IDW: An Oral History

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In 1999, 30-year-old Ted Adams, a former employee of Todd McFarlane Entertainment whose relative youth nevertheless boasted an impressive career in the indie comics world, submitted a business plan for a new San Diego-based creative services company. It’s name? Ideas & Design Works, or IDW. Along with co-founders Alex Garner, Kris Oprisk and Robbie Robbins, known to Adams from his time spent at the now-defunct Image Comics imprint WildStorm, Adams sought to create something of his own, much in the same way his former employers had done. Based out of an office that was little more than a glorified broom closet, the four hit the ground running. What began as a scrappy start-up would soon transform into one of the most influential juggernaut publishers in the world of indie comics. IDW-published books, including 30 Days of Night, Angel and Locke & Key, would one day proudly share the stands with the likes of Marvel, DC and Dark Horse.

As part of the company’s 15th anniversary, the editors, writers and artists of Ideas & Design Works look back on the struggles, evolutions, failures and breakthroughs of what would become one of comics’ biggest success stories. It’s the story of vampires, Transformers, Joss Whedon and one particularly incompetent TV employee.

A Company of One’s Own

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Steve Niles (30 Days of Night Writer): Ted Adams and I actually go way back. We were just kids — one or the other of us was holding a gallon container of vodka the first time we met. We were working for Dean Mullaney at Eclipse, so any moment in between we were running off and just partying. I was 22, 23 at the time, so Ted must have been 19, 20. Over the years, we would run into each other and talk and check in where we were in each other’s careers. He went through WildStorm and Dark Horse and Todd McFarlane’s company.

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Ted Adams (IDW Co-Founder): The job I had before starting IDW was working for Todd McFarlane. His company had an entertainment division I was working on at the time with Terry Fitzgerald. We were mostly doing music videos. We did a music video for Korn … a music video for Pearl Jam. At the time there was a TV show based on his property Spawn, which was on HBO, and we were tangentially involved with that at as well.

Niles: Ted was working at Todd’s company and got me working there. I wound up writing Hellspawn and Spawn: The Dark Ages and [Spawn:] Book of the Dead. My uncredited work for Todd McFarlane is I wrote for the toys, or for the packages of the toys. It was a really fun gig. Literally, while I was working for Todd, Ted went off and did his own company.

Adams: Working for Todd was a great job, and I loved working with him. But it was Todd’s company … his name was all over it. I was looking for something where I could be in charge basically, and that wasn’t great for me with Todd. But he was a great boss and I certainly learned a lot working with him. What gave us the opportunity to start IDW is that the four of us that started IDW — [me, Alex Garner, Kris Oprisko, Robbie Robbins] — had all worked for Jim Lee at WildStorm Productions at various times. When I worked for Jim, I ran a division that did creative service projects, which are basically when entertainment companies would hire WildStrorm to do art design on a work-for-hire basis. One of my partners that I started with, Kris Oprisko, was still running that division for Jim after I left.

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Jeff Mariotte (former IDW Editor-in-Chief): I was the vice president of marketing for WildStorm Productions. That’s how I got to know Ted, Kris and Robbie, because we all worked in the La Jolla studio together. Then DC Comics bought WildStorm and I became a senior editor. I guess that was around the time that Ted and those guys parted ways with WildStorm, because Jim sold WildStorm to DC Comics and [DC] decided they didn’t want to be in the creative service business.

Adams: [The company] was nice enough to say, “If you like, you can take our existing creative service clients and use them to start this business.” It gave us a good opportunity, because when we started the business, we knew we had all these clients already lined up. When Alex and I were putting together the idea to start IDW, my big contribution was the business plan and trying to figure that out. Alex was focused on naming the company and helping to set the direction of what we wanted to do. Alex came up with a huge list of names. It must have been more than 50 names. We settled on [IDW]. It stands for Idea and Design Works. It’s amusing to me that IDW has become a brand just because all of us, including Alex, think that IDW is not the greatest name in the world. People ask me all the time what IDW stands for, and I’ve never been able to come up with something clever.

