Thanks to a stealth launch strategy of four complete miniseries made buy creators as significant as Garth Ennis, Steve Epting, and Joshua Dysart, TKO Studios has a lot of the comic book industry talking. But the publisher isn’t satisfied with just that, it wants TKO to be a major force in the eyes of all comic book readers and beyond. I spoke with Editor-in-Chief of TKO Studios Sebastian Girner about his role developing the publisher from the ground up. He discussed how he helped recruit creators, including IP in the business model without interfering with creative direction, and what the future of TKO brings. All of that and more can be found below.
MO: Have you hit any conventions this year?
SG: I was at Emerald City. Coming up I might be at San Diego and Heroes Con, and I’ll definitely do New York. Everything else is kind of up in the air but Tze, our publisher, has already gone to C2E2 and Wonder Con.
MO: I didn’t realize you and Tze were already going as representatives of TKO Studios
SG: We don’t have a booth yet or anything. But since we launched in December and made some waves it’s easier to approach creators, now that we’re more of a known quantity.
So we wanted to capitalize on that and have boots on the ground, show our faces as the publisher and editor-in-chief and say “hey, we’re out here.”
MO: You made a really big splash releasing the four completed miniseries right out of the gate.
SG: Thanks! We were working on it for some time and talking about the perfect way to release them. We wanted to do something big and I think it worked out really well.
MO: The second wave was announced so close to the release of the first that you must already be scouting for the third wave now.
SG: We’re actually working on the third wave right now and possibly more beyond that. By virtue of our publishing model, we make sure everything is done before we announce anything. That requires booking people well ahead of what is common in the industry. So, we’re currently looking to shore up projects for the foreseeable future.
MO: Are you planning to keep announcing not just a project at the time but several at once?
SG: That’s the current plan. I think it worked really well for us, bundling them together to get more eyeballs. It’s like throwing a fistful of stones together so they make a bigger splash as one.
We’re still a new publisher and want to make more people aware of TKO. As long as that’s the case it makes sense to bundle the talent we have and make really big announcements to both get people really excited and stay visible in the busy news cycle.
MO: What does it mean to be the editor-in-chief of TKO? I imagine it’s a lot more than being the editor of the four titles.
SG: Well, I love the fact that even in this new role I’m still editing all the books. But also with TKO, I now have the opportunity to get in on the ground floor and infuse what I want the publisher to be and what I want us to stand for in the industry.
MO: Looking at the launch titles for TKO, editing must have been a very different experience from book to book. You ranged from working with veterans like Garth Ennis and Steve Ennis to editing a writer new to comics.
SG: Editors always say we wear a lot of hats and it’s true. You’re always gonna have to put the work where it’s needed the most. On Sara, our book from Garth Ennis, Steve Epting, and Bettie Breitweiser, everyone involved was a consummate professional. You’re essentially putting them in the right position and putting them in a position to just go.
With Tze, 7 Deadly Sins and The Fearsome Doctor Fang were his first comic books. But he has an extensive background film and TV. He came up through indie filmmaking and has written and directed several features. He was also a writer on Gotham. He knows how to write and is a lifelong comic book fan. And I really enjoyed working with a professional writer from another field learning the ropes. He took to it super fast. I guess if you’re a black belt in Judo and Karate then learning another martial art won’t take long because it’s in your wheelhouse.
I really love working with creators at different stages of their comic book careers. Obviously, it’s wonderful to work with some of the best creators in the industry, but I also want to use my position to shine a light on new talent, new voices.
MO: How did you decide which creators to approach and what kind of books to greenlight?
SG: When we started discussing it, we didn’t necessarily know what we wanted to do, but we were pretty sure we didn’t want to do. We basically took superheroes and space opera off the table. We felt that those markets are fairly well covered. But we wanted to be open to pretty much everything else.
Sara came together because I worked with Garth when I was still at Marvel and we’ve kept in touch over the years. We’re both in New York so I see him at the conventions and get a pint with him every now and again. When Tze was in New York to shoot an episode of Gotham I decided to get them together. Garth is a big movie buff so they had a lot of had a lot to talk about. We pitched him TKO and he had told us he had an idea. That was Sara and we immediately pounced on it.
In the second wave we reached out to Roxane Gay through her agents of TKO. She’s written comics for Marvel and we thought she might be interested in doing something with characters she created herself. We are so excited to have been able to team her up with Ming, Jordie, and Ariana for THE BANKS.
MO: Tze has said that part of the business model is translating the IP into other media. Did that play a role in deciding what projects to take on?
SG: Sort of. We decided that we wanted to focus on elevated genre fiction for a mature audience with new takes on established genres. Things have become more and more easily conceivable as other media. It doesn’t feel like there’s much of a barrier to media development anymore when you look at what’s being developed. Because of the thirst for content producers are actually open to some pretty wild things.
Media development is definitely something we want to put that on the table. It’s something that a lot of creators are interested in pursuing and as such it has to be part of the discussion. But first and foremost, we’re always adamant that our books have to stand as comics.
Everyone at TKO loves comics and believes what we put out have to stand up on their own, they can’t just be a quick way to create and sell IP. We want to build a real foundation for the medium, creators, retailers, and readers. From the start of TKO, we wanted to make sure that the comics come first and foremost.
MO: Based on the material I think that’s readily apparent. Will we ever see you write a book for TKO?
SG: I would not mind that. [Laughs]
Right now, I’ve got plenty to work on as editor-in-chief to cement the quality of the line. We want to make TKO something people look forward to every time we make an announcement. I obviously love writing comics and I love editing comics, too, so I’m very interested in continuing to do both. I’m hoping a book at TKO writing might be something I can tackle in the future.
Check out comics written by Sebastian Girner like Scales and Scoundrels & Shirtless Bear-Fighter! through Image, and watch for the second wave of TKO on TKOPresents.com.
Matt Chats is an interview series featuring discussions with a creator or player in comics, diving deep into industry, process, and creative topics. Find its author, Matt O’Keefe, on Twitter and Tumblr. Email him with questions, comments, complaints, or whatever else is on your mind at [email protected].
Oh yeah, bringing Garth Ennis: https://gutternaut.net/2019/04/garth-ennis-blowing-away-the-fronts/; was an excellent idea. It’s companies like this where creators like him thrive and bring in more fans.
Garth Ennis has been in comics for over 20 years. There have been imprints like this consistently for over 20 years . For the last 20 years, neither Mr. Ennis or the small companies that let creators do their thang have brought in more readers.
The American comics industry has shrunk in terms of readers and have made up for that by raising prices to attract a more “educated” audience.
The comics industry is not thriving. It’s just full of people who can afford to work for very little money upfront.
“But first and foremost, we’re always adamant that our books have to stand as comics.”
Is this guy a politician? Because he lies just like one.
These comics will never stand as comics because very few people will read them
like at that other small imprint Garth Ennis worked at, where the comics will disappear once a movie option is given to one or more creators.
And no, librarians don’t count as readers.
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