[NOTE: An edited version of this ran recently in PWCW, but writer Wil Moss offered to let us run the full transcript.]
BY WIL MOSS
There are lots of well-intentioned, entertaining comics web sites out there, so it’s doubtful many people would have pegged Comicfoundry.com as the online magazine that would break the mold for the comics consumer magazine. But when Comic Foundry made the jump from online to print publication last year, it did just that. The new quarterly publication offers easy access to comics for a new generation of comic readers with great writing, a hip emphasis on lifestyle—from tips on “comic book fashion” to a list of “cute creator couples”—and an editorial embrace of comics of all kinds; from indie and superhero comics to manga and everything in between. They’ve even got an issue on politics coming up.
After initially being turned down for distribution by Diamond Distribution, the dominant distributor in the comics shop market, the savvy editors of the Comic Foundry brought the rejection to the attention of the internet comics community and their support convinced Diamond to relent. Comic Foundry went to full color with its second issue and has seen orders increase with every issue. Next step: breaking into the bookstore and newsstand market. PW Comics Week spoke with Comic Foundry editor-in-chief Tim Leong (he’s also design director at Complex magazine) and CF senior editor Laura Hudson (who also contributes to PW Comics Week) about how to publish a smart, funny and beautifully designed magazine about comics that anyone would like to read.
PW Comics Week: How would you explain the success you’ve had so far?
Tim Leong: I think it really speaks to us filling a niche in the marketplace, because the current magazines that are out there—Wizard, The Comics Journal—I think they service their readers very well with what they do and what they aim to do, but in doing that I feel they’ve left a very wide gap in the marketplace. I think a lot of readers were left out in the cold. I think we’ve helped fill that gap, and I think the readers are really appreciative of that.
Laura Hudson: I also think that one of the reasons that Tim initially came up with Comic Foundry, and one of the reasons why I joined him with such enthusiasm, is that the kind of magazine we wanted to read didn’t exist—so we made it. I feel like there are more different types of people getting into comics now more than ever, and as I’ve heard Tim say a lot of times, he doesn’t just read superhero comics or just indie or just manga, he reads all sorts of stuff and so do I. I think there’s a new reader like that who’s way more open to different kinds of stuff. That’s where we’re coming from, and that resonates with what people are looking for.
PWCW: Like you said, you’re looking to fill the gap between Wizard and The Comics Journal—why did you decide to try and fill that gap with a print publication instead of keeping it as an online publication?
TL: I think with a magazine you can do a lot of things that you can’t do on the web. The biggest reason that I think we’re a magazine and not a website—which is really the reason why we took it to print—is I just couldn’t execute my ideas the way I wanted to online. It might not make as much business sense—[actually] I can tell you it doesn’t make as much business sense—but creatively, that’s just how I operate better. There’s a lot of stuff you can do in print digitally that you can’t quite yet do online. And also, because we’re a very visual magazine, with a lot of photography and layouts and photo shoots—there’s a certain amount of resolution in print that you can’t get online.
LH: And also—this is purely from a personal perspective—I like having a magazine. This is going to sound egotistical, but I remember getting the proofs for the last magazine, and I carried them around in my bag; I read them over and over again on the train. When I have a magazine I like, that’s something I like to do. It’s not the same as reading a website, even if I read it on my iPhone. It’s a different sort of experience, and it’s one I personally prefer. And [the print Comic Foundry] does different things. There’s no way as a quarterly or even a monthly magazine that we can compete with the news cycle of Newsarama.com or ComicBookResources.com or something like that. We don’t try to. We’re doing different types of stuff that I think in a lot of ways are different from what other places are doing, particularly because of our more creator-focused lifestyle spin. So I feel like obviously there’s going to be overlap in the types of things we cover, but we are doing things in a slightly different way that I think is more in tune to the magazine format.