Mariotte: [The IDW guys] were all good guys. I thought of them as friends. Ted and I in particular did more stuff outside the studio. We hung out after work … I hadn’t heard anything [about a new business] from him until the DC purchase, and it became clear he wouldn’t get to keep doing what he had been doing. He never told me that was a big dream or anything.

Adams: We really saw that there were four of us who started the business, and our roles were very clearly defined. I was the entrepreneur/business guy, Kris was the project manager, Alex was our artist and Robbie was the graphic designer. Alex and I decided to start the business initially. We brought on Kris, but we knew we needed a graphic designer. It was Jim Lee who recommended that we take a look at Robbie.

Niles: Ted always wanted his own business, but we never knew what it was going to be. When IDW started out, they were a packaging company. They were doing commercial packaging for, I think, deodorant? Doing ad campaigns and that kind of stuff.

Adams: In the early days of IDW, when we were just a creative service company, I was really focused on trying to grow that business and I felt a real responsibility to make sure that we were all able to provide for ourselves. At that point, Kris and I had families, so I felt a real personal responsibility. I was the guy who was the ringleader here and had convinced these other guys to go into business. We were lucky because we were cash flow positive from day one and profitable from the first year. As the business grew and got bigger, we still wanted to be entrepreneurial, so we would dabble with something new every year. One year, we shot a pilot for a TV show. It was a fun experience, but we learned we weren’t good at doing that. So that was kind of a failed experiment. The next year, we published an art book with my friend [Australian comic book artist] Ash Wood. That ultimately is what became IDW Publishing, which is what people know us for today. Certainly no one knows us for our creative service business. Because we’d all worked at WildStorm, and I’d worked in comics for multiple publishers, we had a pretty big Rolodex of creators.

Niles: I had written prose mystery novels centered on a character named Cal McDonald, but I couldn’t find anyone to publish them. So Ted offered to publish the novels. The first one we got out was Savage Membrane with those great covers by Ashley Wood. One of the things I remember most about early IDW was Robbie Robbins book design. Those were some of the most beautiful books.

Mariotte: I had written a novel called The Slab and I was looking for a publisher for it. IDW had started to publish some fiction with some of Steve Niles’ books. I went to lunch with Ted one day, and my intention in going to lunch was to ask him if IDW would be interested in looking at The Slab and maybe publishing it. It turns out his intention in going to lunch was to ask me if I would be editor-in-chief. So we had these competing agendas for our lunch. In the course of the lunch, we pretty much decided to do both.

Adams: We did the [Ashley Wood] art book, we did some novels by Steve Niles — some Cal McDonald novels. Those first couple years of publishing, we weren’t publishing much, so it was a very slow turn into publishing.

Mariotte: It was a lot of fun. There was kind of a spirit that’s probably common to start-ups in a lot of different creative businesses. When I started at IDW, they’d been around for a couple of years, but they were really just moving into the publishing end in a much bigger way than they had been. They had been focusing on the creative services stuff. It was a creative services business with a publishing side. By the time I left [the company], we were a publisher with a side business in creative services. So it was great getting to experience that start-up mentality as opposed to the rigged corporate mentality of WildStorm under DC/Warner Bros. So there was kind of an “everybody does everything” and “everybody pitches in” mentality. You are a specialist in your field, but if someone needs to pack boxes — it doesn’t matter if you’re the editor in chief — you pack boxes. So there was a sense that we all had to work together to make it work.

30 Days of Night

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Niles: I was living in Minnesota, going through one of those six-month winters. There was this human interest article every year. It was about Barrow, Alaska, and how they had a high depression rate and suicide rate because of the … I think it was actually 55 days of dark, but that didn’t sound as good. So I was really fascinated with the town and thought, “This would be a great place for a vampire story.” And it just sat there forever. I was thoroughly convinced it was a bad idea. I had pitched it in the room 20 or 30 times around L.A. and [it was] flat-out rejected every time. They always said, “It sounds like Blade, [or] sounds like Buffy.” It was very confusing to me because they were telling me it was like two hits. At the time, I was working at Book City in Burbank and just scrapping by, so each of those rejections was very memorable.

Adams: For Steve, his whole life he’d been interested in horror, and so he and I had that touchpoint. Whenever we would talk, we would talk about horror and those kinds of things.

