SDCC 2016 Preview: BUBBLE Comics and Building a Comic Book Industry

Russia's only comic house is hoping to teach attendees how to create an entire industry from scratch.

One of the pleasures of San Diego Comic-Con is bypassing the frenzied Hall H lines and finding your way into smaller panels with cozier crowds and intimate discussions. In what could essentially act as a behind-the-scenes to our lengthy overview of the growing Russian comics industry, the founder and editor-in-chief of BUBBLE comics are hosting a panel discussion titled “BUBBLE Comics: How to Create a Comic Book Industry by Scratch.”

To get some backstory before the panel, we spoke with founder and CEO Artem Gabrelyanov and editor-in-chief Roman Kotkov from Moscow as they prepared to make the 6,000 mile journey to San Diego Comic-Con. With almost no competition, BUBBLE Comics is leading the way for the superhero genre in Russia. Since starting the company in 2011, they’ve created six continually publishing original series for the characters Demonslayer, Major Grom, Red Fury, Friar, Meteora, and Exlibrium. For the latter series, Exlibrium, BUBBLE just completed a successful Kickstarter campaign to publish an English-translated version, which will be available in exclusive hardcover at their SDCC booth.

For the panel, they’ll bring insight on the creation of their heroes, and well as how they’ve revived the dormant comics industry in their home country, when it begins on July 21st at 6:00 p.m. in Room 32AB.

Here’s an excerpt of our Q&A…

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DEN OF GEEK: After going to San Diego Comic-Con for the first time in 2015, what is the expectation for SDCC 2016?

Roman Kotkov, Editor-in-Chief, BUBBLE Comics: Last time we were simply amazed when seeing SDCC for the first time. As a fan, I was very pleased to meet comic book creators and artists I admire. We’ve made several great friends and had a real good time. This year we’re bringing Alina Erofeeva – one of our best artists and we’re bringing our comic book Exlibrium published in English! So yeah, the expectations are pretty high. And now thanks to Kickstarter we know that our comics are able to attract a lot of people and we’re even more confident about our success at SDCC.

Artem Gabrelyanov, CEO and Founder, BUBBLE Comics: We are prepared more than ever. Besides bringing SDCC-exclusives like hardcover edition of Exlibrium, collectible statues of “Red Fury” and various art-prints from our artists, we are going to host a panel and tell the audience how we managed to grow from a small publisher to a major studio in just 5 years. We’ve made a pretty interesting presentation for our panel, so you should definitely check it out!

What are the challenges of producing English versions of your comics? Have you received feedback from readers to make future translations better?

RK: It’s actually a pretty weird feeling. I really got used to reading comics in English and now when we’re translating our series to English for comixology, the original Russian comic books seem to become even better when translated. Translation is not a challenge for us as our editors and correctors are fluent in English. The only problem is that we have too much on our shoulders and we can’t upload our projects on Comixology as fast as we would like to. But we’re working on it and soon readers all over the world will be able to check out our comics.

AG: I’d say that we had one major issue – finding analogues for Russian idioms and common phrases in the English language. Not all of our Russian popular sayings and cultural references are well-known in the English-speaking world. For example, there is a tradition amongst Russian Airborne Forces to break a glass bottle with your own head while yelling “For the Airborne Forces!” (just don’t ask). Demonslayer, an honored Airborne member, uses that phrase ironically while breaking a bottle on the demon’s head. We didn’t get a chance to tell our English readers about this Russian tradition, so we went with the closest analogue – “Airborne All the Way!”. Not exactly the same effect, but close enough. After all, I think we did a pretty good job with the translation.

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Why did you decide to use Kickstarter for Exlibrium? What did you learn from that experience about how to market comics to the English-speaking audiences?

AG: We wanted to share this amazing story with the whole world, and no platform does it better than Kickstarter. Also, we love to experiment with our titles. We already made two tabletop games, one collectible figure, one collector’s edition of our graphic novel… Kickstarter was another big step for us in that direction. We gained a lot of experience while promoting our campaign – and I’d like to say that the hardest part of it was to get attention of foreign audience. But once we made it – everything went smooth.

For fans unfamiliar with the history of Russian comics, what are your earliest memory of Russian comics? Can you give readers an idea of the history of Russian comics before BUBBLE started?

RK: Russian comics started from lubok, political caricatures and kids’ magazines. My earliest memory is a Soviet magazine named “Murzilka” that had a very unusual main character who looked like a fluffy yellow animal wearing beret and was hanging out with kids. It sounds like a crazy stuff but I really dug it back then. And so from kids’ magazines I started growing attached to comic books, then I’ve read my first TMNT and Batman books and… here I am right now. As for Russian comics – there were a lot of attempts to start a rising tide of original comics but they were not known publicly. So when BUBBLE started their series – we did everything to promote them and to make people know about them – love or hate, whatever – but know anyway.

AG: It was really hard to get any comics in the 90’s in Russia. I had “Murzilka” too, and a few translated issues of “Indiana Jones” and “Mickey Mouse”, but that’s about it. I became really passionate about comic books after watching two amazing Marvel animated series – “Spider-Man” and “X-Men”.

As Roman said, there were a few attempts to establish a comic book industry before BUBBLE. But every one of them failed. Why? Maybe, it wasn’t the right time for such an entertainment. Maybe, the audience wasn’t ready back then. Maybe, those publishers didn’t have enough experience. I, for the matter of fact, think that they started doing comics just to earn some money. And doing comics isn’t about making money at all. It is about making your childhood dreams come true. Isn’t that why we are all here?

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What areas do you hope to expand BUBBLE for 2016 and 2017? 

AG: Yes, we are going to launch our first video game on mobile and browser platforms in September – it is called “BUBBLE Multiverse,” and it revolves around concept of a Multiverse. For the first time our readers could witness their favorite characters failing their mission and facing the consequences. You ever wondered what could become with our Earth if Demonslayer couldn’t protect it from the demonic invasion? Or if Major Grom failed to capture his arch-nemesis, The Plague Doctor?  “BUBBLE Multiverse” has an answer to these questions. Just wait a few months, and you could play it on every known platform! We are also going to make a special limited comic book series called “BUBBLE Multiverse” as a part of our promo-campaign, so September is going to be hot on new releases.

But our main goal is going to be a development of our own Cinematic Universe. We have already planned the whole 1st phase, and it’s looking amazing! Now we have to establish it with our first movie “Major Grom,” which we are going to shoot next year. We have a really great team of professionals working tirelessly on it. I’ve seen a lot of pre-production material, and it sure looks amazing!

You can find the full story on Russia’s comics and convention industry here. The story is part of our San Diego Comic-Con special edition magazine, which you can find below.