Comixology was sincere a game changer. Before the platform came along, I knew very few people who had ever read a comic on a phone or tablet. There was way too much friction in the process of prioritizing screens over printing. The app proved to be a viable option, thanks to a stocked store and smart user interface that both embraced and adapted the sequential form.
In 2014, Amazon gobbled up the startup as it continued a Galactus-style buffet through the publishing world. There’s plenty of cause for concern when a big company acquires a beloved start-up (especially one that has a habit of… let’s say cornering markets), but the retail giant turned out to be a good steward above all, launching a 2016 subscription service and in 2016 its own subscription service. house publisher two years later.
However, the last few years have been less kind. Amazon’s attempt to integrate the brand into its exciting service was a casual mistake that eroded more than a decade of goodwill. More recently, Comixology has reportedly been disproportionately hit by mass layoffs, leading many to wonder if the point of no return has passed.
Co-founder and former CEO David Steinberger and former head of content Chip Mosher can take credit for much of the good that came out of the service. The couple had become – as my friend Heidi MacDonald put it – the public face of Comixology. But no one sells a company to a monolith like Amazon without understanding that there’s a reasonable chance things will eventually turn pear shaped.
Steinberger left Comixology last February to help Amazon launch a new internal company that he said he had been pitching for some time. The project remains in stealth.
“We had a great run,” Steinberger says of his time with the company. “I learned a lot from Amazon. I feel like when you sell a business it is no longer yours. Eventually you are ready to let it go.”
Not long after, both he and Mosher would leave Amazon completely. “We had a great eight-year run,” says Mosher. “Comixology Unlimited, Comixology Originals. We’ve had to support a lot of different shows and events: Though Bubble, CXC, SPX, TCAF. We’ve done a lot of great things in the comics community and learned a lot.
The pair reunited not long after their respective outings and launched a new business that has remained in stealth until this morning. Despite a name that screams Web 2.0 whiskey app, DSTLRY finds Mosher and Steinberger embracing the comedic roots. The company describes itself as a “next-generation comics publisher”, with feet in both digital and print publications.
Mosher is quick to push back on the suggestion that this isn’t exactly an ideal time to enter print publishing. “I strongly disagree,” he says. “I think now is a good time to start a new business. Bookscan gave a presentation in February where they said most people will retreat to older IP, not doing things, not taking risks. When you have a market where no one is taking risks, I think it’s the best time to come out and do something new.
DSTLRY prides itself on its creator-first approach and provides “Founding Creators” equity in the business. The list at launch includes:
Scott Snyder (Batman, Wytches), Tula Lotay (Barnstormers), James Tynion IV (Something Is Killing the Children, The Joker War), Junko Mizuno (Pure Trance, Ravina the Witch?), Ram V (Detective Comics, The Many Deaths by Laila Starr), Mirka Andolfo (Sweet Paprika, Mercy), Joëlle Jones (Lady Killer, Catwoman), Jock (Batman: One Dark Knight, Wytches), Becky Cloonan (Wonder Woman, Batgirls), Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets, Joker ), Elsa Charretier (Love Everlasting, November), Stephanie Phillips (Grim, Harley Quinn), Lee Garbett (Spider-Man, Skyward), Marc Bernardin (Adora and the Distance, Star Trek: Picard) and founder Will Dennis (Y : The Last Man, Snow Angels).
More writers and artists will be announced before the end of the year. An additional 3% equity is distributed among additional creators who sign up in the first three years, based on the performance of their individual series.
Print releases go against the standard single issue floppy, with a larger design and 45 pages. Mosher says the company will distribute books to “all comic shops in North America and beyond,” with news about its specific partners coming soon.
Unsurprisingly, digital is probably the biggest piece of the puzzle here. DSTLRY’s books will be available through the marketplace and available in the app. However, the company considers resale to be the real secret sauce on that side. It provides that aspect of the market without NFT and blockchain technologies, which have become highly controversial topics among other cartoonists.
“The idea was how do you take the best parts of whatever you want to call web3 or NFTs and make that work,” says Steinberger. “That allows us to provide things like demonstrable ownership, the ability to resell something, and return an actual perpetual royalty to creators when those things are sold. You don’t need the environmental impact of a public blockchain to do that. You don’t need to have crypto in a wallet for that.”
The other (largely unspoken) aspect of it all is something that has supported the two big comic companies for years: IP. One need look no further than the investors backing the company (DSTLRY has yet to announce a dollar figure). Publishers Kodansha USA and Groupe Delcourt are joined by game veteran John Schappert, Michael Vorhaus of Vorhaus Advisors and Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who produced the GI Joe films, among others. The three will also act as advisors.
“In everything we do, we try to align creators to publish epic work with us, because that’s where you start,” says Mosher. “The [IP factory] idea is a non-starter for us. We make great works that will sell well as comics first and foremost. The rest is gravy.”