Magnetic Press debuted last year with a bang seven graphic novels in their first seven months of business. At its core, the company is the product of just two guys: Mike Kennedy and Wes Harris. The Small Press Spotlight sheds light on how they did it, and what they’re doing next.
Kennedy’s high school job was at a comic shop where he developed a taste for then current indie books like “First Comics” and “The Rocketeer”. He eventually found a career in the video game industry working on story designs and cinematic material, but he stayed up-todate with comics, especially Dark Horse titles. In the 90s, he began writing some of them as a side job, including high profile books like “Star Wars”, “AVP”, and a Superman graphic novel. Fast forward about two decades, and he finally committed to comics full time when he joined Archaia Entertainment as a publisher.
Harris got his start in comics through White Wolf when he helped launch the first “World of Darkness” books. He took a break from them to start Secret Weapon, an animation and art development studio, before coming back to spend time at Viz Media and eventually finding himself as the VP of Publishing at Boom! Studios.
The two first met while working on different sides of Hawkin, an online game. Harris was working on the video game publishing portion with Meteor Entertainment and Kennedy was co-developing the story into a graphic novel series for Archaia. During conversation, the two realized they had similar taste in comics, particularly nonenglish language comics that weren’t well known in North America. The two met up again during the 2013 San Diego Comic Con and discussed how they would go about starting their own publishing lines given the opportunity. Their visions and strategies were similar, and they agreed it would make sense to work together.
Of course, the conversation wasn’t entirely hypothetical. Around the same time they were talking, Boom! was announcing the acquisition of Archaia. This was a wonderful move for both companies, but it also meant there would be inevitable changes to certain job descriptions during the consolidation. At that point, Kennedy had a small collection of projects he wanted to do but which hadn’t been the type Archaia was looking to publish. He left his job in the fall of 2013, and after working with Wes to formalize their game plan they officially announced Magnetic Press in December.
Why Magnetic Press? Kennedy says it’s pretty simple, actually. “I just liked how it sounded.” The name also has symbolic meaning, encapsulated in the company’s slogan: Stories that stick with you. Comics from Magnetic are made with an eye toward high production value. When put on a shelf with other books, their noticeably better quality attracts a reader’s eye like a magnet. The stories they choose to published are hopefully reading experiences that will linger with the reader after they turn the last page.
Pretty much all the work is shared between Kennedy, who handles editorial and production coordination, and Harris, who’s in charge of more behind-the-scenes tasks like legal agreements and outside business opportunities. Managing distribution and fulfillment is split between them, and they’re both continually looking for new projects and titles. The one area where the two weren’t enough was marketing, especially as their library grew. A call was put out among peers and social networks, and the best candidates were contracted as remote marketing assistants.
The first book published under the Magnetic emblem came in June 2014. “SuperEgo” by Caio Oliveira and Lucas Marangon began as a kickstarter project and offered a different look at the superhero genre by focusing on Dr. Ego, a psychotherapist specializing in superhumans. That debut was quickly followed by more North American editions of books that have been popular in other parts of the world for some time. The company’s first ten books included creators from Argentina, Brazil, China, France, and Spain, and in many cases it was the first time the creators had been published on the continent.
This ambitious publishing schedule wasn’t without setbacks, though. The plan was to publish one book each month, and to devote all of their efforts to promoting that book through marketing strategies designed specifically for it. Kennedy and Harris want to treat each title like it was their only title. Unfortunately, print scheduling errors resulting in three books being released in four weeks, followed by an eight week wait for the next arrival. Going forward, they plan to prevent a repeat of that mistake by using what they’ve learned to adjust their timetable.Continued below
When Magnetic was first announced, Harris and Kennedy said they wanted to distinguish themselves from other publishers through their treatment of creators, their cash management, and their focus on printed material. While only the last item directly impacts their eventual customer, they believe the first two will create a better working environment, which will result in better comics. Along with the star treatment each release receives, Magnetic wants to give creators the best cut of profits they can. While this is limited by the nature of the industry (publishers and creators get around 20% of the cover price to split), they are committed to finding ways to get more into the hands of creators. They’re also committed to paying their talent (and other bills) as soon as possible, sometimes within days of delivery. This kind of financial management keeps Magnetic in a stable position, which means it’s easier to handle unexpected issues and keep things running smooth.
Magnetic’s inclination toward high production values was mentioned above, but it’s worth a deeper look. There are many publishers who offer deluxe editions of popular books, typically after they release standard editions. Magnetic turns that model on its head and gives all of their products the deluxe treatment from the start. In fact, their first editions sometimes have enhancements and collector material that won’t be available in subsequent printings. They’re also willing to bend convention to best suit the individual stories. The best example is “Vox”, a rock and roll concept art book that’s 12″ x 12″ and packaged in a transparent plastic slipcase just like a 33rpm record sleeve. There’s also “Doomboy”, presented in a landscape format. Non-standard sizes aren’t unheard of from other publishers, but a full one third of Magnetic’s first year releases defied the industry norms. That’s worth noting in an industry that stubbornly clings to a size, shape, and length determined by outmoded limitations.
Moving forward, Kennedy and Harris have ideas to keep Magnetic growing. They’re in the final phases of creating a set of playing cards designed by Bengal called “The World of Cassyno,” which they describe as Alice in Wonderland meets Game of Thrones. Magnetic Press is also planning to appear at a number of conventions and shows around the country to personally introduce themselves to readers. Later this month they’re debuting “Poet Anderson”, their first single issue series and their first original content. Check back later today, when the Small Press Spotlight reviews the first chapter and provides some behind-the-scenes details on the book’s creation.