Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5

Up, Up and Away

Sales keep heading up for this publishing company that imports its superheroes from the big screen, not distant planets.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Who: Ted Adams, 38; Alex Garner, 36; Kris Oprisko, 38; and Robbie Robbins, 37

What:IDW Publishing, the publishing division of Idea and Design Works, a design, production and publishing company for comic books and graphic novels

Where: San Diego

When Spiderman, Batman and Daredevil moved from comic book pages to the big screen, consumers showed up in full force. Smallville, the Warner Bros. Television series about Superman growing up in Kansas, drew 8.4 million viewers for its debut. Now, IDW Publishing is trying to see if the magic works in reverse by turning TV shows and movies with a proven following into comics. So far, so good.

IDW began as a creative service company formed by entertainment and publishing executives Adams, Garner, Oprisko and Robbins, who funneled money from previous businesses to help the new venture grow into the fifth-largest publisher of American comic books. Grossing about $4.2 million in 2006, IDW currently has 12 full-time employees and 100 to 150 freelance writers and artists that produce comic book versions of licensed entertainment from TV and film, including Paramount's Star Trek, Fox's 24 and Konami's Silent Hill.

TransformersOne of IDW's latest ventures will be familiar to anyone with kids: The company has just published a four-part adaptation of the Transformers movie, which premiered July 2. Fans who didn't want to wait the additional week between the comics' last installment release date of June 27 and the movie premiere could read the entire story and enjoy bonus material.

The idea to convert other entertainment material into comics began with 30 Days of Night, a company side project that sparked a bidding war between movie industry giants Dreamworks Studios, MGM and Senator International for the movie licensing rights. (Senator International won, and the movie is now in post-production.) The buzz created so much fan interest that the initially lukewarm sales of 30 Days of Night skyrocketed, making the publication the fourth-best-selling graphic novel in 2003. The power and influence of the big screen became clear.

So why aren't other comic publishers licensing TV and film media in the same way? Actually, they are. Adams says that IDW almost always has to compete for licenses from other media to produce comics--particularly for the Transformers movie. High production quality, industry relationships and publishing experience help the company land many clients.

In production, IDW uses embossed cover detailing and heavier paper stock for pages--small but significant production details that clients notice. The company also approaches each project differently, depending on the audience. For example, in the case of the Transformers movie, the company was predicting a broad audience, so in addition to regular placement at comic shops and large book retailers, IDW also placed the product at Toys "R" Us and

If that doesn't help attract the media-addicted legions of would-be comic book fans, IDW is also exploring the possibilities of going digital. "The younger generation has become so accustomed to doing everything on the internet," says Adams. "There is potential for shift-over within the next four to five years."

The digital content will be more than just e-books. The company is looking to create interactive content that will be accessible through cell phones and possibly Sony's e-book reader device, if the product takes off. Although Adams still prefers the old-fashioned comics--men in tights and all--IDW may be setting the trend for the future of comic books.