As publishing conglomerates and technology firms become the dominant forces in an increasingly digital marketplace for the book and comics industries, opportunities are opening for smaller, more nimble independent media companies like Arch Enemy Entertainment. Combining expertise in music marketing, distribution, and social media with a publishing program featuring digital comics, prose, and a content development deal with USA Today, Arch Enemy offers an unorthodox approach to creating and promoting new content in a changing marketplace.
Arch Enemy’s marketing and distribution strategy is strongly informed by the music industry’s transition to a primarily digital distribution channel. “I went digital in 2003,” Percy Carey, Arch Enemy’s president (and a much acclaimed rapper) told PW, “I came from music so I have all this knowledge of the past that I am fortunate enough to be able to implement.” To expand readership, the company often includes free limited-edition digital music downloads with its comics releases. Its latest digital comic, The Big Bad Wolf, comes with a song from hip-hop artist Infinit Evol.
Arch Enemy has also engineered a content deal with USA Today that features original, serialized Web comics, and Carey said the company will be working with other mainstream media outlets to deliver additional content soon. The Big Bad Wolf, co-written by actor Shane West (who stars on the CW’s Nikita), is available at the USA Today Web site in English and, demonstrating the company’s commitment to reach a more diverse audience of comics readers, will soon be available in Spanish.
More creator-owned comics are in the works at Arch Enemy for 2013, including projects by such veteran comics creators as Mark Waid, Jeremy Love, Jared Fletcher, Mark Wilson (Jock), and Jason Aaron. The company also plans to turn Eldon Thompson’s fantasy series Legend of Asahiel into graphic novels. In addition to two e-books by Neil Herndon, The Pirate King and Sticks and Stones, which are currently available for purchase on the Kindle, the company has an ambitious slate of seven original digital prose books coming out in the next six months. The releases include several YA titles, such as Sweet Sixteen, a teen vampire thriller, co-written by Arch Enemy’s CEO William Wilson, and Cloud 9, a tale of revolt at a juvenile detention facility set in a sci-fi future dystopia, which was written by Carey.
Both Carey and Wilson are experienced comic book writers and entrepreneurs. Carey, whose performance name is MF Grimm, has been an underground hip-hop icon since the early 1990s. He also ran a drug distribution ring until he was sentenced to life in prison in 2000, at age 30. During his incarceration, the death of his grandmother motivated Carey to turn his life around. He studied law inside prison and, following several appeals, got his sentence reduced.
Since his release in 2003, Carey has recorded and produced several albums and, with artist Ron Wimberly, wrote the autobiographical graphic novel, Sentences, which was published by DC Vertigo and was nominated for an Eisner in 2007. After Sentences, Carey wanted to learn more about the comics medium. He soon teamed with comics writer Wilson after meeting him and artist Tone Rodriguez at a signing for their miniseries U.T.F., at the Golden Apple Comics store. A partnership blossomed, with Carey joining Arch Enemy as marketing director in 2008.
The pair’s first high-profile project was working with musician and actor Tyrese Gibson on Image Comics’ Mayhem miniseries in 2009. To market the book, Arch Enemy took to Twitter, a highly unusual step at the time. “It was so effective,” Wilson said, that Twitter executives “had Tyrese come to a networking conference and talk about the effectiveness of using Twitter.” Although certain comics retailers and industry observers balked at the long-term viability of using social media to sell books in 2009, Mayhem set a single-store sales record with Twitter, and highlighting the emergence of digital promotion for book marketing.
While the company is currently developing properties for print publishing, Arch Enemy is, for the time being, an exclusively digital publishing operation. “When we started out going digital, I heard from everyone that that was crazy,” Wilson said. “It was one of those things where we did something that was so out of the box at its time that today it’s mainstream. Everybody’s digital now.”