ILLUSTRATED MEDIA GROUP: PUTTING COMICS TO WORK

Attorney and investment banker Joseph C. Lauria has made a successful career out of acting upon insights. When he investigated the comics industry to assess the potential for a roll-up of small comics publishers he gained two striking insights: first, that the comics medium is very powerful. People all over the world love comics. Here in the U.S., the birthplace of the modern comics medium, there has been an eleven-decade love affair with this fusion of images and words that is far more compelling than the sum of its parts. Second, that this potent communications tool is grossly underutilized except for entertainment.

"Most mainstream comics publishers offer custom publishing as a service," says Lauria, "but it clearly isn’t a priority."

Jim Shooter, a towering figure literally and figuratively in the comics business for more than 30 years, recruited by Lauria to take the creative helm of Illustrated Media, explains. "Marvel, DC and the other significant comics publishers are focused on their super hero and other entertainment comics. Their custom comics sideline is exactly that: a sideline. Clients come to them thinking they’ll get the same creators whose work they see in Spider-Man or Superman comics to do their custom job. But Spider-Man and Superman are coveted, lucrative assignments, and most creators simply won’t take time away to do custom work. Generally, clients end up with second or third string talent—whoever’s not busy that week, and desperate enough to take any job." Shooter adds, "Most of the people who write and draw super hero comics are lifelong fans who really don’t want to do anything else. Many of them couldn’t do custom work anyway, because it takes a special skill set."

But there are outstanding comics creators that have the necessary skills. "The cartoonists who also have advertising and other ‘real world,’ experience are the most qualified to deliver a client’s message, as opposed to spinning out a Batman story that’s been in the back of their heads since they were young fans," says Shooter. "These cartoonists with broader backgrounds, by the way, tend to be the best of the best. Probably the greatest comics creator of all time, Will Eisner, famous for his wonderful Spirit comics published during the forties, also had a second career creating comics format training manuals for the U.S. Army."

Shooter, with his long and impressive track record in the custom comics arena as well as in the entertainment comics arena—he served as Marvel Comics Editor in Chief for nearly ten years—is a prime example of the type of creator needed to do custom work. "There are people like me out there who love the creative challenge of using their comics skills to deliver a client’s message in an unforgettable way just as much as they love drawing, say, Richie Rich, Archie or the X-Men. But they’re scattered around and hard to find."

But not for Shooter. Joe Lauria’s industry research led him to the man considered one of the true gurus of the medium. "Jim knows who’s who and who can do what."

The genesis of Illustrated Media Group, LLC, is an interesting story. While still researching the industry, as he came to realize the vastly underutilized potential of comics, Lauria, who has a background in political science, wondered why the government wasn’t using custom comics as part of its educational and international relations campaign. He wrote a simple letter to Karl Rove at the White House, suggesting that a series of "Voice of America" comics might be useful in the current, highly-charged international climate. Lauria received a response in the form of a phone call from the State Department. They were very much interested. "That’s when I contacted Jim," says Lauria.

Lauria brought Shooter along as a consultant to a meeting with the State Department. "It went exceptionally well," says Lauria. "We’re still in development of the projects we discussed with them at that meeting, but that was the seminal event that inspired the creation of the enterprise."

Lauria’s concept for Illustrated Media Group was straightforward. Bring together the best of the best and fulfill the needs of a badly underserved clientele.

Says Shooter, "Joe and I were in absolute agreement about that. Do it better than anyone, or not at all.

Lauria’s vision for Illustrated Media Group is big. "The creative people we’re recruiting are unbelievably talented. Custom comics are the bedrock, but the fact is that the range of skills and abilities we have at our command is stunning. Any kind of graphics, illustration, advertising, marketing, character development…you name it. If it takes being creative, Illustrated Media can do."