By Michele Brittany, a West Coast Bleeding Cool Correspondent
In the beginning, there was a father who was so inspired by his artistic daughter that he named his publishing company after her. At last year's San Diego Comic-Con International, successful television and film writer Jeff Kline officially announced the founding of Darby Pop Publishing. The company will be celebrating their one-year anniversary soon and recently I had the opportunity to talk with Kline about Darby Pop's first year goals and accomplishments as well as an SDCC sneak peek announcement.
Taking a look at Kline's body of work over the years – Transformers, Men in Black, Dragon Tales for instance– it comes as no surprise that he has been approached over the years to write comic books. Kline has worked on a lot of IPs, but he also wanted to "work on something new and break from the established myths." And through a fortuitous meeting with David Wohl (Marvel, Top Cow, IDW), Kline began to seriously look at the comic book industry with the eye of starting a publishing company. Kline did a lot of research ahead of time, which can be boiled down to three major areas: solid story titles, marketing/distribution, and business models.
It was in the year leading up to the July 2013 announcement that Kline started with small circle of trusted colleagues to assist him in developing his company. Kline's philosophy that "everything starts with the story," led him reach out to 30 – 40 writer friends, asking them to share their story ideas that they wanted to write but hadn't yet. He got anywhere from 100 to 200 different ideas and from that and Kline narrowed down the ideas to five story titles. Hence, it became his goal to release five comic book titles in the first year of Darby Pop.
Having solid stories is only part of being successful in this industry. Marketing is the other major challenge that faces any young publishing company. According to Kline, there are essentially two markets that the industry publishing companies are trying to reach, and find a balance between: retailers and comic book readers. Kline polled the 2000+ retailers, who do the bulk of their ordering from DC and Marvel, to find out what they were looking for – quality of comics, a range of genres, and making deadlines. And as an aficionado of comic books, Kline knew that entertaining, solidly written and illustrated comic books would appeal to fans.
Kline shopped for a distribution partnership and because of Wohl's prior relationship with them, Kline went with IDW. As one of the big five, IDW brought a trusted name to the Darby Pop covers. "IDW gave us a leg up," Kline said. And last December, Darby Pop released their first title, Indestructibles. The second and third titles, The 7th Sword and City: The Mind in the Machine were released earlier this year. Darby Pop will release their fourth title, Doberman, in less than two weeks. And the fifth? Well, that will be revealed at the SDCC and will be at your local comic shop in October. All in all, an impressive accomplishment, especially considering that they have met each drop date without fail.
"If I'm going to make mistakes, I would rather they happen with my friends, so I can work out the kinks," Kline responded when asked if Darby Pop will accept submissions (he's planning to next year, by the way). He said it was important that they take cautious steps and to not grow too quickly. For him, it is important that Darby Pop improve their processes, especially since this is a constantly changing industry. Kline admitted it would have been cheaper accepting submissions outside, but he decided to keep it in-house. It was the model that fit with his vision.
Darby Pop's headquarters are based in Los Angeles containing a small team of talented business individuals. While the writers and artists are not exclusive to the publishing company, Kline tries to work with the same people and keep them busy with Darby Pop projects.
Now that Darby Pop is closing in on one year, Kline reflects that it has been important to "prove they [Darby Pop] were serious and consistent." It was also crucial that others in the industry see that Darby Pop was its own venture, could tell really good stories, and make their deadlines. As someone who is a huge genre fan, Kline feels that his company has released titles of several genres, thus avoiding being pigeonholed into one genre. So far, Darby Pop has received good responses from both fans and reviewers.
Kline is enthusiastic about the titles Darby Pop has put out so far. He encourages comic book readers to "just try one issue and see if we hit the target." Haven't seen Darby Pop? Kline advises to add their titles to your subscription and ask your shop to start carrying them. And, look for Darby Pop set up with the IDW booth at cons such as SDCC, NYCC and Stan Lee's Comikaze (Los Angeles), where Kline states, "we welcome the opportunity to talk with fans and retailers."
*SDCC EXCLUSIVE PEEK AT AN UPCOMING CONTEST!
If you are going to SDCC, stop by the IDW booth and pick up The Darby Pop Top Tourney signature card and collect all 9 signatures (Jeff Kline, Renae Geerlings, Joshua Cozine, Bernard Chang, Doug Sirois, Ken Kristensen, Tony Fleecs, Jose Lopez, and Troy Peteri). Email a picture of your complete collection to firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to win a prize, such as early access to the publisher's titles next year, lunch with the Darby Pop Crew in which you get to ask them anything, and all of the first year books (signed!). Check out more at: Darby Pop Top Tourney!
And, check out the IDW: Pop Culture Mix-Tape panel on Saturday, July 26 from 4 to 5 PM in Room 4 where there will be special guests from Darby Pop.
All photographs from Darby Pop Publishing.
Michele Brittany is an independent popular culture scholar and semi-professional photographer currently editing an upcoming anthology on the influence of James Bond on popular culture. She regularly posts reviews and analysis on the spy/espionage genre on her blog, Spyfi & Superspies.