Sister has invested in AWA (Artists, Writers & Artisans) Studios, a new comic book and digital media publisher, Variety has learned.
The company is unique in that it is owned and operated by the creators. It was founded by Marvel alumni Bill Jemas and Axel Alonso, along with Jon Miller, the former CEO of News Corp, Digital Media Group. The company was funded by Lightspeed Venture Partners and James Murdoch’s Lupa Systems.
The deal was led by Elisabeth Murdoch, along with Sister Global CEO and head of Sister LA, Stacey Snider and partner Jane Featherstone. Elisabeth Murdoch is James Murdoch’s sister and Snider ran 20th Century Fox, the film studio that the Murdoch family owned until selling it to Disney in 2019. It was Miller, a Hollywood veteran, who helped set up the AWA team with the investors.
In an interview, Snider said that part of the reason that Sister wanted to invest in AWA was that the company incentivizes its creators by giving them some ownership of their labor, either by being paid to produce the work or receiving a stake in AWA, or both.
“We give the most generous deals,” said Jemas. That’s something that the comic book industry has often failed to do (just look at the long history of legal battles involving the likes of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee).
“This is a creative business and you can’t succeed without having people who are incentivized to great work,” said Snider. “We don’t want to be in the service of mediocrity. We want to be in the service of excellence.”
“This is a very uncertain moment in the media business,” she added. “In moments of uncertainty, you look for people who offer honesty, transparency, and good cheer.”
AWA released its first wave of titles on March 18. The company boasts some of the biggest names in comics and film — a murderer’s row of creative talent that includes J. Michael Straczynski, Reggie Hudlin, Garth Ennis, and Frank Cho. Alonso is the former editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics, while Jemas was the company’s former vice president.
Some of the projects at AWA mirror our chaotic reality. One of the titles, “The Resistance,” deals with a pandemic that leaves behind a group of super-powered beings, while another, “Red Border,” is set against the backdrop of the U.S.-Mexican border and explores issues of xenophobia and racism. “Bad Mother” (pictured) centers on a suburban housewife who heads off against a crime syndicate.
“We want to tell fantastic stories that are very much rooted in the here and now,” said Alonso. “We want to make art that confronts the world as it is and the fears of hopes of this generation through allegory.”
The collaboration enables Sister to leverage AWA’s existing intellectual property on a case by case basis. Sister and AWA have a collaboration agreement which means that each party can feed the other with projects or ideas that it might be able to exploit for movies, shows, games, or other forms of media. Both parties say they will regularly share information on what they’re developing.
“We think in terms of stories,” said Jemas. “We don’t necessarily see something just as a comic book. It’s like when I look at Spider-Man. I don’t necessarily see it as a comic book. I see it as a great T-shirt and a great video game and a great movie and a great pair of shoes. It’s also a great character and a great comic.”
Sister did not reveal the size of the investment. AWA, however, did say it did not expect to need to raise additional backing. Sister said that the AWA stake will be one of many such deals.
“This is not a one-off,” said Snider. “We’re going to continue to assess opportunities. We are platform and source agnostic. We want to to work with the best creators, the best podcasters, the best journalists, the best spoken word poets. We want to support and empower this kind of creative work.”