Former Marvel President Raises $5 Million for New Comics Venture

Bill Jemas received seed money from Lightspeed Venture Partners, an early investor in Snapchat.
Marvel Entertainment/Michael Gaydos
'Alias' was part of Marvel's MAX imprint, which launched during Bill Jemas' tenure.

One of the architects of Marvel Entertainment’s early 2000s escape from bankruptcy is returning to comics, and his new startup has just raised $5 million from a venture capital firm known for backing Snapchat.

Bill Jemas was the lightning-rod president of Marvel who, alongside editor-in-chief Joe Quesada, helped bring the company back from the brink from 2000 through 2003. He was one of the prime movers behind a number of significant shifts for the company, including the creation of both mature reader imprint MAX and the Ultimate Marvel imprint, both of which pushed writer Brian Michael Bendis to the fore and brought new characters to Marvel who would feature in other media. (Jessica Jones came from the MAX title Alias; Miles Morales, central figure in the upcoming Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse movie, originated in the Ultimate line.)

Jemas was also behind the short-lived Tsumani imprint, which introduced Runaways, now a Hulu series. He also was, according to many who were present at the time, largely responsible for promoting Quesada from editor of the Marvel Knights line to editor-in-chief of Marvel’s entire publishing output.

Jemas' time with Marvel didn’t pass without controversy, however. He was famously outspoken online, whether it was calling DC Comics “AOL Comics” — because of its parent company’s relationship with AOL at the time — or getting in public fights with Marvel talent, including one disagreement that led to a “bet” over whether he was a better writer than Peter David, a longtime Marvel writer whose Captain Marvel series of the era had low sales. (Jemas’ famously ghostwritten contribution to the bet, a six-issue series called Marville, was a series of crass, often offensive, jabs at comic culture, DC Entertainment characters and Ted Turner.)

Similarly, his attempt to relaunch the Epic Comics imprint as an outlet for fan-sourced and produced comics using Marvel properties failed to materialize beyond a handful of comics; reportedly, the line ran into administrative troubles and was quietly shuttered after Jemas’ departure from Marvel.

While his unfamiliarity with comic book tradition served Marvel well in a number of ways — not least of which, cutting loose a number of storytelling traditions and conventions that restricted the appeal of characters to those who had been following them for decades — they also led to a number of unpopular choices, including firing the fan-favorite creative team of the Fantastic Four series mid-run because they didn’t want to retool the series to fit his creative vision for the concept; they were later rehired after much outcry, with Jemas simply launching a second Fantastic Four series that followed his ideas.

Following his 2003 departure from Marvel, Jemas has periodically returned to the comic book industry through a number of smaller companies, including 360ep, Zenescope Comics and Double Take Comics.

His latest venture is Artists, Writers and Artisans, Inc., which just received $5 million in funding from Lightspeed Venture Partners, an early investor in Snapchat. Notably, Lightspeed’s Alexander Taussig is on the board of AWAI, along with Jemas and Jon Miller, the former AOL chief exec who purchased Fandom earlier this year.

According to Jemas, the company is looking for a further $2.5 million in funding, potentially from a TV network or movie studio. AWAI will publish its first comic books in “2019 or later,” Jemas said, with the company rumored to feature former Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso as its editorial head.