While Marvel and DC Comics dueled over superhero fans at the recent Wizard World Chicago comics convention, four-month-old Speakeasy Comics in Toronto was making its own splash.

Speakeasy founder Adam Fortier, who has a background in comics marketing, launched Speakeasy with a business plan that combines revenue from bookstore distribution and foreign licensing, in addition to the traditional comics shop market—which accounts for only about 40% of Speakeasy's sales.

The foreign market is a cornerstone of Speakeasy's business plan. Major publishers like Marvel and DC have recently consolidated multiple foreign licensees, according to Fortier, leaving midsized European comics publishers on the lookout for other North American comics material. Speakeasy has been able to fill that role.

Speakeasy has released several graphic novels this year, including Dawn Brown's Ravenous, which adapts the classic Poe poem. The house plans to publish up to 12 books a year, an eclectic mix of material, including horror (The Living and the Dead), '70s retro-blaxploitation (Chocolate Thunder) and girl-hero adventure (Athena Voltaire).

In recent years, small comics publishers that don't emphasize superhero comics have had a difficult time selling through the superhero-dominated comics shop distribution system. Speakeasy creative director Chris Stone credits the growth of graphic novel sales in the bookstore market with helping Speakeasy establish itself quickly.

"Our fans are people who already read comics and also people who want to begin to read comics," said Stone. "But not everyone wants to go into a comics shop to buy one."