In 2017, Z2 Comics, a small indie graphic novel house based in New York City, published Murder Ballads by Gabe Soria and Paul Reinwand, a graphic novel about a down-and-out music producer and a desperate effort to produce an album by two nearly forgotten blues musicians. The book also featured a soundtrack composed by Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach and soul singer Robert Finley.
Since the publication of Murder Ballads, Z2 Comics copublishers Josh Frankel and Sridhar Reddy have released a series of graphic novels based on music and the bands that produce it. The books are prized by the musicians’ fans, and the genre has become a profitable and distinctive publishing category for Z2 Comics.
“Murder Ballads sold about 6,000 copies and lost a little money, but it was the best thing we ever did,” Frankel said. “It opened doors and taught us the ropes of producing books like this.” The house followed Murder Ballads with Instrumental, a supernatural tale by musician and comics artist Dave Chisholm, featuring a jazz trumpeter with an otherworldly instrument; The Wonderful World of Perfecto by Paul Oakenfold, a graphic autobiography of the Grammy-winning DJ; and Apocrypha: The Legend of Babymetal, an epic fantasy narrative based on the performers and the music of Babymetal, a theatrical Japanese heavy metal band featuring a trio of young women.
Z2 released 40,000 copies of Apocrypha in October (the press’s biggest print run yet), and so far it has sold more than half. Babymetal, Frankel said, is one of the most popular Japanese metal bands worldwide, and the book got “great buys” from Amazon, B&N, BAM, and Kinokuniya. “The book has the potential for a long life,” he added.
To grow the line, Z2 has teamed with Josh Bernstein, a longtime comic book and music publisher, “who is helping us connect with the music world,” Frankel said. For Apocrypha, Frankel emailed Babymetal’s management group out of the blue and, he said, the manager “liked the pitch.”
Frankel said he has found that “the musicians want to do the books; many of them are comics fans and love that it’s something different.” Since the musicians have sizeable fan bases and the books don’t cost a lot to produce, he added, “we know the books will make money, or at least break even, so it’s a small gamble.”
In 2019, Z2 will publish seven or eight books, Frankel said, all driven by music or a musical component, in a variety of literary genres including science fiction and horror. This month, Z2 launched a marketing campaign for Genesis One: A Poppy Graphic Novel, the first graphic novel written by eerie musician and YouTube sensation Poppy, along with her director/impresario Titanic Sinclair and Ryan Cady, and drawn by Masa Minoura and Ian McGinty. The 168-page, $24.99 hardcover will have a 10,000-copy first printing and will go on sale in July, as well as a 500-copy deluxe limited edition bundled with a vinyl album, which will be sold exclusively via the Z2 website. Poppy will kick off a 20-city tour at the end of January.