Populated by a striking selection of beautiful heroines, mad monsters, and exotic lands, the vivid and vivacious fantasy horror titles of Zenescope have made major headway in the highly competitive indie comics market.
Founded in 2005 by Ralph Tedesco and Joe Brusha, their brash and busty comics have exploded into the industry with shocking twists on literary classics and vivid reimaginings of horror and fantasy franchises. Some of their more titillating titles include Grimm Fairy Tales, Van Helsing, Alice in Wonderland, Robyn Hood, Jasmine, Belle: Beast Hunter, The Black Sable, and Cinderella: Serial Killer Princess.
These provocative books adorned with a parade of gorgeous ladies battling demons, ghosts, monsters, and the occasional Cheshire Cat or Mad Hatter, seem to be hearkening back to an earlier era of fearless storytelling headlined by a striking female-driven cast.
To conjure all these beautiful creatures, Zenescope has coralled a talented collection of artists and writers, including such luminaries as Dave Franchini, Sergio Arino, Victoria Rau, Chuck Dixon, Hans Rodionoff, LaToya Morgan, Allen Otero, Igor Vitorino, and many more.
SYFY WIRE spoke with founders Tedesco and Brusha to learn their secrets to Girl Power success, what Zenescope hopes to corner in the horror market, how the industry has changed in the last decade, and what scantily clad surprises the indie publisher has in store moving into 2019.
How was Zenescope formed, and what were its goals in the indie comics market?
Joe Brusha: Ralph and I were aspiring screenwriters, and Ralph was also trying to break into acting. He moved to L.A. to try to get our scripts in front of producers while trying to get some acting gigs. So we decided to start publishing comics as both a creative outlet for all these stories we had and as a way to break into Hollywood. We didn't have any idea what we were doing or what we were up against. Our goal was very simple at the beginning... survive. We didn't have to go back to our horrible day jobs. I didn't want my wife to divorce or kill me. The first few years were rough, but having a comic as opposed to a spec script did start opening doors in Hollywood.
You're well-known for your alluring, female-driven shared universe titles. What makes a Zenescope comic stand out on the racks?
JB: That our books are not superhero comics. We've focused on other genres like horror and fantasy to try and set ourselves apart from Marvel and DC. You just can't compete with their superheroes that have been around forever and are now dominating at the box office.
Ralph Tedesco: It's certainly been some of the covers we publish that has gotten us noticed over the years. You need a way to stand out in this industry and the covers have done that, but we really work hard on delivering quality books with strong female lead characters.
What were some of your gateways into horror/fantasy/sci-fi that formed what Zenescope would become?
JB: I've always been a big horror fan. I started reading Stephen King books when I was in 5th grade so he was a huge influence. I also got into Dungeons & Dragons around the same time. That was something that jump started my imagination and creativity. And I am a huge John Carpenter fan. The Thing is probably my favorite horror movie from that time period.
How many titles is Zenescope currently publishing and will that number change going into next year?
JB: Right now we are doing seven titles a month. Next year we are going to stay right around that, going up to eight or nine in some months. The comic industry seems to be getting tougher and we're shifting our focus a little to other products. We've got several independent films in the works based on our books and we are working on two TV series right now. We had a successful Kickstarter earlier this year for a collectible statue of our Sela Mathers/Snow White character and we've got other toy and game products in the works for next year.
How do you continue to distinguish yourselves as the playing field gets increasingly crowded?
JB: I think we've done a very good job establishing our brand already. Fans know that we publish dark horror and fantasy books. I think it's hard for new publishers to come in and establish a brand, especially when they are doing licensed or creator owned books. While they may have a hit series, readers may not connect it to the publisher's other books. And beyond Marvel and DC I would say we have the most interconnected universe of characters. Our Grimm Universe books still make up a big chunk of what we publish and it makes it easy for fans reading Grimm Fairy Tales to pick up a spin off title like The Black Knight. We've spent 13 years building that universe and I think that gives us an advantage over new publishers coming in to the industry.
RT: We always need to evolve and adapt and continue to try new things. It's partly in the way we market ourselves. It's also tweaking and updating how we develop our stories in-house. We also constantly try new things on the artwork side.
What has been the biggest change in the comics industry over the last decade?
JB: For us I think it's the way we've been able to build the direct business we do with our fans. Trade shows have grown tremendously in the last ten years and its become a huge part of our business model. We sell a lot of comics at shows and we bring in more new fans there than anywhere else. At the same time our business at comic shops has fallen off some so we've really had to focus on direct business to keep growing.
RT: There are so many more self-published titles now with the advent of crowdfunding, which is certainly great for the independent creator. That's also led to more competition for indie publishers who are competing for the small amount of shelf space and market share left after Marvel and DC takes theirs. So it's important for us to continue to hone our brand and expand our presence in creative ways.
What are some of the big titles, event series, or creative teams you're looking forward to in 2019?
JB: I'm a big fan of conspiracies so our Conspiracy series that's coming out next month and will run through the beginning of 2019 is one I'm really excited about. It's being written by Hans Rodionoff who's done work in Hollywood and I love what he's done with the series so far. We're going to be introducing a couple new characters to the Grimm Universe in Gretel: Witch Hunter, and a book called Dragonsblood and I think they are both going to be very cool titles.
And I can't wait to for us to get some of the collectible toys and games we've been working on out in 2019. We're going to be running another Kickstarter for a Robyn Hood statue and I'm hoping that's as successful as the first one we did. It should be an exciting year for Zenescope.