Lion Forge Comics, based out of St. Louis, is a trans-media studio that produces digital comics. They publish their own titles, RAMPAGE Jackson Street Soldier, Wondrous: The Adventures of Claire Sinclair, Bulletproof Knights, and several licensed titles like Air Wolf and Knight Rider from NBC Universal. On October 16th, Lion Forge announced the launch of the Air Wolf and Knight Rider titles.
Both Air Wolf and Knight Rider are an updated take on the classic and beloved 80’s television series. The comics feature updated vehicles and settings as well as having modern takes on characters and their stories. The writing doesn’t forget where it came from though, because both stories remains action packed with a side of humor. The story telling itself, thanks to the digital platform of their distribution, allows story elements to stand out through screen changes. The effect is a cinematic feeling. This kind of digital comics story telling wasn’t made for television comics, but it sure seems like it was.
The opening to each book begins with a screen of panels like any ordinary comic. The difference though, is that they place the creator’s names on panels throughout the introduction like you’d see credits at the beginning of a new episode. This isn’t anything new to the comics world, but it makes the book you’re reading feel like you’ve traveled back in time to the days of “must see TV”. That Nostalgic factor was something David Steward II, the CEO of Lion Forge, brought up as a factor to their work on and with NBC Universal to bring old Intellectual Property(s) – IP – back to the fans. David spoke with me about his views on digital comics, why he thinks long dead IP has value and why those stories can be told in a way that will win new readers in a highly competitive market.
BIG SHINY ROBOT: Is it important to have existing IP to drive readers to your own titles?
DAVID STEWARD II: I believe so, yes. I think being a new company, with new IP that people haven’t heard of, makes it difficult to break in. There are a lot of established companies are out there and the Comics audience is budgeted for the things that they love. They’re going to go to the shop on Wednesdays and buy Green Lantern or the next Transformers issue. In order to get them to break that trend, they need to be convinced with things that they’re familiar with; a writer that they love; or an artist that they love; or IP that they love. I think it is our chance as well, to bring people in and get them to try something that is not totally foreign to them. It gives them a trial of what we have to offer from a writing standpoint and from an artistic standpoint as well. Not to mention, that they’re a lot of fun to play with too, considering we’re all fans of the titles we’ve brought on.
BIG SHINGY ROBOT: Like Airwolf and Knight Rider for example?
DAVID STEWARD II: Yes.
Preview Art Courtesy of Lion Forge Comics
BIG SHINGY ROBOT: Without spoiling anything you might have in the hopper, are there any other IP from NBC or anyone else that you’re looking to turn into comics?
DAVID STEWARD II: I can say that we’re in current talks with several companies about IP and a lot of those properties are historic. You may see some more things from the 80’s and 90’s come back from us. As well as possibly something that is currently out there in the market right now. The things we’re going after, we feel, have a great nostalgic base. They’re also loved by us because we grew up with them. That’s been our general strategy with picking what we have up to this point.
I want there to be something for everybody at the end of the day.
BIG SHINY ROBOT: You’ve seen the trends of the nostalgic IP like G.I.JOE, He-Man, and My Little Pony and that’s what is behind your strategy?
DAVID STEWARD II: I think our strategy is a little bit different. This is my personal opinion, but I don’t know if some of those titles would be available if there wasn’t an already existing push behind them. The products that we picked up are things that hadn’t been on the market for quite some time, in some cases. For example, when was the last time you’ve seen anything to do with Airwolf?
Preview Art Courtesy of Lion Forge Comics
BIG SHINY ROBOT: What are your thoughts on what Image, and to a lesser extent Dark Horse, are doing with Creator Owned titles?
DAVID STEWARD II: I think that, obviously, creator owned needs to be a place in every company. Every company should take a look at that. I think that there are creators out there that don’t necessarily have access to get their products to market. Those [creator owned] programs provide that opportunity for them, and enhances the market in general. We need as much diversity as possible, because it’s not just good for us, it’s good for everybody. I want to see more of that kind of thing because, I want to see the market grow as much as possible; I want there to be something for everybody at the end of the day.
