Today Casey got to sit down with Michele Wells, the Chief Content Officer of Tapas webcomics!
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Michelle Wells – Video Interview
[00:00:00] Casey: That’s so creepy. It really is. All right, everybody. Welcome again, to another episode of spoiler country today on the show, it’s kind of a big deal for me. Michelle Wells is she is the creative director of tapas. And. Let me start over. Yeah. As the chief creative officer and chief creative officer.
Sorry, sorry. Welcome again to another episode of spoiler country today on the show, we have an awesome guest. She is the chief creative officer of topis. She has also worked for DC comics. She’s worked for Disney. She’s worked for so many amazing companies and specifically about. Books for young readers, which is kind of important for me.
My wife’s a teacher, I think that’s cool. Yeah. So how are you doing Michelle?
Michelle Wells: I’m doing well. Thanks for having me.
Casey: It’s nice to have you I’ve wanted to have you on here for a while. And I got some questions prepared for you and all that other [00:01:00] fun stuff. But first I just kinda want to know, like, have you gotten over the loss of your.
Your cappuccino maker.
Michelle Wells: Thank you for respecting that. It has been a very hard time, but I’ve managed to move on.
Casey: I’m sure you were divested. And it was, it was an awful, awful time. Yeah, no coffee in the morning is awful. Especially
Michelle Wells: it happened. It was so rough,
Casey: but I’m good for at least like a pot and a half during the day.
I’ll wake up at four. So. Yeah, I
Michelle Wells: need my coffee, but I have an entire French press.
Casey: Oh my gosh. So how have, how have you been making it through the pandemic? Like the it’s starting to, you know, flowers are starting to bloom and things are starting to happen. You feel a little bit better.
Michelle Wells: Yeah, I, you know, I I’m, I’m a very indoorsy person.
I do a lot of so, you know, in the beginning it was like, okay, cool. You know, more time to read. But [00:02:00] then I started to get a little bit of cabin fever and luckily I’m in LA where there’s great Heights. Oh, yeah. So now my new thing is listening to podcasts and audio books and hiking, and just trying to kind of listen to things and let the creative ideas percolate while I, while
Casey: I walk.
Awesome. Awesome. Yeah. I. It’s I live out in the middle of nowhere, actually just got in from walking my dog through the woods. And I looked at my watch and I was like, oh crap, I gotta be ready. I’m like four 30. So, so I I ran to the house, took a quick shower, threw on my least wrinkled shirt came down here.
Looking like a million bucks, obviously. And now I’m ready to talk to you, right. So, so how did you get into the field that you’re at? Because you, you initially worked in a, like for like a non-profit correct.
Michelle Wells: Well, I, yeah, so I started a first book, Brooklyn but that was kind of [00:03:00] after I had been established in my career and I had, yeah, that was a little bit further in where I had the context to be able to kind of go to the amazing authors and artists and say, you know, we want to support literacy here in Brooklyn.
How can we do that? Who can we talk to? So that was a little bit further on I actually, I actually began working in publishing when I was 19. Yeah. I was, I had double majored in writing an art for undergrad, and I took an editing test through a temp agency and ended up landing a job as a production editor at Prentice hall, which at the time was part of Simon and Schuster.
Oh, wow. Yeah, so I learned so much there. And then after that I got a job at a children’s publisher. And it was a non-fiction series editor there, but but it was all illustrated publishing and, and I think there are a lot of similarities in commissioning photography and illustration to support text and like learning how a comics are.
Tells a story [00:04:00] visually. So like, even at that very beginning part of my career, I think I was learning a lot that eventually ended up helping me later on in life.
Casey: That’s that’s awesome. Had you had any experience with, with comics prior to.
Michelle Wells: Yeah. My first experience with comics was not great. Yeah, I used to go to a really, a big deal comic book shop in Manhattan which shall remain nameless. No. But I used to go pretty frequently with my boyfriend at the time and, you know, he would be so happy browsing and buying stuff. And not only didn’t, I feel welcome there, but I felt actually like very unwelcome.
