niche publisher makes raleigh the capital of comic book...
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Niche Publisher Makes Raleighthe Capital of Comic Book Lore
BY DON VAUGHANPHOTO BY DAVIES PHOTOGRAPHY
John Morrowdidn't set out tobecome a publish-ing mogul. Whenthe Raleigh-basedgraphic designerdistributed the firstphotocopied issueof The Jack KirbyCollector in 1994,it was simply tohonor the work ofhis favorite comicbook artist.
Morrow sent the newsletterto a few hundred like-minded Jack Kirby fansand was surprised by theenthusiastic response. Asecond issue followed, thena third. By the eighth issue,The Jack Kirby Collectorwas being sold in comicbook shops nationwide.
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"When we saw how people responded to TheJack Kirby Col/ector, it was obvious that therewas a real hunger for information about comicshistory," Morrow says. "Fans wanted somethingthat would really document the history, treat thecreators respectfully, and present the informationin a more professional way than had been done inthe past."
Realizing they'd found their niche, Morrowand his wife, Pam, established TwoMorrowsPublishing, a company focused almost exclusivelyon comic books and the men and women whocreate them. In addition to The Jack KirbyCol/ector, the company publishes Alter Ego,which spotlights the Golden and Silver Ages ofcomic books; Back Issue, for fans of comicsfrom the 1970s and '80s; Draw!, about the craftof comic book illustration; Comic Book Creator,which profiles individual artists; and BrickJournal,for Lego enthusiasts. This summer, TwoMorrowswill premiere RetroFan, a new magazine aboutpop culture in the 1960s and '70s.
"On the topic of comic books, TwoMorrows isa leader in the field of critical studies," observesRick McGee, co-owner of Foundation's Edge, acomic book store in downtown Raleigh. "They'rebringing new readers to the hobby, as well as
a strong sense of nostalgia for oldercomic book fans."
TwoMorrows Publishing is alean company with just three full-timeemployees; all others are freelancecontributors. But those contributorsare some of the most knowledgeable inthe business, Morrow notes. Alter Egoeditor Roy Thomas, for example, wasStan Lee's right-hand man at MarvelComics in the 1960s, and becamethe company's editor-in-chief in the'70s. Thomas also possesses an almostencyclopedic knowledge of comic bookhistory and creators. And Michael Eury,who edits Back Issue and RetroFan,was a writer and editor at DC Comicsand Dark Horse.
"I have intentionallysurrounded myself with some of thebest, most experienced professionalsin the industry," Morrow says. "Nearlyeveryone who edits our magazines is acomic book professional."
Comic book-focusedmagazines are just one aspectof TwoMorrows Publishing. Thecompany also produces hard- andsoft-cover books-more than 150to date-that explore the history ofcomic books, individual creators, andspecific aspects of popular culture.
A IN ADDITION TO THE JACK KIRBY COllECTOR, TWOMORROWS PUBLISHESA BACK ISSUE FOR FANS OF 19705 AND '80S COMICS. THIS SUMMER, THEY
WILL PUBLISH RETRO FAN, ABOUT POP CULTURE IN THE 1960S AND '70S.
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The latter is a relatively newdirection for TwoMorrowsPublishing, but one that Morrowfeels has tremendous potential.The first book in the line-MonsterMash, written by Mark Voger-explores the monster craze of the1950s and '60s. Groovy, alsoby Voger, is a fun look at "Whenflower power bloomed in popculture," according to its cover.
"I was born in 1962, so Imissed out on a lot of the counterculture movement, but learningabout it is fasci nati ng to me," saysMorrow. "When Groovy was pitchedto me, even though I didn't livethrough that, I realized it was a bookthat needed to be published, and Ithought we could find an audiencefor it."
Like any business, TwoMorrowsPublishing faced its share ofchallenges as it struggled to find itsfooting. Coming from a graphic designbackground, the Morrows knew muchabout design and printing-butalmost nothing about distribution."I was flying by the seat of my pantsearly on," Morrow admits.
Over the years, Morrowhas watched almost all of hiscompetition fall by the wayside,many a victim of the Internet. "Wesurvived because we weren't relianton covering the latest, hottest thingand trying to get a jump on thewebsites, because you just can'tdo it with a monthly magazine," hesays. "We cover history, and historynever goes out of style."
Another advantage has beenthe company's relatively small size."Because we're so lean, we canproduce books and magazines ona lower budget than many otherpublishers," Morrow notes. "Wecan sell 2,000 or 3,000 copiesof a book about a particu lar artist,whereas the larger publishers wouldrequire sales of 30,000 minimum."
Next year will see the 25thanniversary of TwoMorrowsPublishing, and the company plansto celebrate with a book about itshistory and growth, new editions toits American Comic Book Chroniclesseries, and other projects.
Reflecting back, Morrow hasfinally become comfortable in hisrole as a publisher. "We have areally nice niche here," he says. "It'sworked well for us." •