It began with an innocuous announcement: next month, a new publisher is crowdfunding a deluxe edition of artwork featuring Conan the Barbarian, shot from the original artwork drawn by a who’s-who of comics and fantasy illustrators. But it turns out that this project is just the tip of the iceberg for an ambitious new venture launched by former Marvel publisher, longtime DC/Wildstorm executive, and Cryptozoic CEO John Nee, modestly named Pan-Universal Galactic Worldwide Limited Company (PUG Worldwide).

Nee said that PUG Worldwide is looking to publish a wide variety of books, comics, games, and other media designed to delight passionate fans. “We're making a lot of books,” said Nee. “The pillar of our business is making collectables, as evidenced by this Conan book. It is a deluxe book aimed at a specific target, and we're going to be doing a bunch of stuff like that that appeals to genre fans in primarily the comics hobby as a separate line of business.”

The company also sees prose publishing as “a great opportunity for us to develop original characters and stories,” Nee added. (He cowrote a crime novel, The Murder of Mr. Ma, with author S.J. Rosen, which Soho Press will publish next year.) “We have other prose projects in development. We have creator-owned comic book projects in development, and that's going to be rolling out over the next year. The Conan book is the first thing out the door, but people should not take from that that we’re an art book publisher first and foremost.”

In a wide-ranging conversation, Nee laid out his vision for the new company, which has actually been in operation since 2020. (“Partly we were in stealth mode, and partly people didn’t care,” Nee explained.)

“PUG Worldwide is meant for fans who deeply care,” he said, noting that successful brands spend a lot of time, money, and effort getting fans in the door, but keep them engaged by giving them a reason to come back over and over again. “It becomes part of their lifestyle,” he said. “They become part of a community, where you spend a certain amount of time each week engaging with the content and other fans.”

This is a space that Nee knows well. In 1994, he cofounded Wildstorm Studios with Jim Lee, and played an integral role in the disruption of the comics world's “Big Two,” DC and Marvel, that led to an explosion of new independently-published and creator-owned comics over the past three decades. When Wildstorm was acquired by DC in 1998, Nee moved into an executive role, as general manager and senior v-p, until his departure in 2008, when he joined Cryptozoic Entertainment, a popular game and trading card publisher, as co-CEO. He left Cryptozoic for Marvel in 2018, where he served as v-p of publishing for two years, making important changes in the company’s trade book and licensing operations. He returned to Cryptozoic as interim CEO following the death of John Sepenuk in May, and has also done worked as a consultant and in video game publishing.

Despite a busy schedule of overlapping projects, Nee characterized himself as unemployed and at loose ends following the end of his tenure at Marvel. He began hatching plans for the new company, originally centered on an imprint called Erasmus Fox. He said that the venture kicked into high gear when he was able to put together a team including John Barber (former editor-in-chief at IDW Publishing), Lorelei Bunjes (former v-p of technology and information services at IDW Publishing), and Nate Murray (cofounder of Clover Press), who all became available after shakeups at their respective companies.

“I feel like I picked a hundred dollar bill off the ground outside of IDW,” says Nee. “They made some changes and put some astounding talent on the street, who agreed to join my little band.”

Nee, who is the sole owner of PUG Worldwide, says he wanted to form his own company because he was not interested in the compromises and “Game of Thrones nonsense” that comes with more complicated structures. “The way we’ve constructed things is focused on independence and being able to meet our targets,” he said. “There’s a lof of corporate activity in the comics space because of all the ancillary things, but the core of comics is, in reality, a hard business.”

Nee said that the company is addressing part of that by using the crowdfunding platform Zoop for the Conan book—and, potentially, other projects—not just for its ability to generate revenue, but because it appears to be a hub for the kind of fans and community PUG Worldwide is looking for. He added that the company is still in the process of securing trade book distribution, as well as distribution for its games and other merchandise, for 2024.

So what’s up with the name? Nee chuckled and said he was going for an ironic take on the generic, grandiose corporate names popular in the 1950s and 60s: “If an alien masquerading as a human started a company, they’d name it something like that.”

This article has been updated for clarity.