Yeah, it w it was, it was a different time. But the, you know, the one time I got up the nerve to ask one of the employees for a recommendation, he was like, you wouldn’t like anything we have here. So it a little bit like. I felt like it wasn’t maybe for me, but I feel like, I think the first graphic novel I read [00:05:00] was mouse art space.
And I know very soon after that I followed it up with Alison Bechdel’s fun home and Persepolis Marjane Satrapi. So I definitely went into that. I got really into that realm of like, nonfiction storytelling through the medium of novel, which was really phenomenal. And I think that’s like what actually ended up motivating me because at the time I was working as an editor at penguin.
Just penguin back then. Not yet penguin random house. And I kept thinking about how those three books told really compelling, true stories in a unique, a unique way that I had not seen myself, like prior to that. So I ended up going to our next editorial board meeting with this idea to take subjects.
Kids were studying in school and present them in a graphic form. And the results of that was this us history, graphic novel written by Ken height, with art, by a shepherd Hendrix. [00:06:00] And knowing what I know now, that book was an absolute feat. And I have no idea how either of those guys pulled off what they did because they produced that book on the exact same timeline as everything else in the line, which was all prose.
And they created a graphic novel in the same time. Yeah. So like at some point I need to find both of those guys and buy them a drink. I really have. I’m so impressed by what they ended up accomplishing
Casey: it. Maybe just like buy them like a few nights in a nice hotel and just like, yeah. There’s something has to happen.
As an editor. That’s one thing I never thought about is going from pros to graphic novels. You have to yeah. Treat your, your creators under different criteria because the workload is much different. What was that ever like a, was that something that you learned naturally or was that something that you, you kind of had [00:07:00] to deal with a few times before it kind of sunk in like, oh crap, these guys, these guys are pulling all nighters.
Michelle Wells: Yeah, they are, they are. And they do. It’s interesting because like the trajectory of my career has always been in some way, like texts with art, right. Whether it was like interactive or animation or so in some way, I was always kind of dancing around this marriage of, of this story in an illustrated format.
So I think I learned a little bit. Over the years and with each job, I learned a little bit more about that particular creative process. And, and I, I think that it eventually culminated at DC where I was really able to see, like these really phenomenal. Artists at the top of their game and what they were able to accomplish and, you know, wanting to make sure that I was respectful of that process and could create realistic situations to enable them [00:08:00] to create in the best way possible.
Casey: Yeah. Yeah. I can that’s oh my gosh. That’s a feat in and of itself. Oh my gosh. So a lot of the stuff that you’ve done has kind of focused around young readers. And here lately in the past few years, and, and I’m sure a lot of it has to do with work that you busted your tail to get into. It seems like they’re starting to cater to those young readers a lot more.
The, you know, obviously it’s one of the more lucrative parts of like the comics publishing game, but also it’s It’s one of those things, like if you capture that young reader, then eventually you will have an adult with expendable income. Well, what do you do you think? Well, the comics in general are doing a good job of capturing those young readers.
Michelle Wells: I think we’re doing a better job today. So we have publishers such as for [00:09:00] second and Scholastic. I mean, they’re doing so much for the medium. And, and across the board, we’ve seen so much more support from librarians and educators and parents who have really embraced comics and graphic novels. Not only is tools for reading.
Struggling and advanced readers. Right. But as ways for kids to improve visual literacy, which is. It’s so essential today, when so much time is spent on screens, like we’ve seen that in the past, right? So visual literacy more than ever is incredibly important. And I think there’s been a really distinct shift in understanding that not only can come.
Entertain and empower, but they can also provide advantages that reading pros doesn’t. So for example, through visual clues, readers can better decode text, which leads to vocabulary improvements and development of empathy, understanding of communities other than their own and [00:10:00] so on. And then of course, comics are celebrated as works of storytelling art in and of themselves.
Right. And I think the value of that cannot be overstated. So, So, yeah, I mean, I think more than ever, we’re doing an amazing job as an industry and something we can continue to do and do more of to really make a big impact is we can teach comics in the classroom and encourage students to write and produce them independently.
