From Europe with Love: A look at Diego Publishing
Diego Publishing is a London-based publishing company that was founded in 2012. Their plan is to introduce their unique variety of comics to American audiences and readers worldwide. Most of their titles are successful Italian comics that are being translated for American audiences. They also recently debuted a successful Kickstarter project called the European Comics Journal at the London Comic Con. It’s always a tough challenge for new publishers to make a mark in this industry and the CEO of the company, Giuseppe Pennestri talks about the hardships and challenges in bringing an international band of Italian artists to a worldwide forum and how American comics have influenced the readership of the world in general.
RM: Kickstarter has become one of the leading sources in funding much of the indy comics coming out these days. You’ve already funded the European Comics Journal. Do you plan to fund your future projects through Kickstarter as well?
GP: Yes, I do. We are a small press company with limited resources; consequently, crowdfunding is an important part of our financing strategy. It was clear from the beginning that the readers would be very few, but we started this project primarily because we wanted these volumes to exist; we wanted give to those brilliant authors the opportunity to reach a wider public, and of course for ourselves. To contain costs we have opted for POD (Print on Demand), that allow us to print the amounts we sold at Conventions and our website. Starting a publishing company is a costly and hard task, therefore crowdfunding does indeed mean the difference between bringing new titles to life or not! We do our best to keep prices at a level that allow us to balance the costs, often even without gaining anything, and to reinvest the eventual small profit margin in the production of new books. Definitely, we don’t make the profits larger publishers do. I admit that several people in and out of the publishing world have told me that I have courage in starting such an endeavor (a polite euphemism for smiling at us as though we were crazy). Kickstarter is not just a financing source but, more importantly, a marketing tool that can help us raise awareness about our titles. Consequently we’ll soon launch a new project.
RM: The American comic market is almost totally dominated by superheroes, but the European market is totally different. Why do you think that is? Also, do you think that will ever change?
GP: I believe it’s already changed. Marvel and DC dominate with their superheroes titles—which sell for the art not for the stories— but people who actually READ comics have turned to new realities; I am thinking about awesome titles like Scalped, DMZ, and Preacher, just to name few. Readers want good stories supported by awesome art; this is what we deliver at Diego Comics Publishing.
The reason Marvel and DC dominate the US market is simply because they have the money to do so, money that nowadays comes from related toys, TV series, cartoons, and cinema. Money generates money. It’s a circle. It’s the continue rebooting of the same characters from the thirties and sixties. I admit that my knowledge of American superheroes is limited to the more popular names, like Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Capitan America, X-Men… therefore, I’d like to ask when was last time that a successfully new superhero character was created? Personally I have a preference for ‘classical’ comic heroes, such as Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Mandrake… old school heroes without superpowers. Nowadays, I see many young creators—also on crowdfunding platforms—that mock the superhero genre. Why? Comics are a product of creativeness, not only of illustration but of storytelling. Heroes are ordinary people whose actions turn them to heroes. I believe that giving a favorite superpower to a character is easier than telling a strong story about the actions that turned the ordinary man into a hero. Does it make sense?
RM: Are you going to consider publishing some of your graphic novels through Comixology soon?
GP: Yes, it’s on our schedule. We are having small problems with getting the files to follow the requirements Comixology has, but we’ll soon have that sorted. Meanwhile, we have our titles on sale via another North American website, Drive-Thru Comics, which is smaller than Comixology, but offers us the opportunity to promote our titles on the other side of the pond.
RM: Also are there any plans to release some of the books through Diamond print distributions?
GP: Yes, there are. I had meetings with Diamond and other distributors last week at the London Book Fair. We are also planning new covers by renowned illustrators in the US to increase our visibility on the shelves.
RM: As the CEO of the company and a literary agent, do you plan on expanding towards American creators as well?
GP: One step at a time *smile*. Currently, my plate is full with European authors. I have a few ideas on how to publish independent US creators in the European comics market, which I will develop by next year. I can say that the second issue of ECJ (European Comics Journal) will host a section dedicated to US creators.
RM: What makes Diego Publishing titles stand out from other books coming out?
GP: Our authors are bestsellers in Italy, which gives us a guarantee on the quality of the stories and drawings. We at ‘Diego’ do our part by printing awesome volumes and making quality translations. It is essential, because one of our goals, as stated, is to provide the reader’s eyes the joy of seeing good mastery in drawings and inking of the great comics artists, and to feed readers’ minds with awesome storytelling. The characters of our titles are intriguing and well-developed, which has given us enthusiastic feedback by our readers and by a few reviewers. Our characters don’t have superpowers—Desdemona is a regular university student by day and radio DJ by night—but she is able to speak to the soul of the reader; Rourke the Hexbuster—although it has supernatural and magic content—is a story about family relationships; then we have Adam 2.0, an unusual comic book that has to be read to the end.
RM: Do you plan to expand Diego beyond Publishing? Towards gaming, movies or television venues, etc?
GP: Again, I am open to any prospect that can arise. All of our characters can easily be adapted into other media; actually Desdemona is currently being adapted into a TV series in Italy. In the last three years since I started this project, I have built a network of contacts in various sectors, but it will take time—and popularity— to turn them in a business project. We have a saying in Italy, ‘La gatta frettolosa fa i gattini ciechi’ (The hasty cat gives birth to blind kittens). In other words, “the world wasn’t made in one day.” My main objective right now is to focus on building a base of readership for our books that will guarantee that amount of regular sales needed to consolidate our finances, and then we will be in a position to grow and expand.
RM: What are some of the upcoming titles readers can look forward to from Diego?
GP: The three comic characters we have started to publish, Rourke the Hexbuster, Desdemona and Adam 2.0, include several books that will take us in to 2016 to complete the series release. We have already selected a few more authors to include in our catalog for both graphic novels and fiction. I aim to have published ten new titles a year—the main topics will be fantasy and sci-fi—but I’d like to have a western too. Moreover, the European Comics Journal offers us the opportunity to expand our selection of authors from other European countries, both by publishing short comics stories in the magazine or full new series in volumes. On that front, we have just launched a new Kickstarter to finance Issue #2! You can support us at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/582218041/european-comics-journal-02-lgbt-characters-in-comi
Indy comics have always had an original voice and the titles from Diego range from fantasy to beyond. You can find their titles at Drive-Thru Comics, and hopefully soon, at Comixology and a local comic shop near you. You can also find out more about the company and their titles at their website: http://www.diegopublishing.co.uk/