We recently talked to Michael Davis, who's launching a new comic line with Urban Ministries (see 'Urban Ministries' 'The Guardian Line'').  In Part 1 of this two part interview, we discuss Urban Ministries and how its comic publishing and distribution operation will work. 


What is Urban Ministries?

It's a 40 year old African American publishing powerhouse.  Their main market is the African American community, although they do a lot of periodicals which are (geared) toward everybody in general.


They're a mega-publisher out of Chicago.  They've got a 40-year relationship with the business.  I'm an executive vice president in the media division -- film, television.  As you know, everywhere I go I do comics, because it's cheap development.


I did this deal four times.  I did it at Simon and Schuster, I did it at Motown, we did it at Time Warner when we started with Milestone.  This is the biggest African-American launch of a comic book line since Milestone.  It's actually bigger than Milestone because we control our own distribution into the churches and into households.  They reach approximately 10 million people a month.


How does their distribution work?

They have a 40 year relationship with primarily black churches.  There are 70,000 black churches in this country.  The amount of dollars generated through the churches is staggering, absolutely staggering.  If you take a look at any black leader through history, most of them have been reverends -- Rev. Martin Luther King, Rev. Jesse Jackson.  If they're not, they're affiliated with that powerbase.  So the black church is the powerbase of the industry.


I work in their media division, but I went to them with the idea to create comic books geared towards African Americans.  You will find that 60+% of African Americans go to church at least once or twice a week.


Do they also sell books through Christian bookstores?

They're in Christian bookstores, they're in secular bookstores.  They're a regular publisher.  Their overwhelming base is the African American church community.


It's almost like if you wanted... I'll give you a similar thing.  I'm the only guy in the comic book planet who has a curriculum-based reading program in the school system as a comic book.  There are comics in the school system, but mine is taught as a curriculum.  It's called The Action Files through Simon and Schuster and Pearson learning.


A lot of people try to get into the school system by going by district.  I went to Simon and Schuster where 70% of their business was distributing to the schools.  I found the people who can get right into the school system and did my deal with them.


The same thing with Urban Ministries.  Urban Ministries is already in that world.  Instead of trying to find church by church by church, I did the deal with the people who were already in that business.


Not that I'm known for this, but to blow my own horn, they're really hard to break into.  They're very particular about their database and it's very hard to break into that UMI network, because their reach is just incredible.  They do background checks, they do everything.  Most of their top management holds master's degrees or PhDs.  They're real serious about what they do.


To me it wasn't about coming up with a great idea, it was coming up with a great idea and letting them know I could execute.  It's kind of cool because not only did I sell them a great idea, but they had to make sure that I was the guy to do this.  So they did all sorts of things to make sure that I was that guy.


With that said, they've given me a free rein.  I think we can compete with any other comic book company because the stuff is really good.


What we do is we come up with really great stories and then we run it through their editorial board to see if it's biblically sound.  Basically these are stories of good and evil; these are stories of redemption.  All of the characters operate under the Ten Commandments... if they do break one, we show the results of their actions and there's some hardcore stuff in there.


Click here to go to Part 2.