Music and comics are very different mediums, but they share at least one thing in common: both foster legions of vocal, lifelong fans. Once a comic or graphic novel has swept a reader into its high concept intrigue, or a band left a listener spellbound with their latest album, there’s really no going back. For nearly a decade, Z2 Comics has worked to merge the twin fandoms, collaborating with musicians to produce titles that coexist with their musical work. The result: books that act as bridges between mediums.

“It was a very natural evolution,” Josh Bernstein, cofounder and president of Z2, told PW. “I feel like we were doing some variation of Z2 all our lives.”

Before venturing into comics with Z2, Bernstein was deeply involved in the music industry, from helping run Revolver magazine and heading up Hit Parader to helping book and run countless shows and festivals as a promoter. He learns, he said, by doing and quickly made sense of the business of publishing—first in magazines, and then in comics.

Editor-in-chief Rantz Hoseley, like Bernstein, carved a career path through publishing and music, finding lifelong interests and passions in both. “When I left Heavy Metal in 2019, I wasn’t interested in moving to a company that was basically just IP farming,” said editor-in-chief Rantz Hoseley. He found the real deal in Bernstein’s company—and enough shared interests to power a partnership, with each other and with the musicians they work with on comics and graphic novels. “We want to see our books living alongside their albums,” said Bernstein.

To get there, the publisher works to collaborate with musical artists in the same way that they might if they were playing on a stage together. “When I’d book a band to play a show,” Bernstein said, “I don't recall them asking, like, ‘What songs you want to hear on stage?’” So Z2 jams through the creative process, ensuring that no two books are alike. The result, Bernstein said, is a mutual respect on both sides.

Still, the creative process is different for every artist—because every artist is different. Sometimes, there's Weird Al Yankovic pitching a visual portfolio of all his songs whose music videos didn’t quite come to fruition; other times, there’s Tori Amos exploring personal connections with the past, as she did in Little Earthquakes: The Graphic Album. (That personal angle from Amos is perhaps not surprising; she and Hoseley “have been friends since 1986, before she was ever signed to a record labels,” he said. “She's my sister from another mister.”)

Regardless of differences in style or content, Z2 always aims for authenticity to create that bridge between the sound and the page. “Everything we do is official,” said Bernstein—no unauthorized biographies here. Given how often a musician’s work and life is sifted through for unauthorized biographies, tie-ins, and quick cash grabs, that stands not only as a choice, Bernstein added, but as an obligation.

“Artists have very few ways left to generate revenue,” Bernstein explained. “Basically, you can keep putting out records and tour until you die. So [our books] help them build out a universe and generate another source of revenue.”

Both the care and authenticity, Bernstein continued, are reflected in the quality of their list. Z2 has a wide-ranging backlist loaded with the names of music legends across all genres, from Elvis to Joan Jett to Pantera to Spiritbox. Late last year, the publisher announced a 12-issue limited series, The Mandrake Project, with Bruce Dickinson, the lead vocalist of Iron Maiden. If Z2’s list was a festival lineup, the entire world would be clamoring to get in the gates.

“It was supposed to be a dinner meeting,” Hoseley said of Z2’s first meeting with Dickinson. “But it went from ‘short dinner’ to a four-hour meeting to closing down the restaurant.” Dickinson had more than an idea, Hoseley said: he had an entire universe, defined and readymade. All he needed was the right collaborators to help make it a reality.

“Josh called me up and told me I needed to fly out to New York; our meeting started at 10AM and we were there, in Dickinson’s hotel room, until 7:30PM, no breaks. Bruce told us the story, the characters, the themes, and the motivations behind this massive epic for hours, and there was never a moment when we even noticed or had to leave. It was like regressing to childhood and having the greatest storyteller tell you his tale.”

In addition to Dickinson’s forthcoming series, Z2 Comics has collaborations in the works with All Time Low, Cypress Hill, Jack White of the White Stripes, and more. In addition, Bernstein and Hoseley said, they're working on producing a book on the life of Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead. But as lifelong fans themselves, Z2 Comics is always thinking ahead, dreaming about the what-ifs: “God, I’d love to do something with the Beastie Boys,” Bernstein said.

Hoseley has his own dream projects. “I’ve wanted to do a Sisters of Mercy book for years, and maybe someday it’ll happen.” Another big fish: Canadian electro-industrial band Skinny Puppy. “I’ve seen them so many times,” he glowed, before his inner editor-in-chief kicked in: “You have to at least be a little analytical about when it makes sense, and not just get excited because you love the band.”

At the same time, Bernstein said, making comics about, and with, musicians really is all about, and for, the fans. “We’re always making the best versions of the products that we want for ourselves as fans, and the fact that other people will like this stuff and have enjoyed it is incredible,” he said.

“We love comics, and there's nothing better than having someone come up to you after reading a comic that you've put together,” Hoseley added. “That's the greatest feeling in the world.”