TKO Studios was founded by Tze Chun and Salvatore Simeone in 2017. As part of Comic Book Yeti's publisher interview series, Rob McDonald spoke with Co-founder and Publisher, Tze Chun about TKO Studios' business model and plans for the future. Rob was also able to chat with Erik Jansen, President and Founder of MediaLab Public Relations.
COMIC BOOK YETI: What inspired you to get involved with publishing?
TZE CHUN: My co-founder Sal has always been an avid fiction and non-fiction reader and I wanted to be a comic book artist when I was a kid. TKO is kind of a culmination of a lifelong dream of getting into publishing. We feel it’s a golden age for comics on a creative level, but see opportunities for growth in terms of distribution and the business side of things. We’ve been very lucky to work with our editor-in-chief Sebastian Girner, who handles our editorial and has a great relationship with comic book creators and a reputation for top-notch books.
CBY: Let’s talk TKO. What is unique about a TKO book? What is it you're looking for in your storytelling or your creators that makes it stand out in such a crowded marketplace?
TC: We publish new takes on established, audience-pleasing genres. But that can be anything — horror, sci-fi, mystery, action, adventure, fantasy, thriller. The most important thing is a unique concept within that genre that we haven’t seen before, whether it’s a twist on the world or a new kind of main character. It’s also important to us that there's an emotional undercurrent that drives us through the story. As far as the creative process, our main goal is to help creators do their best work, whether that’s giving them the editorial support they need, or the time necessary to turn in the best pages they’ve ever done.
In terms of another differentiator, we don’t publish any superhero books. We love superhero comics, but that market is very well-served by Marvel and DC.
CBY: Talking about that crowded marketplace, what is TKO's plan to be successful long-term when there is so much competition?
TC: Our plan has always been to put out a very curated line and not oversaturate the marketplace with our books. We’re quality over quantity, and we only take on books that we fully believe in.
We also felt that there were ways to use modern distribution techniques to reach a wider audience, which is why we binge-release our titles.
CBY: TKO signed a major distribution deal with Ingram Publisher Services/Publisher Group West in 2020 – is that seen as something that solidifies TKO’s place in the market?
TC: Our philosophy at TKO is to make our books readily available, whether that’s off our website at TKOpresents.com, through local comic book shops, through the book trade, or digitally. Though we do our distribution via our website for our customer and comic book vendor orders,
Ingram/PGW was the best way for us to reach bookstores.
CBY: TKO is a company that doesn't have an open submission process, as far as I'm aware. What is the process for finding new talent/books? Is it a case of inviting creators to pitch?
TC: Most of our outreach pre-COVID was in-person at comic book conventions. We spend a lot of time in Artist Alley looking at new creators or walking up to people at signings. I’m also very active on Twitter and have found this is a great way of meeting creators that we invite to pitch.
CBY: Does TKO plan to focus on any particular genre or appeal to a particular market?
TC: We are somewhat genre agnostic as long as it’s a new way into that genre. For example, Joshua Dysart and Alberto Ponticelli’s GOODNIGHT PARADISE is a
murder mystery, but it takes place in the houseless population in Venice, California. And that was a new way into that genre that we hadn’t seen before. In general, we want our books to appeal to people who love emotional, character-driven stories with a genre backdrop.
CBY: What is TKO's intent when it comes to IP, particularly when TV and film is such a vibrant marketplace at the moment following the myriad successes with comic
book adaptations? Is it something you actively pursue or just believe that when
the right property exists that someone will come to you?
TC: We are working on some things that [we'll] announce soon, but in general, we lead with creative and try to find the partners who are most passionate about our books.
CBY: It also seems that, on the roster of talent, there are a lot of ties to the TV industry. Is that something you look for in your creators and the stories you choose?
Obviously, you have very specific ties to
TV as a showrunner. Do people with that kind of history maybe get a bit more of a look than other creators?
TC: Our main goal is to make great comic books with great stories. We are about the story and the creative team first and foremost. Sometimes those creators come from comics and sometimes they come from fiction or TV/feature writing. But the main thing is we have to believe it’s going
to make a great comic book.
CBY: TKO seems to have been experimenting more than other publishers with how they release their books - be it in boxed sets or with short, self-contained stories - is that something you will look to continue? What is the inspiration for that?
Is there some data that suggests this to be a more prudent route to getting books out
TC: This grows out of our belief that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to storytelling in terms of format. Sometimes stories make sense long-form to get more depth to the world and characters, and some stories work better short and sweet. As with all of our business decisions, they really stem from creative decisions on what makes [the] most sense for a particular story, and multiple formats allows us more flexibility in that regard.
CBY: In terms of forthcoming books, DJELIYA seems to be an example of something
that is important to the TKO ethos of representation and highlighting new voices.
How core is that value to what TKO stands for, and how strongly does it influence TKO’s selection of talent? Is there anything else that we should be specifically looking for on the horizon?
TC: At TKO, we believe in highlighting new voices, especially those that have been historically excluded. It gives more diversity to the kinds of stories we tell, and we hope that anyone can look at our catalogue and find something that appeals to them. As far as what’s on the horizon,
we’ll have more announcements soon, but we have some incredible books coming out in the near future.
CBY: First and foremost, what is your role and relationship with TKO Studios?
ERIK JANSEN: I serve as the publicist and PR counsel for TKO Studios via my firm MediaLab. I manage press outreach for their catalog and consult for the company on various other marketing fronts including new title launches, press, social media, and influencer integration, and live shows.
CBY: How long have you been working in PR?
EJ: I have worked in PR for almost 25 years. I began working in the music industry in the late '90s before working for almost a decade in the tech world. Pop culture has always been a passion of mine and I launched MediaLab in 2007 to offer a wide range of marketing and PR services to pop culture brands including publishers, distributors, and manufacturers.
CBY: What did you do before?
EJ: Prior to launching MediaLab, I served as the Account Director for a high technology PR firm in Orange County, CA. I worked with a diverse clientele including startups, hardware manufacturers and software developers. I also represented several renowned Hollywood post-production companies and innovators in the field of data storage and enterprise networking.
CBY: What inspired you to get involved with publishing?
EJ: Pop culture has always been close to my heart. I discovered comics, anime, and manga at an early age back in the '80s and have remained a devoted fan ever since. In the early 2000s, I began a 17-year odyssey managing PR for manga publisher VIZ Media. Since then, I have also worked with publishers including Yen Press and, more recently, with comics and graphic novel publishers including TKO Studios and ABLAZE.
CBY: Thank you both so much for your time and I look forward to reading many more TKO Studios' titles in the years to come.