Niles: The comic happened because [Ted] just wanted to publish comics. He wrote me and said, “I can’t pay you, but if you have any stuff you want to do, you can do whatever you want.” What I did was send him my rejected pitch list. I sent him everything I tried to sell in Hollywood, and no one would buy. 30 Days of Night was on the list and he was like, “How about this one?” Literally, that started the entire thing … I had met Ben [Templesmith] on the Spawn message board. The art director at the time was friends with him, and they’d been posting art of his on Spawn.com. So I go to meet Ben and we started doing Hellspawn. It was in the middle of doing Hellspawn that Ted asked us if we wanted to do the comic, you know, for fun. And that’s when we started working on the 30 Days of Night thing together.

Mariotte: When the first miniseries went out, I wasn’t there yet, so I wasn’t in on that beginning stage, but I know from my conversations with everyone that they thought it was really good, but they had no idea what the response was going to be. There was no way of knowing that. That was, in general, a pretty tough time for comics. It was hard to launch anything new. There had been the boom of the ‘90s and then the crash of the later ‘90s. So trying to get anything new off the ground and get any kind of numbers for it was hard.

Niles: It happened so fast. People started getting excited about it really, really fast. That was maybe the first time in my life that I got the sense that I might be able to write for a living. And, after having worked for McFarlane where you write what he tells you to write — and it’s fine, those are his properties — but having the freedom to do the vampires I wanted to and have the language I wanted to … There were a lot of people at the time who thought the art was insane. Lots of people said, “I can’t tell what’s going on! It’s dark, it’s murky!” I kind of was like, “You mean, like a horror movie?” So every time people would say that, it would make me love Ben’s art even more. I kind of like when you got to look really hard into a panel and you finally focus on it and it’s a really nasty image. It’s like creeping through the dark with a flashlight.

Mariotte: [The series] went out there and the movie [deal] happened pretty fast, which spurred a lot of attention for it.

Niles: 30 Days of Night tanked. We only sold 4,000 copies of issue one. Then, interest in the movie came and then this groundswell started. I remember one day Ted and I went out to pitch it to all the studios and we were somewhere in Meltdown Comics on Sunset, and we were behind some shelves. We overhear this voice saying, “Do you guys know something about — I don’t know — vampires in the snow?” They didn’t know what it was. So we peeked over and, sure enough, there were a whole gaggle of guys in blue shirts. We were like, “The assistants are here!” They were going around town wiping out the stock. It was really funny. At a few different places, they were like “all the blue shirts came in and took all the stock.”

Mariotte: We kept having to reprint and reprint and keep stocking the stores.

Niles: Ted and Jeff edited me for most of that early stuff. It really worked out because Jeff is a really experienced writer/editor/bookseller. He’s lived and breathed books and comics his entire life. We were dealing with an explosion of stuff happening. I wrote more comics then than I probably ever have before or since. Jeff was this great mentor. The best story I have of Jeff editing is he called me in the middle of all the 30 Days of Night books. He said, “Hey, this character I really like and I love what you’re doing with him in the third issue, but you killed him in the second issue …”

Adams: For a long time, IDW was perceived to be the horror publisher for years because 30 days of Night was so much more successful than anything we’d published for the first couple of years. That was how we were perceived by the market and by consumers, but that was okay with me because I like that genre, and we certainly did a lot of that in the early days.

Niles: We had [film] offers right off the bat. Some of them were really low. Ted and I kept having to convince each other to hold out. I had to walk from my McFarlane job to pitch the movie because Todd made me an offer at the time where I would work for McFarlane Entertainment, but they would own the rights to everything I wrote, including 30 Days of Night. They offered me a decent salary, but I had to make a decision and my decision was I’m going to go at it alone. So when we were pitching the 30 Days of Night movie, I was unemployed. So when the offer is $5,000, that was like, “Wow, that will pay two months rent!” Then, one day, someone said, “You wanna go pitch to [Sam] Raimi?” That was the only pitch I’d ever had in 20 years of pitching that ended with Sam going, “Let’s make a movie.” Ted and I were on the phone, so luckily no one could see our reaction. We were jumping around the room.

