BOOM! Studios Editor-in-Chief Matt Gagnon Talks Sales, Series and Success [Interview]
Now in his fifth year at the Los Angeles-based company, Editor-in-Chief Matt Gagnon has seen BOOM! Studios grow from what he’s described as a “scrappy upstart” company that began in CEO Ross Richie’s spare bedroom to what he’s proud to say is now a top ten comic book publisher in the direct market. There have been ups and downs in that time, such as BOOM!’s bold steps into same-day digital distribution at MySpace; the acquisition and subsequent loss of lucrative Disney licenses following the family entertainment giant’s purchase of its own comic book company, Marvel; the tenure of superstar comics writer Mark Waid, first as Editor-in-Chief and later as Chief Creative Officer; the auspicious launches but unfortunate cancelations of recent creator-owned ongoing series; and the runaway success of the publisher’s line of comics based on Adventure Time.
Gagnon and his executive team recently addressed North America’s leading comic book retailers at the ComicsPro Annual Meeting with BOOM!’s refined mission — expressed as a campaign called WE ARE BOOM! — which includes a new approach to industry communication and direct market sales, a changing of the role of variant covers at the publisher, and a new strategy for the development and deployment of original, creator-driven comics. ComicsAlliance followed up with Gagnon during Emerald City Comicon in Seattle earlier this month, and his candid answers to our questions revealed much about where the BOOM! Studios team sees itself in the current market, where they feel they can do better, and where they feel they are indeed leading the way.
ComicsAlliance: Looking back at 2012, how would you characterize last year for BOOM! Studios?
Matt Gagnon: 2012 was actually a very good year. 2011 was interesting because the entire industry was down. Retail and publishing were certainly not where they’re at today. It was a little bit more of a difficult year all around for all of us. 2012 was great because we started to transition out of that. Of course that’s when we launched Adventure Time, which enabled us to go out and do more original projects with creators that we love. At that point we really started talking about who we are as a company and how other people view us; what their perspective is about us.
CA: Like retailers? Readers?
MG: Retailers, fans, distributors, the whole industry. What is their perspective of BOOM! Studios? How do they view us? Do they think of us as a small, scrappy startup company or do they see us as an established top ten publisher? We started to ask ourselves these questions. Not only that, it was about what we believe in. Me, [CEO and Founder] Ross [Richie], [VP of Publishing and Marketing] Filip [Sablik] and [Managing Editor] Bryce [Carlson], we were all sitting down and having these conversations and it really helped define what our mission is. We’ve been doing it all along, but not in as focused a way as we’re doing now.
CA: What about the publishing line itself?
MG: So in 2012, the success of the licensed comics really helped us do the original projects we wanted to do. We love both things and since I’ve been working at BOOM! we’ve always done half and half; half licensed comics and half original titles. It depends — year to year, licensed titles might go up a little bit or originals might go up a little bit. But it’s usually about 50/50. So I look at 2012 and I saw this as a step in the right direction.
Now coming to 2013, I see 2013 as a big growth year for us. Everything seems to be clicking and things that I’ve been working on for years are finally coming to fruition. Like the Mike Carey project, [Suicide Risk,] that obviously didn’t happen overnight. I’ve been working with Mike on the project for three years and now it’s finally going to be published in May.
BOOM! Studios Editor-in-Chief Matt Gagnon
CA: I want to know a little about the decision making that goes into launching a new, original ongoing series, as opposed to a miniseries. It seems that in the case of Higher Earth, Hypernaturals and Freelancers, these were set out as ongoing series that became miniseries just as a consequence of the various market forces in play. Why does a publisher try to go all-in on a monthly, as opposed to a series of miniseries or a short graphic novel or something like that?
MG: In our experience, what retailers are looking for and what we’re trying to do is build something lasting. I think retailers are much more willing to commit to something that they know is long form, that they’re going to have in their shops for one year, two years, three years, instead of “this four-issue thing” that’s going to come in and go away. I think a lot of fans view those four-issue series and six-issue series as something they can just wait for in a trade [paperback].
