AfterShock’s Joe Pruett and Mike Marts Deliver A Seismic Shift for Creator-Owned Comics [Interview]
At the end of last year, publisher Joe Pruett and editor Mike Marts launched AfterShock Comics, a new publisher for a new line of creator-owned comics. The first titles to carry the AfterShock banner came from creative talent including Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner; Marguerite Bennett and Ariela Kristantina; and Garth Ennis and Simon Coleby. The publisher made an immediate impression on the comics marketplace, and it's fascinating to watch them grow.
AfterShock has big plans for 2016. It's finding a home at a growing number of retailers, and made its catalogue available digitally on ComiXology, and a slate of new titles are on the horizon. The question is whether a new publisher can carve out an audience. ComicsAlliance spoke to Pruett and Marts to find out how AfterShock came together, and how it plans to move forward. They also revealed three of the new series they will be launching later this year.
ComicsAlliance: Mike, what interested you about AfterShock, and what made you decide to join?
Mike Marts: My decision to join AfterShock as their editor-in-chief came about as a combination of several different elements… first and foremost, that the AfterShock team and their vision was one that I immediately subscribed to. I quickly found we were like-minded in how we approached stories, how we regarded quality, how we tackled different obstacles. These were people I wanted to be in business with, and more importantly, people I wanted to build business with. And this move to AfterShock was the next evolutionary phase in my comics career.
I’d long worked on fantastic characters for other companies, but it was high time that I started working on something of my own. AfterShock provided me with that opportunity, and it was too good to pass up.
CA: Once you were on board, where did you start? I imagine the first steps included contacting various writers and artists and inviting them to pitch?
MM: By the time I arrived, Joe and team had already begun establishing some important creator relationships with Paul Jenkins and a few others. But yes, as soon as I joined we set out to aggressively recruit additional talent to the fold, both writers and artists, and we began the exciting yet challenging process of building an entire publishing line from scratch. It was nothing short of exhilarating.
Joe Pruett: Mike coming on board was the fuel to get the engine going. As Mike said, I had already been recruiting creators, but Mike brought his talent-filled rolodex with him and was instrumental in helping finalize the creative teams and bringing in several talented writers and their projects as well. There was a lot of symmetry with Mike and my own tastes, so it was pretty seamless. If I brought a writer in, Mike had a great artist to compliment him/her and vice versa. Great chemistry.
CA: It’s obviously important that you launch properly and build the company carefully --- you’re both respected industry veterans at this point, so do you feel there are particular pitfalls that new and emerging publishers have to always watch out for?
MM: I’m sure each new company has their own particular things they try to avoid and tread carefully around… The approach Joe and I take has been a bit different. We’re not the types to get caught up in minor annoyances and negative trends. We combat each obstacle as it comes our way, but we focus on the positive and what’s best for our company. We’re here to build, not to tear down. We have very high standards when it comes to talent and quality. We focus on what’s best.
CA: I suppose the comparison most would make is to Image, which has a reputation as the pre-eminent place for creator-owned work. Do you think that’s a fair comparison to make? Do you feel there are notable differences in the way AfterShock operates?
MM: Image does a good solid business of putting a nice cross-section of comics out; and they certainly have a lot of titles to offer. But we’re certainly not in this to be the next Image or the next Marvel or anything. We’re here to be the first AfterShock. We have a different approach to the way we do business. Who’s to say if our ways are better or worse? At the end of the day, we let the books speak for themselves and let the readers decide.
CA: So what would you say are your central interests as a publisher and as a business? What’s your plan for the company over the next year or so?
MM: The goal for us to hit not long from now is to have the AfterShock brand be synonymous with quality storytelling. AfterShock will soon be known as a safe and friendly environment for the best creators to come and tell their best stories.
JP: Quality comics are what we consider to be the most important aspect of our publishing line. We want to be the '27 Yankees --- a murderer's row of talent and story. We're not going to follow fads or cut corners. We're going to remain focused on producing the best in all aspects.