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Niles: From the point it was bought to the point it was onscreen was seven years. This was my first time selling a movie and my first time writing a movie with producers. I’ll be perfectly honest — I was a deer in headlights. We had 18 producers and I tried to address all 18 producers’ notes in my run of the script. I lost my mind and I wound up writing a script I hated. It had all the elements of my comic, but with all this crap added in. When that script got passed on, it was the best thing that could have happened. I think it took four writers until Brian [Nelson] came on. He simplified and streamlined everything. I could tell you so many stories about things people suggested for this movie, but I don’t think any one of them would surprise you. They were all pretty standard from “Do they have to be vampires?” to “All the vampires should be beautiful, naked women.” I learned a lot from that and, unfortunately, what I learned is that you can’t listen to everyone. Overall, considering the development process and the seven years it took, I’m really happy with the movie.

Adams: In the early days of publishing, [the movie] helped because back then it gave us a story to tell about the comic. Without question, it made people more interested in reading the book when they found out we had a movie deal for it. Back then, it wasn’t common that comic books would get optioned for movies, so it was a much bigger story than it would be today.

Mariotte: From a personal point of view, I have a few issues with [the movie]. I thought the comic was better. My biggest problem is that the vampires presumably were people before they became vampires, so why do they speak this strange language? So I thought the comic was more effective than the movie was. But from the perspective of the company, it was great. It did exactly what they needed it to do at the right time.

Licensed Comics

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Adams: [The licensed comics] came pretty early. We were doing a lot of creative service work for Upper Deck. We were designing a lot of trading card decks and games for them, and one of the games we designed was a game based on the show Survivor, which was a CBS show. So we had a relationship with CBS because of that game. I think the CSI comic came out just a couple of months after 30 Days of Night. I really liked that TV show, so it felt like it might be a fun thing to try to do. I was a massive fan of Max Allan Collins and his writing. I felt I could bring out a good mystery writer to a really popular TV show and then tap into Ash Wood to do the flashback sequences. We also found Gabe Rodriguez through an art studio. He did that first CSI book for us. It was a mix of all those things coming together. That CSI comic did well for us. It sold tremendously well, even by today’s standards. It was Gabe’s first book for us and his first comic book.

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Gabriel Rodriguez (CSI, Locke & Key Artist): Basically, I had a little experience as an illustrator here in Chile before I started working with IDW. But my first professional work in comics was the CSI comics. So I have to say that the beginning of my career in comics was with IDW back in 2002. To become a comic book artist was a childhood dream of mine. With no professional industry of comics in Chile, it was almost an impossible dream. Then, after I tried a couple of illustration jobs, I got in contact with a guy that offered me the chance to contact a studio in Spain that was doing some job for independent publishers in the United States. Through them, I ended up entering in a poll with a bunch of artists competing for the CSI job. I ended up getting the job.

Mariotte: With CSI, I got along really well with the guys at CBS and the guys at the show. I went up to L.A. and I met with Anthony Zuiker and actually sat in on a recording session for the DVD commentary, which was fun. He was not particularly involved in the creation of the stories, but he was well aware of what we were doing and he was into it. And the people at CBS were super helpful, so if I had a question or a problem, I had someone at the show office who I could go to and say, “Is this how this would work?” They would check it out and say yes or no or “maybe you should do it this way …” Eventually, I ended up writing some CSI novels as well as the comics. They really treated me like I was part of the show family.

Rodriguez: I had to watch a lot of the TV show to have an idea of the visual approach of the TV series and try to translate it properly into the comic. Having had no previous professional work in comics, it was the first time I had to meet monthly deadlines. I also had to learn tools about comic storytelling itself. It was great to start working for a project like this that was restrictive. It forced me to be as creative as possible to give a visual appeal to the pages. It’s basically a series of talking heads through 18 of the 20 pages, so trying to find an interesting visual method was a challenge and an exciting way to learn about my own storytelling tools.

Mariotte: We also picked up The Shield license. On The Shield, I had a lot of support from Shawn Ryan, the show creator … [The creative people] would often come back and say, “Yes, you can do this, but you can’t do that.” One time, I wrote the outline for the miniseries and I sent it in to the licensing people and they kicked it over to the show people. Someone sent it back with a note saying, “The cops wouldn’t do this because it’s illegal!” I said, “Have you ever watched the show?” So the licensing people took it to Shawn Ryan and he said, “That’s absolutely okay, it works great.” I don’t know if that person kept his or her job very long, but clearly they had no clue what the show was about.