TL: Print also, for whatever reason, adds a certain air of legitimacy. We’re doing some of the same [kind of] stories that we did online in print [now] and people will come up and say, “Oh my god, I can’t believe this is out here. I’ve been waiting for this.” We did [the same kind of story] online two years ago and [we only got] a couple hits here and there. So it certainly adds legitimacy to the publication.
LH: I see a similar thing in comics. You’re seeing more and more digital distribution now, and that’s a great way to access things, and it’s great for certain things, but at the end of the day for certain types of things, readers are always going to want to hold it in their hands.
PWCW: Ever foresee a day when you might go back online?
LH: A hundred percent online?
TL: Not really—because I come from a print magazine background and I enjoy making print magazines. I have an OK time making websites, but it’s not really my forté. It doesn’t really get my toes a-tapping, if you will. I really like making a print magazine, I like having a proof of work almost, you know? You slave over it for a couple of months, shooting photos, editing, the writing, the designing—and at the end it’s printed and you’re holding it and it’s like, “Wow, I just made this thing. I have a proof of it.”
LH: It’s incredibly satisfying. It’s satisfying for us, and in a way I think it’s more satisfying for readers, too.
TL: Mostly it’s satisfying for me, because I’m incredibly selfish.
LH: It’s all for us, all for us.
PWCW: There’s a lot of enthusiasm for Comic Foundry online, but that’s not always the best judge of how something is doing. How is the magazine actually performing? Are the numbers going up?
TL: Absolutely. It’s a very steady growth. Each issue we have more ad pages, and each issue we have higher sales. It’s definitely going up. We haven’t dipped at all on any of them. This current issue has a print run higher than any we’ve had in the past. It’s definitely going up with each issue. I can’t see that as a bad sign.
LH: I think it’s valid to say that with the online comics community it’s easy to forget that not all people who buy comics are online, and that there’s a percentage of the comics buying population that isn’t online. I certainly think people online have had more exposure to us, are more aware of us probably. It’s a little harder to penetrate into really small stores in places where people don’t have that exposure necessarily. But we’ve definitely got a lot of distributors who are really behind us, and we definitely appreciate it.
PWCW: Can you talk about print run?
TL: We’re around 5,000 right now.
PWCW: And you self-publish?
TL: Yeah. But even though we’re a completely self-published magazine, we’re starting to consider the possibilities of going with a publisher. Between all of our full-time work and where I want the magazine to go, I’m open to consider collaborating with an outside publisher if it results in growth for the magazine.
PWCW: What about inroads into newsstands or outside of the direct market?
TL: We’re currently in talks with two national distributors to take the magazine to newsstands and Barnes & Noble. Hopefully we’ll get something by the end of the year.
It’s really weird where you hear people are buying the magazine. At [Comic-Con International: San Diego] someone said they bought it at a Barnes & Noble in Orlando, which I didn’t expect. People have said they’ve bought it in Australia, Scotland, England—very random places that you wouldn’t expect.
LH: I think there has been some misinformation about the magazine’s availability. I’ve had people come up to me and say that their retailers said they couldn’t order it through Diamond. Obviously you can order it through Diamond; it’s quarterly so it’s not showing up in every single Previews – it’s showing up in every third one – but yes, you can absolutely order through Diamond.
TL: And the website [ComicFoundry.com].
LH: Yeah, the website, it’s available there as well. I hope nobody out there feels like they don’t have a way to get it because there absolutely is.
TL: That’s the newest thing we’re trying to tackle—to penetrate the distribution market a little better. I think our emphasis over the last couple issues has been to really nail the content and figure out the tone of the book. We’re a very small magazine—no one’s really on staff here; we just have a bunch of freelancers contributing. Just trying to edit it so it all sounds like a cohesive voice, so you have that tone, that’s the hardest part of starting a magazine, especially with no real staff. That’s what we’ve really been focused on up to this point, really honing the edit and the design. I think now that we’ve kind of got it to a place that we’re comfortable with, we’re switching up a little bit, trying to focus more on the sales and distribution end.