CA: With you both being working editors, what’s your editorial approach to the comics? Is the idea to keep hands-off or hands-on?
MM: It’s never a matter of hands-on or hands-off --- it’s all about the specific relationship with each creator. Each writer and artist expects and ask for different things from AfterShock. Some writers we’re there for to act as sounding boards, story coaches, or content shepherds. Other creators have different relationships with us. With the combined experience that Joe and I have in this business, we’re able to fine-tune our publisher or editorial skills to each and every creator we work with.
CA: And I’d like to ask about the ownership model in general. Do the creative teams have complete ownership of the work?
JP: If you check the indicia and copyright of each title, you'll see that all our titles are creator-owned and controlled. We work closely with the creators in all aspects of the comics, offering editorial input and direction as needed. If they want us to help them to explore avenues outside of the comic marketplace, we have that capability as well.
CA: You launched at the end of last year, with four comics in the first wave. How did you decide on the volume of comics you wanted to begin with?
MM: Four was a solid enough number to make a statement and say, “We’re in this for real”. With four weeks (usually) to a month, we wanted to have a new AfterShock offering for each week of our debut month.
CA: Is this something you see growing over time?
MM: As of the April catalogue we have about 7-8 offerings for readings. But we’re not overly concerned with title count or market share. AfterShock is more about offering the best quality content to readers. We’ll let quality and the readers’ appetites dictate how much we decide to produce.
MM: Yes, in April we have three new titles debuting:
- Jackpot by writer Ray Fawkes, with art by Marco Failla and covers by Brian Stelfreeze;
- Rough Riders by writer/creator Adam Glass (of Supernatural and Criminal Minds; Beyond Borders) with art by Pat Olliffe
- Black-Eyed Kids by our very own Joe Pruett and art by Szymon Kudranksi.
Each of these three titles will be available at $1.99 for the first issues only. We feel so strongly about these new series, that we’d like to get readers in at a lower price.
JP: You've probably also seen the recent announcement of a Mark Waid and Tom Peyer-penned series that will probably be debuting this summer at some point. There are several other creators and projects sitting in the wings as well, so I'm very excited about what the rest of 2016 is going to look like.
CA: The four launch titles are each in a different genre --- a war story, a gothic sex horror (which is a genre now, as far as I’m concerned), a superhero story, and a sci-fi series. Was it important for you that this opening four book line-up each be so different in style?
MM: The diverse genre offerings didn’t dictate what types of stories we acquired, but we feel fortunate that our first four titles were so different in the types of stories that were told.
JP: We never accept or ask for a pitch of a new series based on a need to "fill a void" or a genre. We pick out titles based sorely on how excited we are about it.
CA: What audience are you aiming these comics at? Down the line do you plan to balance out with, for example, more all-ages content?
MM: That will entirely depend on what types of stories we acquire to publish. Again, we want only the best stories coming from our company. If that ends up being an entire line of all-ages content, so be it. If it means a more balanced offering of titles, then that’s the direction we’ll head in.
CA: Do you have interest in developing any of these books for different media like television or film?
MM: Our primary goal is producing good quality stories for the comic book market. Anything that follows after that, be it TV, film, video games or whatever, would be an amazing second day of business for us!
CA: We’ve seen a number of publishers emerge over the last five years, including Thrillbent, Valiant, Monkeybrain, and Action Lab. Do you view this as a sign of a healthy comics market overall?
MM: I’ve said this a few times over the past several weeks — I feel we’re in the midst of a new comics renaissance. It’s difficult to predict where this market will go and which new things will be born, but one thing is for certain, it’s an exciting time to be working in this industry. Anything is possible.
CA: What are the aspirations for 2017? By this time next year, where do you want to stand within the comics industry and as an independent publisher?
JP: I see 2016 being a year of establishing our identity and our brand, while continuing to grow our output and our reach. By 2017, I want the comic fan and/or retailer to be confident that when they see the AfterShock brand on a new comic book series, that they know that it will a well-crafted tale, told by creators who are the top of their game, and published by a company that truly loves what they are doing.