In a move that signals the growing importance of comics-based properties in the film world, LA –based publisher Boom! Studios and 20th Century Fox have signed what has been termed an “innovative” first look deal that will see Fox get first crack at Boom!’s comics, and Boom get a chance to develop Fox properties for the comics. The innovative part is the money split of any films which are made, which allows Boom! and comics creators involved to split their share based on first dollar gross—a rarity in Hollywood, which usually bases accounting on the net.
2013 has been a record year for films based on properties that first appeared in the comics, with both Marvel/Disney and Warner Bros. ramping up their cinematic superhero universes. And other studios don’t want to get left out of the party. Fox has the rights to some of Marvel’s top franchises—the X-Men and the Fantastic Four—but it’s in the market to develop even more new franchises. That’s where Boom! Studios comes in—the deal includes material from both Boom!, their recent acquisition, Archaia Entertainment, and imprints BoomBox and Kaboom!
According to Boom! publisher Ross Richie, the deal wouldn’t have been possible without their acquisition of Archaia, which is known for its beautifully designed hardcover fantasy and SF graphic novels. Archaia already had several properties in development at Fox, including Royden Lepp’s Rust, a YA tale about a boy with a jetpack who appears in an impoverished farm. The property has been fast tracked as a live action film, with Rio director Carlos Saldanha attached. Archaia editor-in-chief Stephen Christy is also instrumental in the Fox deal, and will be credited as co-producer along with Richie of any films that result.
The deal comes after the success of this summer’s 2 Guns, the rare comic book movie without flying people and exploding worlds. Starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg as two undercover cops who don’t know they are both after the same Mexican drug cartel, it was based on a Boom! comic written by veteran Stephen Grant and drawn by Mateus Santolouco. Released by Universal and with a relatively modest $61 million budget, the film grossed $104 million worldwide, making it one of the more profitable comic book movies of the summer.
2 Guns is the kind of eclectic story that Richie has always published at Boom! and which he sees as opening doorways in Hollywood. “We have a lot of expertise and experience in Hollywood, and that’s reflected in the deal,” he told PW. He acknowledges that the first dollar participation is incredibly rare—“It’s a unicorn,” he jokes—but it’s a result of slowly building up a good rep around town, something that the interest in Rust and the success of 2 Guns have helped.
Boom!’s participation is considered “additive”—something that not every comic book publisher enjoys, Richie explains. It’s a relationship unique to comics publishers, which often have a more boutique feel, as opposed to book publishers, even though prose books are turned into films all the time. “What I like is that they are recognizing the power of the comic book community to be imaginative. That’s what fueling all of this,” says Richie.
Boom’s position is now more akin to a producer than just a rights holder, a favorable situation to be in, he says and one echoed by Fox production head Emma Watts in a statement on the deal, which called Boom! “a new breed of producer.”
“She takes us seriously,” says Richie. “It’s something very different to have a studio president who asks your opinion and listens. Instead of looking at us as ‘Hey this is guy you have to pay off to get out of the way,’ they look at us as people that can develop a script, and develop a project, and work with directors.”
The terms of the deal also allow Boom to develop Fox properties into comics, which can then be used as possible springboards for film reboots. One old favorite property Boom has already been publishing is Planet of The Apes, but Richie notes that their Sons of Anarchy comics series is one of their best selling books ever. Boom hopes to go into the Fox library and “look at things that are more obscure or more beloved by a cult audience and reconceptualize them for comics.”
This is only the latest development in Richie’s career, which started when he was a very young marketing assistant working at Malibu Comics before it was acquired by Marvel in the 90s. Following that he bounced around at various Hollywood and comics jobs before launching Boom! in 2005. At the time it was part of a wave of new periodical comics publishers that included Speakeasy and Alias; by keeping to a very modest publisher schedule and growing slowly, Boom! was the sole survivor from this period, And now ranks as the seventh biggest comics publisher overall.
Along the way there have been lots of adaptations to market trends—moving into kids comics including a now concluded Disney line and the still going strong Adventure Time adaptation, as well as forays into SF and a pact with Stan Lee.
Richie explains that Boom! has survived by being a comics publisher first. “You have to stay at the dance with who brought you,” says Richie. “If you try to change to what you think Hollywood wants, it will change tomorrow.”
In the past year, in addition to acquiring Archaia, Boom has brought on veteran creators such as Brian Stelfreeze and George Perez for a new wave of creator owned comics. Day Men, a new take on the vampire myth co-written by Boom! e-i-c- Matt Gagnon and Mark Alan Nelson and drawn by Stelfreeze, has already been optioned by Universal. Another book, Bryce Carlson’s Hit, a period noir tale set in LA, has gained attention for its stylish art by newcomer Vanesa R. Del Rey. At Archaia, they have high hopes for Rochester, an upcoming graphic novel by Eisner winner Ramon Perez (A Tale of Sand) while Cyborg 009, a lavish reimagining of the classic manga, is already available.
Boom! and its potentially lucrative new deal are part of what Richie hopes is a new model for the comics industry. “On one side you have the traditional big two publishers [Marvel and DC] where they own everything. On the other, is where the creator owns everything and does everything at Image Comics. What I want at Boom! is a situation where the creator and the company don’t have to be at odds. We can recognize what our different roles are and have a happy, successful relationship.”
Some creators, like Grant, don’t want to self-publish, but still want a strong publisher partner. “We’re able to help creators understand the steps in the process. And in a world where underlying material is so important to the studio pipeline, having a producer is a good relationship for the creator.” And getting such an advantageous split of Hollywood money is part of making this happen.
And has the creative community been interested in this model?
“If the day after this announcement was made is any indication, yes,” Richie finishes with a laugh.