With us, it’s not only a market concern. We look at these books — like [Dan] Abnett and [Andy] Lanning’s Hypernaturals — these are big stories with scope. We love these creators, they’re terrific in the direct market, they have a proven ability to move comics with retailers. So we sit down and we think, “Hypernaturals will be great as an ongoing series, let’s see if we can launch it, find a readership, find a fan base, and build something with retailers that can turn into an ongoing series.” Same thing with Higher Earth, Sam [Humphries] had a huge story for that. We really believed in it. Again, “Let’s see if we can go the distance with the book.” I think a lot of creators are also bringing us ideas that don’t lend themselves to four-issue series. They’re big ideas.
CA: What lessons did you learn about launching all those original series last year that you’re going to apply to the new slate this year?
MG: Very good question. One thing specifically is dollar-issues. We won’t be doing any dollar-issues in 2013. Retailers were very vocal about this in their purchasing trends with dollar-issues– they weren’t working. We were launching really high with dollar-issues and then when issue #2 came, there was a huge decrease in orders. There was a massive gap. We went to ComicsPro last week [the annual meeting of the American comic book retailers’ trade organization] and had a ton of roundtable discussions with retailers and it seemed the great majority agreed with us: no more dollar-issues.
CA: How do you account for the big drop between issues #1 and #2? Obviously they don’t want to buy as many issue #2s because they’re more expensive than the dollar-issue, but these retailers weren’t able to pass that initial savings onto the reader and get them into the books?
MG: I think it’s they’re ordering that first issue super high at a dollar, but before that first issue comes into their store and they sell it, they’re already ordering the second issue.
CA: So the reader doesn’t even come into it at that stage.
MG: Right. I mean, we can give them a copy of it in advance so that they can read it and see that the book is quality, but at the same time if they don’t see that sales success in their store they’re reticent to come in big. It’s understandable, I get it. I used to be a retailer. I faced the same challenges. These were things that I was talking about with the retailers, and again the great majority of them said, “I would prefer not to have the dollar-issues.” So we said, “Let’s be more realistic, let’s be more practical with how we’re launching these things and have a truer sense of what the readership is from the beginning and not have these huge gaps.”
CA: What about aesthetically. In terms of the kind of book you were launching, is anything changing moving forward?
MG: I think aesthetically and creatively, for me personally I’m just always trying to improve. It sounds like an easy and safe answer but it’s really the truth: as long as I’ve been at the company, I see every project as an opportunity to do something new, to push the creative vision forward. I think that’s something that’s specific about BOOM!,we have a creative point of view. Especially on our licensed books. I think there are some companies that don’t have as much of a point of view for their licensed material, it’s more sort of plug-and-play. I’ve said this to you before and I’ve said this in other interviews, but I really want to do good licensed comics. I reject the notion that you can’t do licensed material well. I don’t just want to do a Planet of the Apes comic book, I want to do the best Planet of the Apes comic book. I want to do the best Adventure Time comic book. I want to do this stuff really well. I don’t want to put anything out into the market that doesn’t reflect well on our company. I have high standards for myself and for our team. And I believe in our creativity and the creativity of the hundreds of freelancers and creators we work with around the world. I believe in putting out quality comic books on time. It’s a very simple concept and retailers seem to embrace that. If we’re delivering them quality and delivering it on time, retailers will support us and fans will support us. So I’ve always wanted to push that creativity forward.
On books this year, it’s just sort of refining your game. I look at the Suicide Risk comic book with Mike Carey, we really pushed the design on that. I really wanted it to look very accessible, very sleek, very modern. I think we’ve really accomplished that. For the new Clive Barker series, New Genesis, I found this incredible interior artist, a Korean artist called Haemi Jang. She did a miniseries for us Brandon Siefert wrote called Hellraiser: The Road Below. She’s amazing. I gave her her first comic book work ever. She’s going to draw this 12-part series and I think she’ll be a revelation. People have never seen her before. That’s what I’m passionate about, finding new creators. I gave Emma Rios her first job in comics [with Hexed]. Declan Shalvey [with 28 Days Later]. I love finding these creators who go on to do incredible things in the industry.
CA: I’m glad that you talked about the artists specifically. To the best of my knowledge, for original stuff you guys bring in a lot of writers with followings who are known to retailers and the fans. But I think the Brian Stelfreeze thing, whatever it is, is the first artist-centric book you guys have ever done. As an original, I mean. Obviously Gabriel Hardman does Planet of the Apes, but that’s Planet of the Apes. I think that in the past has set BOOM! apart from other publishers. You guys have had a lot of solid industry pros with respect to the writing, but there are a lot of new faces with the artists, people who don’t have direct market recognition. As you say, those comics come out on time and they’re good, don’t get me wrong, but Stelfreeze is a name. I think a lot of other publishers bank on big name artists, so I want to know what you think about that kind of thing with respect to BOOM!
