Independent graphic novel publisher ArchaiaEntertainment has come a long way in a short time. Originally launched in 2002to self-publish founder/artist Mark Smylie's graphic novel/role playing game, Artesia, Archaia has used a mix oforiginal hardcover and periodical comics, foreign licensing and mediaco-development deals to grow from an ambitious artist's dream to become asignificant entertainment media presence.
By 2007, Archaia was licensing European comics like The Killer by Matz and Luc Jacamon (nowoptioned for a film by Paramount) and had signed David Petersen's Mouse Guard, an original fantasy seriesabout three warrior mice and their adventures in a mouse kingdom, that has goneon to sell more than 100,000 copies in hardcover and developed a following byadults as well as kids. Despite many changes at the house—Smylie's originalpartner sold his shares and left; the main office is now in Los Angeles (Smyliestill lives in New Jersey) and more staff—Archaia's model of focusing on acombination of original works and established licenses (with film andvideogames added to the mix) continues to flourish.
"Archaia was started to be a home for creator-drivenbrands" said founder Mark Smylie, "and we're pretty much the same now. We'relooking for new voices as well as established creators; stuff that may not fitother places."
Archaia president P.J. Bickett said that house has"evolved and continues to evolve," and outlined the coming year. Archaia willadd to its staff of 10 ("we're planning to grow larger over the next three tosix months," Bickett said) and will publish 20 hardcover graphic novels thisyear in addition to periodical comics: "We're building a graphic novel backlist,"Bickett said, pointing to the emphasis on quality works and hardcover comics.Although the house focuses on hardcovers (paperback rights to Mouse Guard were sold to Villard) theyinitiate many of their comics as periodical series before collecting them intobooks. Look for the first issue of the late Jim Henson's Fraggle Rock, a comics series based on his 1980s kids TV show, inApril. It's one of the first comics to come from a comics co-development dealwith the Henson Company announced last summer; a deal that also includes adaptationsof such popular Hensen TV/film properties as The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth andMirrormask.
Bickett emphasized that the graphic works from the deal"will expand on the worlds of these properties. They will have all new storieswith new characters as well as continuing ones." Indeed the deal gives Archaiarights to "Henson works that have never been seen before," Smylie said, "we canpick and choose from the Henson vault." Archaia even has plans to distributeabout a 100,000 copies of a Mouse Guard/FraggleRock giveaway issue with all new material for Free Comic Book Day in May.
Archaia has just released Days Missing a new science fiction graphic novel created through aseparate co-development deal with Rodenberry Productions, the production houseof the late Star Trek creator. And the house is about to publish two new MouseGuard mini-series that will be collected into books in 2011: Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard, a Canterbury Tales-like anthology thatwill include a variety of top artists and writers—among them artists Gene Ha,Ted Naifeh and Katie Cook as well as Smylie—who will create new Mouse Guardadventures in the short story format. And in Sept. Archaia will beginpublishing Mouse Guard: Black Axe, anew 6 issue mini-series by Petersen. In November the house will also release anew original graphic novel called Returnof the Dapper Men, a fantasy work written by Jim McCann, who also happensto be the publicity manager at Marvel Comics, and illustrated by Janet Lee,that's already generating buzz about Lee's extraordinarily rich, painting-likeartwork.
Bickett makes a point of outlining Archaia's digitalplans, which include at least three more limited exclusive digitalreleases—followed by print editions—through the Amazon Kindle. The deal will bemuch like the house's 2009 deal with Amazon to release Joshua Hale Fialkov andNoel Tuazon's crime graphic novel, Tumor,in serialized chapters via the Kindle before releasing a print edition.
Bickett, who has a background in digital startups, saidthe house is also aggressively developing a digital platform that will makeArchaia titles available on all devices, including the iPad, iPhone, kindle, PCand other mobile devices. And he issued a call to retailers. "We want retailersto reach out to us about digital publishing," Bickett said, "I want to showthem how they can get involved and capitalize on this new business. We want tobe innovative and bring retailers into this space."