LH: I think it’s gotten easier every issue, and I guess that kind of makes sense. Every issue I feel a little more comfortable both in what I’m doing and what I feel like the magazine is doing as a whole. I feel like the second issue is better than the first, and in some ways the third is better than the second. That’s really all I can ask for in terms of what we’re doing on our end.
TL: It’s like marriage: it gets easier each time.
PWCW: What about the actual production of the magazine—can you tell me about the life of a single issue, from soup to nuts?
TL: Sure. Laura and I will print out a basic lineup for the issue and look at what we know is coming out for the particular quarter; we’ll look at the solicitations and look at whatever online news and buzz there is; and then figure out what books need to be covered, what creators to cover, and what companies we should spotlight. And [we] come up with story ideas and assign stories based on that. Then writers will turn in copy, we’ll edit it and send it back, they’ll send back another draft, and we edit that and send it to the copy editor. That’ll come back and then I’ll start slotting it and—boom.
LH: It’s just that easy.
TL: There’s a lot of blood sweat and tears mixed in with that as well.
PWCW: Do you try to have a theme or a mood for each issue, or do stories migrate from issue to issue depending on deadlines and what’s ready for publication?
TL: Yeah, sometimes books get pushed back, so that can change things. Laura?
LH: I was going to say that I think that’s one of the tough things—particularly when we’re dealing with monthlies versus graphic novels. The solicitations come so many months ahead of time, and we’re working so many months ahead of time, so things can get pushed unexpectedly one way or the other. And we don’t always do theme issues, but we do them sometimes. We’re about to do a theme issue, which I think is going to be really interesting.
TL: For our fourth, we’re doing politics. With the upcoming elections, it seemed like the perfect time. And I’d rather not wait four years to do another one. Because we’re such a broad magazine—we cover indie comics, superhero comics and manga—the biggest challenge is planning content. There’s a lot of stuff to cover. It’s really tough trying to find page space for all these different genres. Depending on who is on the cover, who has a big story—a lot of stuff sometimes does shift. Sometimes we’re uneven on manga, or we don’t have enough superhero or indie. I think that’s the real challenge—you’re never going to get everything even, but just try to do a decent enough amount where you don’t feel like the reader is going to be shortchanged.
LH: I think that’s something that we’re very conscious of and that Tim and I look at and be like, “Are we [focused] too much on superhero, or indie or manga?” In any given genre, there’s a ton of stuff coming out every month—our goal is to filter out the very best of it. What’s the most interesting stuff going on in the superhero world, in the manga world, in the indie world. I think most of the time there’s going to be a lot of crossover between those. That’s the holistic idea behind it. We’re putting it all together; we have [the Web comic] Achewood on one page, [the DC superhero crossover] Final Crisis on the next page, [literary comics artist] Kevin Huizenga on the page after—I think that’s pretty cool. That’s a good way to approach sequential art, comics, because I think the industry is becoming more and more that way.
PWCW: In terms of planning stuff out, you guys have to work several months out—how is the comics industry in terms of getting preview material out and information on release dates and so forth?
LH: It’s tough. It’s a lot easier dealing with graphic novels [than monthly comics]. I feel like a lot of times it’s easier with indie companies, publishers that are putting out graphic novels as opposed to [monthly comics]. [Monthly comics] are tough. There’s all of these book publishers that have entered the arena of publishing comics, and it’s interesting to do a compare and contrast with the kind of response you get when you’re approaching manga publishers, book publishers, indie publishers and mainstream superhero publishers—and they’re all kind of a little different.
TL: It does get tricky. A lot of the comics coverage is so spoiler-based. It’s like, “Oh, something’s going to happen in this issue, but I can’t quite say what it is!” That’s not at all the type of coverage we’re going for. I don’t care at all who’s going to die in this issue. That’s not really what our reader is reading Comic Foundry for. Because no matter what it is, we’re going to get beat online, so we don’t really try to do that stuff. It is tricky sometimes, especially since we’re quarterly, going so far out. It’s not bad. It gets easier each issue, especially in planning and working with publishers.