MG: There’s a couple parts to this question that I want to tackle. First, I think now more than ever, top creators or premiere creators or however you want to define them are more willing to work with companies outside of the Big Two [Marvel and DC Comics]. It’s really that group of publishers outside the Big Two, Image, IDW, Dark Horse, Dynamite and BOOM! I think they’re more willing to do something a bit more original. All of those publishers I’ve just mentioned do a really good job pushing their businesses forward. Image has been accelerating, IDW has been accelerating, we’ve been accelerating. That competitiveness is great because it’s pushing us all to do better work. I really feel like the group of publishers that operate in the top ten are pushing forward in a big way. Creators are starting to realize that there are other companies that they can take their ideas to that, by the way, treat creators really well. I know for myself, I want to treat creators well. It doesn’t make sense to hire really smart and really talented creators and micro-manage them. It’s completely counterproductive.
I’ve been a huge fan of Brian Stelfreeze for many years. And frankly if you’d asked me four years ago of I’d have the opportunity to work with Brian Stelfreeze, I would have gone, “Oh, jeez, I don’t know.” It wouldn’t even seem realistic. But now what it boils down to, it’s a taste thing. We love him. We love his work. It’s personal taste. It’s also that we have the resources to make it happen. We’re not the small, scrappy company anymore. We’re a firmly established top ten publisher, which is something very different from how the company was three, even two years ago. So it’s about really embracing the creators that we care about and that we believe in. It’s very perceptive of you to notice that it’s the first time we’ve really taken a position on an artist-centrist book because it really is. It’s about the creator. We have to be very specific about who we choose because we can’t take these swings every single month. We have to be very deliberate.
We look at Stelfreeze and we say, “Stelfreeze is more than an artist.” When you talk to this guy, he’s an incredibly intelligent individual who understands story, who’s a master of art. You watch him break down a portfolio and it’s something to behold. We joke around that he’s like a sensei. You climb the mountain and bring your portfolio to Stelfreeze and he imparts his knowledge on you. We’ll back somebody like him any day of the week and twice on Sunday. We really believe in that guy.
BOOM!’s new logo and branding message for 2013
CA: The new line of originals is part of a promotional campaign called WE ARE BOOM! Tell me more about what that means.
MG: The whole 2013 WE ARE BOOM! campaign came from us wanting to communicate in a different way with the press, with the fans, with the retailers, and with all the people who are part of this comic book community. Instead of coming out and saying, “Hey this is a book we’re publishing” — we still need to do that, obviously — we wanted to have a larger conversation and let people know who we are. We feel that’s important. What’s intrinsic to this message is the “we” part, that it’s all-inclusive of us as an industry — the fans, the retailers, the creators, we view all of us together through the BOOM! lens. We’d be nowhere without the fans and retailers who suport us and the creators who make the books. It’s a partnership. When Filip came over to the company, it was interesting because he had a different perspective of BOOM! that he found was inaccurate. He was like, “Oh I thought you guys were much smaller than you are. Once I got into this machine, this company you guys have built, I saw you are a more firmly established top ten publisher, you do have this great team that you’ve built.” He was just kind of blown away. We need to communicate this. It was something Ross and I had been talking about for a while, too. We felt like it was kind of the perfect time. I think a lot of people out there are thinking the same thing Filip was.
CA: And Filip has some experience working for a publisher whose brand was not well understood, [having been the publisher at Top Cow for many years].
MG: It’s one of the reasons I wanted to bring Filip to the company, because of that intelligence. He’s an incredibly hard worker, he has a great reputation in this industry. I thought he could really add something to this company and he has been.
CA: Can you break down the executive team and what everyone’s basic function is? Not just what they contribute in a prescribed job description kind of way, but also, I guess, what they contribute psychically?
