Comic book industry observers were fairly shocked back in April 2015, when the news hit that editor Mike Marts was leaving his position at Marvel to join AfterShock Comics, a freshly announced publisher with comics veteran Joe Pruett on board as Publisher. After all, Marts was one of the highest-profile editors in work-for-hire superhero comics, having recently re-enlisted as an Executive Editor at Marvel a year earlier after a long stint at DC Comics, where he headed up the Batman line during a time that brought creative talent including Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo to the franchise.
AfterShock launched its first comics in December 2015, which included some major creative talent, many of which worked with Marts during his time at Marvel and DC; including Marguerite Bennett and Ariela Kristantina on “Insexts,” Garth Ennis and Simon Coleby on “Dreaming Eagles,” Paul Jenkins and Andy Clarke on “Replica,” and the “Harley Quinn” writing team of Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti plus artist Rafael de Latorre on “SuperZero.” In the past 15 months, AfterShock has released roughly two dozen series, from a deliberately broad selection of genres — and with more to come in the near future, including April’s “Eleanor and the Egret” from John Layman and Sam Kieth and June’s “Jimmy’s Bastards” from Garth Ennis and Ross Braun.
Of course, it’s not easy to start a new publisher based entirely on new and unconnected concepts, even with major creative talent attached and a breakout hit in Bennett and de Latorre’s “Animosity.” CBR spoke in-depth with Marts about this formative period in AfterShock’s history, how he determines what’s a right fit for the company, the company’s propensity to attract big-name creators and his own personal satisfaction since leaving Marvel and DC behind to focus on a wholly new endeavor.
CBR: Mike, it’s almost two years since the initial announcement of AfterShock, and a little more than a year since the comics started coming out. As things continue to take shape and unfold, are things about where you hoped them to be at this point? How has the experience matched up with your expectations?
Mike Marts: I would say where we’re at now has far exceeded my initial expectations. We’re in such a good place now with such a fantastic roster of talent, both on the writing side and the art side. The amount of fantastic projects that we’ve come out with since our launch is really kind of staggering when I take a step back and look at what we’ve managed to produce. I think at this point we’ve got about 15 different titles that we’ve launched onto the marketplace, and several others that we’ve announced that we have coming up over the next few months. It all comes down to the team that we have in place at AfterShock.
We certainly didn’t waste any time after announcing the company and launching it. We got straight to work developing projects, recruiting talent, and we came out with what we felt was an extremely strong launch last December in 2015, with four different titles. In my opinion, we haven’t taken a break since then. We just upped the game and continued to come out with some great books.
It’s been a robust pace in the past year-plus. At the same time, we all know it’s not easy to launch new concepts in the comics market — AfterShock has launched close to 20 at this pint in a year or so. There has been the advantage of having some big-name creators on board, which helps, but it’s still tough. How have you dealt with those challenges?
I think both Joe Pruett and I combined have so many years of experience in the industry that when we got to work at AfterShock, we kind of just picked up the same pace and rhythm from how I operated at DC and Marvel, and how Joe operated at Desperado and Caliber. We just got straight to making comic books, and making comic books with people that we enjoyed working with; relationships that we had in the past with people like Garth Ennis and Jimmy Palmiotti and Mark Waid and Brian Azzarello. These are all guys and girls that we worked with in the past, and we knew we wanted to make comics with them with this new company.
We didn’t treat it so much like a company just starting out, or a company that had to go through growing pains.We’ve had growing paints, but we really just tackled it like business as usual; just got straight to making what we felt were high-quality comic books that people would enjoy reading.
The books are diverse, genre-wise, which was part of AfterShock’s mission from the onset. Do you see something of a unifying vision for what makes something an AfterShock book, or does it come down to the individual project?
There really isn’t a single vision as far as content goes, beyond quality. We want people to equate the AfterShock logo and brand with the highest quality product. If there’s any single, unifying theme, that’s it. Beyond that, we look to different talent, and different story ideas and different genres. We don’t specifically set out to get a certain representation of different genres — we look for stories that we can relate to, stories that engage us. I think it’s been a really nice byproduct from that section process that we’ve gotten such diverse product, and a little something for everyone.
How much of building this lineup has been creators reaching out to you, and how much of it is you reaching out to creators? Naturally, there are a creators you were familiar with from your time at Marvel and DC.
It’s definitely been a combination. There are people that we definitely recruited and sought out and wanted to work with, and then there were also people that sought us out. Some of them were people that Joe and I had worked with in the past, and other people had been brand new to working with both of us. We’ve also had what I like to call the Pied Piper effect — even though we’ve only been publishing a little over a year, I think the word of mouth has been spreading that AfterShock is a good place to work, and a good place for creators to bring their projects. Some of the acquisitions we’ve had are because of that — because creators told their friends or their peers, “Hey, you should give AfterShock a shot, because I’ve had a good time there.”
