For Big Book Brotherhood (BBB), a Prague-based digital comics publisher and the first of its kind on the Czech scene, the story of how it all started (or nearly didn’t) seems, fittingly, like something out of the imagination.
Growing restless two weeks into a four-week family holiday in 2011, Vladimír Strejček, the founder behind BBB, and director and founder of Drawetc, a full-service visual studio, started thinking about work and new ideas. Strejček had always wanted to do something with comics. He was surrounded by comics authors as many were his friends. “They were limited by the publishers here in the Czech Republic,” says Strejček. With essentially no platform for them to publish, he decided to create his own.
Back in Prague, Strejček began to research the industry on a worldwide scale. “Three years ago, digital publishing for comics was not as big as today,” he says. He devised a simple concept – backed by Drawetc’s capabilities he would offer complete digital publishing services for authors, not just from the Czech Republic, but from around the world and offer comics readers the ability to create their own interactive comics library, all available via a free iPad app. Finding a reliable programmer to create the app, however, is where things started to get complicated.
After six months, the first group of programmers Strejček worked with turned up empty-handed. “They had absolutely nothing,” says Strejček. “It was a waste of time.” The second, a single programmer, a guy who had come highly recommended put four or five months into the work and was nearly finished, but then one Monday he just didn’t show up. “We never saw him again,” says Strejček.
At this point, a year and half after conceiving the idea, Strejček was considering giving up. “But [by nature], I don’t like to not finish something”. He also had a push from his comics’ friends who encouraged him to ‘do it now’ reminding him that there was no other way to publish.
He then heard from a friend, the well-known Czech comic-book author, Jiří Grus. Grus, the author behind the Prague-based series Voleman, asked Strejček, who had the rights to publish some of Grus’ work, for permission to collaborate with another company. That company, who had found out about BBB through their presentation at the annual Komiksfest, contacted Strejček on their own and expressed their interest in wanting to do an app with the same functions. Long story short, they had the programmers, so the two reached a deal: they would work together, helping BBB with the programming, and they would get a certain cut of the profits.
All was going well. “But,” says Strejček, they began to see some problems with the programming and started to lose trust. Then, the company informed him that they were reorganizing and had to stop the project. Again, BBB was at point zero.
Cooperation number four finally delivered. The agreement with this programmer was that he would do the app programing for free, but BBB would use him for all technical work thereafter. This meant that the entire program was BBB’s property and “after three and half years, we finally published the program.”
Today, less than a half a year into it, BBB is working with some of the top Czech comics artists including Grus, Nikkarin, Hza Bažant, and Tomáš Kučerovský. On the international scene, they recently signed a contract with Argentinian comics author Sergio Carrera and have other collaborations in the works, including some with authors from the U.S. But despite plans to keep expanding worldwide, Strejček emphasizes that it’s about the content, not the country. “We want to try to have really good content,” he says. “It’s not important from where the comics are from.”
What is important is providing exceptional service to its authors. Besides being one of only a handful of digital comics publishers that provides, not just a publishing platform, but actual publishing services in digital format. “We are publishing what we are selling”, says Strejček. BBB also differentiates themselves by going above and beyond the less personal experience offered by other publishers, taking the time with each author to digitally optimize their work and to establish a more personal relationship, making them feel that they are a part of the brotherhood behind the name. “The brotherhood of comics authors,” says Strejček.
Along with offering its authors a 50/50 profit share, BBB offers free translation from almost any language to English and French. (France has one of the largest comic markets.) If all goes well, they would like to add additional languages in the future. “Nobody else does this now,” says Strejček. They also provide perfect digital lettering. “We scan the author’s original hand-drawn script and digitize the font,” explains Strejcek. “We make the English and French look exactly the same as the original. [After all], lettering is half of comics.” They are even able to translate non-standard, hand-drawn sound effects (think “pow”, “zap”, “zing”). For readers, they provide paneling, which allows them to zoom into each individual panel for a more intimate appreciation of the details.
For Strejček, he’ll be happy if in six months they’ll be at zero financially. After all, he’s financing the endeavor out of his own pocket. He’ll be happy in one year if he’s able to earn something. “Not for me, but for the people working on the project”. Besides Strejček, there are about seven people behind BBB. He’ll be happy in two to three years if comics authors around the world will recognize BBB as the go-to digital comics publisher. However, having kept on through all the initial set backs, Strejček says he would still feel a sense of satisfaction even if things didn’t work out. “I’m very competitive. I always want to prove it’s possible,” says Strejček. “If we failed now, I’d be okay because I did it.”
In the end, Strejček thinks that it was all worth the wait, “I think it’s better it took longer. The system is better,” he says. “People are more used to reading digital comics now. And it’s the only way to read independent comics from around the world.”
To submit your original artwork for consideration, browse the BigBookstore, or build your own digial comics library with the free BBB app, visit: http://bigbookbrotherhood.com/