Founded two years ago in the apartment of the publisher, New Paradigm Studios is a new comics publisher offering fresh takes on genre material in a crowded and increasingly digital comics marketplace. The house is launching with Watson and Holmes, an African American recreation of literature’s greatest detectives, originally serialized in digital and now collected in a full color trade paperback and released this month.
New Paradigm Studios employs a flexible publishing model that develops ideas in-house, often turns to Kickstarter for funding and also publishes or assists creator-owned properties, launching the works as web comics, digital-first and/or print comics. The company was founded and is owned by Brandon Perlow, a former Hollywood visual effects designer, who also studied illustration and cartooning at New York’s School of Visual Arts under such legendary cartoonists as Walt Simonson and Carmine Infantino.
Perlow believes in experimentation. “We’re just trying to find out what works,” he said in a phone interview, “It’s a developing world right now and digital is in its infancy.” Watson and Holmes is the company’s debut work, a reimagining of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic detective team as African Americans.
The first four issues have been collected in a trade paperback volume entitled “Study in Black” available via Diamond Comics Distributors and Perlow hopes to add distribution to mass market trade book retail outlets. “There are a lot of people who would prefer to read it in trade and a lot of Sherlockians who won’t go into a comic book store,” said Perlow. “They might order it online and get the trade paperback.” New Paradigm pulled out the stops for W+H, launching it first as a black & white digital serial, then as a limited edition black and white and now finally as full color trade paperback edition.
This Sherlock reinterpretation was the idea of Perlow and comic artist Paul J. Mendoza. The series began as a is a monthly digital series from New Paradigm Studios and in keeping with the company‘s name and mission statement, they’ve found a fresh way to reinvent the legends by setting them in contemporary Harlem and making them African-American.
The twists don’t stop there. Jon Watson’s billing ahead of Sherlock Holmes is no mistake; the portly physician sidekick is now a brooding six foot tall emergency room intern and former combat medic who served in Afghanistan as did his original 19th century predecessor. Holmes now sports dreadlocks and a goatee and is still an unmatched sleuth and awkward genius with a photographic memory.
The initial idea to set the detectives in an imaginary city was nixed by series writer Karl Bollers, who suggested NYC’s black cultural mecca and embraced the idea that this Watson would be a recent divorcee, a status with which he could personally relate, with a young son.
Bollers and veteran artist Rick Leonardi have maintained several classic elements of the Sherlock canon but often with a slight modern update such as archnemesis Moriarty, now the title of a shady corporation causing trouble in post-Occupy New York City. Perlow and Gabrie have designated Watson and Holmes as the company’s flagship title and are confident in its reach despite a media landscape crowded with new Sherlocks. In addition to the ethnicity, setting and an elevated Watson, Perlow highlighted the distinctions of its serial nature (“a more regular fix than the BBC series and the (Guy Ritchie) films”) and its emphasis on hard boiled crime tales rather than the supernatural.
Several influential Sherlockian fan collectives, including Sherlockian NYC and the Baker Street Babes, have embraced the new series and were supportive of New Paradigm’s successful Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $16,000 for the monthly print distribution of the then-digital comics (Single issues are now on sale in digital and print on the same day). New Paradigm editor-in-chief Justin Gabrie called Kickstarter a “gamechanger” that the company uses primarily for marketing and only for specific titles (mostly creator-owned) that warrant it.
New Paradigm Studios offers other unusual takes on genre including, Justice Is Nocturnal, a noir crime web comic set in a world of mythical creatures like griffins and sphinxes. Other New Paradigm comics include Stray, a creator-owned superhero title by Vito Delsante that successfully raised $11,246 on Kickstarter earlier this month. The Rockthrower, a digital first miniseries about an American Jewish baseball scout who recruits a rebellious Palestinian youth is on sale this month. Next year, the publisher will release World War Mobbed, a WWII-themed original graphic novel from Delsante that is part The Godfather and part Inglorious Basterds. Perlow is most enthusiastic about Nimbus, a pulpy, high concept science fiction saga that has been solicited for 2014
New Paradigm Studios maintains several digital offerings but still values print for its profitability and the credibility it provides for a small publisher. “Digital sales are good, they definitely help but they’re not good as print sales yet,” said Perlow. “They’re at most 20 percent. I think once more people get into (reading) comics on tablets we may see digital sales start creeping up to being close to equal.”
Gabrie said, “It’s pretty much a wash (on cost difference between print and digital). At the end of the day you’re spending most of your money on art and editorial. Regardless of whether it is print or digital, you have to pay the same cost. It’s about how many times you can repurpose it. You look at Watchmen. A + E was paid one once in 1986 and (DC Comics) keeps reprinting it and reprinting it.”
“With print on demand you know what we’re going to get,” said Gabrie. “We know how many orders we have from the retailers. With digital, it’s like a newsstand, you’re just throwing it out there to see what happens but there is no guaranteed amount of sales. The other side is that it is up there [and available to readers] forever and there is no inventory.”
Perlow said the critical and commercial reception for Watson + Holmes “has been OK; a lot of small blogs liked it.” But he also said it’s tough getting reviews at the big comics news sites and believes the book market is where New Paradigm needs to focus. “We’re learning as we go along but we’re looking to the longterm—trade book stores and libraries.”
Watson and Holmes #6 with Bollers and guest artist Larry Stroman is on sale now.