Because through the reading comics, kids develop complex literacy skills that just serve them so much more everywhere else in their lives. Oh,
Casey: yeah. Yeah. And th there’s, there’s the tactile function of reading comics. My wife is an educator. She teaches kindergarten, but I always try to, if I find some cheap kitty comics, I can send them to her classroom and they eat them up like crazy because it’s something that they.
They can kind of get like, they love the colors and stuff, but also it’s, it’s one of their first reading [00:11:00] experiences and it’s really cool seeing how well they take to that.
Michelle Wells: Absolutely. And it motivates them to continue to read more when they feel that sense of accomplishment from reading the dialogue and sort of getting how.
That relates to the expressions on the characters faces, and they’re motivated to read more so it’s, it’s hugely important.
Casey: Yeah. Yeah. I’m curious where you think that the industry is heading now. You, you seem to have a a career that has kind of spanned the, the industry, the publishing industry.
And it seems like you have a, some pretty good insight as to. How to forecast things. Do you like right now you’re working for a digital platform. Do you think that it’s going to eventually just go completely digital?
Michelle Wells: I have a lot of thoughts about that. First, I want to say, I think we’re going to continue to go in the direction we see in the publishing industry as a whole, [00:12:00] and that is leaning into own voices, storytelling, which empowers creators to draw from their own lived experiences to tell unique and compelling.
And then in the larger entertainment industry, I think we’ll continue to see producers drawing from stories told through comics because they basically act as proof of concept for whatever they’re developing, whether it’s animation or live action, long form short form. What have you in terms of. Top us specifically, we have more than 63,000 creators currently.
And, and on the platform, our audience is so active. They’re so engaged so we can immediately see how well a storyline resonates. And, and so we’re absolutely primed for development of all different types of stories across all different types of media. In terms of, you know, going digital. Okay. So I was working for a publisher in 1998 [00:13:00] summit.
Okay. So this ebook summit invited editors from all over the country to opine and debate about the ebook problem, the concern that digital public, right? Like, oh yeah. Digital publishing is going to cannibalize print publishing. What should we do? So here we are all these years later, and I think it’s safe to say that the demand for physical books remains the same.
And, and it’s helped us. We want to meet fans where they consume content. So that means we’re serving up web comics and web novels, but we’re also bringing those stories to print books, the big and small screen podcasts and kind of everything in between. We just want to super serve really great stories.
However, our audience is wanting to consume
Casey: it. Oh, that’s awesome. I didn’t know. You guys were actually going into physical media.
Michelle Wells: Yeah. We have a couple of deals that have been announced recently and some that will be announced very soon. But yeah, there’s definitely a strong correlation [00:14:00] between what we’re trying to do and who we’re trying to reach and how we’re trying to reach them.
Casey: That’s awesome. I have some questions from some folks in a comics group that I run. And I’m going to get to those in a little while, but have a few more questions about topless. What have been the challenges for you going from like almost a pure. Physical media company to a company that that does mostly online, starting to get into the physical stuff as well.
But have there been any unique challenges?
Michelle Wells: Yeah. I think part of that was realizing that however intense I used to think my team’s deadlines were digital publishing is 10 times or, oh my goodness. Yes. I mean, we, we need to constantly be releasing content episodically with the hook that draws the reader back in.
And you know, for several of our key titles, we’re already working with physical [00:15:00] publishers. We have a deal that I know has been announced with Scholastic, for a title called magical boy, which is phenomenal. It’s a really great story. But you know, and, and those deadlines are kind of the ones that I’m looking at and I’m used to.
But to be able to feed that and keep everyone coming back for more on the toppest content is just that much more labor intensive and really making sure that we’re so far ahead of schedule that we don’t have a delay in posting the episodes. So it’s, it’s been, it’s been quite a learning. Yeah.
Casey: It seems like there’s a lot of immediate gratification that goes into digital publishing other
Michelle Wells: than.