Meet the New Boss

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Chris Ryall (IDW Editor-in-Chief): I’d always wanted to be a writer, and I never quite knew how to go about it. I was doing things like writing technical copy or writing ad copy. In my head I could call myself a writer, but it was not at all the kind of thing I wanted to be doing. On the side, I started writing comic book reviews just to do something that was more along the lines of what I wanted to be doing. Through that, I met Kevin Smith and then he hired me to do the Movie Poop Shoot website. It was a goofy parody website in [Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back]. He wanted to turn it into a real pop culture portal. We had TV and movie and music and comic book news on there. The relationship with Kevin and the people I met through that started to open those doors.

Mariotte: I was getting busier in my freelance life and my daughter was moving out of the house. Everything kind of came together at once. I had an opportunity to sell my house in California and buy the little ranch that I live out of now. I could live there and be a writer. That had been my ultimate goal all along. I knew it would be hard to accomplish in California, with its much higher cost of living and housing, etc. I just had this opportunity and I had to go for it. The guys were fully supportive.

Ryall: I’d gotten friendly with Steve Niles, who did IDW’s 30 Days of Night. One day, out of the blue, he called me up and said, “Hey, would you ever consider the editor-in-chief position at IDW?” I was familiar with the company. I’d bought 30 Days off the racks because I liked the way it looked, but I didn’t really know anything about the company. So I said, “Yeah, I’ll consider it, but I don’t know if I’m suited for it.” When I came in to interview, I was thinking, “We’re here to talk about my actual 40-hour-a-week job experience,” which was as a copy writer or speechwriter. But, as we get to talking, all the stuff that I thought I didn’t have experience doing turned out I did have good experience doing, but more on the website. So what I thought might be a deficiency, it turned out wasn’t.

Mariotte: [Chris] came down and we spent a couple of weeks working together. We did Comic-Con together. That was my last hurrah with IDW — the Comic-Con of 2004. I had some time to get to know Chris and help him get comfortable in the position. He’s got a good eye. Smart guy. He caught on really quick. He’d been doing some web stuff so he knew the basics. It didn’t take long for him at all to step right up.

Ryall: The biggest thing I thought was that you’d have to be the guy who’s hiring all the talent and figuring out the direction of the titles and all that. I was doing a lot of that in my side job. As the editor-in-chief of Kevin’s site, I was hiring talent and keeping things going on the deadline side. So yeah, I was able to nicely integrate and Jeff was a great help, too. He helped get me started before he took off. So there was no real awkward stumbling block or anything like that. You’re always kind of learning as you go, but, at the start, I didn’t feel as ill equipped as I imagined I would.

Mariotte: Once in a while, to some extent, I [regret leaving], but I’m glad I did because I was able to do what I really wanted to do. But it was a fun environment to work in. They’ve grown so much, and things I couldn’t do then for budgetary reasons, Chris can now do. It would have been cool to be a part of the company when those things happened. But the part of publishing I like best is still the start-up years. The “we can try anything” attitude. I’m glad I got to be there for that part.

Vampires and Transformers

Ryall: [When I started the job] I actually had a bigger talent pool than I thought I did, just from the people I’d gotten to know over the past few years. One of my proudest projects at IDW was doing Angel, not only with Joss Whedon but the guys who were responsible for every issue — Brian Lynch and Frank Urru. Brian, he’s a friend of mine, but he’s also an amazing writer.

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Brian Lynch (Angel, Spike writer): I knew Chris through Kevin Smith. Kevin and I started doing the Movie Poop Shot website from Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back as a real website and we started getting a lot of hits. Kevin said, “Why don’t we turn this into a real site?” That’s when he got Chris Ryall.

Ryall: When I started, they were doing small license books like CSI — which wasn’t too small at the time. That came out of the gates selling really well. They were also in development with Joss Whedon’s Angel.

