A Comic Book Upstart Seeks to Shake Up the Industry

Brad Meltzer has experience with ownership in publishing. “As a novelist, I own my characters. I always have,” he said.

Mr. Meltzer has written dozens of thrillers, including “The Escape Artist” and “The Book of Lies,” as well as books for children and comic books. He’s also no stranger to television: He was a creator of the series “Jack & Bobby” and the host of “Brad Meltzer’s Decoded,” which examined historical mysteries.

“The entertainment industry is an ecosystem, and it is ever changing,” Mr. Meltzer said.

Now he is trying to use his knowledge to help some like-minded writers and artists reshape the comic book industry. They have formed Ghost Machine, a media company that is being announced on Thursday, the first day of New York Comic Con, the pop culture convention. One of the principal tenets of the new company is creator ownership.

“When you tell the stories of comics themselves, the creator doesn’t always come first,” Mr. Meltzer said. The tension goes back to the earliest days of comics: In 1938, the creators of Superman sold their rights to the character for $130, with no inkling of how valuable the hero would become.

The founding writers and artists of Ghost Machine will be exclusive to the company and will jointly own, operate and profit from it. In addition to Mr. Meltzer, they are Jason Fabok, Gary Frank, Bryan Hitch, Geoff Johns, Lamont Magee, Francis Manapul, Peter J. Tomasi and Maytal Zchut. Other creators will be named after they fulfill their commitments to other publishers.

“Everybody in the business wants to see comics thrive and continue to be an important part of pop culture,” said Mr. Johns, who is known for revitalizing many of DC Comics’ characters, including Flash, Green Lantern and the Teen Titans. “But the business model shifts so rapidly, we wanted to evolve with it.”

Mr. Johns is a proof of concept of Ghost Machine’s goals. He and Mr. Frank produced their first creator-owned work with “Geiger,” a comic book about a mysterious man living in a post-nuclear-war world. The six-issue series, published by Image Comics in 2021, was a critical and commercial success and is being developed by Paramount Television Studios.

Ghost Machine will release a variety of limited-edition covers during the company’s launch at New York Comic Con, including some from the “Geiger” series.Credit…Ghost Machine

Because “Geiger” is creator-owned, the team received the majority of the profits earned by the comic and had full control of media rights. Mr. Johns will write the pilot and be the showrunner. Both men will be executive producers.

Ghost Machine will publish its comics through Image Comics, which itself was established by top-selling artists who had grown frustrated with their lack of editorial control and the limited financial rewards from working on characters owned by media corporations.

The comic book marketplace can be unwelcoming to new characters, but when they break through, it can be a windfall, said Milton Griepp, the chief executive of ICv2, an online trade magazine. He pointed to comic book titles like “The Umbrella Academy,” “The Boys,” “Invincible” and “Heartstopper,” all of which were adapted into streaming series.

“The size of the win has increased dramatically over the last decade,” Mr. Griepp said. “And by that I mean the media exploitations of comics have become so lucrative.”

DC, one of the largest comic book publishers in the United States, is a part of Warner Bros. Discovery and owns well-known characters including Batman and Wonder Woman. It makes up the Big Two of the industry with Marvel Comics, which is a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company and publishes comics about Spider-Man and Captain America.

In 2024, the company will publish “Ghost Machine” No. 1, which will introduce characters in four shared universes.Credit…Ghost Machine

Ghost Machine will begin its rollout in November with “Geiger: Ground Zero,” a two-part prequel series, followed in January with “Ghost Machine” No. 1, a 64-page comic that will introduce four shared universes, each with a focus on action, family, horror or science fiction. Readers will meet the First Ghost, who is part of a supernatural story set in the White House by Mr. Meltzer and an artist to be revealed later, and the time-traveling Rocketfellers by Mr. Tomasi and Mr. Manapul.

In conference-call interviews, the Ghost Machine founders all said the new company was a chance to experiment with telling different types of stories and, if successful, leave a legacy.

“The industry tells you that the goal you should have is to work for the Big Two,” Mr. Fabok said. “I personally want to create new worlds and new characters that will outlive me and inspire the creators of today as well as the creators of tomorrow.”

Mr. Meltzer added, “Ownership and freedom is priceless.”

Back to top button