Michael Mumbauer is the founder and CEO of Liithos, which has partnered with a who’s who of comic book artists — including Paul Pelletier (Aquaman, Guardians of the Galaxy, et al.), Brett Booth (Backlash, Gunslinger), and Eisner Award winner Tony Harris (Starman, Ex Machina) — to launch an all-new comic book series of the same name that will be written by Garvin. Launching this March, fans can visit Liithos.com to get physical, digital, or NFT versions of the new comic book.
BGN chatted with Mumbauer over Zoom to discuss the use of social media, his action goals with Liithos, and creating new methods to launch comic book projects and video games.
Share with us what Liithos is doing for the entertainment industry, and what you’re setting out to achieve with the studio.
I want to continue the journey that I was on at PlayStation but be a little bit more experimental. Being in a big, big, big company, it’s harder to do quirky things. So I’m doing this TikTok series. I’m not sure that that would have been an easy path to deliver at any big major company because it’s a very strange platform. And the way I’m using it is very odd.
Liithos is about me being able to take the risks that I want to take in terms of the opportunities, experimental areas, and new markets. TikTok is one of the biggest platforms in the world. I think that is not entirely understood. I don’t think it’s good or bad. I just think it’s not entirely understood. And I think it is a platform that we can leverage and create new kinds of storytelling opportunities.
It’s not that I want to make a company to make TikTok videos or games, but the idea was to be able to have the freedom to experiment on these platforms and drive them back to the game. The game is our core focus, but what I want to do on the periphery of the games are in the areas of experimentation and storytelling. So those kinds of experimentations in storytelling led to The Last of Us.
You have a project called Ashfall, which is a comic right?
It’s a game and a comic! And now it’s a TikTok series. I would say, it’s a transmedia IP, which now The Last of Us is. The Last of Us was a comic series at its release of the first game as well. I think anything that’s more than just the game ultimately can sit in a bucket called transmedia. Rather than wait for the release of the game, let’s explore the IP while working. That also means we’ll look at the difference in the variations of the character, which we released in June. We released some images of a character in June as the protagonist for the series in the game, and it’s evolved.
Are you doing short narrative pieces in TikTok form to do this long lead launch into the game?
Yes, some almost think of it. It’s something totally different, like the Batman: The Animated Series. If they’re making a Batman game, it doesn’t necessarily lead to the game. But this is about the spirit of the IP being explored in a space that’s very, very new. I love short-form. I love episodic content. Are you a comic strip fan? Are you a comic strip nerd?
Not comic books. I’m talking comics strips.
Oh yeah, Garfield, The Family Circus, and Curtis are just some I remember reading back in the day.
When was the last time you watched or read a Sunday comic?
It’s been years. I don’t even get the paper anymore.
So what you just described is what happened to Sunday comics, which is a bit tragic, right? We don’t read the newspaper in that format anymore. I’m not sure who you know who goes to see Sunday comics.
But as a child, to be honest, I was obsessed with Sunday comics. I would get the paper and cut all of the comics out and make my own books of the comics. They had to tell stories in six to eight panels. How do you tell a story weekly in that? Comics, they give you eight panels, and you come back next week to find out what happened.
The whole medium was completely different. What if we were going to take a Sunday comics format and apply that to TikTok as live action? Has anybody even done that? Comics for an entire new generation, if that makes sense.
I don’t know if we’ll be successful. But narratives that are kind of exciting and fun and I want to know what happens because there’s a cliffhanger. That’s the key. Every one of these TikTok episodes has a cliffhanger. That’s what we did in Sunday comics. That’s what we’re trying to do. It’s just a fun experiment in a new IP.
Have you found that because of social media and how users are engaging with these platforms that TikTok influencers have far more reach than, say, partnering up with a TV or movie celebrity?
I think that’s the experiment. We’re gonna find out. Michael Le is doing this experimental series, and he has 53 million followers. If we try to visualize what 53 million followers look like, that’s the state of California, the state of Oregon, and the state of Washington combined. If we can capture 1% of that audience, it’s an amazing achievement, just on a social platform of engagement. If we can get 10%, that’s 5 million people. And if it grows beyond that, it’s amazing.
So that’s the experiment. Will people resonate with this? I don’t know. I think celebrity means a very different thing today. I think that Mr. Beast and Michael Le are just as powerful as any film or music celebrity I can think of.
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Jamie Broadnax is the creator of the online publication and multimedia space for Black women called Black Girl Nerds. Jamie has appeared on MSNBC's The Melissa Harris-Perry Show and The Grio's Top 100. Her Twitter personality has been recognized by Shonda Rhimes as one of her favorites to follow. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association and executive producer of the Black Girl Nerds Podcast.