PWCW: How far out actually are you having to make plans in terms of what you’re going to have in an issue?
TL: We make a rough skeleton. We plan probably like 60 percent of it from the beginning and then that comes and goes. I will say at least four months, from the get-go. We already have very solid plans for next summer for something. Somethings you just know about in advance that you’re just going to plan for, but usually it’s about four months from when we start planning the issue.
LH: I think one of the things that ends up getting held to the last—I handle the review section, and usually both the solicitations being up and then actually being able to get a hold of review copies, which is not always like a super easy thing to do—that’s one of the things that needs to be left until much later in the cycle.
PWCW: I thought the article in the last issue about how a recession might impact comics was great just because it was so timely. That’s something you won’t see in Wizard, and the Comics Journal doesn’t seem to be able to act on things quickly. Are more articles like that going to be popping up?
TL: That’s what I call a curveball story, because it’s a little bit outside the realm. It’s a little bit of a inside-baseball type of thing; it’s a little within the industry. But it’s a very timely story, and if we were going to write it we had to put it in that issue. I think we would have been late on it if it had come out this fall because I think it very much speaks to right now. But yeah, I think you’ll see more of those curveball stories in the politics issue for sure.
LH: What’s interesting about that article is that there’s a number of people that I knew that read the magazine not because they’re into comics but because they want to support me—I’ve been surprised, well, by the response people have had in general but also the response those people had to it. I think that’s the sort of piece that makes Comic Foundry reasonably accessible [to ordinary readers]. It’s something that my dad or my cousin or a lot of other people can read and not have to know anything about comics going in. It’s something that we strive for in general at Comic Foundry. We try to be a magazine that you can pick up and still be able to access the content without having read DC comics for the last 20 years.
PWCW: Yeah, everybody might not know Batman, but everybody knows the recession.
LH: Everybody knows the recession!
TL: It’s open enough for new readers. Maybe you saw the Iron Man movie or you saw Dark Knight, and you’re like, “Wow, this movie kicked ass. What do I read next?” You go to the store, and you’re just overwhelmed. If I were a new comics reader and I went to a comic store and looked at the new releases shelf—there are hundreds of titles up there—I wouldn’t know where to start. And I don’t want to spend $25 on a graphic novel that I don’t know if it’s any good or not. We’re trying to be a publication that’s open enough that new readers can come in, but also substantial enough that hardcore fans can still appreciate the content. It’s having that mix, it’s having it be something that new readers can jump into—[that’s] really the core concept.
LH: It’s also for grownups, y’know? It’s for grown up people. I’ve heard a lot of people comment that it’s not something they’re ashamed to be seen reading on the train. I think that it speaks to people within the genre, within the medium. [Comic Foundry is] entertaining, it’s not like it’s all political or economical—it’s obviously a lot of fun. But it’s not something that talks down to you, either. So we can talk about the recession, we can talk about all this other stuff, [but] we can also talk about how cool Final Crisis is going to be—there’s a place for all of that, and it can take place in a slightly more sophisticated way. That’s part of what we do.
TL: And a lot of that is how we approach the [editorial] tone of the magazine. To go back to Wizard and the Comics Journal, they each have their own sort of [editorial] tone, which works with their particular audiences. But I think that can be a turnoff to some readers, and it can be condescending in some ways. We’re trying to make ours as smart and witty and as clever as we possibly can. Some people might not agree with how witty it is, but we’re trying to create a tone that’s fun but also able to tackle big topics and not make fun of the industry.
PWCW: If you had to summarize your editorial philosophy, would that be it?
TL: Yeah. We want to tackle big things, but still make it fun, and still be smart and witty. The whole thing is really just to make a magazine that the readers deserve, that we would want to read.
LH: You can be intelligent without being boring, and you can be fun without being puerile and somewhat insulting to your readers. I don’t think any of this is necessarily revolutionary, it’s just something that wasn’t being done.
PWCW: I would think one of the most challenging things—when you can’t just sit back and slap Wolverine on the cover each issue—would be coming up with a cover story for each issue. Is that the case?