In looking at AfterShock’s release, there are plenty of big names, especially on the writers front — people know from Marvel, DC, Image. Is there room there for creators who might be more on the coming-up phase of their career — or do you see AfterShock more of a home for veterans?
I think it’s a perfect mix. We certainly have a group of creators that are experienced, and have been in the industry for a while, and have already made their mark and are now doing projects with us. At the same time, we have a good group of younger, talented creators who have yet to reach their peek — but people whose stock is rising with each project they do, like a Marguerite Bennett. I think there will be some other names that we’re going to bring to people over the next few weeks and months. You’ll see a whole wave of younger talent. It’s been a fantastic mix so far of different levels of creators working for us.
And in terms of some of the nuts and bolts from the past year-plus, let’s talk about sales. It’s a difficult market for new concepts no matter who’s working on them — at the same time, I’ve read in other interviews that you’ve made it clear that you’re not looking to dominate market share . But obviously, it’s a business. Are you content with how that end has gone so far, and where are you looking to grow?
Growth is definitely important, and that’s something that we talk about all the time. It’s certainly a goal of ours. Our first mission is to focus on the quality of the product. If making every book as high quality as we can means that we’re able to put eight or nine books our a month, then that’s probably where we’re at. As we grow, if that number gets up to be 10, 11, 12, 13 — that’ll be great, too. It’s all a matter, I think, of how we feel about the product that we’re putting out, and if we’re able to deliver the high quality to readers.
We’re very happy with where we’re at so far, especially in terms with the reaction we’ve gotten from readers and reviewers — the critics seem to really enjoy our product. We were nominated for several year-end awards, which was a great honor. At the same time, we’re continuing to build our fan base. We’ve had retailer partners who are great at supporting us, and we’re so thankful for them. But then there’s a whole group of retailers who maybe haven’t heard the full message from AfterShock yet — our goal is to win them over, and convince them we have great product they should be putting on their shelves. There’s always that mission to get people’s attention, and to convert them to our cause and our mission.
And speaking of business-y type things, has there been much Hollywood attention for any of those books? It seems tailor-made for that, dating back to the fact the initial announcement of AfterShock’s existence was on Deadline, though we haven’t heard about specific deals yet. Is that something that’s been part of the equation so far?
The primary focus for us is the publishing of the comic books. Any attention that we get in that area would certainly be icing on the proverbial cake. We have such great talent and such, I think, interesting, unique books that would do well in other media, whether it’s TV or movies or video games — the short answer is, certainly, we’ve been getting attention in that area, and hopefully that’s something that keeps growing.
For you personally, as someone who had so many years at Marvel and DC doing the superhero thing, what has this experience been like for you? You mentioned your approach has been the same, but it also has to have been a very different experience for you, working on these wholly new concepts, and introducing a new publisher to the world — after working for the two biggest ones for so many years. How personally satisfying has this been?
It’s been extremely satisfying. I think, even though I didn’t know it, I’ve kind of been preparing for something like this for a long time, personally, in the way that I put together comics. I was given great opportunities, at DC Comics especially and also at Marvel. but DC — the faith and trust they put into me to shape the Batman line of comics I think was a really good training ground for the building blocks of putting a company together. I feel like I was kind of training for something like this for a long time without knowing.
The personal satisfaction that I have from this company and the books I’m putting together has been like no other. Even though at Marvel and DC I got to work on the heroes of my childhood, whether it was Batman or the X-Men, here everything has been created a new. There’s blood, sweat and tears from the creators and all of us at AfterShock in each project that we do. It’s very much like seeing a kid born, and seeing them grow up, and helping them through the early stages of their lives. It’s been extremely satisfying in that regard.
At the same time, it still, to me, feels like business as usual. I get up every day, and I go to my desk and I make comic books. But the end product has been extremely satisfying and rewarding.
Even someone with as many years in the business as you, in a lot of ways this is something totally new. How has your approach changed in terms of what you want AfterShock to be? Is it pretty consistent with how you originally envisioned it back in 2015, or have things evolved in the last couple of years?
I think it’s, for me, consistent with our approach to the company mission statement when we first started. I don’t think we’ve deviated too much, but we’ve adapted as we’ve gone along. There are things that we didn’t foresee in the beginning, new challenges that have come up since we’ve launched. Our team is so good at adapting and figuring our solutions to problems, that we’ve really kind of rolled along with it. It helped us to make a better business, and to make a better product.
The last thing I was curious about — AfterShock doesn’t have a Free Comic Book Day offering this year. Any particular reason for that?
No story behind it, no particular reason. I think Free Comic Book Day is such a great event for the industry, and any non-participation on our part this year is really because when we do get involved with Free Comic Book Day, we want to come with the right project. We have a few releases coming up, and a few different things, but with each thing, we try to time it, and kind of cater to the audience. Maybe next year we will have that project that fits in the best way possible.