Punching Above Its Weight
TKO Presents is a new comic publishing company started by Tze Chun with an impressive line-up of creators and a different take on format. Tripwire’s editor-in-chief Joel Meadows spoke to Chun this week about the new company to find out more…
TRIPWIRE: What was the genesis for TKO Studios?
TZE CHUN: When I was growing up, all I ever wanted to do was write and draw comic books. I’m an ABC (American Born Chinese) and seeing guys like Jim Lee and Whilce Portacio featured in Wizard Magazine — well, it was a trip to see Asian Americans creating something and carving out a space for themselves.
For the last 15 years, I’ve built a career in film and TV, but comics were always something I wanted to get back into. A couple years ago, I reconnected with a friend and mentor Salvatore Simeone who comes from the software and startup world. A bunch of things fell into place at the right time, and so we partnered up to create TKO Studios.
Things were changing so quickly in the rest of the entertainment industry with Netflix and the binge-releasing model. Our feeling was, if we were going to make a go of TKO, we had to try to create the first modern comic book company. The binge-releasing, the multiple formats, and the first issue free all sprang from that goal.
TW: Setting up a brand new publishing company from scratch is a very ambitious plan. What gave you the confidence to believe you could make it work?
TC: I have experience on the creative side of things, and my co-founder Sal has a lot of experience launching companies. Neither of us had worked in comics before, but because we were coming into the comics industry with fresh eyes, it gave us permission to look at things differently and try something new.
TW: How did you gather the rest of the team at TKO Presents?
TC: We brought on Editor-in-Chief Sebastian Girner and Director of Creator Outreach and Relations Cara McKenney very early in the process. We knew we needed to have some heavy-hitters on our team to show our creators they would be well taken care of.
Sebastian knew the comic book industry intimately and has an incredible track record, creatively. Cara is an Emmy Award-Winning producer who has a decade of experience putting together creative teams. The four of us were the core of the company for the first couple years.
TW: You have a very impressive CV working in television on shows like Gotham and Once Upon A Time. What transferable skills did you learn working in TV that you have been able to use running a comic book publishing company?
TC: Every TV show has their own creative engine, schedule, and output. What I learned during my time writing and producing TV was to stay flexible and figure out the best creative workflow on a case-by-case basis. What’s right for one member of the creative team may not work for others.
At TKO, we take our cue from our creators and tailor our creative workflow to give them the support they need. Basically, we provide them whatever they need in order for them to create their best work.
TW: The format for the launch titles is an unusual one. What made you decide to go down this road rather than publish in a more traditional format like putting out the issues individually or even as original graphic novels?
TC: We want to create change in the comic book industry, and the only way to do that is to try something radically different from what other publishers were doing.
TW: How did you gather the creative teams for the books?
TC: We were very targeted in our outreach. We looked at what our favourite comics were and reached out to those creators first. We’ve been lucky to work with creators that we are fans of…
TW: The line is a very diverse one in terms of the genres of the books published. Was it always your intention to keep it diverse in terms of subject matter?
TC: We like to think there’s a book for everyone in our lineup. We’re aiming to continue offering a diverse lineup of subject matter and genre with each wave of books.
TW: Two of the first launch titles, 7 Deadly Sins and The Fearsome Dr Fang, are written by yourself. With such a strong line up of established comic creators writing the other titles, did this create extra pressure on yourself to make sure that your titles matched up to the quality of the titles by creators like Garth Ennis and Joshua Dysart?
TC: Since launch everyone’s been asking me that, haha. Honestly I think I was so focused on just getting the books out that I didn’t have time to think about it when I was writing. Which was probably good so I didn’t freak myself out.
TW: What other titles can we look forward to from the company over the next few months?
TC: There’s four new books coming out in Spring/Summer 2019. SENTIENT by Jeff Lemire, Gabriel Walta, and Steve Wands. THE BANKS by Roxane Gay, Ming Doyle, Jordie Bellaire, and Ariana Maher. EVE OF EXTINCTION by Salvatore & Steven Simeone, Nik Virella, Ruth Redmond, and Ariana Maher. POUND FOR POUND by Natalie Chaidez, Andy Belanger, Jordan Boyd, and Serge LaPointe. We’re very excited about this next wave and this all-star lineup.
TW: If you had to encapsulate the company philosophy for TKO Presents, what would it be?
TC: Early on we asked ourselves three questions: What’s good for our creators? What’s good for our fans? And what’s good for the comic book industry?
Everything we do and everything we will continue to do is based on those three guiding principals. The reaction from the fans and comic book stores has been incredible so far, and we’re very grateful.
visit the TKO website for more details