Above: the EXCLUSIVE first look at the cover to Inheritance #1
As we’ve been ruminating here for a while, digital comics are well established for various platforms—phones, tablets and computers—but with mobile becoming the main way people interact with the world, comics have yet to be natively optimized for reading on phones.
A new company, Stela (pronounced “steela”) aims to change that. Run by creative director Ryan Yount (formerly of UbiSoft and artist on comics including Scurvy Dogs) and senior editor Jim Gibbons (formerly of Dark Horse), Stela will offer ongoing comics by top creators in a format designed specifically for mobile phones via the Stela app. Launching in 2016, the line-up includes:
Brian Wood, Justin Giampaoli (W)
Andrea Mutti (A)
Vladamir Popov (C)
In 323 AD, a fleet of Roman ships is lost in a storm and finds themselves on the shores of the New World, 1000 years before Columbus. Unable to return home, they establish a new colony, Roma Occidens, radically altering the timeline of America and subsequent world events.
Stuart Moore (W)
Greg Scott (A)
Millville, New Jersey: a town divided by racial strife and ruled by a vicious crime boss. After the savage beating of an Indian-American student, a new assistant principal arrives at Millville High to restore order. But “Teach” brings with him a violent past and a dark secret, which may send his new life toppling down before it can even begin.
Ryan Yount (W)
Kidman Chan, Yumiki Hong (A)
In a world of magic and fantasy, a special child is born once every generation blessed with fantastic magical power. He who takes the child’s life will gain that power for their own. When a retired warrior learns that his daughter has the great INHERITANCE, he dedicates his life to protect her against hordes of mages, dragons, and necromancers scheming to inherit unimaginable power from his child.
OUT WITH A BANG
Stuart Moore (W)
Tony Talbert, John Heebink, Chris Marrinan (A)
Marissa Louise (C)
Miles never thought summer would be boring—but when he breaks up his seemingly endless vacation with a job at the Huntington Institute, he realizes that the elderly care facility is housing a massive secret: retired superheroes in their twilight years! When the elderly heroes start dying under mysterious circumstances, it’s up to Miles and his new friends to save the facility (and the world). After all, if they’re going to go out, they may as well go OUT WITH A BANG.
AFRINA AND THE GLASS COFFIN
Irene Koh (W/A)
Princess Afrina has journeyed to a distant wasteland to open a glass coffin, gaining powerful magical abilities she needs to save her country from imminent invasion. Unfortunately for Afrina, those abilities are not without cost. Her newfound powers come with a curse, and are inexplicably tied to what lies inside the coffin: another princess.
Having had a chance to check out the app, we can safely say that not only is it a simple, intuitive interface, but the comics are extremely well done and look fantastic on new iPhones. Comics scroll vertically into panels that are readable and vibrant. Even the lettering is the right size—and you know that isn’t standard issue.
Stela will launch early next year for iOS devices with a pay one price model to read all the content. Android will follow soon after. It’s an ambitious venture for a new company—and Yount and Gibbons have as many as 30 other projects in development—but could be a breakout. We had a chance to chat with the two about the launch and how this crazy idea might just work.
THE BEAT: Where did this idea come from?
RYAN YOUNT: This idea came from our co-founders Sam [Lu] and Jason [Juan] who came from mobile gaming and it was their to idea do a comics app. I worked with Sam at Ubisoft and we always talked about “The Future of Comics” so he rang me up and said “We’re going this thing, what do you think?” I said “You’re pulling me back into comics!”
The core of this thing is really that we’re aiming to be the premiere mobile app for comics. There are apps and digital comics, but the way were doing it is by commissioning new original, creator owned work. We’re commissioning in the vertical format so its mobile native. Anybody using a phone who is familiar with a feed style interface—FB, twitter or instagram—will understand how the comics work. You simply scroll up and down through it.
And the other key part of it, and why we’re going mobile native, is that native mobile presents a huge opportunity to expand comics’ readership and that’s essential for us. It’s part of the part of our business model. We want existing comics readers to give us a shot, b but we also have our eyes on bringing in new readers who are on mobile devices and looking for things to do while waiting at a bus stop.
JIM GIBBONS: When I started talking to Stela, someone said “We want to do brand new, exciting, creator owned content that pays people a good rate. Do you want to be part of that?” I was very excited! But what I got really fascinated by and so enthusiastic about was the idea that comics are as popular as they’ve ever been for the traditional market and that’s great but we’re not always seeing the millions of people who go to the Avengers movie translating into a bunch of people getting into comics. The numbers are very healthy now, but is there a whole audience out there that would be interested in getting into comics if it was accessible. That’s the main thing for me, accessibility. Let’s go out there and make comics easier to get. And how big can it get? That’s what we’re trying to do.
