David Steinberger, CEO of Comixology, talks about his lifelong love for comics and what he enjoys reading (and collecting) now.
Do you remember your first comic book or graphic novel?
You bet. Two of them, actually. Amazing Spider-Man #239 and Mage: The Hero Discovered #11. For me it all really begins with Matt Wagner’s Mage: The Hero Discovered. The art–watercolor foregrounds over airbrushed backgrounds–really blew my mind at that age. On top of that, his thought-provoking approach to the traditional superhero genre really resonated with me. Mage was one of the first books I knew we had to bring to the digital market when we got the chance, and Matt was gracious enough to let us launch the app with Mage in it. That was a great day for me, the day he said “yes.”
What do you love about the graphic novel as a format for storytelling?
Because it engages the mind in a certain way, stories can resonate and stay with the reader in ways other content may not. It has motion and speed and rhythm and as such feels temporal and active. It’s a special storytelling format, with so much range for storytellers to use to engage the reader.
Whose work do you admire?
First, that’s such an unfair question. This list could go on for several articles! Not to mention it’s a political minefield for someone who loves and retails comics! So, this is just those that spring to mind on first thought.
Neil Gaiman. Frank Miller. Alan Moore. Matt Wagner, as I’ve mentioned. Quitely. Morrison. I just love Bill Sienkiewicz’ work, all the way back; The New Mutants blew my mind a lot like Mage did–in four colors, no less!–and his Daredevil graphic novel is a classic that I hope we get to sell on the platform one day. Kyle Baker really struck me when he took over The Shadow. Jeff Smith. Jim Lee. Sale and Loeb. John Byrne. All the founders at Image for how they changed the game. The Romitas. Brubaker. Charles Vess. Moebius.
Todd McFarlane transformed how I view Spider-Man and the Hulk, right before my eyes. That’s such an amazing achievement.
I’ve gotten a lot of pleasure reading Stan Lee and Kirby’s early work. Crumb. Oh, man, I’m telling you, I could create a catalog.
There’s also an amazing crop of current creators right now. I really believe we’re in a new golden age of graphic storytelling. Kirkman, Ottley, Adlard, Hickman. Lemire. Layman and Guillory. Van Jensen and Dusty Higgins. Rick Remender. Scott Snyder. Joshua Fialkov. Kieron Gillen. Jason Aaron…
Seriously, I could go on forever.
Who do you read outside of the graphic novel format?
This is embarrassing, but my wife is an addicted fiction reader and so I often just pick up whatever she’s just read. She’s been on a YA kick lately, so I’ve quickly made my way through The Hunger Games and others of that genre. I will admit that I’m in the middle of a reread of Lord of the Rings. I’m a fan of historical novels. I’ve read a lot of David Liss. I enjoy Michael Chabon and Jonathan Lethem, two fans of comics who write great fiction (and comics!).
How many graphic novels do you read a month? How many of those are manga?
I bet I average twenty-five 22-page comics a week, plus a graphic novel or collection or two. Whenever I travel I try to take recommendations from fans on what they’re reading and what I may have missed. It’s a list that keeps getting longer, I’m afraid. Manga is something I enjoy and lately we’ve been getting some great comics sent to us from all over the world.
How did you first get involved in the field professionally?
The origins of comiXology actually lie in a trip home during my MBA studies at New York University’s Stern School of Business. I was packing up all my long boxes and trying to figure out how all these old back issue I owned could be catalogued digitally. Out of that simple incident I connected with my cofounders, one of which (John D. Roberts) was working on a pull-list-like app. We won an NYU | Stern Business Plan Competition in 2007, and now a few years later we’re distributing whole comic books across multiple digital platforms.
What kind of reaction do you get when you tell people what you do?
Depends on who it is! Those who knew me growing up are hardly surprised. I was always known as a tech and comic guy, so I guess it’s only natural people see me working in a field that combines the two. Those who are friends through my early college days are surprised because I studied to be a classical singer at schools like The Juilliard School! Most people from that era have a hard time putting their mind around comics being a passion of mine. Being able to work in the comics industry is a ton of fun and when it does come up in casual conversation, it’s great to see the way people react. People love it when they find out. It’s a great conversation piece.
What is the most valuable piece of art, graphic novel, or comic book in your collection?
We’ve started to curate a small collection of first-edition comic art in our NYC office. Last year Wired magazine did an article on us accompanied by a piece from artist Ulises Farinas, which I promptly bought. That’s a moment in time for comiXology that is represented by the article and Ulises’ art. We’ve got it hanging up in the office along with some pages from Grendel and a few others we’ve acquired at different conventions we’ve attended.
Is there something you covet adding to your collection?
Art-wise, I would love to have a Matt Wagner page or cover in full color. He did some covers for Lone Wolf and Cub (was that First Comics that put out those collections in the late ’80s?) that had gorgeous paintings with Chinese coins and other physical items glued to the covers. Any colored page from Mage would be a treasure. I think most of those are long gone.
As for the digital “collection,” it’s always a treat when a publisher decides they want to release a major work digitally. Over the past few years we’ve released From Hell, All-Star Superman, Jeff Smith’s Bone, Y: The Last Man, and a wealth of other fantastic titles known the world over as simply amazing comic books. It’s also great when we can release lesser-known creator-owned work and watch it skyrocket to the top. We’ve gotten to work with a lot of great people over the past few years…and we’re just getting started!