BIG SHINY ROBOT: So, that’s not just good for you company, that’s good for Comics fans too, which I understand that you are?
DAVID STEWARD II: (laughs) Exactly!
He has really created a think center with what he is doing. Just the shear fact of putting comics in that horizontal format is a totally new thing for the industry.
BIG SHINY ROBOT: What’s your take on all the digital publishers like Mark Waid’s Thrillbent and Marcos Martin and BKV’s Panel Syndicate? What are your thoughts on what they’re doing digitally and how you think they can monetize what they’re doing; especially considering they don’t have their own app?
I’m not as familiar with Panel Syndicate, but I would say that Mark’s idea, and what he is doing with Thrillbent in particular, is definitely pushing the envelope and setting the standards. Some of the standards are things he has done that have informed us and the way we go about doing our digital comics. And, I think he is really thinking outside of the box.
He has really created a think center with what he is doing. Just the shear fact of putting comics in that horizontal format is a totally new thing for the industry. But, at the same time, a few of our guys had a panel with him and we all listened to him because it makes sense. You get the maximum use of space but it allows you to do some neat things. You know, as far as transitions and things like that. It gives you additional tools for story telling that you don’t have in a traditional print story telling format.
That being said, I don’t really know what their monetization format is, but I do know that they’re selling things on Comixology. I also know that they give some free content away on their site as well. I guess it’s yet to be seen how lucrative that is becoming for their creators but I definitely know that they’re getting the word out there. I know that people are looking at their content and that Thrillbent is setting the standard.
BIG SHINY ROBOT: Your Writer list is very talented. You’ve announced some artists but that list seems rather small. Is there a plan to add more artists? I ask that in the context of the big two because they seem to be able pump out tons of content. They have writers, even the slower ones, writing 2 or more books a month and some of the time those books double ship. With that demand, Marvel and DC regularly rotate artists to hit their deadlines. What’s your perspective on that?
DAVID STEWARD II: The way we’ve built our company is that we have a group of core artists and writers that came on with us from the beginning and you’ll see us utilize those on our books and on the new books; although, we’re always open to new talent. If you’ve ever seen us at a comics show we’re constantly looking at peoples portfolio’s that want to bring them by and we’re always talking to people. In some cases we’ve found new people to work on books for us. We’re always open to that new talent but it’s going to be about making that right fit for the project we’re working on.
BIG SHINY ROBOT: Are there any plans at all to eventually collect these comics into an anthology or a trade paperback?
DAVID STEWARD II: Yes, we do have plans on collecting those issues. Our plan is, with the majority of our content, to do an 8 issue run of a story arc and collect those for digital collections and then look into printing those. It depends on the popularity of the IP, but the NBC stuff has been very popular so I’m sure you’re going to see some of those in a comics shop, Barnes and Noble, Amazon and such in the future.
Mr. Steward was excited about the future of digital comics. Lion Forge is going to conventions around the country to bring the public his excitement and to let them know that the stories they loved can and are being told again. In addition to Airwolf and Knight Rider, NBC Universal is working with Lion Forge on bringing Punky Brewster, Saved by the Bell, and Miami Vice to the digital comics marketplace. Those titles will have a great set of creators on board to bring those titles back to life, but most importantly to ignite that nostalgic feeling in readers.
The first issue of Airwolf and Knight Rider is available now through the Comics Plus App and are soon to be available through Amazon and Google Books. Don’t let that discourage you if you're not yet digital though, because Lion Forge is finding as many ways as possible to get their books into your hands. For those married to print, like David said in the interview, their current plan is to print popular digital titles in collections as trade paperbacks. To find out more about Lion Forge, please visit their website, Facebook page. For up to the minute information, you can follow them on Twitter @Lionforge. While you’re there, send me a tweet and let me know what you thought about Airwolf and Knight Rider @MarkAvo.
Preview Art Courtesy of Lion Forge Comics