A New Path Forward: On AWA Studios and the Pros and Cons of Embracing Digital

What do we do now? 

In a time where access to comics is severely impacted and doubts linger about the reliability of Diamond Comics Distributors, it’s a question creators, retailers, journalists, and fans alike are asking a lot these days. Many are trying to find a more self-sustaining path forward, and AWA Studios believes that path lies in an otherwise untapped market for mainstream American comics.

Now, AWA Studios 14 is a publishing house that was founded in November 2018 by Axel Alonso, 15 Bill Jemas, 16 and Jon Miller. 17 They’re trying to reach as many people as possible by diversifying their release platforms and collecting input and advice from all sides of the industry. So far their titles lean toward the dark, gritty and mature side, with subjects including a global pandemic, an angel mercenary, a zombie apocalypse, an immigration-centered thriller, and a supernatural hotel.

That being said, they aren’t just trying to drop titles on the market and hope for the best. AWA has some pretty unique ventures designed to do right by creators and retailers alike. For one, they have creator and retailer councils to give direct input when it comes to narrative direction and promotional initiatives. Currently sitting on the creator council are J. Michael Straczynski, Reginald Hudlin, Garth Ennis, Gregg Hurwitz, Margaret Stohl, and Frank Cho, a powerhouse creative lineup if I’ve ever seen one.

Beyond the council, AWA is working with creators to have a deal that works for both sides, offering something unlike typical work-for-hire terms that attempts to balance the value for both creator and publisher. And on the retailer end, comic shops that join AWA’s Retail Council are allowed a selection of first issues two months before their release dates while getting access to big discounts and rewards for popular books.

All this is necessary because AWA is a publisher few are aware of, primarily due to how new they are. So new, in fact, that their first comics came out in shops less than a month ago. Talk about timing. The readership and sales numbers aren’t there yet to prove whether or not this venture is successful, but with most of the other publishers halting production for the time being, AWA has been one of the only houses out there to move forward with a steady stream of new issues, releasing about four issues in the last two weeks through their website and other digital formats. Nevertheless, AWA Studios barely had a chance to enter the direct market before it essentially shut down. So what did they do?

They took their talents to the digital worlds of Webtoon and Tapas.

AWA Studios is releasing its first wave of titles on these digital platforms in a time where print comics are on hold, taking comics designed for one platform and converting them to another, and it makes a lot of sense. After all, Webtoon is a platform that SKTCHD’s very own David Harper hypothesized might be “the most important platform for comics, period,”, and Tapas achieves impressive numbers as well.

It’s an innovative business decision that comes with a lot of questions. Are they leaving print and retail in the dust? What can these platforms do for AWA and their creators? How does the process work for creators? This piece is a look at AWA’s decision to embrace digital comic platforms, what it means for those involved, how they are approaching the move from print to digital, and ultimately answer the question: Can AWA have it all?

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  1. The AWA stands for Artists, Writers and Artisans.

  2. Former Marvel Editor-In-Chief.

  3. Former Marvel COO and Publisher.

  4. Current Fandom Co-Chairman

  5. The AWA stands for Artists, Writers and Artisans.

  6. Former Marvel Editor-In-Chief.

  7. Former Marvel COO and Publisher.

  8. Current Fandom Co-Chairman

  9. Bringing on additional creators like Ben Percy, Michael Moreci, Mike Deodato, Jr., and more.

  10. They also made $502 million and averaged 15 million daily readers in 2019, numbers AWA definitely has their eyes on.

  11. The series lead.

  12. General manager.

  13. As Jemas alluded to on Twitter.

  14. The AWA stands for Artists, Writers and Artisans.

  15. Former Marvel Editor-In-Chief.

  16. Former Marvel COO and Publisher.

  17. Current Fandom Co-Chairman