MG: Ross is the CEO and Founder and I think CEOs by nature are somewhat more entrepreneurial and chaotic. Big idea guys. The risk takers. Ross is obviously tremendously smart and has built this company from the spare bedroom in his apartment into a top ten comic book publisher in the course of seven years. His role is sort of more the big picture, less the day-to-day. Obviously as Editor-in-Chief, I’m head of creative. I run the entire editorial team and everything to do with our actual comics, the production and creation; the creativity of the comic books.
CA: That includes the licensed books, too?
MG: Yep. Everything. And when you’re at a small company you wear a lot of different hats, so for years I was also dealing with more operations stuff and dealing with a lot more publishing as well. Which I still do — I’m still involved in the solicits and ads and things like that. But once Filip came on to the company we realized that if we wanted to grow, we needed to specialize more. Filip comes in and he’s able to deal with more of the publishing and marketing side of it, right? And for months me and Ross were doing almost everything at the executive level — this was after [former BOOM! Marketing Director] Chip [Mosher] had gone to ComiXology — and it was this breath of fresh air. “Oh okay, I can go back to doing this specific thing that is really my core objective and core job, putting out really good books and making sure they’re coming out on time. It’s what I’m really good at.”
When I came to the company five years ago, I told Ross, “I’m going to get these books shipping on time and you’re going to see our orders go up. Retailers are going to support us.” Within three months I had our entire line shipping on time and orders went up immediately. And we’ve been on a steady progression ever since. But at the executive level we’re just a team. It’s me and Ross and Filip sitting in the office. We have [VP of Licensing & Merchandising] Lance Kreiter, he’s our international sales guy, he does all our foreign licensing. It’s all of us sitting around having checks and balances. What’s great is there’s no ego and no drama. I don’t want to deal with drama. What’s awesome is all of us have this great relationship where we’re totally open to being wrong — we’re very open to being right! — but we have no problem putting our opinions out there. We have this zone of comfort where there’s no posturing or politics. I don’t want to work in that environment, it’s not who I am. I want to come into work every day with people that I trust and people I care about and work for a company where I can be 100% invested, and that’s why I love working for this company.
Over the last five years, we’ve built this team of people that I really believe in. There’s such great people who work for this company. I always tell Filip and Ross, my whole concept for building this team is I want to build a comic book company now that looks like a comic book company 20 years from now. That means people from all walks of life. Half of our company is women. I dare you to find another comic book company like that. That’s what inspires me. I think that in many ways, the comic book establishment — this is hardly shocking news — has had trouble bringing itself into the modern age. Our company, there’s people from all walks of life. A diverse group of people with a diverse range of interests. They’re all incredible, hard working, good-hearted people that I love coming to work with every day.
The Planet of the Apes comics by Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman have been a commercial and critical success for BOOM!
CA: Do you think some of that is because you’re based in Los Angeles?
MG: Absolutely. Los Angeles is a multicultural city in the best sense. As you know as an Angelino, if you and me were driving around we could find Ethiopian food within a mile of incredible Mediterranean food within a mile of a sushi restaurant. I love Los Angeles. I love the culture and the vibe of the city.
But really what it’s about is when I’m hiring, it’s about the best person for the job, period. That’s all it is. And what you’ll find is when you are looking for the best person for the job, period, sometimes it’s going to be a woman, sometimes it’s going to be a man. You build this organic team of people that are not just the middle-aged white guy.
CA: I noticed that you’re also a very young company, I could see that when I visited your office.
MG: Yeah. A lot of that comes from wanting to promote from within. Our Managing Editor Bryce Carlson, I mentored him over the years. Shannon Waters, our editor on the Adventure Time books, she was my assistant and I mentored her for years. Dafna Pleban, an incredible editor of ours who does the Planet of the Apes books, I mentored her as well. We love building this culture of people who kind of buy into this philosophy we have: let’s create good material, let’s wake up in the morning believing the best comic books haven’t been made yet, or else what are we doing? Let’s go out and try to make great comic books, let’s do it together, let’s work in an environment where we can all respect one another and have this zone of comfort, because I know personally that what you can accomplish as an individual is nothing compared to what you can accomplish as a group of people. I empower every single person that works for me to succeed. If they’re all succeeding individually, then I’m succeeding and the company is succeeding. I want everybody to be successful, so it’s about putting them in a position to succeed.
