We ran a story on Bill Jemas' new comic book Wake The F*ck Up, a couple of months ago. Being published through his 10k imprint with Zenescope Press, it's a teenage version of Go The F*ck To Sleep, and even comes with its own video, narrated in a hip hop style by Kilgorian Tralfamadore.
Not to played in a sensitive office place, of course.
Yesterday, I Skyped with Bill Jemas, who used to be President and Publisher of Marvel Comics back in the day, who started the Ultimate line, appointed Joe Quesada and basically helped bring the publisher out of bankruptcy by trying, basically, everything possible to make money.
They succeeded. But Bill tells me he eventually left when his contract ran out and didn't try to stay at Marvel because he felt he'd done his time there – just as he had at Madison Square Garden running the sports division and at the National Basketball Association. He didn't feel he had comics in him anymore.
He had the idea for Wake The F*ck Up about a year before it came together, the plan is to make the first half of the comic available for free digitally telling the parent's story, with the rest of the book available in the print version, focusing on the teenager's take.
But then there's the second part of his plan. Not only is he launching a new comic, with a new digital promotion strategy, but he's also launching a new comics digital reader, one that's open source and available as a WordPress plug-in, to make it easy for comic book people to display their work, for free.
Bill Jemas was at the forefront of digital comics at Marvel. When discussing how the reader would fit panel-by-panel comics, and other material that fits the reader, such as photographic essays, it reminded me of one of those earliest of digital plans. His attempt to create digital photo comics at Marvel that didn't go exactly to plan. He told me "A lot of what we did at Marvel we failed, we launched a lot of initiatives, there were no hand holds on the creativity… we funded as much as we could, if it was good, we'd go crazy to promote it, and if it wasn't we quietly fold it."
We talked back and forth about the comics industry a little, he told me how pleased he was to see Marvel forming their own movie studio. How he was proud of Mark Millar, who he talked about picking from obscurity, to work on an alternate universe comic book which most thought doomed to fail, and how pleased he was to see Kick Ass do so well.
He told me "if I have one bone to pick with the comics industry, they don't focus enough on the health of the retail business." And that while he knows he was often painted against retailers, that "it sounded that we weren't concerned with retailers but we'd wake up every morning with one, we thought of ways to make money for comic shops." And that while there used to be six comic shops on his drive to work of late, then four, then two. And how publishers have to ensure, for the health of the medium, that there is a strong reason for the stores to exist.
I mentioned certain changes in the direct market of late, how sales are up, and how there are now more comic stores than there used to be… just. And how the marketplace was getting closer to when he left the industry. And then we talked about his future comic book plans.
Called the Transverse Universe, it's a series of creator projects using the new comics reader, which he sees launching properly at the end of the year. You can see an early stab at what we'll be getting at transverseuniverse.com.
We have Enter A1, an environmental/political tract , Live The Dream, Soho Suspect, Occupy America and more. Many of the works are message based, Bill Jemas feels very concerned that for the first time one generation is not leaving a better world for the next, and that's what the Transverse Universe is concerned about. He emphasises though that stories can be told without being heavy handed, that messages work better with humour, and that stories can give people a vision, which can change the way they act.
Bill Jemas wants to change the world. With comics. He wants you all to wake the fuck up…