Mix one maverick comics publisher, a horror movie classic, a renowned video game company and some of the best oral storytellers from the popular The Moth Radio Hour and you have a pretty unusual mix for a new line of comics. You could also have a hit.
At least that’s the hope from Bill Jemas, general manager of Double Take, a new comics imprint funded by Take-Two Interactive, publisher of such high-profile games as Grand Theft Auto V and NBA 2K15. After more than a decade of handling business and taking risks as an executive at Marvel Entertainment, Jemas is producing 10 zombie-infested series inspired by George Romero’s horror classic Night of the Living Dead for a September 16th on sale date.
“Controversial” has been the go-to adjective for Jemas, thanks to his history as an executive and publisher at Marvel from 2000 to 2004, where he was known for blunt talk and taking risks that didn’t always sit well with fans–such as delving into Peter Parker's Aunt May early love life. Still, he is credited with revitalizing the line with the Ultimate Universe and giving rise to such talent as Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar. What Jemas learned at Marvel drives his publishing philosophy now, and as he told PW, “all of this is meaningless without good stories.”
The most unusual part of Jemas’s publishing plan is using a squad of writers who haven’t written a single comic but have been lauded for their true stories on The Moth, a forum for live oral storytelling that has been running since 1997. Although the radio show has a fervent following, seeing these storytellers as comics writers isn’t the most obvious thing in the world. However, Jemas was a fan of the show and saw the potential in bringing the authors’ spoken-word passion to comics storytelling. He sought out Moth writers including Aaron Wolfe and Matthew Dicks because their knack for writing intimate stories would offer a new take on the Living Dead. “We didn't want to walk in the footsteps of the original creators,” said Jemas, “but tell stories for modern readers.”
It’s been an interesting transition from talking to panels for the writers. Dicks, who is writing Trauma, is a novelist and well-known on The Moth Radio Hour but he said writing a 400-page novel is easier than writing a comic. “I didn’t know what the hell I was doing,” he said. “I’m not a very visual person, so trusting the artist was a challenge for me.”
Aaron Wolfe was more confident going into comics writing. His true stories have won Moth competitions, and he wrote the screenplay for Record/Play, a short film bought by Focus Features. Jemas hired him to write Speed–the artist is yet to be chosen.
“It’s a completely different experience to go from telling stories about how I was a screw up in high school to telling stories about zombies,” Wolfe said. With his screenwriting experience “writing with pictures wasn’t new to me. However, what was new was bringing this Moth, personal narrative-style storytelling to this comic book world so that the characters are having real conversations that affect real people in real ways.”
Jemas was aware of the challenges for the writers, but feels “when creators have nothing but freedom, they don’t do as well, creatively, as when they at least have a handful of rules. Part of what made Night of the Living Dead a great springboard for us is that there were strong characters and a set of rules in the horror genre. Once they start there, then they can let their imagination run wild.”
Jemas is also bringing some of his innovative thinking to the marketing strategy for the DoubleTake line, which is Take Two’s entree into the comics world. He recently launched a successful Kickstarter campaign for releasing the Night of the Living Dead comics as a shrink-wrapped bundle, or “super pack,” that includes the first issues of the first 10 series in the Living Dead universe. These will also be sold into comics shops via Diamond.
Jemas said the 10-issue pack of Living Dead comics makes more sense for Double Take and retailers. “Rather than trickling out one book at a time and diluting our marketing efforts over 10 months, we’re piling all of our marketing efforts into this one release. And rather than asking a retailer to take 10 Spider-Man, Batman, Green Arrow, X-Men books out of their slots and stick in our brand-new, ‘What the hell are these books?’, we’re asking for a little bit of countertop space with a beautiful display.”
Although Dicks and Wolfe have told stories as part of The Moth, the Moth organization has no affiliation or involvement in the Double Take project.
Correction: The Moth is not presented by NPR. It is produced by Atlantic Public Media (APM) and is presented by the Public Radio Exchange (PRX).