Radical Publishing, a startup comics publisher with offices in Los Angeles and London, is the latest comics house looking to leverage its list into properties for films, videogames, books and related media. Cofounded by Barry Levine, a former rock photographer and a producer for Dark Horse Comics' film projects, Radical launched its publishing program last year.
“We're a publishing company on a broad scale,” said Levine during an interview in Manhattan. “It's the easiest way to brand ourselves and control our properties. We offer great content with multiplatform opportunities. Our books can stand on their own, and the films help them appeal to another segment of the audience.” Levine, who is Radical's president and publisher, called the house's movie plans “marketing strategies” that are used to cross-promote the graphic novels.
While the house specializes in comics, Radical has its own film production unit (Radical Pictures) and offers a variety of related material through five imprints: Radical Comics (serials for the comics shop market), Radical Art (art books), Radical Books (graphic and illustrated novels), Radical Kidz (children's books) and Radical Manga, developed through a stake in Storm Lion, a manga studio based in Singapore that creates manga for the Asian market. The house releases comics first as serials and then collects them into lavishly produced hardcover collections (paperbacks follow), with first printings of about 10,000 copies. Two hardcovers, distributed by Diamond Book Distributors, are now out. Radical, which has 18 employees in its Los Angeles office, also has a unit devoted to toys and merchandise.
Radical is financed by a Singapore investor group, which Levine said gives the house the flexibility to initiate film projects and shields it from the current economic distress. “We don't have to wait around for the studios,” he said. Radical Publishing cofounder and CEO Jesse Berger echoed Levine. “We're fully capitalized, so we don't need to make a million dollars right out the gate. We have the latitude to take the long view,” Berger said. “We develop screenplays in-house; we don't have to option our stuff to sit on a shelf at the studios. We're not predicated on film; to us, it's just another ancillary product.”
Radical's list consists of a combination of reimagined Western mythology and science fiction properties. Although none of its films have yet made it into theaters, Radical has about six comics properties in varying stages of development as films. Three titles are in production with directors attached: Hercules (a gritty adventure tale released as a serial, with Hancock's Peter Berg directing); Caliber (King Arthur as a western, just released in hardcover; John Woo to direct) and Freedom Formula (a sci-fi racing tale developed by Radical's manga studio; X-Men director Bryan Singer on board). Shrapnel, a videogame property, has a comics adaptation coming in January.
Radical's business model has been compared to that of Virgin Comics, a failed 2006 joint venture between Sir Richard Branson and India-based Gotham Entertainment, that—much like Radical—boasted relationships with big-name film directors and had plans to publish superhero comics for an international market. Less than two years after its launch, Virgin folded. Levine and Berger are quick to point out the differences between Virgin and their venture. They cite poor-quality books from Virgin and Hindu heroes that did not attract American readers. They also cite an overdependence by Virgin on big-name directors (e.g., Guy Ritchie) that failed to attract hardcore comics fans. “Comics fans want great comics stories, not vehicles for movies,” said Berger, pointing to a list of comics creators that includes acclaimed artists Jim Steranko, Yoshitaka Amano, Steve Niles, Warren Ellis, Steve Pugh and Arthur Suydam.
In addition, the house is negotiating with New York trade houses to create prose novelizations of its comics, and Matt Fleckenstein, a writer on the animated TV hit Family Guy, is developing Animal Square as a kids' book and animated film. And in 2009 the house will publish a series of lavishly illustrated prose novels (each with 30 to 45 pages of artwork), developed by pairing writers from its comics list (“comic book writers are all frustrated novelists,” said Berger) with artists from the Storm Lion manga studio.
“We manufacture intellectual property to deliver to a worldwide market and we're here for the long term,” said Berger.