C2E2 '19: TKO Studios: Binge Releasing & The Future of Comics

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TKO Presents’ co-founder, Tze Chun, opens up one of Saturday’s final C2E2 ’19 panels to an audience curious about the publisher’s rebellious business strategies. Chun makes sure to point out that his company prides itself on being transparent. When TKO makes a question, he says, it asks itself what’s in the best interest of the creators, the fans and the medium. TKO recognizes platforms like Netflix and the binge consumption of media. They’re taking that knowledge and applying it to comics.
TKO Studios releases series in three different formats, so fans can read issue to issue, in trade format or digitally. Not only that, but every series’ first issue is available for free on TKOPresents.com and on ComiXology, so readers can try before they buy. All this works towards Chun’s goal of being the first modern comics publisher.
At the C2E2 panel, Chun lays out what makes TKO different, then dives into each of the four first-wave series, pulling out box sets of each and handing them out to audience members to check out. Doing so, he explains that TKO plans to binge-release four titles every six months, each with the specific goal of having a satisfactory beginning, middle and end – and each with the possibility of other creators returning to the established worlds.
First is Chun’s own Fearsome Doctor Fang. He takes on writing duties with Mike Weiss, while Dan McDaid handles art, Daniela Miwa tackles colors and Steve Wands contributes letters. Chu calls his series a tongue-in-cheek reimagining of Fu Manchu, that reestablishes the character’s background as a good person pretending to be bad based on the circumstances around him.
Chun then turns to the slick box set designed by Paper Girls vet, Jared K. Fletcher. Every TKO book is oversized, at 11.25 inches by about 7.5 so that readers can dive into the panels and see every pen stroke in detail. Chun says this formatting is one of the company’s best moves. It encourages artists to do their best work, knowing that none of their panels will be overcrowded. It helps fans respect that work more and, importantly, the size helps each of TKO’s series stand out on shelves, whether at home or in the store.
He takes the opportunity then to talk about the relationship between publisher and retailer, so that store owners are in the driver’s seat instead of Diamond. TKO keeps positive relationships with comic shops by dipping around the Diamond distribution monopoly and offering shipping deals to any store that orders its books. Any vendor receives 50 percent off on any shipping order, overseas orders are complimentary, and any order with shipping over $250 is free, too.
So far, the strategies have worked. Chun reports that Sarah has already gone back for reprinting and the other three series in the first wave are going back to print this week. One audience member asks if there was any disparity between sales of single issues and trades, to which Chun reports, surprisingly, that they’re equal. 

After this tangent, Chun jumps back into the books with Garth Ennis’ Sarah. This series follows Ennis’ long-running interest in a bit of World War II history involving Russia’s preference for women as snipers over men. Though Chun doesn’t reveal much about the series, Sarah is about one of those teams. Ennis is joined by Steve Epting on art, Elizabeth Breitweiser on colors and Rob Steen on letters.
Next is Goodnight Paradise, created by the Unknown Soldier team of Joshua Dysart on writing, Alberto Ponticelli on art, Giulia Brusco on colors and Steve Wands on letters. Chun’s particularly interested in the concept behind this series; a murder mystery in a California homeless population, where gentrification is on the rise. It’s a personal reflection from Dysart, who, ironically, was pushed out of his own California home during the production of the series.
Finally, Chun moves to another of his series, 7 Deadly Sins, a suicide-style western, that he says focuses on characters readers have never seen before. Turncoat artist, Artyom Trakhanov contributes pencils, Giulia Brusco is back on colors and letters are done by Jared K. Fletcher.
Following these quick overviews, Chun opens the session to questions. One fan wants to know more about Chun himself and how TKO began. He explains that before this endeavor, he worked primarily in film and TV, having written a movie that premiered at Sundance, a Bryan Cranston thriller, as well as writing for Once Upon a Time. It was during that period that Chun started turning the gear on TKO. During lunches, he’d walk to the nearby comic shop, poke around and totally immerse himself in the vibrancy of it.
A friend of Chun’s told him he’d fund any movie Chun wanted to write – but he had another idea. Chun pitched TKO as a premier, modern comics publisher that would work towards doing what’s best for creators, fans and comics themselves. They’d work with the best in the business to put out new takes on established genres and make a point to give creators as much time as they need to work healthy and happy.
They live up to that standard today. Chun matches page rates for Marvel and DC and adds that creators take their revenue percentages before TKO itself takes out any expenses, which ensures that the people responsible for the art are getting their equal cut.
Next, a fan asked about why TKO was so adamant about its unconventional release strategies. He asked Chun if he wanted to be a disruptor in the industry and how he would react if his company’s plans were adopted by other major publishers. Chun was quick to say that he’d have absolutely no problem. He’s genuine when he says that TKO is here to do what’s best for, again, the creators, the fans and the medium. If DC, Marvel or Image started binge-releasing, and it served those three groups, he’d be happy. Critics of TKO tell Chun that the business plan won’t hold, that there isn’t enough of the pie – but TKO wants to expand the pie. Chun and his team want to make reading comics easier for everyone, even for those who don’t read them already.  
A younger audience member asks the final question: what does TKO mean? Chun laughs and says the letters are pretty much meaningless, actually. His friend and co-founder was into boxing and the two loved the way that the letters sounded together. They did it because they loved it.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I picked up the first 4 tpb. The stories were all great. The paper felt like a heavier classic Vertigo stock. The trades are pretty bare bones. No back matter, no covers, and the covers are not even laminated. I ended up having them shipped to a friend in the States and they brought them up to Canada for me. The shipping isn’t worth it otherwise. Their direct to retailer program is decent if you are in the US, but yet again I don’t know anybody in Canada carrying them because the shipping is too expensive unless you order a bunch of books.

  2. I know at least one Canadian retailer, Variant Edition in Edmonton, Alberta, that has carried TKO’s books. They might very well still be carrying them; I haven’t made it in there recently so I don’t know for sure.
    Another store in Edmonton was considering it, but hit a snag when TKO wouldn’t allow them to purchase multiple first issues without the other five. They wanted the #1s to offer customers they thought would like the material but for a variety of reasons were unlikely to seek it out to read online. They didn’t think it would be a problem to pay for physical copies of material the company was already giving away for free online. They were wrong.
    TKO wasn’t flexible on the printed teaser issue issue. Retailers options are to order all six issues or the collection, period. The only sampling option the company would support was free online previews.
    Feeling that they couldn’t effectively promote the first wave of books, the store had more or less settled on not bringing them in until a new development changed the math a bit. Apparently TKO will allow retailers to combine orders from the original and upcoming book slate, which if I understand things correctly, makes it roughly twice as easy for retailers to meet the free shipping threshold. As a result, discussions at the hesitating store are ongoing and there’s a chance TKO books will be sold at Wonderland Edmonton/Happy Harbor Comics.
    The odds would been better if the store was allowed to order those #1s, though.

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