TKO Studios seemed to just drop into the comics space fully-formed when the publisher first debuted about five years ago. It arrived on a wave of completed six-issue miniseries, from established top-tier creators like Steve Epting and Garth Ennis, while at the same time teasing books to come soon from big names like Roxane Gay and Jeff Lemire. 

The first books were available the day they were announced (beyond a rarity in comics), which was the same day the publisher’s existence was made public. The genesis of the project, however, dates back to 2014 and the shelves of House of Secrets, a comic book store in Burbank, Calif.

It was there that TKO’s future publisher Tze Chun would spend breaks from his staff writer job on the television show Once Upon a Time. House of Secrets was around the corner from the office where Chun was staffing, and he recalls now walking down there on breaks. Chun had grown up on on comics, had dreamed of being a comic book artist as a kid, but he’d fallen away from the medium as he built his career. He’d spent his young adulthood making independent and later studio movies, subsequently transitioning to TV.

“I would walk down there and I just looked at the books, and I was like, this feels like creatively we are in a golden age of comics,” Chun said recently. “There were so many interesting creator-owned books. I saw the diversity of storytelling on the shelves, and thought, ‘If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it now.’ I contacted my business partner, [Salvatore Simeone], and his whole thing is always making things bigger. He’s got this incredible big-picture view on things, and initially I just talked to him about a small slate. He wanted to go big with it and get top creators.

That was when I got back into comics and started going to conventions and seeing all these interesting writers and artists. There was a moment where I felt I could do this in tandem with TV staffing and hopefully everything will eventually come together.”

TKO Studios
Tze Chun

That was, essentially, the way that TKO studios was created. Since then, the publisher has gone on to sell many comics, to garner an Eisner award for Sentient, to give up-and-coming creators a chance to publisher one-shots, and more.

And they’re not slowing down, when asked about the future of the publisher, Chun had this to say:

“We have two big books coming out toward the end of the year. We’ll probably be announcing those in the next two months or so. We have a follow-up to my co-founders Bram Stoker-nominated book, Lonesome Days, Savage Nights. Then we just have a ton of really great books coming out in the next two or three years that we’ve mapped out. We typically announce right before we launch the books, but you can look forward to seeing some books by more up-and-coming creators, and also some of our more AAA time-tested creators. We have two more books with Garth Ennis, another book with Roxane Gay, and we have a couple crossover books that have a really interesting format I’m excited to show everybody.”

Essentially, the publisher is continuing its long-standing practice of announcing projects as close to possible to when they are available. This goes against how things are usually done in comics, where publishers announce books months in advance, sparking a press cycle that encourages readers to pre-order single issues via their local comic shops. A second, typically smaller press cycle then takes place the week of the first issue.

TKO though doesn’t use that method, and hasn’t from its start. The surprise debut was to ensure that they would be taken seriously from day one. Using it now has more to do with how other media is consumed.

TKO Studios
Sentient from TKO Studios.

“Nowadays, people are used to binge-watching,” Chun said, “and we’re seeing it with TV releases, people complaining they have to wait a week for a new episode. We just wanted to try this out, to make it as easy as possible, meaning as soon as they hear about it, they can buy it immediately. Then when they get it, they can experience the whole story in one sitting.”

And while things are a bit on hold now due to the ongoing writer’s strike in Hollywood, the publisher is also looking to leverage Chun’s Hollywood connections to benefit its creators. As TKO has continued in comics, Chun’s career in TV has gone extremely well. He’s executive producing and writing for an animated Gremlin’s reboot for Max, titled Gremlins: Secrets of Mogwai. He’s also co-showrunning Boots Riley’s new show on Amazon, I’m a Virgo. Both projects have been met with much acclaim.

Long-term, the hope is to help fairly adapt some of these successful comics projects into similarly successful Hollywood projects.

The plan in the short term is to become a vertically-integrated publisher and studio,” Chun said. “My background is obviously in film and TV, and my co-founder has a background in entrepreneurship. The strike is happening right now, but when the strike is over we have a number of packages that are ready to go out to buyers. We’ll be producing or co-producing those. Part of that is making sure we can protect the projects creatively and also financially, making sure that creators benefit if something becomes a major TV show or movie. We want to make sure those creators are cut in and have a passive income for the foreseeable future.

The play we want to make is to become the co-studio or the studio producing the project as well. That’s the way we’ll have the most creative and financial control to make sure the creators are compensated fairly. 

When we launched the company, we looked around — every comic book gets optioned. The question is how do the creators continue to be cut in on something when it becomes a success.”