THE BEAT: I was just talking about this other day how ebooks have plateaued and tablets have kinda plateaued, obviously mobile is the hot, hot platform. In Japan they read everything on their phones. Is there a model for Stela that exists that you looked at or is it all new?
RYAN YOUNT: Well, what we’re doing is kind of a new thing. You can find in the Asian market—in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China—companies putting out mobile apps, using forms of vertical comics. Some came from putting up webcomics and scrolling down the web page to read it. They had gotten used to it. Those companies aren’t pay to access. A lot of that stuff is completely open as a platform for use generated content—which we’re not. We are still picking an editorial voice, commissioning material, looking at pitches and evaluating content that is going to make sense for us and entertain people. We have that difference and a subscription fee as well. We’re going to charge people for a premium service. Ultimately, we have a profit model that allows for us to split off and divide that profit with the creators. These are creator owned projects that share in the profits.
JIM GIBBONS: I think the other thing is that almost everyone we know who got into comics gets into it when they’re young, and with more and more young people doing more and more on their phones, by having comics that much more accessible on the phone, hopefully they get hooked young and become a fan for life.
RYAN YOUNT: Hopefully by making ourselves more accessible to the next generation of comics readers, we can make comics more accessible as well.
THE BEAT: How did you find people to do this? Did you need to give them a lot of guidance to create for this format?
RYAN YOUNT: That’s been a large part of our editorial work, guiding them along and helping them understand the format. The challenge is that until now we’ve been under cover. We didn’t have this app that we could show people—at this point we do, but while it was developing we didn’t. So describing it is a little tricky. But the combination of creators that we have—we have Ron Wimberly, Joe Casey, Stuart Moore, and younger Tumblr based talent such as Coleman Engel and Irene Koh get the digital side. It’s a mix. Some of the younger creators are just much more native and fluent in terms of digital. Most Tumblr artists get the concept pretty quickly, because the whole feed of Tumblr makes a lot of sense there.
JIM GIBBONS: We already have a lot of people doing that.
RYAN YOUNT: It is an adjustment to move from a traditional comics page, and editorially how to guide people in terms of thinking about page rates and length of chapters. It’s something we’ve worked on.
THE BEAT: Were these properties that were developed specifically for Stela?
RYAN YOUNT: It’s primarily creator owned projects, but we have a few that are internal, and these are mostly mobile game projects that came from the co-founders coming from mobile games, they brought these concepts with them. We are developing some of them internally.
JIM GIBBONS: People have responded so well to it. It’s a matter of ok, which of these kick ass comics do we want to make. The fun thing in talking to people is that most of the time when I’m reaching out to people and explain what we’re going their first reaction is “oh my gosh I’ve been waiting for someone to contact me about making comics for the phone and making them more accessible.” So a lot of them are people who have been putting work up on Tumblr or doing webcomics, and are familiar with that vertical scroll. But many people have been waiting for a chance to run with some new ideas. We want to be their partner on that. We’re going to be a creator fueled publisher and platform so let’s figure it out. One of the things I get back to is how you can cut up the comics pie, but you want to get get a bigger slice. We’re saying we want to bring along as many current comics readers as possible but also launch your product into a new larger marketplace. Whatever that pie is, we want to [make it larger.]
RYAN YOUNT: We want to take all 100 million iPhone owners in the US and bake them into a comic’s pie! [general laughter]
THE BEAT: How will you roll out the marketing for this?
RYAN YOUNT: Marketing is really important. You can’t build something like this and just put it up on the app store and let it sit there and hope people find it. With the background of the core team coming from mobile games, there’s a lot of experience. The time I was away from comics I spent in video games, console games, doing marketing, branding, community building work,. There’s a real healthy understanding in the office that marketing and PR are our best friends. We’ll be doing full campaigns for the launch, looking at user acquisition campaigns and spending marketing money to get people to try it out. It won’t just sit there.
JIM GIBBONS: The other thing is that we’re partnering with our creators in many ways. It’s not just come over here and you do a comic and we’ll put it up. It’s let’s develop content together and let’s get out there and tell people about it together. Our creators can’t wait to start talking about it on social media. It should be something we’ll all be talking about a lot soon. We’re all very excited to get the word out.
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.