Archaia Entertainment, in L.A., has come a long way in a short time. Originally launched in 2002 to self-publish founder/artist Mark Smylie's graphic novel/role playing game, Artesia, Archaia has used a mix of original hardcover and periodical comics, foreign licensing, and media co-development deals to grow from an ambitious artist's dream to become a significant entertainment media presence.
By 2007, Archaia was licensing European comics like The Killer by Luc Jacamon and Matz (now optioned for a film by Paramount) and had signed David Petersen's Mouse Guard, an original fantasy series about the adventures of three warrior mice, that has gone on to sell more than 100,000 copies in hardcover and developed a following of adults as well as kids. Despite many changes at the house, Archaia's model of focusing on a combination of original works and established licenses (with film and video games added to the mix) continues to flourish.
“Archaia was started to be a home for creator-driven brands,” said founder and publisher Mark Smylie, “and we're pretty much the same now. We're looking for new voices as well as established creators, stuff that may not fit other places.”
Archaia president P.J. Bickett said the house has “evolved and continues to evolve,” and outlined the coming year. Archaia will add to its staff of 10 and will publish 20 hardcover graphic novels this year. Although the house focuses on hardcover (paperback rights to Mouse Guard were sold to Villard), it initiates many of its comics as periodical series before collecting them into books. Look for the first issue of the late Jim Henson's Fraggle Rock, a comics series based on his 1980s kids TV show, in April. It's one of the first comics to come from the co-development comics deal with the Henson Company announced last summer, a deal that also includes such popular Henson TV/film properties as The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, and Mirrormask. Archaia also has plans to distribute about 100,000 copies of a Mouse Guard/Fraggle Rock 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 another co-development deal with Roddenberry Productions, the production house of the late Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry. The house is about to publish two new Mouse Guard miniseries that will be collected into books in 2011: Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard, a Canterbury Tales—like anthology that will include a variety of top artists and writers who will create new Mouse Guard adventures. And in September, Archaia will begin publishing Mouse Guard: Black Axe, a new six-issue miniseries by Petersen. In November the house will also release a new original graphic novel called Return of the Dapper Men, a fantasy work written by Jim McCann and illustrated by Janet Lee that's generating buzz about Lee's rich, paintinglike artwork.
Bickett, who has a background in digital startups, said the house is aggressively developing a digital platform that will make its titles available on all devices, including the iPad, iPhone, Kindle, other mobile devices, and PCs. And he issued a call to retailers. “We want retailers to reach out to us about digital publishing,” Bickett said. “I want to show them how they can get involved and capitalize on this new business. We want to be innovative and bring retailers into this space.”