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And it’s so it’s so cool because we get to see that instantaneous feedback and the authors and the artists can kind of look at that and take that into consideration. Maybe subvert expectations, or maybe lean into it a bit more. Or we have an author whose name is the cow, which is he’s phenomenal and saying like, he kept seeing everybody like, oh, this certain dress.
I can’t wait to see this dress. I [00:16:00] can’t wait to see this dress. And so like, he’s like when I’m creating that piece of art. I know it has to be spectacular because I can see the desire leading up to it, which was really cool to
Michelle Wells – COMBINED: hear.
Casey: That’s awesome. I’m sure he can really move some because I’m a dad. So that’s, you know, dad Jeff for the day.
So, the majority of toppest readership are, are women aged 18 to 24. The article I read by the way said females, and this sounds creepy as hell. I’m sorry. The majority are females. Yeah. Sorry. It sounds like a fringy or something from star Trek. Why do you think that is? Why do you think it’s it’s a large female readership and what can other publishers do better to cater to that audience?
Michelle Wells: think women ages 18 to 24, like anyone else want to see themselves represented in the stories they read and tapa provides the opportunity, the guidance and the [00:17:00] visibility to creators, to be able to make the stories that are important to them, which will then resonate with a large audience. And then we work to get those stories out in front of an even larger audience.
In a digital comic space as a whole, we have 80 million monthly active users globally. Oh, wow. So there’s a huge community of passionate readers we’re tapping into here. And on top of that, like we have this amazing micro transaction model which allows younger readers to have access to the stories they’re passionate about in a really unique way.
So if they don’t want to purchase ink, which is our in-app currency, they can watch videos and still access the stories they’re drawn to which really democratizes reading in a way that is super. Important for that particular readership. And I think goes a long way toward allowing people to engage with our content in a way that feels right for them.
Casey: That’s that’s awesome. And as somebody who grew up definitely, probably unable to purchase stuff like [00:18:00] that online or anywhere else, I would read them off the rack real quick.
Michelle Wells: I used to sit in the books.
Casey: Yeah. And you don’t, you don’t want to get caught, but I’ll you the book. It’s awesome that you’re able to allow readers to do that and, and looking out for stuff like that.
And I’m sure also it’s good for getting that the advertisement You’ve worked for companies like WB Disney penguin house with all that experience. What are some things that creators could do better when it comes to building a career in comedy?
Michelle Wells: Hmm. I think we have so many tools. On the social media side that allow people to really showcase what they’re doing and what they’re passionate about.
There are also a number of databases they can sign up with to get greater visibility into their portfolios, into the work they’re doing. I think it really helps to have a workshop. A group of people you trust, who are going to give you good, honest, [00:19:00] and open critique to be able to improve your content.
And of course, you know, just publish as much as you can, wherever you can. Getting, getting readers to engage with their content is a great way to build yourself as a creator.
Casey: Oh yeah. Yeah. I I just, somebody had Somebody asked me are there plans in the works there, which you already kind of said the plans in the works there for adaptations into other media, like web tune, for example, the tower of the tower of God becoming an animal.
Yeah. Is there any, any plans for you guys doing like TV shows or anything like that in the future?
Michelle Wells: Yeah. I’m going to tread lightly because I’m trying to remember off the top of her head. What’s spinning now.
Casey: I don’t want Kim to jump through the screen at you.
Michelle Wells: But so studio Chapas, which is our original IP studio has begun co-development of a partner content slate, and we have.
A lot of really exciting projects in the works. Some of the ones that I pretty sure have been announced include magical boy. [00:20:00] And this is by the cow who I mentioned earlier and the partnership is with Scholastic and this is a really, really fantastic story. That features max, who is a young man who has just come out as trans to his parents, but then learns from his mother that he’s from a long line of.
Cool girls charged with saving the world. And this has also been optioned by Madison Wells for TV and cross platform development. Oh, wow. And then we also have the web comic adaptation of CJ entertainments film, a werewolf boy. And we have, yes, my boss, which is really, this is so cute. It’s a modern workplace romance for the gig economy.
