Finding Rockstar Inspiration With Z2

Rivai H Tukimen

How can music tell a story in graphic novel form?

Z2 has become an interesting destination for authentic graphic novels and collectibles, created in partnership with top artists, musicians and pop-culture icons. Distributed globally via Simon & Schuster, Z2 has produced 50-plus unique graphic novel properties, collaborating 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 many more. The team at Z2 – Josh Frankel (CEO and Founder), Sridhar Reddy (Publisher co-founder), Josh Bernstein (Chief Business Officer), Kevin Meek (CFO and General Counsel), Rantz Hoseley (VP of Editorial), and Lauryn Ipsum (Art Director) – sat down to discuss how they are inspired to partner with these musical brands.

Goldie Chan: Why is having a brand important for musical artists/groups?

Josh Frankel: All bands and artists are inherently brands. The best ones out there know exactly who they are, who their audience is and how to engage and best serve them. Music lives forever and in many cases, these brands continue long after bands break up or god forbid, are no longer with us. We take it as 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 have given these artists a brand new canvas to paint on. Every musical artist or band out there is likely 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 IP adaptations.

Rantz Hoseley: Unlike a lot of brands, musical artists and bands have an almost primal connection to audiences and consumers. The connection to a song functions almost like a time machine, triggering a powerful mnemonic association that is unmatched by any other form of entertainment. With that kind of connection to the consumers, brands in this space have a stronger reach that resonates with the customers.

Lauryn Ipsum: A strong brand is what allows for the visual representation of an auditory medium. That visual representation is what allows fans to express their connection and love for musical artists, on both an individual, and community level.

Chan: How long do you spend researching the fans of the brands you’re working on and where do you find them?

Sridhar Reddy: In many cases, we’ve been researching these bands all of our lives as we ARE these fans. Z2 has gravitated to bands that have built up an engaged and supportive fanbase that were raised on great storytelling, imagery and design. If we take a fan approach and keep the brand’s “superfans” satiated, our job is easily done.

Frankel: While Z2 is a super creative company, we are also very tech and data focused and have identified a series of variables that help predict a project’s success. It is not a perfect system, but it has taken some of the risk out.

Kevin Meek: One of the great evolutions of the Z2 business is that many artists we’ve collaborated with can’t stop telling their fellow musicians about us. So many of our recent successful projects have come via other bands, artists, managers and labels wanting to do more in the comics space with us and join the party.

Chan: How do you help bands unearth old creative projects and bring them to life?

Hoseley: Part of this goes to our deep love of these albums and songs and artists. In many cases, such as Judas Priest, these are 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 of these projects… “What does the fan want and expect?”

Bernstein: Behind every famous rockstar or movie director, there is an incredible script or concept that might have not seen the light of day for a million reasons – whether that be budget, timing, scheduling. Graphic Novels offer limitless possibilities other mediums don’t.

Frankel: The beauty of this is It can extend to anything, in fact at Z2 we are starting to work with comedians, podcasters, fashion brands and movie directors as long as there is a good story to tell and audience that wants it we can make it happen.

Chan: Explain the collaborative process at Z2?

Bernstein: The collaborative process is actually the most enjoyable part of these projects and the secret sauce of making these books so perfect for fans. Every approach to our projects is completely different and bespoke to the artist we work with. Depending on the age, genre, place in an artist’s career and what their fans love/expect all help influence the final creative decisions and approaches.

Ipsum: Many of our collaborators are artists or writers themselves, which is like hitting the lotto. The more our artists’ fingerprints are all over the final product the better they are. Authenticity is key to Z2’s products.

Chan: What is the most important element to a great story and/or product?

Meek: I think staying on brand. If a musician, athlete or celebrity caters to a certain audience, injecting their core ideas with like minded thoughts and concepts will also go very far.

Bernstein: We at Z2 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 those questions as perfectly as possible. This can manifest itself as a story, as art, as a bonus piece of vinyl or even a bobblehead.

Chan: What do you look for in artists or writers that you work with?

Frankel: The most important thing for the writers and artists we work with is that they gel with the creative vision of the project. We are blessed that the licensor’s we work with are the main draw, so it lets us pick the creatives that will do the best job. While we’re honored to work with some big names such as Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison and Margaret Atwood, it’s ultimately who will work best. A great example is a musician we are currently working with loved his graphic novel so much he reworked his new album to be the soundtrack to the book itself.

Bernstein: Most of us at Z2 grew up in the comics heyday of the ‘90s where comic book writers and artists elevated themselves to the status of rockstars. It is an incredible moment for us creatively when we can align a massive musical project with one of our dream writer/artists and discover in the process that the creators themselves are superfans. Game recognizes game.

Chan: What is a future creative or brand trend that you see?

Reddy: For us, everyone is obviously chatting about NFTs and with all of our customized art, dedicated fanbases, and digital marketing advantages, we are nicely poised to enter this space and serve these communities paired with great physical products.

Bernstein: These Crypto communities can sniff out tourists and inauthentic products; luckily we only serve the opposite…

Frankel: In addition, Z2 has always had a tech 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 community and a lot of what Z2 is working on is using our tech to build communities around all of our projects.

To learn more, visit them at Z2comics.com, and follow on Instagram (@z2comics) and Twitter (@z2comics).

https://www.forbes.com/sites/goldiechan/2022/05/02/music-brands-and-storytelling-finding-rockstar-inspiration-with-z2/

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