AWA Studios, the content startup developing graphic novels with hopes of seeding larger entertainment franchises, has gathered a brain of prominent writers and directors who will help the company nurture original ideas across platforms.
AWA Studios has recruited Reginald Hudlin, Gregg Hurwitz, Laeta Kalogridis, Joseph Kosinski, Al Madrigal and J. Michael Straczynski to serve on the company’s Creative Council. The board’s charter is for those established players to use their experience and their connections to help AWA writer and graphic artists “unleash the full potential of their characters and stories, provide a diversity of contemporary storytelling perspectives, and support projects in the best positioned to scale across the entertainment ecosystem,” said AWA.
Started in 2018 with backing from investors including James Murdoch and Elisabeth Murdoch, the company focuses on producing graphic novels that can then be developed as franchises for TV, film or digital media. Red-hot from his success directing “Top Gun: Maverick,” Kosinski is attached to direct AWA’s first major film project, “Chariot,” which was acquired by Warner Bros. in 2021. The spy-themed thriller is based on Bryan Edward Hill’s AWA novel and is being produced with Shawn Levy’s 21 Laps Entertainment.
Madrigal, a multi-hyphenate known for his work as an actor, writer, showrunner, podcaster, and more, published a graphic novel, “Primos,” featuring AWA earlier this year. All councilors were chosen for their familiarity with graphic novels and genre scenes. Straczynski is one of the modern pioneers of infinite media properties with the cult-favorite “Babylon 5” sci-fi universe he created for first syndication in the mid-1990s. More recently, he worked with the Wachowskis on the Netflix drama ‘Sense8’. Kalogridis is known for her work on ‘Avatar’, among many other projects. Hurwitz is an author and screenwriter (“Sweet Girl”, “Orphan X”).
AWA was founded by a group of Marvel and DC Comics alums. Former Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso is co-founder and chief creative officer of AWA. Zach Studin, formerly of John Wells Prods. and Lionsgate, head of the Los Angeles film and TV development division. Alonso has a long relationship with Hudlin, having asked the director to write Marvel’s “Black Panther” comics in the early 2000s.
Matthew Anderson, co-chairman and president of AWA Studios, says the focus on graphic fiction gives the company an edge.
“If you’re trying to push something really original, graphic fiction gives you a lot of freedom to push the idea,” Anderson tells me. Variety. “We like to say that we have an unlimited budget for special effects. We get responses from fans so quickly, it’s amazing. We generally like to develop the concept in graphic fiction first.”
AWA’s pitch to creatives is that they will give writers and artists a much bigger say in the long-term development plan for their properties, as well as a bigger cut in profits. AWA has approximately 20 full-time employees spread across New York and LA. The company’s investors include James Murdoch’s Lupa Systems, Sister (the partnership of Elisabeth Murdoch, Stacey Snider and Jane Featherstone), and Lightspeed Venture Partners.
Anderson acknowledges that AWA’s pitch isn’t unique at a time when a ton of investment dollars are going to next-generation content companies (Peter Chernin’s North Road Co., Range Media Partners, Candle Media, et al). But AWA does have its advantages in this vibrant talent market. The connections AWA’s investors bring to content production and distribution are significant. So does the web of industry relationships and deep content production experience that Creative Council members bring to the table, says Anderson.
“We want to be a source of gravity for creators, a place where they feel like they have a home,” he says.
“There are a lot of great writers and artists who have a choice between going to a place that is 100% creator owned, where it’s all yours and you have no backing, or getting a big upfront payment but owning nothing. What we have is the best option in the middle. Creators maintain a long-term ownership interest in their work, and they get truly professional support from people who help them and fight for their ideas.
“It’s a really fun time to be in the business when you can start shaping some new models,” says Anderson. “There’s a real hunger for really great, original material.”