publishers. Instead of using Diamond, he’s approaching comics retailers directly. He also set up an independent account at Amazon – something anyone can do – to sell the trade paperback there. The digital edition is through Madefire, instead of Comixology.
Acting outside the Diamond system has been done before here and there, but in this instance there’s a slight difference. Athlitacomics isn’t Idonije’s only company. He has staff he can task with
contacting stores. He also has a high visibility in the large Chicago market, as well as Detroit, where he also played, which gives him a sales base outside the usual demographics. Marz and Sears are established creators in the traditional channels, as well. It’s a little early for predictions, but Athlitacomics walks into the alternate distribution model with a few more cards in their deck than you normally see. It’s also not the only angle Idonije is pursuing. He’s also working on a “Sports Hero” line of merchandise, portraying some of the NFL stars with superhero influenced art, not unlike some of the things you see ESPN collaborating with Marvel on.
While the serialization of The Protectors was a little under the radar, there’s a bit more to be done with a graphic novel in the current retail market and the trade paperback debuted (and quickly sold out) at C2E2. In the meantime, with sales reporting normally tied up with the monthly Diamond charts, the project will be invisible to the normal comics industry business reporting.
A second story arc has been mapped out and Athlitacomics is waiting to see how the books sales go. Word of a second series will be a good indicator that it’s working and we can all scratch our heads at the irony of a footballer enlisting mainstream creators while establishing an underground distribution system. It’s an utter inversion of where the original underground came from, but that’s what’s going on here and it’s good for the market if there’s more than one way to reach it.
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