Lynch: While Dark Horse was reviving Buffy, they kind of let Angel slip and didn’t want to do anything in it. So IDW was like, “We’ll try.” When Chris went to IDW, he was like, “Hey, you like Angel — do you want to write a Spike book? It’s a spin-off from Angel?” I said I did and Joss Whedon read it. The first time I met [Joss] I was literally waiting for my friend outside a restaurant and he was walking out. At the time, I had the Spike book, which Joss had nothing to do with, coming out the next day. I walked over and said, “Hey, when I see famous people I love, I don’t usually bother them, but I have a book coming out with your characters tomorrow and it came out really good.” He said, “Cool, cool, I’ll check it out.” He left and I was like, “I should have just left him alone — so stupid.” Then about a month later, I get an email from Chris saying that Joss loved the book and that I had an ear for the characters, and that he wants to do an official in-canon Angel book with me. So I had a two-and-a-half hour breakfast [with Joss] and we talked about what would have happened if the show had continued, which was so helpful with the book. More than that, we talked about all the stuff he loves and the movies that I like. He puts you at ease immediately. He’s like a good friend who’s also just a super genius.

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Ryall: Generally, with everything I do here, I try to stay away from the contract side of things. I will work on the acquisition side, which involves building a relationship with the license or creators to bring a book over here and figure out directions. But I enjoy that because that’s setting the creative slate for what we’re going to publish or what direction those stories will take.

Lynch: [IDW] were pretty open to what I wanted to do. Before Joss came on, I did Spike: Asylum and Spike: Shadow Puppets, which were two miniseries. Chris had great input and a lot of great ideas. Then, I did a Spike solo series, and Mariah Huehner was the editor of that and she had great input. She was a huge fan of the series. I sent her really long outlines, and she had great notes in terms of streamlining and making things better. [IDW] was kind of hands-off until they needed to be hands-on. In Hollywood, it’s completely different. Everyone is hands-on 24 hours a day. IDW is like, “If you got it, we’re just going to watch, but we’ll step in if we have ideas.” It’s never not been an amazing relationship. I did an 11-page Spider-Man story at Marvel, and they had more notes for that than IDW had for the entire run of Angel.

Ryall: Angel brought in fans that had never bought an IDW comic, and many who had never bought a comic before but were fans of Angel. That was a big thing to try to attempt — to pick up where Joss Whedon left off. The fact that it went so well and made Angel so viable once again, that was really gratifying and really fun.

Lynch: [Chris] is the nicest, sweetest guy. It’s insane. Editors-in-chief shouldn’t be as nice as he is. And he still gets most stuff that a mean editor would get done, but he gets it done by being your best pal. And he’s a great writer. I’m reading a script he wrote and it’s like, “Oh, he’s also a fantastic screenwriter.” It’s so frustrating — he does so many things well, including being a good person, which I’m still working on.

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Ryall: October of 2005 was when we launched Transformers. That, no pun intended, literally transformed the company. It changed everything for us. It came out actually a year and a half before the first movie. We’d heard talk of the movie but, at the time, I don’t think it was even announced. We secured that license not only as something we were interested in, but one that seemed like a very good opportunity if we could get in ahead of anything like that. I was a big proponent of the idea of doing Transformers, which at the time we discussed internally as, “Is this something we want to do because it’s massively different from the bulk of the horror titles we’ve been doing and might taint the focus of the company?” But I really saw that this would help us be something more than just the smaller horror publisher. And it did. It really got people to stand up and take notice. It wasn’t an easy get for us since we didn’t have the background of some of our competitors. We were up against some of the biggest publishers in the business at the time — who are still the biggest publishers in the business — and we managed to get that business. It not only gave us a big property to reach an entirely new audience, but it got the industry at large to go, “Wait a minute, who are these guys?”

The Digital Advent

Adams: I think that’s one of the things that’s really nice about IDW — we’ve been an innovator all along. We were first to venture into digital comics.