And it’s about this aspiring web comic artists, relatable who has to deal with her horrible boss during the day only to find out that her biggest fan enter new intern is actually that very same horrible. Oh, wow. Yeah. [00:21:00] So that’s a frolic media and Madison Wells are producing a scripted podcast, I believe, and developing the TV adaptation.
Oh, cool. Yeah. And NEMA sign which is an AI thriller created by Sansa follows a young woman, recovering from a horrible crash who struggles to regain her memory. But the more she remembers, the more she fears that her caretakers might be her captors. And on that one, we have partnered with Zohak studios for TV and cross-platform adaptation.
I think that’s. All I’m allowed to say. Right. I didn’t see anything pop up. So I might be okay
Casey: if, if any of that is, you know, yeah. Let us know if we have to come,
Michelle Wells: but
Casey: I love how jazz you are about all these products I can, I can just kind of see, oh my gosh, I love this stuff. So what, what has been the the most welcome [00:22:00] Surprise to moving to top us.
Michelle Wells: Oh, wow. I think the ability we have to tell really important stories that resonate with our audience without constraints. I have I’ve spent so much of my career doing branded content which I absolutely loved. I mean, there’s nothing more fun. Then writing dialogue for a beloved character and, you know, sitting in the recording session and hearing the voiceover actor, do it and perform it in that way that you’re like, wow, this sounds really right.
But there’s a different type of freedom in really being able to. To own voices, creators and say like, what is the story that’s important to you? What represents where you come from? What do you want to share with this world and be able to share that storytelling with a large audience? Like, I think that’s been the most success.
Casey: That’s awesome. And yeah, I actually hadn’t thought about you going from like, you know, IP [00:23:00] that was strictly for like, you know, big, huge, massive country companies to create our own stuff. And, and I’m sure that that brings a lot of challenges and also a lot of you know, fun. The, the joy of seeing creators starting to do for themselves.
Michelle Wells: Absolutely. And the fact that we’re empowering them to really get their stories out in front of a huge audience, not just on platform, but off platform as well. It’s been incredibly exciting.
Casey: That’s awesome. So, I always like to ask. Before, like the end of the show. I want to kind of, you were talking about a bad experience with the comic shop.
I’m sure you’ve had some good experiences.
Michelle Wells: Yes. Am I allowed to shout one
Casey: out? That’s what I want, because we want to keep these places
Michelle Wells: open earth to in Sherman Oaks. They not only do they really know their stuff, when it comes to Yia and kids’ content, they’re [00:24:00] phenomenal at that, but really good people, super knowledgeable about the industry, really thoughtful great recommendations, great layout.
During COVID. Good precautions.
I mean, I know that might not matter forever, but it did matter for me, like over the past year, they’re the best. They’re the best.
Casey: Awesome. That’s awesome. Well, Michelle, thank you so much for coming on to the show. If you ever want to come back on to promote anything let’s you know, let us know you also.
You guys don’t need to download the app to visit the site, right?
Michelle Wells: That’s correct. You can access some, a lot of our content. Just through the website itself, you do not need to download the app. And again, all in the service of democratizing that storytelling, making sure that if you want to read our content, you’re going to find a way to read it.
And we’re going to make sure that you do
Casey: awesome. Compass dot I O T a P a S dot I O. You [00:25:00] guys, Michelle Wells. You are awesome. Thank you so much for coming on the shelf. Want to talk to you for a while? And it’s always fun talking to somebody with experience like outside of the nursery. Who, who actually, you know, does, you know, the, the stuff like.
In regards to helping with creators and actually making stuff happen. So, thank you again for coming on and by all means, if you ever want to come back on again.
Michelle Wells: Sounds great. Thank you,
Casey: Michelle. Enjoy your summer. I hope you have many good hiking days and yeah, hopefully all this crap gets over with soon.
Michelle Wells: indeed.
Casey: All right. Thanks. Take care.
All right. That was fun. Thank you
Michelle Wells: so much. That was awesome. Thank you so much. I was really nervous and you just made it super fun, but I’m
Casey: just an idiot from the south. So.