2013’s slate of original series includes New Genesis, created by Clive Barker
CA: Let’s talk specifically about some of the new titles you’re launching this year. There’s whatever the Stelfreeze thing is, Paul Jenkins’ Deathmatch, Mike Carey’s Suicide Risk, and Mike Kunkel’s Herobear and the Kid.
MG: We’ve been working for a while to build this new slate of titles with great creators and we’ve got this lineup including Mike Kunkel, who’s bringing back Herobear and the Kid with us, doing all-new stories in June. We met with Mike a little over a year ago. We’ve all been Herobear fans from back in the early 2000s when he was publishing that. We were been blown away by the fact that Mike was enjoying our all-ages material and considering us as a home for Herobear. From word one we were in. We were like, “Mike, whatever you want to do. We love you.” I don’t know if you’ve ever met Mike but he’s an absolute sweetheart; a really, really good person. [Herobear is] one of the premiere all-ages targets in the direct market. Really, Herobear was one of the first all-ages comic books that I think kind of smartened the direct market to all-ages material. I want to say it won the Eisner back to back in ’02 and ’03. It’s a great direct market success story. At ComicsPro last week we put up the video of Mike and immediately the audience started applauding. I think the direct market remembers him fondly. It remembers him as someone who brought them an all-ages title that was successful and that was really good and that fans loved. There’s a lot of good will for Mike in the industry.
As for Jenkins, he’s somebody we were dying to work with for years. We had a such a great time collaborating with him on Deathmatch we were actually able to bring him into the fold and publish as singles — and we’ll be announcing some new projects with him as well. And I talked briefly about Mike Carey’s Suicide Risk earlier. It’s the first time Mike has launched an ongoing series with an independent publisher, so we’re really excited. He’s one of the best at long form storytelling and the world he’s creating with this series is so much fun. What I love about all of these guys is they’re exceptional talents and also really good people.
CA: Speaking of the all-ages books, I’m familiar with a lot of them but obviously I’m not a younger reader and I don’t personally know any younger readers. But people my age and in their 20s like those all-ages BOOM! books. Do you find that you actually have success getting those books into the hands of younger readers? If so, how? Surely not just through the direct market?
MG: I think there’s a lot of online sales, but the direct market has been getting a lot of new readers because of Adventure Time. I’ve heard retailers saying they’re seeing people in their stores that they’ve never seen before. It might be parents buying comics. Certainly conventions — conventions are huge. We’ll do pre-orders on our website. But even on a weekend like this, watching the kids come to our booth, it’s incredible. They’ll be buying these comics with their own money, taking cash out of their wallets.
CA: How do they hear about the comic? How’s it promoted? I know how it’s promoted to people my age, through the regular channels. But I don’t imagine kids read ComicsAlliance or anything like it.
MG: I think it’s through conventional channels! Obviously we’re not doing TV or radio commercials or anything like that, but kids are savvy. How many kids do we know who’re playing with iPads as their sole source of entertainment? There are two tiers for how children consume entertainment: when their parents are selecting it for them and when they’re self-selecting. The really young ones, the parents are buying it for them. As they get older, that’s when they begin to self-select. In that case, they’re probably online, hearing about the comic book that way. Hearing about it through comic book websites or Cartoon Network.
BOOM!’s comic book version of Cartoon Network’s Regular Show debuts in May
CA: We’re digressing a bit, but as someone who’s worked on a lot of kids’ content, I want to know, do you think that the kids like things like Adventure Time because so many older people like it too? There are teenagers who cosplay Adventure Time, so do people in their 20s. I know when I was a kid, if I felt like something was made for me, I’d reject it. I wanted to do what the older people were doing. And I see kids and people in their 20s and their 30s equally enjoying Adventure Time and other things that have come out recently, especially in animation. As someone who works with this market a lot, do you think that’s significant?
MG: Yep, and I’ll tell you why: kids don’t want to consume entertainment “for kids.” If it says “kids” on it, they don’t want that. They see their older brother or sister or parents laughing at these cartoons, and that’s something they want to be a part of. When you were a kid, you’d reject the notion that you were a kid. Your little sister was “a kid.” “I’m not a kid.” Absolutely, the fact that Adventure Time has a true all-ages fan base really helps younger fans become interested in this property. I know tons of people, parents, who are huge Adventure Time fans and the kids are too. It’s special because you can share something as a family that you all enjoy.