Ryall: About 2006, we jumped into [the digital market]. We were probably the first comic book publisher to really embrace digital, in that there weren’t corporate structures or shareholders in place that sort of required us to move at a slower speed than we wanted. We tried all kinds of new things. We tried motion comics. We tried panel-by-panel. We tried designing it with minor effects and sounds being added. We tried all these things to see what worked and how people responded to them. It was a very nice position to be in, to be nimble enough to try different things and see what worked. Ultimately, the motion comics and the additional sound effects and voices … it kind of moved it a bit too far away from what people are used to with their comic experiences. But, like I said, it was nice to get to experiment with all these different methods. This was not too many years after Napster and digital had just really crushed the music industry, so I think a lot of people’s initial response was, “Oh my God, we’re next … this is going to kill print!” That’s not only proven not to be true but, if anything, digital has brought in a lot more readers to comics and has only helped print retailers. The numbers in the direct comic book market for print have just gone up and up the last couple of years, which is directly attributable to digital.

Adams: I’m proud of the fact that [IDW has] published a huge amount of the history of American comic strips with The Library of American Comics. We’ve done, at this point, something like 15 years of Dick Tracy strips and Little Orphan Annie strips. For people who want to learn the history of American comic strip, we have provided a tremendous service to them. Before IDW, those stripes just weren’t available. You couldn’t read them if you wanted to read them.

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Ryall: 2006 was a big year for us diversifying beyond what we had done. We had to be an alternative to the superhero comics, and this was our way to further enhance that. If you wanted something new like Transformers or Angel, we had that option, but then we also wanted to give you very nice archival quality collection of classic newspaper strips like Dick Tracy, which was the first one we launched with. Then we started our partnership with Dean Mullaney, who founded Eclipse comics back in the ‘80s. Ted (Adams) worked with Dean back in the day. Dean came to us a few years later and he wanted to create a line of strip books, but to do them to even a greater degrees than we’d be doing. So he increased the size and quality and turned it into a line that we called Library of American Comics.

Locke & Key

Ryall: Ted Adams and I had both read Joe Hill’s short story collection 20th Century Ghosts, which at the time was only a UK release. It didn’t have an American publisher. There was something about the stories that really stood out to us. A lot of them were horrific, but there was also this kind of Neil Gaiman sensibility. So we thought, “This guy really has something special, maybe we could adapt some of these stories for comics?” We’d done that with Richard Matheson and some other people. So we contacted Joe and he said, “That’s kind of interesting, but I’ve got these comic book pitches I’m interested in you guys taking a look at.” So he sends us a few, and the one that stood out was about a scary house with magical keys in it. So we signed on to do that. I remember, at the time, I really wanted Gabriel Rodriguez to draw that book. I thought no one else could do it the way he could. When I gave Joe a handful of samples, I gave him Gabriel and a bunch of guys who I knew were not up to snuff. I wanted that one sample to stand out far above the others so Joe would have no choice but to go with Gabe.

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Rodriguez: Locke & Key was a surprise. Chris told me about this guy Joe Hill. They found out Joe was a big comic book fan, and he had this original story that was called Locke & Key. He pitched the idea to IDW and they immediately loved it. Chris suggested he get in touch with me to develop the project. From a very early stage, I got in contact with Joe. Joe sent me two pages, in which he had a brief summary of the plot of Locke & Key on one page and on the other page he had a list of the ten main characters from the first story arc, “Welcome to Lovecraft,” described only in three lines. In a way it was a challenge of “let’s see what you can do with this.” I came up with a design and sent it back to Joe. He felt we were completely in tune with what we wanted to do with the series. From there, we started developing the story. It was incredibly magical, the way we were in complete agreement.

Ryall: As we were getting the first issue ready, Joe told us he was going to be on a morning show in New York to talk about his new novel Heart-Shaped Box. We said, “Ok, let’s record the show and see if he can present himself well in public.” So Joe sits down and we think, “He looks kind of familiar …” Then the reporter’s first question is, “How does it feel to be Stephen King’s son?” First of all — asinine question. Second, we thought, “Holy shit, we had no idea!” At the time, he’d spent a decade not using his family name, because he wanted to make it as a writer under his own merits and not ever wonder if the only reason he had a book deal was because of his dad.

Rodriguez: None of us knew! A few weeks after [Heart-Shaped Box] appeared on The New York Times Best Seller list, some guy came out with the news that Joe was Stephen King’s son. IDW didn’t know that. Not even Joe’s agent knew. It was such a big surprise for all of us. But I really admire how Joe handled his literary career. I can imagine how big a task it was to keep that information under the radar. Also, having the courage to make a name of his own and succeeding.

