You need to understand one thing about a guy as talented as Jim Gibbons. There are some people that are born to be leaders — born to be damn good editors. I firmly believe Jim came out of the womb that way. There are few comics editors that I put on par with Tom Brevoort. Jim is on that par. He has never steered me wrong when it came time to praise a note. To learn he is one of the leaders of the new Stela venture does not surprise me and it makes me want to think that this thing will succeed out of the gates. To say I was eager to talk to him about this goes without saying and I can’t wait to see what is store for Stela in 2016. Please enjoy the interview as much as I did.
Tim O’Shea: What first attracted you to get onboard with Stela, Ryan and Jim?
Jim Gibbons: First, Tim, thanks so much for giving us the opportunity to chat about Stela!
In answer to your question, it’s not every day that you have the opportunity to help build a new comics publisher from the ground up! That was a huge selling point for me. I love editing comics, but at a certain point I think I realized that every company in comics has a pretty established way of doing things and a pretty established type of content they provide. The chance to blaze a whole new trail is pretty exhilarating!
But, even more so than that, the format of Stela—by delivering premiere and exclusive comics content built for mobile devices directly to your phone—really impressed me. It seems like the eternal question of comics is “How do we grow the market?” And even while the market is currently the most healthy it’s been in a long time, there are still—for example—millions of people who are enjoying comic book movies, but aren’t necessarily finding their way to comics.
We really believe that by making the entry into comics as easy as, literally, beaming new comics by creators like Victor Santos, Jen Bartel, Irene Koh, Evan Dorkin, Sarah Dyer, Fabian Rangel Jr., Jason Copland, Haden Blackman, Stuart Moore, Sandra Lanz, and Ethan Young (to name a few) directly into your pocket has huge potentially to grow comics readership. That alone was a huge part of the attraction of working at Stela. And then, talking with Ryan, our CPO Sam Lu, and CEO Jason Juan, three guys who are just so passionate about comics, art, and storytelling and about getting into this industry in the best way with big goals… You can’t ask for a better team to sign on to than that!
Ryan Yount: I got a message, out of the blue, from Sam Lu (Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer). Sam and I had worked together for years at Ubisoft—we used to talk about the “Future of Comics”. Over boba tea in Oakland he started describing what they wanted to do, and I was sold pretty much immediately.
As Jim already said, it’s a rare thing that you get the chance to spin up a new comics publisher from the ground up. Being able to lead the Editorial voice for Stela, and set up an environment around treating creators fairly (and paying them fairly!) was huge. And I’m a true believer in the big concept – bringing great comics to mobile gives us a real shot at expanding the readership of comics.
How did you pick the name?
Jim Gibbons: I wasn’t here for that, so I’ll leave that one to Ryan. But, as a big classics nerd, a name derived from Latin in reference to informational tablets from the ancient world was right up my alley!
Ryan Yount: You know that scene in Silicon Valley, where the group is brainstorming names and then picking them apart one by one? Yeah, like that. [Laughs] Everyone brought in their own contributions, and a couple of us came up with Stela independently. A tall stone marker inscribed with words and pictures… the term just seemed to resonate with everyone here.
What criteria allows you to be involved?
Jim Gibbons: If you’re a currently working comics creator or a prospective talent with a story to tell, then you’re meeting our criteria to do comics with Stela!
But to elaborate a bit more, for the past six months or so, we’ve been reaching out to different writers, artists, colorists, and letterers and partnering with them on—primarily—new creator-owned comics. We have over 30 projects currently in the works and we’re reaching out to even more creators now to line up more material.
As we’ll be delivering comics to current comics readers and brand new readers via an entirely new delivery method, one of the most exciting things about lining up creators has been our freedom to go out and find work from extremely talented creators who don’t necessarily have a long history in comics. We don’t have to worry about how creators have sold previously in the direct market, we can simply find great content from up-and-comers on Tumblr, as an example, and add that to the line up readers will have access to via our subscription model. It’s all about lining up new, fresh content that’ll stand alongside a handful of other creator visions for an amazing, interesting, entertaining, and diverse reading experience!
Ryan Yount: So far, we’ve been reaching out to creators we want to work with and commissioning new work from them. Technically, we’re not an open-submission publisher. Not yet, anyway. So creators have to know someone who is working with us. This isn’t meant to be an exclusionary club thing—both Jim and I are have been actively pursuing talent we want to work with (not just folks we’ve worked with before). Open Submissions take a lot of extra time; time that we need to spend on getting all of our current projects ready for the app.
Logistically what have been some of the early challenges?
Jim Gibbons: The biggest one, aside from obviously building the app that will deliver all this kick-ass content, has been that each conversation with a creator has to start from square one. We’ve been, until recently, under the radar, so we can’t go “We’re [Insert Established Publisher here]. Let’s talk about doing a comic together!” We’ve had to front-load people with a lot of information on us as a publisher and as a delivery method of content, not to mention getting people up to speed on our format.
That said, it’s been very fun to see so many people say they’ve been wondering about when someone was going to do westernized comics in a mobile native format or that they’re already doing vertically scrolling comics on Tumblr and they’re excited that a publisher is jumping into that arena!
Ryan Yount: The vertical format is something that was a challenge at first, not having many examples to show to creators. But every week it gets easier, as we get more amazing work turned in from our creators.
Early on was it easy or hard to get people onboard?
Jim Gibbons: To a degree, yes. But I’d say that mostly came down to scheduling more than anything. Spend any amount of time on Tumblr or Kickstarter or Twitter and there’s no shortage of extremely talented people with amazing-sounding comics pitches, but very few of them are sitting around going, “I literally have nothing at all to do right now, let’s roll on this tomorrow.”
Other than that, we’re paying very competitive page rates in advance for material the creators own, plus we’re sharing profits with them, as well. Creators also retain their entertainment and print rights. So, it’s a damn good deal, and loads of creators have been very excited to cook up rad new material for our format, as well!
Ryan Yount: Getting the first few creators onboard is always tough when you’re an unknown publisher. After the first few, it gets easier and easier. Creators have to deal with so many jerks trying to take advantage of them that they can be resistant to cold calls. But connections and persistence are key, and, as Jim said, paying our creators page rates helps, as does our fantastic rights arrangement.
Jim Gibbons: Oh, I’m sure there are! But for now, I’ll just say “Stay tuned!” All the information that’s come out about Stela in the past week has in many ways been the tip of the iceberg. You’ll be seeing our full creator list and more info on specific series as we move closer and closer to our early 2016 launch date. If you’ve liked what you’ve seen so far, great! But you ain’t seen nothing yet!
Ryan Yount: What Jim said. *High five!*