Comic books? Seriously? Is that a good business? Well, yes, yes, yes! It can be. My Frontier co-founder and awesomely literary partner Scott Lenet grew up reading comics and graphic novels (which are collections of comic books). He also majored in comparative literature at Princeton, so don’t judge too quickly what may seem like “joke books,” as his grandmother used to call them. Some immediately think of Superman and Archie when hearing the term “comics.” But many comics tell sophisticated stories about compelling characters in every genre you can imagine, not just about all-powerful aliens and hamburger-obsessed teenagers. The variety of stories in this creative field often make valuable intellectual property (“IP”).
We know IP comes in many forms. Technology companies patent code or hardware, and this is their IP. Hollywood has IP, too. Companies like Sony, Fox, and Universal own lots of great movie titles, and exploit these titles globally across media. At Frontier, we believe that we should back founders with transformative IP. But since we believe IP can include not only technology companies, but also content, we are open to curated content generation companies.
Great filmed content comes from comics beyond the obvious superhero fare of Marvel and DC. I bet you didn’t know that when you saw the blood-splattering, action-packed movie 300, that you were seeing a movie adapted from a graphic novel. Did you know Angelina Jolie’s Wanted, was adapted from a comic book. How about The Walking Dead on TV? Kingsman? My Friend Dahmer? Yup, all comics.
At Frontier, we invested in a company called Boom Entertainment, because we were intrigued by their team, their stories, their writers, and their artists. We also realized that Boom was sparking great conversations with the creative forces of Hollywood. The founder had a dual history in comic book publishing, but also in the production of movies and television. We liked that the team focused on a fiscally sound book publishing business, but that this foundation provided the company with lots of “shots on goal” to translate its IP into other, potentially more lucrative media. The company’s first translation from comic book to feature film, Two Guns, starred Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington and was a creative and financial success. The basic premise is to pay once to create the IP, but to monetize it multiple ways.
Another Frontier portfolio company, Seismic Games, was founded by video game industry veterans Greg Borrud and Giz Gewirtz. Most VCs wouldn’t fund a game development studio because investors tend to be “allergic” to content. For some reason, our industry believes we can make taste judgments about markets, teams, and technologies, but not content. But we believe the right content libraries, monetized through the right distribution channels, can be a great business. In the game studio world, that includes mobile, console, virtual reality, and even theme park rides. Like Boom, Seismic generates content-based intellectual property, and we love the team and their business model.
We continue to seek new companies that have a unique engine for valuable IP creation and long term value, like Boom Entertainment and Seismic Games. This might make us a bit odd in the VC world, but we like going against the grain!