CA: I don’t know if you noticed, but we put Adventure Time on our list of 2012’s best comics. We gave everything on that list a humorous honorific and we gave that one “Best Variant Cover Artist: The Internet.”
CA: I wanted to ask you how you staff up those books. It seems almost like you’re reading our Tumblr feed!
MG: It’s funny you mention that because there’s an element of truth to it being “the Internet,” because very quickly we found out that what we were interested in with this book was making it a celebration of art. Adventure Time is the perfect vehicle for that because you can sort of do anything. You could work with Chris Houghton on Adventure Time and you could work with Mike Mignola. Virtually anybody can work in the Adventure Time world because it’s pure creativity. Shannon, who’s the editor on the book, is a huge webcomics fan. She’s very tapped in. Her Tumblr feed probably looks a lot like yours. She went out and started getting a few covers from different people in webcomics. I think a lot of people in the webcomics space had just never been asked to do anything in print. Like, nobody had bothered to ask them if they’d be interested. It was this great innovation she found, because the floodgates opened. “Oh yeah, these people are cartoonists, they’re not adverse to print, but nobody’s asked them to do anything.” If it’s the right project they’re totally open to it and that’s when the door blew completely off the hinges.
CA: Floodgates is a very good way to put it. As you know, we do a lot of the cover reveals on our site and previews of books in that line, and almost every time it’s like, “Oh my god, that person’s doing something or this person’s doing something, that artist I see on Tumblr or DeviantArt” or something like that.
MG: Sometimes retailers reject the concept of variant covers. Sometimes fans do, too, but obviously there a lot of people who enjoy them or they wouldn’t be done as frequently as they are. But when I love it is when there’s a concept behind it that makes sense, and that’s when retailers and fans get behind it. When the creativity is top notch and you say, “I want that.” So we started doing so many of these Adventure Time covers because there’s such a huge breadth of talent at our disposal and it was fun for us. I want to work with these artists. Sometimes I’ll be going through and approving things for print and there’ll be things I’ve never seen before and I’ll have that same discovery you have. “Oh, I didn’t even know we had a cover from this person!” But it all comes out of a place of creativity for us because we love these artists, we want to see them play.
CA: On the subject of variant covers, I noticed that you guys have really good taste when it comes to covers for your adventure series like Higher Earth and the other genre stuff you guys do. Frazer Irving, Phil Noto, guys like that. I don’t know the economics in play but I do wonder, now that you’ve bought all this art from these guys, could you have just commissioned an original graphic novel from them and just sold it forever?
MG: That’s interesting. I don’t know if I’ve thought about it in that specific way. Let’s take Frazer Irving as an example. We might get 8-12 covers from Frazer a year depending on what we’re doing. The cost from that wouldn’t cover very much of a graphic novel. We’d be able to do maybe a mini-comic with Frazer. That’s not to say he’s outrageously expensive, but the metrics… 12 covers doesn’t equal a single issue or two issues or anything like that.
But this year I’ve been scaling back on the variant covers. You’ll see on Suicide Risk, the primary covers are being done by Tommy Lee Edwards — who I love. I knew we wanted one incentive for retailers and we were thinking about what would be really fun with an artist people want to see more of. There’s an incredible artist named Stephanie Hans who does Journey into Mystery covers [for Marvel]. I never had an opportunity to work with her before so I asked her to do a set of incentives for Suicide Risk. It’s very simple: one primary cover and one incentive. And the incentive’s going to be very pretty, it’s abeautiful cover.
CA: Was that part of the feedback you got at ComicsPro? The variant covers? I imagine there’s a lot of disagreement among retailers about the value of variant covers.
MG: You know, I didn’t hear as much about variant covers [this year]. There’s a couple people that really enjoy everything that we’re doing on the all-ages front with variant covers because people are really interested and want those covers. But of course there are some people who say you should pull back on that and offer other incentives such as discounts or whatever. And that’s great feedback and we told them we’re already doing some of that, as you’ll see in 2013.
CA: Are you going to do any more of those 1 in 200 variants, like those for Higher Earth and Valen the Outcast?
MG: When it’s appropriate. We’re not doing a lot of those. In fact the only one I can think of right now that’s a little higher is for New Genesis with Clive Barker. He painted an original cover for the first issue. We’re actually going to bring the copies over to his house and he’s going to sign all of them. It’s a pretty rare, limited item. That’s going to be a higher incentive.
