Sheryl Kristal sifted through a pile of comic books on the first hour of the first day of Wizard World Los Angeles until she found it: the very first issue of “Tag,” a series featuring half-dead, decomposing humans.
For weeks, she held off reading Issues 2 and 3. Now, she could begin at Issue 1.
“I can’t stop smiling,” Kristal said Friday. “I’m a 49-year-old absolute geek.”
She was one of about 28,000 comic-book fans who attended Wizard World, a three-day show that ended Sunday at the L.A. Convention Center. Her acquisition is a product of Boom Studios, a Los Angeles company that is feeding Hollywood’s appetite for comic-book-based features and is building a mass audience of readers.
In 2005, Boom’s first year, Wizard Magazine named it best new publisher. Last year, it sold two story lines to Universal Studios. And this fall, Boom will become the only label to turn “The Godfather” into a graphic novel.
“A lot of people think that if you’re not Marvel or DC, you can’t compete,” said Rob Felton, Wizard Entertainment’s associate publisher. “I don’t agree with that, and I think Boom is a perfect example.”
Ross Richie and Andrew Cosby, the characters behind Boom, got their start in the industry in the marketing department at a Westlake Village comic-book company in 1993. Richie, a film-school graduate, recently had been put on “hiatus” as a television production assistant. Cosby had just moved from Atlanta, where he had run a tattoo parlor and sold T-shirts out of a basement.
After two years at Malibu Comics, they were downsized from their jobs. They went their separate ways only to team up again with Boom. Now, instead of cubicles, they have window offices.
“We are not guys that can have bosses,” said Cosby, 37. “And you get to a point in your life where you’re like, ‘I’m either gonna take this path and I’m gonna work for somebody else, or I’m gonna take this path and work for myself.’ ”
The pair started Boom after a decade in show business convinced them that the comic-book cannon had stalled in the early 1960s, when Marvel Comics had created characters such as the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, X-Men that only recently were appearing in film.
“Who’s doing the new?” Richie, 36, remembered asking himself. “Who’s doing the next thing?”
It’s difficult to categorize Boom comics as just gory or intellectual or off the wall. “Talent,” for instance, follows the adventures of a man who inherits the skills of fellow passengers killed on an airliner. “Tag” explores human nature as its characters literally rot away.
Wizard’s Felton said that by branching out from just the “tights-and-capes thing,” Boom was reaching audiences, particularly the mass market and Hollywood, that other publishers had missed.
“The core comic-book retailer and reader: That’s the bread and butter,” he said. “But you’ve also got to go where your new readers are. You can’t forget one segment while chasing another.”
Since its inception, Boom has appealed to comic aficionados with its several-issue miniseries. This year, Boom is focusing on longer plots, offering story arcs that can be serialized, then bound together as graphic novels and sold in major retail chains such as Barnes & Noble.
“Look at this,” Richie said, pointing at the spine of a 20-something-page comic book. “This disappears into a shelf.” At about half an inch thick, sometimes more, graphic novels demand greater attention.
It’s an observation that strikes at Richie’s business acumen, a balance to Cosby’s creative history.
Mark Waid, an industry veteran who wrote DC Comics’ “Kingdom Come” and one of the “Zombie” tales for Boom, said the combination of skills had been key to a prosperous business. “I’ve seen companies with enormous promotional budgets last a year and go belly up because the material itself wasn’t strong,” he said. “And I’ve seen some really brilliant comics wither on the vine because they’re not well promoted.”
The average Boom comic sells for about $4, and most issues sell about 5,000 to 10,000 copies, Richie said. He declined to reveal company revenue. The work for issues, about a dozen a month now, comes from more than 50 freelancers and a core staff of about five. About 10 issues a month are based on original content, and two issues a month sprout from deals with Games Workshop of Nottingham, England.
As Boom grows the licensing side of its revenue stream with projects such as “The Godfather,” it also has diversified into the screen, selling its “Talent” and “Tag” series to Universal Studios last year. Their days in show business helped make the leap. After leaving Malibu, Richie went into consulting and script reading and Cosby produced television shows. Meanwhile, they pitched comic-book story lines to studio and network executives.
When they started Boom, Richie and Cosby brought a Hollywood mind-set and a thick stack of contacts.
“They’re doing things that speak directly to moviemaking,” said Michael Polish, who with his brother Mark wrote, directed and produced “The Astronaut Farmer.” He also worked with Boom on the upcoming comic “Salvador.”
By letting artists explore nontraditional themes and maintain relatively broad creative control, Boom was producing work that is fresh to the entertainment industry, Polish said.
Boom also benefits from a growing consciousness of what comics can do beyond superheroes, said John Rogers, who collaborated on “Zombie Tales” and helped write the upcoming movie “Transformers.”
“Comics is not a genre. It’s a medium,” Rogers said. “What Boom is doing is really exploring and exploiting that.”
But Richie and Cosby said they didn’t create comics simply to sell scripts. For now, they’re taking “an indie-music approach to comics,” Richie said. “We’re really hitting that zeitgeist where what was once considered a trash medium is now really coming into its own,” he said. “Let’s just tell stories the way we want to tell stories.”