Q&A with Rebecca Cicione: How Z2 Comics is Merging Music and Comic Book Industries
Rebecca Cicione is the VP of Marketing at Z2 Comics, a graphic novel company specializing in the creation of music comic books. Working extensively with musicians and editorial teams alike, Z2 is leading the charge into a new age of innate creativity and multi-dimensional storytelling.
Z2 makes comics across a number of genres, from Oliver Tree to Melissa Etheridge to Pantera. Fans can purchase their favorite artists' comic books, as well as unique merchandise (and sometimes limited edition or one-of-a-kind items). The company's library and repertoire are always growing, so be sure to keep an eye out for cool new items on the Z2 official website, on Amazon, or at your local bookstore.
We spoke with Rebecca Cicione about all things Z2. How does Z2 find artists with whom to work? Who exactly is working on each graphic novel? How are the books distributed and marketed? Read the full interview below to find out. Check out Z2 Comics on IG and let us know what you think.
Tell us about Z2 Comics and your role on the team.
Z2 Comics is a comic book company that is heavily focused on music. We’re publishing and creating all these books with the artists directly, which is so cool. I’m on the marketing team, so I work on everything from email marketing to text message marketing, social media, marketing with artists, customer service, and sometimes helping develop ads.
Where did the original idea for the company come from?
Josh Frankel, who started the company, published his first book as Z2 in 2016 and has been in the comic book world for a long time. The company has really taken off since; it’s been awesome to see it grow!
How do you decide which artists to write comics about?
As far as choosing the artists goes, at first it was a lot of outreach. Josh Bernstein runs our development in our A&R. He comes from the music world, having done A&R for a number of types of companies over the years, so he’s very well connected. When Z2 first started, he was pitching to a lot of artists, but now it’s flipped… we’ve got a lot of artists and groups coming to us with ideas and pitches.
Who has been your favorite artist to work with so far? Who has been the most involved in the process?
I love working with artists of whom I’m a fan. For example, we did a book with Jimmy Eat World, which is super cool. We also have artists like Machine Gun Kelly, who want to be involved down to every page, which is awesome. He was so meticulous about all the details and it was great working with him. YUNGBLUD is also very collaborative; we have two books with him. He came up with the concept himself, so I think that was definitely a factor in his being so involved. I think my personal favorite book is the one we did with Oliver Tree because it’s a very dramatic, quirky take on the music industry. It was really clever and fun, and it did a great job of disrupting the industry.
Are artists always very involved or does the Z2 team sometimes have to take the lead?
There’s definitely a lot of both that happens. There are some artists who are very involved in the projects, but it varies. For example, we’re working with the Elvis estate on a book, so they really make sure everything is portrayed accurately. We also have some artists who come to us with an idea and we try to match them with the right illustrators and writers for their concept and vibe.
Is there a most common genre for Z2 to work with? Are there any you hope to tap into in the future?
At first glance, we have a lot of metal, rock, and punk because that’s the world that some of us came from and it’s where many of our connections lie. Heavy music has also historically gone hand-in-hand with the comic world, so it was something that fans really wanted. We have also gone fully pop, with artists like Jason Derulo. We’re doing some hip-hop stuff now, too, and we have a really cool book with Vince Staples coming out very soon.
As far as genres we’re hoping to tap into, it’s a lot of the extraneous stuff, like Cheech and Chong, Us Podcast, and things in the fashion industry.
Are you looking for artists with established fan bases or up-and-coming artists?
We’re looking for a little bit of both. We are here to sell books, which are expensive to make, so we want to work with people who have fans to buy the product. That doesn’t always mean that they’re massive; rising artists often have very intense, loyal fan bases and we want to work with musicians whose fans want a graphic novel.
What are the qualities you look for when searching for artists to collaborate with?
We can really look at any kind of hard statistic (ticket and merchandise sales, social media, etc.), but it ultimately depends on how well a graphic novel might sell with fans. A good example for this is YUNGBLUD; he was pretty new when he first came to us, but his book sold really, really well (and still does) because his fans love and care about him so much. An artist can have a million followers, but if only 2% of them actually care, the numbers might balance out with those of a smaller artist with high fan engagement.
"An artist can have a million followers, but if only 2% of them actually care, the numbers might balance out with those of a smaller artist with high fan engagement."