Suicide Risk variant cover by Stephanie Hans
CA: The variant cover scene is very mysterious to me. As a dedicated art fan, I enjoy seeing all the artwork. But I’m not the sort of reader who will seek something out just because it’s rare.
MG: You’re not a collector. You’re a reader. I think that’s the difference.
CA: Some stores tell me, “I can buy that cover and sell it to this guy who comes in, I know he’ll buy it.” And that can support ordering all those other books, and hopefully the retailer will push your book now that he has so many he could just give away or make part of a promotion. I can understand that, the business of it. But the mindset of the collector himself… I don’t get it. I’m not trying to sound judgmental!
MG: No! It’s interesting. Coming from a retail background — I spent so many years working at comic book shops — you have so many different types of people who read and collect with different methodologies. I’d have guys who came in and buy stacks of comics. They wouldn’t care if they were beat up or had been thrown around, it was all about the story for them. It had nothing to do with the condition of the object. But then you have people who come in and request their comics get bagged and boarded before we put them in their pull boxes, that’s because they did care about the condition of the object. And then I’d have people come in who didn’t care about the variant covers, and people who were crazy about them — they loved them. You have all sorts of different customers and you want to meet all their needs. The truth is comic books have been a collectors market for a long time. There has been a collector’s mindset in the industry for decades. There’s a large part of the readership that enjoys the collection aspect of this industry, it’s part of why they love comics.
CA: I do like objects when it comes to things like deluxe books. Like your Irredeemable book. I’m a big compilation fan in general. As a reader I’m kind of divested from the direct market in the sense of serialized comics. We still cover them, obviously.
MG: But you don’t buy singles, right?
CA: Not if I can help it. Now that most stuff is available digitally, it’s easier for me to buy singles. It’s less hassle than going to the store and it’s a lot easier for my work. Especially when there are so many new launches. You guys have a whole new slate. Marvel and DC and Image are all pushing stuff heavily. I really have to get in there and digital does help with that. But the things I like to own are the nice big books. Slipcases, oversized, etc. I like the stuff IDW is doing with their new line of limited books. Do you guys like that stuff? You don’t do a lot of it.
MG: We love it. We have the Boom Town imprint which is more of an underground art comix imprint and that’s where we have some fun and do some more experiments. We did this book called Space Ducks with Daniel Johnston. It was oversized and really pretty. We love doing that, it’s about finding the right projects. For this show we did a new Adventure Time hardcover with a brand new Dustin Nguyen cover.
CA: Oh, how cool.
MG: Yeah. It has some cool enhancements from the printing standpoint. That’s really gorgeous. We’re going to be doing another even more limited Adventure Time collection that’ll come out later this year and it’s going to be incredible. There’s such a huge fan base for this comic book and we get a demand from people who want it in a premiere edition. It’s fun for us. There’s a demand and we really like doing this type of stuff, so let’s create a really beautiful package for the series.
CA: Before we head back to the show, is there anything else you wanted our readers to know?
MG: Going back to the WE ARE BOOM! campaign… I was talking about that conversation we want to have with the industry. We did this presentation at ComicsPro and the response was great. People really liked that. The response I heard was “I didn’t know that” or “That was educational for me” or “I believe those same things.” What we’re trying to do is reach out to the fans, press and retailers and saying if you believe the same things we do, join us. Help us. What we’re doing as a company is trying to build something. There are other companies out there that are more of a “maintain” sensibility. They’ve taken the journey and they’re sort of where they are and maintaining. We’re not there, we’re trying to build something. This why it’s called WE ARE BOOM! We believe in cooperation. We cooperate inside of our office, we have great relationships with our partners in licensing, and we believe in cooperating with our creators on our originals. We believe in being mutually beneficial and having everybody being cooperative and creating comics. Everybody has come together to help this company advance over the years, so for us it’s this celebration. We love what we do, we love waking up and coming to the office and creating comic books and trying to move this industry forward. Which is really important to me on a personal level and I know it is to you, too. There’s people who really want to see this industry move forward and bring it into the modern age. That’s one of the things that gets me up in the morning. I love this medium. It’s my favorite creative medium, period. I think the We Are BOOM! campaign is a call to action. Join us, let’s go on this journey together.