Peter Simeti On Alterna Comics’ Newsprint Renaissance

by Brendan M. Allen

Founded in 2006, Alterna Comics titles are distributed worldwide in print and digital formats and in several languages. Alterna is home to the New York Times Best-Selling Graphic Books zombie war series “FUBAR” as well as the psychological horror thriller “THE CHAIR” which has been adapted to film. Predominantly a publisher of graphic novels and digital comics, Alterna has expanded their lineup to include single issue titles printed on newsprint. Currently publishing over 60 critically-acclaimed titles in multiple genres and formats, Alterna Comics titles are distributed to the comic market by Diamond Comics Distributors; to the book and ebook market by IPG (Independent Publishers Group); and to newsstands by PDG (Publishers Distribution Group).

I recently had the opportunity to chat (virtually) with founder and publisher Peter Simeti about Alterna Comics’ history and their mission to bring newsprint comics back to mainstream.

Comicon.com: Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions. Straight off the bat, I’m wondering what exactly is it about newsprint comics that caused you to center your marketing strategy around them?

Peter Simeti: To me, comic books and newsprint are synonymous with each other. Like most comic readers, I grew up with newsprint comics and most of the comics I own and love are on newsprint. It’s only a very recent trend to have comics printed primarily on either premium paper stock or paper that resembles the quality of copy paper. In some cases, like graphic novels and trades, I enjoy a sturdier stock because those reading materials are meant to last longer and be a bit more durable. But comics should lay or stand flat, not bulge at the spine, and have a distinctive feel and smell — it’s the whole experience isn’t it?  It’s what makes the feel of reading a comic different from reading a magazine.

Comicon.com: How are you able to offer your comics at such a low price point? Your advertising says “$1.99 or less,” but many of your flagship newsprint titles are as low as $1 per issue. You can actually purchase the entire 4-issue series The Chair for $4.

Peter Simeti: The lower price point is the result of the fact that newsprint is a third of the production cost of printing on similar stocks that other publishers use. So we’re passing those savings onto the customer.

Comicon.com: What kinds of titles are available in your newsprint line?

Peter Simeti: For the newsprint line, we started with a mix of titles that vary from all ages books like Adam Wreck, Amazing Age, Lilith Dark, and Mr. Crypt; to titles for teens and adults like The Chair, Mother Russia, Croak, Trespasser, Scrimshaw, and The Wicked Righteous. November will see the debut of Doppelganger and in 2018 we’ll be rolling out over a dozen new titles, primarily all in mini-series format and again ranging from all ages to mature reader titles.

Comicon.com: What unique issues do you face as a newsprint publisher?

Peter Simeti: Probably the most unique issue, and the only issue really, is just the learning curve of pre-press operations and color separations. But we’ve got that all down by now.

Comicon.com: Your website says you have 60+ titles. Which ones hold a special place in the history of Alterna Comics?

Peter Simeti: In our eleven year history we’ve published about 100 different titles, but currently there’s about 60, between print and digital formats. Some milestone titles include Birth (which is introduces Michael S. Bracco’s Novo series and was our first nationally distributed title, long sold out by now); The Chair (one of the first Alterna titles and is slated for a dvd/blu-ray adaptation release this Halloween); FUBAR: Empire of the Rising Dead (reached #6 on the NY Times Best Sellers list in 2012 and is slated for a 5th anniversary release this December); Mother Russia (which raised almost $100K on Kickstarter and is one of our most popular titles); and Croak (our best selling digital title and one of our most popular newsprint titles.

Comicon.com: It seems like Alterna newsprint titles are popping up in more and more places every week. Loads of shops are carrying your titles, but now you also have newsstand distribution?

Peter Simeti: We attained newsstand distribution with PDG, which is a specialty magazine distributor, and they’re distributing titles to newsstands across the world and also to chains like Barnes & Noble and Books-a-million. The larger distribution network means that more people see our comics alongside publishers like Archie and DC. Most comic publishers do not have newsstand distribution and because of that, the space is not as crowded and our books have been thriving there as we’ve seen order increases on every issue and title. We also recently expanded newsstand distribution to Germany along with western Canada in the British Columbia region.

Comicon.com: There are rumors that you’ve made a deal with “The World’s Biggest Toy Store.” Are you allowed to talk about that yet?

Peter Simeti: We have signed a deal with Toys R Us to distribute our all ages comics at the registers of their top 200 performing stores during October, November, and December. Comics should start being placed in Toys R Us stores near the end of October. In regards to their bankruptcy filing last week, I’m glad to hear that they’re already making headway with their debt restructuring and that they’ve already begun making seasonal hires and bringing new products into stores.

Comicon.com: Fantastic! What’s next for Alterna?

Peter Simeti: We’ve got a lot on the horizon for 2018 and I’m already in the process of filling 2019’s schedule. This time next year, we’ll have over 25 different titles on newsprint and over 100 different issues combined. Sales have been very strong on the newsprint books across comic shops, newsstands, and direct sales and we’ve seen a 300% increase in sales for graphic novels as well because of it.

Getting newsprint books back out there has been a goal of mine since I created Alterna back in 2006 and I’m glad that it’s being so well-received. Another goal of mine was to get back on to newsstands — or at the very least — attain wider distribution. By tripling our distribution footprint, our comic creators will be able to earn an actual living off of the work they create, instead of just scraping by and taking a loss on every title they produce, which is the case for so many indie publishers especially.

An added benefit of reaching new readers also means that we’ll end up reaching and inspiring new creators. It’s been great to see how many kids instantly fall in love with our all ages titles; the letters and fan art that we receive is just incredible. It’s our responsibility as comic creators to make sure that our content moves people, inspires people, and entertains people. If publishers can’t inspire the next generation of creators, then comics will be as good as gone within our lifetime.

I strongly believe that comics are for everyone and that by keeping comics affordable and enjoyable, more people will be able to enjoy the hobby that has meant so much to so many of us for such a long time.

Big thanks to Peter Simeti for taking part in this interview. Learn more about Alterna Comics right here.