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Newsmaker Interview: Tim Leong
posted May 18, 2007
 

When a print iteration of Tim Leong's Comic Foundry was rejected by Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc. for distribution purposes to North American comics and hobby shops, Leong's public plea for support generated a firestorm of opinion articles and news stories on issues ranging from the state of publishing material about comics to Diamond's selection practices.

I checked in with the young publisher-to-be to see how things were progressing from his position at the eye of the storm.

TOM SPURGEON: Any update on the status of the magazine?

TIM LEONG: I guess the update is that we have options at this point. There's been a really good response on-line, and a lot of people are interested in helping out. We're getting a lot of feedback and possible options from publishers, on-line distros... I think there's a possibility of working something out with Diamond as well. At this point we're trying to figure out what's most financially advantageous for us.

SPURGEON: So you're thinking of taking Comic Foundry to a publisher and going that route.

LEONG: We're definitely considering it.

SPURGEON: Has it been gratifying to hear from so many people?

LEONG: It's been absolutely amazing. Because there's so much going on on the Internet, a lot of the time it feels like you're working in a vacuum. You put something out there and your friend is like, "Hey, this is a cool story." Or whatever. And we have all the stats. But to actually hear from people that write in, and voice their opinion, tell you they support you, it's really overwhelming. I'm not an emotional guy or anything like that, as many of my previous girlfriends can attest, but it's really been getting to me. It's amazing. We've been getting a lot of big name creators writing in, which is fantastic and I greatly appreciate, but we've been getting a lot of reader response as well. That's what's really been blowing my mind. Dedicated readers that appreciate our content, writing in. That's what really has been getting me.

SPURGEON: Have you been talking to your contributors to keep them informed?

LEONG: Yeah, the core writers, we've definitely kept them in the loop as much as possible.

SPURGEON: I'm not sure I know exactly what it is you submitted to Diamond.

LEONG: I submitted the standard submissions package to Diamond. The one sheet of all the details. Solicitations, page count, price, distribution plan, who your printer is. That kind of thing. Some marketing materials. They typically want a full issue, and we wanted to get this in for the September Previews, because we have September-themed content. I originally wanted to get it in for August, but due to poor planning on my part, I missed that deadline. Diamond told me that to get it in for September, I needed to to have it in in a couple of days. So I went on a crazy work spree. There was a three night period I got like six hours of sleep total. Just to get stuff into them. We didn't submit a whole issue, but more like half. Which they said was fine. So they had half an issue.

SPURGEON: Do you think their appraisal would have changed if they had had the full issue in front of them?

LEONG: I don't think so. What we sent was pretty representative of how other pages were working out.

SPURGEON: How many pages was the magazine as you submitted it?

LEONG: The initial plan was 80 pages -- we sent Diamond 27 pages. We had others, but I didn't want to send anything unfinished.

SPURGEON: How much of what kind of stuff would we get in Comics Foundry?

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LEONG: That's kind of the one thing that's still a great unknown right now. One of the things I've read on-line is that I've come across as vague, that I've been promising new ideas without showing any of it. Which is a fair criticism. To answer your question, really it's taking a lifestyle approach to comics. Covering lifestyle and culture. Which I don't think anyone is doing in print. Some people say they are, by covering more pop culture things, but that doesn't equate to me as lifestyle. I don't think anyone has covered culture and lifestyle before. I don't think it was really possible to do so. It's only in that comics has become more mainstream, and has enjoyed widespread acceptance, that it's possible to cover culture and lifestyle in comics. That's our main focus, approaching content that way. It is kind of positioning ourselves between Wizard and The Comics Journal, trying to cover superheroes, indy, manga -- a little bit of everything in that regard.

SPURGEON: What form does that take, though? When I pick up The Comics Journal, I know I'll get an interview or two. With Wizard I know I get a price guide. What do I see when I pick up an issue of Comics Foundry?

LEONG: You won't see any reviews. You won't see any breaking news. The way the Internet works, it'll be completely out of date. Even the Wizard exclusives hit on-line a couple of days before the issue comes out. I don't want to mess with reviews. Reviews, everyone has reviews on-line. Our goal was to offer content you can't get anywhere else. Our defining characteristic will be lifestyle. I hope, at least. It's more the approach.

SPURGEON: Rotating features based on a core idea, not so much a rigid presentational style. Is that fair?

LEONG: Tone as well. That's a big thing for us. Not being too fanboy or... [pause] Just trying to speak to a mass audience.