TL: The one thing we’re doing differently with our covers that no other comic magazine is doing is we will always have a photo cover. We’re not going to do an illustration. I think that speaks to the professional level or capabilities [of the magazine], and a lot of that is because I have a magazine design background, I have some access to equipment and studios and photographers and other people, other resources. I don’t remember your question at all.
PWCW: Is it tough finding cover-worthy subjects?
TL: I think that can be a little tricky. You have to find the right people that work with that audience. Because it is such a wide audience, there are fewer [comics] people that resonate for everyone. Inside the book, we can have a bunch of stories that might not particularly go together. But the covers have to be something [attractive] to everyone.
LH: I think it’s easy for whoever’s on the cover to be the lightning rod. We could not have been happier about Matt Fraction being on the cover [for issue #2], but we still got comments from I guess whatever five dudes out there don’t like Matt Fraction complaining about it; same thing with [issue #3 cover subject] Blair Butler. I feel like that’s going to happen no matter what.
TL: Oh yeah.
LH: But that’s part of selecting that with care—if you don’t pick something that speaks to as many people, there’s going to be a lot more talk about that and a lot more complaining than there would be about the interior content.
TL: But to that point, we do want to treat the covers as we do the inside of the book—I think the covers we’ve had so far have skewed a little more superhero, not too far, but more superhero. I definitely want to do a hardcore indie cover and a much more manga cover. But it’s tricky because the budget we’re operating on is basically what’s in my pants pocket. I have a full time job, I work 60 hours a week, and Laura has her whole thing, so this is all on the side for us. I’m not making any excuses by any means, but just trying to figure out logistically how to shoot people and the when, the where, photographers—it does become tricky at times. It all works out in the end.
LH: I also think the fact that we put people on the covers is kind of indicative of what we do. Our focus in terms of content is not what character died in issue #533. A lot of what we do is much more creator focused. A lot of comics people are superstars within the comics industry, and I don’t think there’s much other coverage out there that treats them in that way. That’s something we’re able to do. We did something in our last issue about creator couples—a lot of people commented on the story because that’s not really how people necessarily approach comics creators. But we approach things from an entertainment perspective.
TL: I do think that we have a little more flexibility with the types of stories we can put on the cover. [The creator couples story] could have been a cover story. If we didn’t have Blair, we could have done the cover for that. We’re not locked in to doing a “person” cover story. I have no problem whatsoever figuring out a clever art solution or—to go back to, for example, the recession story; if you want to do that as a cover story, there’s plenty in that story that works cross-genre, then using that as a cover story is not a problem at all.
LH: And the politics issue I think would work with someone on the cover or without.
PWCW: Who or what is on the cover of that issue?
TL: Right now it’s a theme cover.
PWCW: So it’s just going to be images of some kind?
TL: Right now it’s not personality-driven.
LH: But it could be. It could go either way.
TL: We have about a month until we close, so we’ll see.
LH: We are coming down to the deadline. We’re entering crunch time pretty soon.
PWCW: You mentioned the crazy hours you both have—can you tell me a little about y’all’s working relationship? How often are you in touch? Do you ever manage to work together in person?
LH: I think I email Tim more than anyone else I email combined maybe. That might be a slight exaggeration but maybe not much. Again, it’s tough because he and I both have our day things that we do, and we’re both really busy people, but fortunately—thanks to email, I have an iPhone, we’re both online a lot—I feel like we’re able to be in generally consistent contact with each other about what’s going on, like certainly on a multiple-times a day basis.
TL: I definitely talk to Laura more than I talk to anyone else online. I’ve emailed her more than anyone, and texted. There’s a lot of communication, and it’s great that we both live in the same city so we can meet up and have a post-mortem on the issue. When we’re doing the issue, we’ll meet in person, we’ll have print outs of the pages and we’ll do a lot of editing on the page.