Ryall: We didn’t change our marketing to be like, “We’ve got a King kid!” It was always Joe Hill.

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Adams: Locke & Key had been a passion project for me from day one. So nothing makes me happier than the fact that it found such a big audience and has been commercially successful and critically acclaimed. I wish I could say that it always works out the way, but that’s why Locke & Key was so special — it’s a great book that found an audience. I like to think that we played a big part in that. We certainly got behind it from a promotional and marketing standpoint. Every opportunity that I could find to market it, I’d take. We did something for Free Comic Book Day, it was on the cover of Previews. I think that helped build that audience, but ultimately it’s the fact that it’s a great book. It’s Joe and Gabe at the top of their game producing a fantastic book, which then became an even better read when you read it in the collected editions.

Rodriguez: I’m very aware that Locke & Key became what it became, finally, because IDW trusted what we could do with that story, and they were always encouraging us and offering us more alternatives. Even in the way in which Locke & Key was published, these miniseries seasons helped us in our creative process because they gave us time to stop a beat to rethink and adjust the story. They tried as much as possible to open the possibilities to us in terms that we were able to deliver the best story possible. They were absolutely the best possible partners to develop a project like this. We ended up with this book, which was much bigger and better than we expected it to be.

Adams: That’s a nice thing about the way comics are sold today. Locke & Key is going to keep selling for us for a very long time because it keeps finding new readers because people keep talking about it. Now’s your opportunity — if you were on the fence about reading it before because you were wondering if it’s going to get finished — now it is finished and readers can go back and pick up all six volumes.

Ryall: The Locke & Key thing is the most gratifying experience I’ve had working on IDW. There’s been great books and great creative teams and some things that are really special and important to me, but I think that one over the last five year period was just an amazing thing.

The Future of IDW

Steve Niles: I don’t know half the people [at IDW] anymore! What freaks me out is now when I go to the booth at conventions, I’m like, “Who are you people? What have you done with Ted?!” But that’s a mark of a successful company when you start seeing new editors and new people. The most surprising part is all the stuff they do. I can’t even keep up with it anymore! It’s amazing seeing all my friends now as successful adults with careers … I was 33 years old when 30 Days of Night happened. So I thought I was starting to hit the other side of the hill in my comic book career. Turns out, it actually rebooted. I owed everything to Ted and IDW.

Brian Lynch: I still think IDW is a great company run by awesome people. When I meet up with everybody at the conventions, as big as they’re getting, it’s still this group of friends that I haven’t seen in person for a while and I’m happy to see. They never make you feel like, “Oh Brian, not now, there’s something we have to deal with …” Even if it was a small company that didn’t have cool licenses, you’d still want to go out of your way to find projects to work on. The fact that they have had this success over the years and it keeps building makes it all the better. They completely deserve it. Chris [Ryall] goes all over the world securing all these properties and making people happy. He’s like Santa Claus!

Gabriel Rodriguez: From day one, you have this amazing team of people driven by the same forces that were inspiring them back then: passion for their job, love and extreme care for what they do and a tremendous respect and loyalty for their collaborators and partners. Over time, they’ve sustained their success in caring for people and endorsing their talent. I can’t imagine a better place or team to be a part of, and I sincerely think the best is even yet to come.

Chris Ryall: Every day, there are little things that remind me of how great this is. There’s so many things that make it worth getting about with every day … We launched IDW Entertainment last year with the goal to really get things going in that regard. Entertainment One [which recently announced a partnership with IDW Entertaiment] is responsible for some great shows and have good things coming up. Ted and I never set up to be a place that’s just an IP development house. If you’re only doing a comic because you’re trying to sell a movie, you’re doomed to fail. But if we can partner with good people that can take these comics and bring them into other avenues, that feels like a win to me.

Ted Adams: What I’m proud of with IDW is the books we’ve published. I know I have published books that are going to outlive me. You can talk about Locke & Key or Darwyn Cooke’s Parker adaptations, the books we’ve done with Steve and Ash — these are books that are going to be around long after I’m gone.

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