SPURGEON: I want to ask you some stickier questions. First, what makes you think there is an audience for your magazine? Many smaller magazines are tightly focused because they depend on the specific passion of those fans. What makes you think a general fan would even want to read a comics magazine?

LEONG: That's a fair question. Not to bash on other people's success, but I feel Wizard and The Comics Journal are both polarizing in content. They both do what they do very well, and hit the audiences they go after. But I think a lot of their content leaves people out in the cold. Also I don't think those two magazine are representative of comics readers. I think there are a lot of people coming into comics, maybe not hardcore people, but passers by, and I think they would be intimidated to jump into either of those two magazines.

SPURGEON: So with that in mind, the editorial focus on lifestyle represents accessibility for this new, perceived audience.

LEONG: I hope so. I mean, I could totally be wrong here. We might not sell any copies. [Spurgeon laughs] It could be me and my Mom at the store buying copies. Maybe I'm just too hopeful. I think there are readers out there, and the e-mails I get indicate that.

SPURGEON: This might be a silly question, but did you give any thought to taking Diamond's suggestion and adding color?

LEONG: One of my main concerns is that we were shooting for September. We have September-themed content. That was my worry, and I was opposed to color right off the bat because of it. Like I said earlier, we had earlier been aiming towards August, and by moving into September we had already started changing stuff around. I didn't want to have to do that again for October. The carry-over stuff wouldn't be applicable at all.

The other thing is, being a small group here, we know we're not going to have the greatest circulation off the bat, so print-rate wise it was not advantageous. It would have been a much higher price point. I don't think that would have been smart from a sales standpoint.

SPURGEON: Even though you have a general audience in mind, you're using the old DM system to get your magazine out there. What was your expectation for how you would find your audience? Because there seems to me a slight disconnect there. What were your expectations for building a subscription base and advertising?

LEONG: We're virgin publishers here, and we might be making tons of mistakes, mistakes we might not even realize until months later. If we decide not to go with a publisher, and publish on our own, we would definitely go to conventions, and sell on-line. Subscriptions might be harder, because we don't have a structural database set up to do print labels. It might be more low-tech at first, but I'm open to subscriptions. Advertising is tricky for a magazine that hasn't come out yet. There are people interested in advertising, which is fantastic. We'll have advertising in the first issue. Hopefully we'll have more in the second. I'm considering bringing in different ad teams. I'm working some of the connections I have in my actual-actual job.

SPURGEON: Is there a model in terms of another magazine or publication covering an industry that you feel is a role-model?

LEONG: Maybe not financially at this point, but in terms of how we broke up editorial, yes. If you saw the living room in my apartment, I have walls covered in pages torn out of magazines and tear sheets and post-it notes all over the place in terms of how they break down content. Setting good examples. One I look to editorially in terms of how to do the front of the book is Wired Magazine. It's a fantastic magazine across the board.

Wired is really interesting. They break down the front of the book into "Start" and "Play." "Start" covers a lot of industry stuff, the new things going on. The second section, "Play," is the more life-applicable stuff. The cool things you can do at home. Which I thought was a good example of how I wanted to break down Comic Foundry -- covering the insider-industry things but also a section where you can talk about the comics without actually talking about the comics themselves.

imageSPURGEON: I'm trying to figure out a way to frame my exit question. Do you have a timetable that dictates where you go from here?

LEONG: We are definitely on a timetable, because I still want to go into September's Previews; I still want to print for September. This will all be said and done in the next week and a half. I think. I think we'll know more next week once we hear back from different publishers, Diamond, and other distros as well. The options are still coming in, and then we'll do a number crunch and figure out the specifics of the different situations. We're definitely keeping our options open across the board.

SPURGEON: But the crucial motivating force is getting the issue into that September slot.

LEONG: And continue to work on the magazine in the meantime.

SPURGEON: Are there any floating misconceptions out there you want to clear up?

LEONG: I'm very thankful for everyone's support so far. It's been pretty amazing. I expected a response, but I don't think I expected a response to this magnitude.

SPURGEON: You know, the nice thing about your support has been that it usually comes along the lines of, "Tim is a good-looking man, and I support him." [Leong laughs] Usually the support you get in comics is more like, "Even though I find him physically repulsive and a moral toad, I still support this person." So it must be nice to get a compliment and a statement of support.

LEONG: I'll take what I can get!

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* a page from the first print edition
* Leong's sign reacting to the rejection


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