LH: We do usually meet a couple times in person to give each other books or to do things like that, and certainly when we’re doing pages and stuff like that later in the process. It’s amazing how much you can get done online with somebody.
TL: There’s really no need [to meet in person]. When you’re on [Google’s] Gchat and [AOL’s] IM and email 24/7, I don’t know what we’d gain. Other than … I don’t know … something clever.
LH: When I first started writing for Tim, when [Comic Foundry] was online, when the whole magazine was online, I think I wrote for him for a couple months before I ever met him in person, which I did completely by accident when I was working at Midtown Comics. That working relationship certainly went on for a while without me ever having seen him.
PWCW: What about the lifestyle aspect of your coverage—that’s a semi-new approach for a comics publication, whether in print or online.
TL: That’s something that I’m very proud of…. Before Comic Foundry came along, if you asked what lifestyle content meant for a comics magazine, someone might say it would be the coverage when a [comic book] movie is coming out. I think that was the closest you got. But it really can be so much more. You couldn’t do a magazine like this 10 years ago or 15 years ago just because the culture wasn’t there. We’re at a point now—the movies certainly help and add to the mainstream exposure—that comics seem to be everywhere. Especially with licensing, there’s all kinds of products and clothes and fashion. In the current issue, we talk with [comics artist] Paul Pope about his DKNY fashion collaboration. People weren’t really covering stuff like this before—a lot of times because it wasn’t happening. I couldn’t really see Paul Pope doing a DKNY Jeans collaboration 10 years ago.
PWCW: You had Liefield with the Levis, but I guess he wasn’t exactly designing those …
TL: Yeah. We’re in a time now that this type of coverage is possible, and no one has really capitalized on it at all.
LH: I think it’s something that’s happening on two fronts. There’s the way in which comics are growing within mainstream culture and the way comics are growing within the [comics] culture itself. I certainly feel that I’m able to exist in the comics culture in a lot of ways I couldn’t necessarily before—both as a woman and as somebody who likes a wide variety of different things. To me, comics are cool, comics culture is cool and that’s a really organic thing—it’s not contrived. Comics are my life. And I think they’re genuinely a cool thing that can function in a lot of aspects of your life, and something that I’m totally into. For me, it’s absolutely organic to be covering things the way we’re covering them.
PWCW: And how are readers responding to these articles? Normally they don’t see these in Wizard or whatnot. What kind of response are you guys getting?
LH: Gosh I love Google Alerts. Part of the fun of San Diego—we just got back from San Diego about a week ago—is how many people came up to us and told us how much they like the way that we’re doing things. There’s a lot of people who respond online as well. Today I came across a podcast where they were talking about the recession article—and the fact that they used that as a springboard to talk about other things related to that, I thought that was really cool. Certainly I think there are things we’ve covered or ways that we’ve covered them that have started a dialogue for people. I couldn’t be happier about that.
TL: We have a dedicated fashion section in the magazine, ever since the first issue, and I’ve seen us knocked in a couple of places for having [it], which is perfectly fine. It doesn’t quite make sense to me because there’s such a direct connection, especially [if you look at] comic graphic t-shirts five years ago and now [how] the trend is moving with different artists collaborations in fashion. It’s an absolute no-brainer that it should be in the magazine. [At shows] we always leave the magazine open on the table to the fashion section where we have all these different t-shirts out there—it’s always an immediate draw for someone at the table looking at the pictures, [asking] “Oh, where can I get this shirt?” I’ve had people email me, “Oh, what other shirts can I get that are cool like this one?”
LH: That’s something we try to do with the magazine. We showcase stuff that we think is really cool, whether it’s a graphic novel or a t-shirt or whatever else it is. And we make it clear how to buy it, or how to access it, or what it is we’re talking about, and I don’t know that that’s always the way that things are necessarily done at other magazines.
TL: We don’t just put any t-shirt on there. You look at all the shirts out there, “Oh this one’s cool, this one’s clearly not cool, so we’ll just lay that one off.” We’re definitely building the content for our target audience, for what we think our readers need and want.
