In 2013, in an effort to create new content that can be turned into video games and other media, Take Two Interactive Software, the video game developer that produced megahits such as Grand Theft Auto and Civilization, launched Double Take Comics (2T). The publishing startup is under the direction of Bill Jemas, former publisher of Marvel Comics and a legendary figure in comics publishing.
The new comics house launched with the Double Take Universe, which is a slate of 10 new comics series based on the Night of the Living Dead, the celebrated 1968 black-and-white zombie movie directed by George Romero. Double Take started with monthly periodical comics, selling them in single issues and bundled in popular Super Packs, with 10 of the latest issues of each Double Take series bundled together and sold at a discount.
Now, in time for New York Comic Con, the company is about to simultaneously release 10 graphic novels that collect each series, with plans to give away 10,000 Double Take graphic novels at a giant promotional event held during the comics convention. Double Take graphic novels are distributed to the book trade by Book Masters/Atlas Books.
In basing the Double Take universe on the Night of the Living Dead (which entered the public domain almost immediately after the film’s release due to a quirk in copyright law at the time), Jemas has created one of the more unusual storytelling infrastructures in comics. In addition to basing the series’ stories on the classic film, Jemas is using professional storytellers—he’s brought in a series of performers from the Moth, the New York City performance series—and editing their theatrical personal narratives into memorable dialogue in the comics. “We get dialogue that’s closer to reality,” Jemas said.
In an interview with Jemas, who is general manager of Double Take; senior story editor Michael Coast; and the rest of the Double Take staff at their offices near Bryant Park in Manhattan, Jemas discussed building a new comic book and graphic novel publishing program based on an immediately recognizable and popular cultural work and using the ample financial resources of his parent company to attract retailers and consumers.
“Take Two Interactive wants to diversify,” Jemas said. “We’re here to create new content that can be turned into general games. So far it’s been a good investment.”
Jemas said his business model is based on the ability to publish like he did at Marvel: large print runs with low printing costs that allow him to “pass the margin on to retailers and consumers.” He believes the combination of an eccentric (but well-known) storytelling universe and competitively priced books will delight retailers and entice new readers—especially via the book trade.
Jemas is following up the popular $20 Super Pack bundles (he said 60% of 2T’s periodical sales are via Super Packs) with Binge Boxes for the book collections. The 10 series are split into two groups of five books (“humorous series and more conventional zombie stories,” he noted), each slipcased and priced at $40 a bundle. Each graphic novel in the set is priced at $10. “Retailers like it,” Jemas said, adding that presale orders of the Binge Boxes have been “healthy.”
“We did a large-enough print run so that our price-per-book cost is low enough so that we can price the books to sell,” Coast said. “At a $10 cover price, we are $5–$10 less than a typical graphic novel.” The costs are so low that Double Take “can afford to [give away] 10,000 sample copies at New York Comic Con,” he added. Fans and retailers can also go to doubletakeuniverse.com to read excerpts of all 10 series, optimized for reading on mobile devices.
The Double Take universe preserves the classic horror film’s basic characters and settings (the area around Evans City, Pa., referred to as the fictional Evans County in the comics, in mid-1960s U.S.), highlighting the political and cultural events of the period. Each book features a map of Evans County that shows where it takes place. The Double Take Universe adds new events, aliens, and eventually superheroes, and even the zombies are different—they eat candy, and they are more intelligent, often funny and unpredictable. This is definitely not your parents’ Night of the Living Dead.
The 10 graphic novels include Soul, which follows the fate of Ben, the doomed black character who is the focus of the ending in the original NLD; Remote, which tells the story of a plucky female deejay at radio station KBRF in Evans County, who must deal with a sexist boss and an unusual mob of ghouls; and Z-Men, in which L.B.J. sends a couple of FBI agents to Evans county to look for zombies.
Coast said: “Our intention is that if you read one of the books, you’ll get a good story that will leave you with a few questions. The farther you get, you’ll have even more questions, and more of them will be answered.”
Though the company plans to extend the stories of all the series, Double Take will focus on continuing four of the current series—Remote, Dedication, Home, and Meds—while launching a new series called Behold, which will introduce superheroes into the Double Take universe.
“We began with all zombies, and we’re transitioning to superheroes, aliens, and immortal characters,” Jemas said. “We’ll have all 10 graphic novels available at New York Comic Con, and now we’re in trade bookstores. The stories are good and quirky, and we’re confident that we’re going to attract fans.”