Minding Your Business
Niche Publisher Makes Raleigh
the Capital of Comic Book Lore
John Morrow didn’t set out to become a publishing mogul. When the Raleigh-based graphic designer distributed the first photocopied issue of The Jack Kirby Collector in 1994, it was simply to honor the work of his favorite comic book artist.
By Don Vaughan
Photo By Davies Photography
Morrow sent the newsletter to a few hundred like-minded Jack Kirby fans and was surprised by the enthusiastic response. A second issue followed, then a third. By the eighth issue, The Jack Kirby Collector was being sold in comic book shops nationwide.
“When we saw how people responded to The Jack Kirby Collector, it was obvious that there was a real hunger for information about comics history,” Morrow says. “Fans wanted something that would really document the history, treat the creators respectfully, and present the information in a more professional way than had been done in the past.”
Realizing they’d found their niche, Morrow and his wife, Pam, established TwoMorrows Publishing, a company focused almost exclusively on comic books and the men and women who create them. In addition to The Jack Kirby Collector, the company publishes Alter Ego, which spotlights the Golden and Silver Ages of comic books; Back Issue, for fans of comics from the 1970s and ‘80s; Draw!, about the craft of comic book illustration; Comic Book Creator, which profiles individual artists; and BrickJournal, for Lego enthusiasts. This summer, TwoMorrows will premiere RetroFan, a new magazine about pop culture in the 1960s and ‘70s.
“On the topic of comic books, TwoMorrows is a leader in the field of critical studies,” observes Rick McGee, co-owner of Foundation’s Edge, a comic book store in downtown Raleigh. “They’re bringing new readers to the hobby, as well as a strong sense of nostalgia for older comic book fans.”
TwoMorrows Publishing is a lean company with just three full-time employees; all others are freelance contributors. But those contributors are some of the most knowledgeable in the business, Morrow notes. Alter Ego editor Roy Thomas, for example, was Stan Lee’s right-hand man at Marvel Comics in the 1960s, and became the company’s editor-in-chief in the ‘70s. Thomas also possesses an almost encyclopedic knowledge of comic book history and creators. And Michael Eury, who edits Back Issue and RetroFan, was a writer and editor at DC Comics and Dark Horse.
“I have intentionally surrounded myself with some of the best, most experienced professionals in the industry,” Morrow says. “Nearly everyone who edits our magazines is a comic book professional.”
Comic book–focused magazines are just one aspect of TwoMorrows Publishing. The company also produces hard- and soft-cover books—more than 150 to date—that explore the history of comic books, individual creators, and specific aspects of popular culture.
The latter is a relatively new direction for TwoMorrows Publishing, but one that Morrow feels has tremendous potential. The first book in the line—Monster Mash, written by Mark Voger—explores the monster craze of the 1950s and ‘60s. Groovy, also by Voger, is a fun look at “When flower power bloomed in pop culture,” according to its cover.
“I was born in 1962, so I missed out on a lot of the counter culture movement, but learning about it is fascinating to me,” says Morrow. “When Groovy was pitched to me, even though I didn’t live through that, I realized it was a book that needed to be published, and I thought we could find an audience for it.”
Like any business, TwoMorrows Publishing faced its share of challenges as it struggled to find its footing. Coming from a graphic design background, the Morrows knew much about design and printing—but almost nothing about distribution. “I was flying by the seat of my pants early on,” Morrow admits.
Over the years, Morrow has watched almost all of his competition fall by the wayside, many a victim of the Internet. “We survived because we weren’t reliant on covering the latest, hottest thing and trying to get a jump on the websites, because you just can’t do it with a monthly magazine,” he says. “We cover history, and history never goes out of style.”
Another advantage has been the company’s relatively small size. “Because we’re so lean, we can produce books and magazines on a lower budget than many other publishers,” Morrow notes. “We can sell 2,000 or 3,000 copies of a book about a particular artist, whereas the larger publishers would require sales of 30,000 minimum.”
Next year will see the 25th anniversary of TwoMorrows Publishing, and the company plans to celebrate with a book about its history and growth, new editions to its American Comic Book Chronicles series, and other projects.
Reflecting back, Morrow has finally become comfortable in his role as a publisher. “We have a really nice niche here,” he says. “It’s worked well for us.”