LH: I feel like to a certain degree we are our target audience. I have a whole closet full of cool comics t-shirts, and it’s something I’m discriminating about; and I would be no less discriminating about the things I’d want to put in the magazine or advocate to other people.
TL: I have a closet of not-very-cool comic t-shirts that I would not advocate.
PWCW: I think we all have some of those. In your second issue you had stories about the Venture Bros. television show and live-action role playing (LARP)—how do you guys determine if something’s too far afield from comics? Where do you draw the line?
TL: I think the general rule for publishing is the “80-80” rule—which is 80 percent of your content on a page should apply to 80 percent of your readers. So I think you’re allowed a little latitude in having a curveball page, and that’s what the LARPing feature is. It doesn’t really apply to everyone but hopefully it spotlights a niche group that not everyone would have known about before—we’re showcasing these people.
LH: And Venture Bros. was something that definitely has ties to comics—they were out there at Comic-Con. But they’re actually something that a lot of people in comics respond to as well. There’s a lot of crossover stuff, like Battlestar Galactica and stuff like that—topics within the culture that aren’t specifically comics-related but are definitely going to be of interest to our readers.
TL: I don’t know if you were at the New York Comic-Con, but the Venture Bros. guys were rock stars. Their panel was insane, it was nuts.
PWCW: If you do continue making inroads in the bookstand market, in newsstands, do you see more articles like that potentially showing up to appeal to a broader readership?
TL: There might be more if we up the page count, but I think the ratio we have is really solid right now. People don’t read our magazine for Battlestar Galactica coverage. People are going to read Comic Foundry for these cool, interesting stories that people don’t have anywhere else—like the lifestyle coverage, things like the recession and the comics couples—that’s the kind of stuff they can’t get anywhere else. What we do is ask [about the magazine], “How can we make this more Comic Foundry?”
LH: Talking about making things broader, I feel like within what we’re doing [the magazine is] already pretty accessible to a lot of people. One of the things that I’m proudest of is the fact that I’ve had so many people say, “This is the first comics magazine that my non-comic reading girlfriend has picked up.” We had this guy come up to us at Comic-Con and he pulled his wife over and was like, “She read through the whole thing!” and was really excited about it. One thing I’m proudest of is it does have that level of accessibility to people who are not only not the traditional fan but don’t necessarily have that exposure to [comics].
PWCW: I can say that for myself. My wife doesn’t read comics, despite my best efforts, and with two different issues she’s seen Comic Foundry lying around and picked it up to flip through it. I think the magazine at its base is aesthetically appealing to non-comics fans in a way that a lot of other comic publications aren’t.
TL: One part I think of that is that we definitely try to make the magazine accessible to women, which I don’t think other [comics magazines] are doing.
LH: Which in a lot of ways is not hard to do. It’s actually a sentiment that I’ve heard expressed. I was talking to Brian K. Vaughan recently when he was doing his Y: The Last Man signing [in New York] and there were so many women there! I was like, “Brian, it’s amazing you’ve brought this many women into the fold with your stuff.” And he was like, “Yeah, it’s amazing how many women will like your work when you don’t actively insult them.” I’m paraphrasing, but that’s generally what he said. It’s particularly an important point to me because I was into comics in the ‘90s and there really, really, really were not that many other girls into it. It was seen as a weird thing, and it definitely doesn’t feel like there were a lot of other people like me who were involved. And it’s been really exciting for me to see so many more people go to Comic-Con, and see how many women show up. It’s just great that it’s become a medium for everybody, which is what makes sense. In Japan it’s not like comics are just for boys; there’s no reason it has to be that way. So we try to be careful with Comic Foundry.
PWCW: I don’t want to keep you guys for too much longer, but here’s kind of a broader question—what’s your take on comics and the bookstore market? Where do you think comics stand right now?