Does Z2 sell additional merchandise to accompany the graphic novels?
We often do merch drops, and then for every product launch, we have different options. There’s the Standard graphic novel ($25) and then we also have a Deluxe Edition (typically $99-$100) that comes with something like an exclusive vinyl record, piece of artwork, or signed print–something special. We did a book with the band GWAR and we had one edition that was a Super Deluxe Edition, which sold for $5,000. It might seem wild, but it was gone in about ten minutes… The package included things you could never get anywhere else, like replicas of pieces of their outfits, one-of-a-kind vinyl, and an audiobook of the band reading the graphic novel.
"We did a book with the band GWAR and we had one edition that was a Super Deluxe Edition, which sold for $5,000. It might seem wild, but it was gone in about ten minutes…"
How long does it usually take to complete a project?
It’s a very long process. In book publishing, it’s very standard to have things on pre-order and then they’re on sale and in peoples’ hands about eight months later. Right now, we’re announcing upwards of three comics a month, but that changes depending on the time of year.
Who exactly is working on each comic book?
We have an in-house editorial team, who have a large number of writers, illustrators, line artists, et cetera that they work with frequently. Each project will typically have multiple writers and illustrators working on it–it’s really surprising how many people it actually takes to put comic books together. Every editor develops their own world of writers and artists and then we take a musician’s list of dream comic team members and try to work something out that everyone is happy with. We also have in-house designers who are doing a lot of the marketing assets (ads, posters, animations, etc.).
Do musicians ever ask to illustrate their own comic books?
So far, none of our artists have done their own illustrations, but they often give us reference points for the artwork.
Are all Z2 comics stand-alone or are some designed to be in a series?
We’ve only had a few sequels; typically our books are stand-alones and then there might be other books with the same artists that don’t have to be read in any specific order. We put out a Gorillaz book and people loved it so much that we put out an art book later. Similar things happened with YUNGBLUD, Poppy, and several other musicians… they aren’t traditional, chronological series.
What are some of the terms and conditions we might find in a Z2 artist contract?
We’re very open and we want everything to be collaborative; we’re not simply looking for permission to use an artist’s likeness in a book, we want it to be a very even split. The agreement communicates the financial side of things, but a lot of it also lays out promotion and what both parties are doing within the partnership. Our contract is very different than people might assume–we’re not just slapping a license on a product and nobody is selling their name for a T-shirt. A lot of times, artists also sell the comics on their own websites and stores.
"Our contract is very different than people might assume–we’re not just slapping a license on a product and nobody is selling their name for a T-shirt."
Walk us through the distribution process of the graphic novels. In which stores can they be found?
The main (and easiest) way for people to get our books is through our website and our social media, but they can also usually be found on artists’ merchandise pages. Our largest point of sale is online, but we also work with Simon & Schuster, which is one of the most known distributors, as well as some other specific comic book distributors so that the books can be found in comic book shops and Barnes & Noble. We also place specific comic books intentionally depending on their vibe, so one book might be perfect for Urban Outfitters but another would work better in Hot Topic.
Are Z2 comic books available worldwide?
Our comics are in more physical bookstores in the United States, but we do sell them online worldwide. Fans can also buy them in their respective international Amazon stores because we sell through Amazon, too.
Is there anything you can share about the projects you currently have in the works?
Generally speaking, we are hoping to have more artist signing events now that things have opened back up again. We want to set up opportunities for fans to meet the artists more often, as well as curate some really neat experiential events.
We were at the San Diego Comic Con recently (reduced capacity due to the pandemic) but the full-scale Comic Con is coming back this summer, so we’re hoping to do some really cool stuff there.
What developments are on the horizon in terms of crossover between the music and comic book industries?
I think that in the future, we’ll see a lot more artists embracing comic collaborations and becoming very involved with it. There are some really awesome, immersive experiences being created for both reading the books and streaming music. We’re working to make things very accessible to fans in a complimentary way.
"There are some really awesome, immersive experiences being created for both reading the books and streaming music."
In the future, will Z2 Comics move into animations, music videos, and digital products?
There will always be a physical aspect of the books–that’s what makes comics so unique. They’re brand new, but it can feel very vintage and retro to be holding the actual book. That being said, I can definitely imagine some digital opportunities coming in the not-so-distant future.