“Happy First Birthday MonkeyBrain Comics” – we talk to founder Chris Roberson about the first 12 months of this truly unique digital comics company
12 months ago today a little company called MonkeyBrain Comics announced itself to the world at SDCC. The brain child of writer Chris Roberson and his wife Allison Baker, it set out to be the place where a select bunch of writers and artists could publish creator-owned comics digitally, without having to rely on the whims of publishing deal. Over the course of the next year MonkeyBrain Comics has gone on to become one of the most innovative and exciting companies in the world of digital comics. From it’s initial run of 5 titles, MonkeyBrain has released over 20 titles from some of the comics worlds best names which have been met with critical acclaim. From regular titles like Edison Rex and Masks and Mobsters, to delightful one shots like The Stars Below and Thoughts on a Winter Morning from Astro City’s Kurt Busiek, MonkeyBrain’s titles have defied convention ranging from golden age superheroes and gangsters to supernatural real estate agents and animal allegories. But one thing has been constant – a level of high quality writing and art that cannot be beaten in the world of comics (digital or print!). You don’t always know what you’ll get in terms of content with a MonkeyBrain comic, but sure as hell know it’ll be of the absolute highest quality! To help celebrate this momentous first year we contaced co-founder Chris Roberson to get the inside scoop on this tremendous 12 months and to find out just why the heck he would name his company MonkeyBrain?!
Tell us a bit about where the inspiration for starting MonkeyBrain Comics came from and what drew you to the world of digital comics rather than print?
CR: The short version of the story is that we love comics and wanted to find a way to make comics, and so we did! The slightly longer version is that my wife Allison Baker and I have run a small-press publishing company for the last decade or so, called MonkeyBrain Books. (If comics readers are familiar with the name, it’s probably because of Jess Nevins’s companions to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen that we’ve published over the years.) We’ve talked for years about the possibilities of publishing comics as well, but couldn’t get the money end of things to work, primarily because of the capital involved in getting physical copies printed and distributed. With the rise of digital distribution, and in particular ComiXology’s emergence as the market leader, we saw a way of publishing comics without losing our shirts, and MonkeyBrain Comics was the result. We spent a long time figuring out what the publishing model would be, how we would market and promote the titles, and how best to go about getting it off the ground, and then at the beginning of last year we started approaching creators whose work we admire (and who we like as people, which helps!) and invited them to publish through us. It took the next seven months to get everything lined up, but we launched in July with five new titles, and haven’t looked back since.
You’ve had a momentous first year but what have been your highlights and lowlights? And how has the industry accepted your gang of digital pioneers?
CR: When we launched at San Diego last summer, we knew that we wanted to have a number of titles finished and ready to go at the same time, while also keeping the whole thing under wraps until we were ready to launch. And that produced a fair amount of anxiety, getting all of those ducks in a row without letting anyone know, making sure all of the files were ready and uploaded to ComiXology in time for the announcement. And, of course, making sure that they were all as good as they could be. But once we passed that hurdle, everything else has been fairly smooth sailing, just making sure that the comics are the best that they can be and getting them together and out the door.
In terms of acceptance, we had no idea the reaction would be as positive or immediate as it was. We fully expected that we’d spend the first six months to a year simply getting the word out, and trying to let readers know that our titles existed. Instead, the outpouring of support and positive feedback just in the first weeks was simply overwhelming, and by the end of the year we had MonkeyBrain Comics titles appearing on critics’ “best of the year” lists, readers talking about our new releases every week on Twitter and their own websites, and reviewers covering all of our new launches. And we end the first year of operation with four Eisner nominations for Bandette and a slew of print editions coming out from IDW, Image, and Dark Horse.
How do you think the growth of digital comics has helped small publishers like yourself and who do you look to for inspiration?
CR: Probably the most obvious and immediate benefits of digital comics can be found in operating costs and ease of access. There are still the creative costs associated with making the comics themselves, but there aren’t any up-front printing expenses to contend with. And with digital comics, you don’t have to worry about whether a potential reader will be able to find a copy on the shelf, because the digital versions will always be available. They’ll never run out, and they’ll never go “out of print,” so long as we want to keep selling them.
You’ve published a huge variety of titles (from superheros, to gangsters to missing dogs) and asking you to choose your favourite would be like asking which is your favourite child I would imagine, but which titles are you proudest of being part of the MonkeyBrain family and why?
CR: In all honestly, the one that I’m proudest of is the book that Dennis Culver and I do, Edison Rex. And I think that any other MonkeyBrain creators would name their own titles as their favorite, too. Because each of us is doing the book that we most want to do.
Dan Goldman described the MonkeyBrain family to me as ‘a bunch of talented misfits’ do you agree with this sentiment and how do you classify what the MonkeyBrain ethos is all about?
CR: Sure, that sounds about right to me. As for an ethos, I think “Make good comics” is about as close as we get to a mission statement.
What can we expect from you in 2013? I know there are some print titles coming out, and I assume more new and exciting titles, but anything else ground breaking you can reveal here?!
CR: We’ve got a LOT of projects in the works. Look for a raft of announcements to come during Comic Con International in San Diego next month!
Finally, what’s with the name MonkeyBrain?!
CR: Who doesn’t love monkeys? And smart monkeys are even better!
MonkeyBrain Comics are available digitally exclusively from ComiXology for the bargain price of £0.69/$0.99 per issue. For more info visit MonkeyBrain Comics website or follow Chris and Allison on Twitter @chris_roberson and @allisontype