TL: I think the writing is on the wall in terms of how far comics are moving into bookstores. I would not want to be a retailer, in this day and age, that just sold singles [traditional periodical comics]. I think the trade paperback [collections] are really invaluable to the market. Just look at the Watchmen trade [paperback] and how many units they’ve moved over the last couple weeks. I would be very curious as to how many of those are going through the book market as opposed to mom-and-pop comic stores.
LH: I know there are certain [comics shop] retailers out there that are doing things right and don’t have as much to fear from the bookstores, but there’s a certain amount of inevitability to the growth of comics in bookstores. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. More people being exposed to comics is a good thing, period. I think the comic book industry could do a better job sometimes of promoting its content in bookstores. Take, for example, comic book movies. Stand-alone books like 300 or V for Vendetta are perfect because fans or new readers can go to a bookstore and ask for V for Vendetta, ask for 300 and have it put in their hands.
TL: Or Watchmen.
LH: Or Watchmen. But usually it works really differently with superhero comics. And that’s where you can really get into trouble, because if you watch the Spider-Man movie and you go into a comic book store or a bookstore, and there are 800 Spider-Man trade paperbacks collecting the series, readers don’t know where to start. It’s not just about the comics industry working with bookstores, but working with the broader population at large. The industry has got to make it easier for people to come into the comics community. And the fact of the matter is, if you make it accessible they will come. And I think people are starting to figure that out.
PWCW: What about the professional aspect? You guys obviously talk with tons of professionals across the board—are you finding that they’re becoming more media-savvy?
TL: I think they’re kind of forced to, especially since so many books are being optioned [for films] at this point. I think you have to be more media-savvy. When you’re dealing with studios and signing with agents and all these other types of deals, you kind of have to. And I think the people that are savvy are having those deals. I think the people that aren’t, well, they might not want it. But I definitely think as a whole the people that are getting optioned and that are doing these other media projects are the more media-savvy people.
LH: We had—I think it was in our first issue—we had a sidebar interview with Mark Miller where he was talking about his experience with [the film version of his comic] Wanted and he had people from Hollywood approaching him and being like, “What else do you have that you own?” He was like, “Nothing.” And they were like, “Wow, that’s stupid.” Creators having that experience where they have to deal with those things from a broader perspective than just comics—I mean, they don’t have to, but it’s really, really to their advantage to do so. Which again I think is only good.
TL: And just the types of exposure comics has now—people are being interviewed on NPR and The Colbert Report—they’re being interviewed by mainstream outlets more and more often, so I think it kind of comes with the territory.
LH: I think they deserve it. I think this is the way comics should be seen, I think this is the way the creators should be seen, I think it’s the way they should see themselves. I think that’s all positive.
PWCW: Any plans to increase CF’s frequency anytime soon? Going from quarterly to monthly?
LH: Not unless we clone ourselves.
TL: Yeah, you got any winning lottery tickets lying around?
PWCW: So that’s a no.
TL: Yeah, I think with our schedules it’s just an impossibility.
PWCW: Anything that I didn’t get around to?
LH: I’m really grateful to everybody that’s supported us since our inception, since the initial brouhaha when we launched. We’ve had a lot of creators, editors and readers who have been really great and been really supportive of us. I’ve absolutely appreciated that because it’s mostly just Tim and I doing this. We love it and it’s worth it, but it’s most satisfying to see that other people are enjoying it as much as we are.
TL: That’s probably the best part of going to conventions—meeting the people that read your book. I mean, we had this guy from Scotland who made this six-minute YouTube video that was pretty much a thank-you letter to Comic Foundry.
LH: It was amazing.
TL: Completely random. Just found it out of the blue. It was just him saying thanks for making this magazine and how much he loves it and also [comics writer] Matt Fraction. But it’s just crazy. I think because we have a certain professional look to the magazine, people think it’s done by a professional corporation.
LH: People think we’re in some office or swimming around in a money bin or something like that, but it’s just us sitting in our apartments.
TL: People come over and work out of my junior one-bedroom. There are Post-It notes plastered all over the walls and photocopies of all kinds of things. So to have that kind of reception is pretty incredible.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.