Find Rockstar inspiration with the Z2
How can music tell a story in graphic novel form?
Z2 has become an exciting destination for authentic graphic novels and collectibles, created in partnership with top artists, musicians and pop culture icons. Distributed worldwide through Simon & Schuster, Z2 has produced over 50 unique graphic novel properties, in collaboration with well-known names like Gorillaz, Blondie, Elvis Presley, Freddie Mercury, Balmain, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, Jason Derulo, The Grateful Dead, Machine Gun Kelly, Beethoven, RZA, Mötley Crüe, Vince Staples, Cheech & Chong, The Doors, Public Enemy, Cypress Hill, Babymetal, Major Lazer, RZA and much more. The Z2 Team – Josh Frankel (CEO and Founder), Sridhar Reddy (Publisher Co-Founder), Josh Bernstein (Chief Commercial Officer), Kevin Meek (CFO and General Counsel), Rantz Hoseley (VP of writing) and Lauryn Ipsum (Artistic Director) – sat down to discuss how they are inspired to partner with these musical brands.
Goldie Chan: Why is it important to have a brand for artists/music groups?
Josh Frankel: All bands and artists are inherently brands. The best know exactly who they are, who their audience is, and how to best engage and serve them. Music lives forever and in many cases these marks continue long after the bands have split up or God forbid are no longer with us. We consider it a great honor and responsibility to have these partnerships.
Josh Bernstein: Bands currently have very few outlets for their creativity: lyric videos, mp3s, black t-shirts and endless touring. With graphic novels, we gave these artists a whole new canvas to paint on. Each musical artist or group is probably sitting on their own Star Wars or Marvel universe. We hope to help these artists tell their stories through the lens of graphic novels, art prints, toys, and other creative adaptations of IP.
Rantz Hosley: Unlike many brands, musical artists and bands have an almost primary connection with audiences and consumers. Connecting to a song works almost like a time machine, triggering a powerful mnemonic association unmatched by any other form of entertainment. With this type of connection with consumers, brands in this space have a stronger reach that resonates with customers.
Lauryn Ipsum: A strong brand is what allows the visual representation of a hearing aid. This visual representation is what allows fans to express their connection and love for musical artists, both on an individual and community level.
Song: How much time do you spend researching fans of the brands you work on and where do you find them?
Sridhar Reddy: In many cases, we have searched for these bands all our lives because we ARE those fans. Z2 turned to bands that built an engaged and supportive fan base that was elevated through exceptional storytelling, visuals, and design. If we take a fan approach and keep the “superfans” of the brand satiated, our job is easily done.
Frankel: Although Z2 is a super creative company, we are also very technology and data driven and have identified a series of variables that help predict the success of a project. It’s not a perfect system, but it has eliminated some of the risk.
Kevin Meek: One of the great things about the Z2 business is that many of the artists we’ve collaborated with keep talking about us to their fellow musicians. Many of our recent successful projects have come from other bands, artists, managers and labels who want to do more with us in the comic space and join in the fun.
Song: How do you help bands dig up old creative projects and bring them to life?
Holey: Part of that is our deep love for these albums, songs and artists. In many cases, like Judas Priest, these are the kinds of stories and ideas that we wanted to see when we experienced these albums as fans. And that’s how we look at all these projects… “What does the fan want and expect?”
Bernstein: Behind every famous rock star or movie director, there’s an amazing storyline or concept that maybe didn’t see the light of day for a million reasons – be it budget, schedule, lineup. Graphic novels offer limitless possibilities that other mediums do not.
Frankel: The beauty of this is that it can extend to anything, in fact at Z2 we start working with comedians, podcasters, fashion brands and film directors as long as there is a good story to tell and an audience that wants it, we can make it happen.
Song: Explain the collaborative process at Z2?
Bernstein: The collaborative process is actually the most enjoyable part of these projects and the secret sauce to making these books so perfect for fans. Each approach to our projects is completely different and tailored to the artist we work with. Depending on age, gender, place in an artist’s career, and what their fans like/expect, all help to influence final creative decisions and approaches.
Ipsum: Many of our collaborators are themselves artists or writers, which is like playing the lottery. The more fingerprints of our artists are all over the final product, the better. Authenticity is key to Z2’s products.
Song: What is the most important element of a good story and/or product?
Soft: I think I’m staying on the mark. If a musician, athlete, or celebrity caters to a certain audience, injecting their core ideas with like-minded thoughts and concepts will also go a long way.
Bernstein: At Z2, we put ourselves in the mind of the superfan. What have they never seen? What have they always wanted? What do they want this holiday season? We work backwards from there, trying to answer all of these questions as perfectly as possible. This can manifest as a story, art, bonus vinyl, or even a bobblehead.
Song: What do you look for in the artists or writers you work with?
Frankel: The most important thing for the writers and artists we work with is that they merge with the creative vision of the project. We’re fortunate that the licensors we work with are the main draw, so it allows us to pick the creatives who will do the best job. Although we are honored to work with big names such as Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison and Margaret Atwood, it is ultimately who will work best. A good example is a musician we are currently working with loved his graphic novel so much that he reworked his new album to be the soundtrack for the book itself.
Bernstein: Most of us at Z2 grew up in the comic book heyday of the 90s, where comic book writers and artists rose to rockstar status. It’s an amazing time for us creatively when we can line up a massive music project with one of our dream writers/artists and discover in the process that the creators themselves are super fans. The game recognizes the game.
Song: What is the future creative or brand trend you see?
Red : For us everyone is obviously talking about NFTs and with all of our custom art, dedicated fanbases and digital marketing advantages, we are well positioned to enter this space and serve these communities associated with great physical products.
Bernstein: These Crypto communities can sniff out tourists and inauthentic products; luckily we only serve the opposite…
Frankel: Additionally, Z2 has always had a technology and data component and we are looking to build on that this year. Our theory is that the future of e-commerce is D2C direct to the community and much of what Z2 works on uses our technology to build communities around all of our projects.
For more, visit them at Z2comics.com and follow them on Instagram (@z2comics) and Twitter (@z2comics).