Big Time Indie Publisher Goes Its Own Way

Big Time Indie Publisher Goes Its Own Way
By trying different styles of art and writing in its books, Speakeasy Comics has broken the mould of being a traditional comic book company. Not limiting itself to superheroes, and marketing its product to a different type of customer is proving very successful for the fledgling company. Following in the footsteps of "independent" (i.e., not DC or Marvel) publishing companies Top Shelf, Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly, Speakeasy Comics has combined writers and artists whose individual styles mesh to create not only new comic books, but a whole new idea behind the comic book.

With more than six years experience in helping others run their comic publishing companies, Speakeasy Comics President Adam Fortier has more than enough experience in the industry. Best known for his negotiations that won Dreamwave Productions the license for Transformers, Fortier is confident about the new venture. "I spent about six years being a consultant and essentially all I did was work for others. I've spent years telling other people how to run their businesses — how to have successful comic books, how to have a successful business, and if I actually know what I'm talking about, I should be able to do this for myself."

In finding new ways to sell comics, Fortier's first move is to expand his customer base. Rather than going after larger comic stores that may not have the time or inclination to try out another new publisher — and where the shelves are saturated with an overwhelming amount of product — Fortier is targeting the book market in the hopes of capitalising on increasing crossover respect for adult-oriented graphic novels. "There's a big fear over the book market. The indies do better in the book market because [DC and Marvel] look at it and say, ‘I could lose my shirt there so why would I want to?' When you're selling 100,000 copies of a comic book, that's like 100,000 bucks in your pocket. You go into the book market and you sell 100,000 copies, 85,000 can be returned. There's fear there."

Coinciding with finding new retail outlets is Fortier's effort to find new readers, something that many publishers — independent or not — have shied away from. "It's kind of amazing, because you'd think there would be an excitement of being at the ground level of something," Fortier says. "Imagine being one of the people who picked up Action Comics #1. If you had even a passing interest in comics, that would be a defining moment in your life.

"The key for us is that we're not just creating something that's applicable to the comic book market, it's also applicable to the mass market. We've got a couple of graphic novels out that have done better than many of the graphic novels that we've attempted to sell with other publishers that I've worked with. Everybody is willing to give us a try, just not the comic book industry. That's frustrating as hell — you're making comics books, you'd think that the people who collect and love comics would be the people most likely to try you, but they appear to be the people who are least willing."

Frustration at trying to obtain new readers happens no matter how successful the company is, which is why DC and Marvel seem loath to branch out beyond big names, sticking with what they do best. With great story lines, talented artists and absolutely no ads to break up the story (DC and Marvel, take note), Speakeasy Comics' product definitely looks professional. With plans of introducing 30 on-going titles by the end of the year, Fortier will have his hands full with making sure his new customers are satisfied, no matter where they've picked up on it.

Speakeasy's Triple ThreatThe early success of Speakeasy Comics might be part innovative marketing strategy, but a unique approach to content is truly setting them apart. Titles such as The Grimoire, Beowulf and Atomika showcase different artists and writers with innovative storytelling styles that make for a diversity of stories. Using a different creative team for each book allows the people involved to concentrate on their project. Since it is creator-owned, it's their reputation if the book isn't done on time. Plus, there are no ads throughout — just story. And that's a better way to do comics, as far as I'm concerned.

The Grimoire centres on a young girl searching for her father with the aid of a magical book and a raccoon. Beowulf is the re-telling of the world's greatest warrior; the adaptation, set in modern times, shows him investigating freak epidemics, mostly of the superhero kind. Atomika is the circle closing; god made man and now man has made god. Set in Russia, the communist theme runs throughout the book, making it both distinct and adding an interesting angle to the story.

Comparing Speakeasy Comics to other comic book publishing companies in relation to what they publish really isn't fair. Speakeasy is all about trying new things, and many end up being fan favourites. Constantly looking for new talent and working with established artists and writers has given Speakeasy an early edge over bigger companies. While there are plenty of fans to pander to, by publishing new types of material Speakeasy has ensured that they will keep their books fresh and interesting.