Happy 20th Birthday IDW
2019 marks a milestone for IDW Publishing. It’s the company’s 20th anniversary and in the first of Tripwire’s celebrations, its recently returned CCO, publisher and editor-in-chief Chris Ryall speaks exclusively to our editor-in-chief Joel Meadows about how the company has evolved and changed over the years and its challenges ahead…
TRIPWIRE: Before IDW, you worked for Kevin Smith and MoviePoopShoot.com. What skills did you learn there that you were able to apply at IDW?
CR: I was the editor-in-chief at that site so even more than any day jobs I held up to that point, this experience helped me in cultivating talent, collaborating with creators, hitting deadlines, and trying to stretch budgets as effectively as possible. And beyond the experience, that gig introduced me to many creators who I’ve continued to work with in the years since. It really did position me to hit the ground running at IDW, and it’ll always be something I am greatly appreciative to Kevin Smith for setting in motion.
TW: How has IDW changed in the last 20 years?
CR: When I started in ’04, we published about 7-10 titles a month and had 6 or 7 employees; at various points over the intervening years, we’ve had tenfold as many books and employees. And with that extreme growth has been a lot of trial and error and really figuring out our proper level. We added new divisions, getting into Games and TV production, along with some other new ventures. IDW also went from a tiny indie publisher of horror comics to consistently the fourth-largest premiere publisher in the states, driving the resurgence of licensed comics and kids’ comics and expanding outward in many directions; all of which has been very gratifying to see.
TW: The industry has changed enormously in the past 20 years. How does IDW adapt to these changes?
CR: By trying to respond to a changing market and a retail base that has ebbed more than flowed in that time; we were at the outset of digital publishing, trying all kinds of things to see what suited readers the best; we’ve pioneered formats big and small, from Micro Fun Packs to Artist’s Editions; and generally tried to adapt and respond to the retail and consumer markets’ changing wants and needs. That’s definitely an ongoing process. I think one problem that comics has had as an industry is an adherence to creating and selling product the same as in decades past, but the evolving patterns of consumption really necessitate new and different approaches in that regard.
TW: How has your role at IDW changed over the years?
CR: I came in as the Editor-in-Chief, and along the way added Chief Creative Officer duties to that role over my first 14 years here. Then after stepping aside for the better part of a year, I came back as CCO and also President and Publisher. So I’ve had a hand in all aspects of our publishing efforts from all sides now.
TW: You have also been involved as a producer on IDW related properties. How different is that to running a comic company?
CR: I’ve helped produce a great many books here but not served in that capacity on the TV side, anyway.
TW: IDW has launched two imprints over the last couple of years, Black Crown and Woodworks. How do imprints fit into the IDW business model as it stands in 2019? And what do they offer that publishing these titles as part of the main IDW line would not?
CR: We’ve had a number of imprints over the years, from the Library of American Comics newspaper strip books to Yoe! Books to It’s Alive, Artist’s Editions, and others, so these are in keeping with us trying to set apart specialty books to better allow the audience to know what they are and what they are not. Which is the point of all our imprints, to really position them properly as the unique entities they are.
TW: IDW has also, thanks to the work of Scott Dunbier, cultivated its unique Artist’s and Artifact’s Edition line. How did this come about and what do they add to the IDW mix as a publisher?
CR: It’s a format Scott had wanted to do for many years and until he got to IDW, not been able to. So we were happy to see those happen here, and I’m sure it’s gratifying to Scott to see other publishers now emulate the great work he’s done with these books. They’re an important, necessary thing, as I find preservation and proper presentation of the amazing works across the history of this industry to be vital to what we all do here. Recognizing and creating archival editions of the works upon which this industry is built is, as I say, one of the best things that any publisher can do and Scott, Dean Mullaney, and Craig Yoe are among the very best at this.
TW: If you had to pick one project that IDW has published over the past 20 years that you are most proud of, what would it be?
CR: I assume you mean pick a favourite? It’s incredibly hard to pick a favourite after so many years and so many great projects – how do I pick between Darwyn Cooke’s Parker and the Brian Lynch/Franco Urru Angel series and March and the David Mazzucchelli Daredevil Artist’s Edition and Wild Blue Yonder and bringing back Rom and Waid/Samnee Rocketeer and TMNT and For Better or For Worse or Bloom County and Swierczynski/Daniel’s Judge Dredd and ZvR and Surfside Girls and and and… I suppose if I had to pick just one that really sums up IDW and my experience here, it’d be Locke & Key. Just one of the most pure distillations of creators who were absolute masters in their field, a dynamite story, and just a creative experience that is really hard to match. Again, many other projects felt similarly good but this one was closest to me personally. And is what I am proud to hand anyone who says they’ve never read a comic before and want a good starting place.
TW: You have also written series for IDW. What is it that you find satisfying about writing comics rather than editing them?
CR: I mean, the chance to tell the stories I want to tell is a huge part of it but mostly, it’s the collaboration. The chance to work with such amazing creators who hopefully combine with you and create something very special.
TW: You left last year but came back towards the end of it. What is your current role at IDW?
CR: President & Publisher, as well as Chief Creative Officer once again.
TW: What made you come back to IDW?
CR: Unfinished business. And the chance to assume a role I’ve not held here or anywhere. And a strong affection for the staff here, as well as our creators and partners.
TW: What do you think the next 20 years hold for IDW as a company?
CR: I think more of the same, in that we’ll continue to offer diverse content and diverse creative visions across multiple platforms. And hopefully keep evolving, growing, adapting to a quickly changing market and continuing to provide retailers and consumers with great stories and art in whatever form those projects take.
TW: What are the greatest challenges for a comic publishing company in 2019?
CR: Bringing back the audience that has wandered off, giving people an even better price/value proposition, and finding new ways to keep our retailer base strong while also finding new ways to reach consumers where they are instead of where we want them to be.