Despite a tough economy that has forced other publishers to scale back, independent comics publisher Boom! Studios is upsizing its operations and launching Boom! Town, a new imprint that will focus on “literary comics” and selective reissues of out-of-print works in addition to merchandising deals. The new line has projects lined up with legendary comics publisher and now literary agent, Denis Kitchen, and with cartoonist Shannon Wheeler, creator of Too Much Coffee Man.

Publisher Ross Richie, who spoke exclusively with PWComics Week about Boom! Town, said the imprint, which will be managed by Richie and Boom! marketing director Chip Mosher,will bean outlet for projects the two deem worthy but that don't fit with the other books on the Boom! list. Initially the imprint will focus on releasing merchandise before announcing its full publishing plans. The new line will kick-off with two big partnerships: Kitchen is working with the imprint to rerelease a variety of out-of-print products from his now-defunct former publishing company, including a set of 36 trading cards by R. Crumb featuring himself and characters such as Mr. Natural, Snoid and Fritz the Cat. And Wheeler has a few projects lined up for the new line, among them a collection of cartoons he originally created for the New Yorker magazine that were rejected, entitled, I Thought You Would be Funnier, thatdoesn't yet have a release date; as well as a TMCM animated mug.

Over the past year Boom! expanded its much-praised children's comics line and signed new distribution deals. Now, the Los Angeles-based company is expanding again, this time into a more surprising area: literary comics.For Richie, the expansion isn't a matter of flying in the face of conventional wisdom. "It's simply our time. We're selling more books, we're experiencing a real uptick. Most of Boom!'s success has come from doing what's not expected," he said. "We ask, 'Why not?' and then find success going our own way." Boom! Studios signed a distribution deal with HarperCollins Canada and Haven Distributors. In the U.S. the books/merchandise will be distributed by Simon & Schuster and Diamond Comics.

Richie attributed the ability to grow in a down market to a conservative business plan he has followed since Boom! launched in 2005. He had always planned "a big expansion.Most everyone else stuck to a very conservative 2009 publishing plan, and it really opened up the market for us," Richie said.

Just as with children's comics, Richie said literary comics are an area of potential growth. He is quick to point out that Boom! already publishes a diverse lineup that includes superhero, all-ages, humor, sci-fi, action and horror titles. Starting a new imprint came about in part because of the publisher's experience with Never As Bad As You Think, a collection of Web comics by Kathryn and Stuart Immonen that's a departure from the couple's superhero work.The imprint will allow retailers and readers to understand where these more literary projects fall in the company's "publishing landscape," Richie said

Kitchen, who represents Harvey Kurtzman estate, said he decided to sign with Boom! Town to bring back some works from his former publishing house andestablish a stronger presence in the market. "Denis Kitchen Publishing has four R. Crumb card sets that are perennials, [Harvey] Kurtzman's The Grasshopper & The Ant and other books that could do much better in the marketplace with a real company's attention. So I've entered into a distribution arrangement with Boom! to free myself more to represent clients as a literary agent but also to do more directly creative things like writing and packaging new books."

In addition to working as an agent, Kitchen has been working on The Oddly Compelling Art of Denis Kitchen, which will be published by Dark Horse in June, among other projects he said were still under wraps.

"One of the great joys of what we're doing is that I get to call Denis Kitchen and he talks to me!" Richie said , noting his respect for Kitchen’s long career in comics as an underground cartoonist, independent publisher and now literary agent . "Denis often asks me, 'What do you think, Ross?' And I sit there and say, 'Denis, you are one of the reasons I'm publishing. I really think you ought to be making the call on this one!'"