When it comes to picking themes in comics business news for 2010, the key buzz words may just end up being “Chief Creative Officer.” Today, best-selling comics writer and for the past three years BOOM! Studios Editor-in-Chief Mark Waid was promoted by the publisher to the position of CCO becoming the latest in a line of high profile creators and executives to earn that title. In turn, the Editor-in-Chief job at BOOM! will go to the company’s current Managing Editor Matt Gagnon, who’s been with the publisher since March of 2008.
Over the past year, Waid has been delivering his first major ongoing serials for BOOM! as a writer with the well-received superhero comics “Irredeemable” and Incorruptible,” and the promotion should be the first definitive news to hit from the publisher in the build-up to Comic-Con International in San Diego this week where BOOM! has already promised more news on it’s Stan Lee announcement. In advance of that and the entire show, CBR News spoke with both Waid and Gagnon about what their new promotions mean, why they’re announcing the moves before Comic-Con and what big plans are in store for BOOM! this week and beyond.
CBR News: Congratulation, gentlemen! I think my first question has to be – and I hope this comes off the right way -Â why do this? What precipitates a company the size of BOOM! to have someone in a CCO position on top of an E-i-C, and what specifically led to you guys taking on these roles before Comic-Con?
Mark Waid: A couple of things. I think that the Stan Lee line of books is getting more attention and becoming a bigger thing than we ever dreamed it would be, which is terrific. I think that’s part of it, but we put out a lot of great books – I’m very pleased with the line we put out and the creators we work with and the properties and so forth – but we’re sort of at the bandwidth where we need to keep expanding. My day-to-day needs to be less about interoffice stuff and managerial stuff and more about the creative. This is something we’re very happy about but couldn’t have foreseen a few years ago which is thatÂ “Irredeemable” and “Incorruptible” have become as successful as they are and the Stan Lee stuff is shaping up to be terrific, and I realized that I’m more excited about that stuff from a creative standpoint than I am an editorial point of view. The guys we’ve got on board don’t need a lot of editorial direction.
So the timing for that was right, and regardless of San Diego coming up, we would have made this move anyway. But coming up on the show, it made sense to announce it before San Diego so that my role and Matt’s role in the company are pretty clearly defined going into the hall so that freelancers and people with pitches and the creators we already work with, if they’ve got questions or ideas they know who to turn to and who to talk to.
Matt Gagnon: And with Mark writing four or five titles a month plus his BOOM! Studios responsibilities, I feel like this creates a context for him to focus on big picture stuff he needs to focus on. Because obviously he has very little time between all his responsibilities.
Well, Mark’s time as E-i-C seemed to be marked by a lot of additions in the BOOM! staff both from an in-office editorial standpoint and from a creator recruitment standpoint. On that latter group, how will you keep in touch on the day-to-day of the books, and how will your interactions with talent be different as CCO than they were as E-i-C?
Waid: That’s a good question, and I think the answer is that I’m going to be working more on a conceptual level with them -Â less in terms of editorial hands on and more in terms of “Let’s sit down and talk about your ideas. I’m here as a creative consultant to you as a writer or artist if you want to talk about your project. If you want to avail yourself of my experience and advice, I’m here.” But in terms of the day-to-day nuts and bolts -Â here’s your deadlines, here’s your work process, here’s your voucher to get paid and so forth -Â that is all Matt’s wheelhouse and responsibility.
And I should also add that making a formal announcement like this is really just sort of to clarify and define as we go into the world’s biggest comic book convention what everybody’s roles are so we know how to interact with them and them with us, but it’s really largely a reflection of the way both jobs have been changing over the past year. We brought Matt in as a managing editor to come in and help us get the trains on time and to concentrate more on the schedule, but honestly as “Irredeemable” and “Incorruptible” and stuff like the Stan line and even “Incredibles” when I was producing that…the more time and energy that’s all taken up, the less I’ve been able to be “boots on the ground” at the office. So that makes perfect sense. Matt’s been doing 99% of this job for the last few months anyway. Let’s make it formal.
Gagnon: And the reality is that since I came onto this job at BOOM!, Mark and I have been in contact every single day. So we really are kind of in lockstep. And we communicate all the time and collaborate on the goings on at the company, and nothing’s going to change in that respect.
Waid: Wait. You’re still going to call me every day?!?!
Gagnon: I should mention that Mark is #1 on my speed dial.
Waid: As it should be! [Laughter] And that may sound confusing, but in terms of the office situation, the good news about BOOM! having expanded so much in the last six months especially in terms of staff and the line is that we don’t let people stop by the office anymore because we’ve got editors sitting on top of editors at this point. [Gagnon Laughs] The offices are very nice, and we’re very proud of them, but by and large, they’re about the size of your first apartment after college. We’re on the verge of moving out of them into some really nice office space. But what that means is that there was a time where I had a big chunk of the current office for the first year I was there, and a few months ago, I kept hectoring Ross [Richie] saying, “I’m working so much from home, and we’ve got like nine guys. I feel guilty. Can we PLEASE spread out a bit?”
Gagnon: And Mark’s in the office as much as possible, but when you’re writing six hours a day, you can’t have nine editors knocking on your door every five minutes or else “Irredeemable” would be shipping once every four months.
Waid: It’s all good news because if “Irredeemable” and “Incorruptible” had come in at 2,000 copies and failed or were limping along…well, the success of those books gave me the freedom to spend more time with them, but it’s required time. My priorities shifted when those books became as successful as they became.
We’ll talk about the books in a second, but I wanted to talk to Matt first for a minute because…well, even though you’ve been in this job for a while, I’ve got to assume fewer readers know you as much as they know Mark.
Gagnon: I’d expect that, yeah.
Waid: It may be true. [Laughter]
So how do you view what your responsibilities have been and what they will be in the new job? Do you expect to be putting yourself out there more as the public face of the company’s recruitment moves and such?
Gagnon: I’ve always said that Mark works as hard as three people, and that nobody works harder than this guy. For the past few years, it’s been my goal to try and take as much weight off his shoulders as possible in terms of the nuts and bolts stuff in the office. So I’ve been on the ground working with the editorial team on schedules and making sure books get out on time and in some cases developing titles. Moving forward, I do expect that it’s going to be more in the public. As Editor-in-Chief I imagine more people will be coming to me looking to do projects with BOOM! which has typically been Mark’s arena in the past. But I think more than anything it just really solidifies the position that I’ll need to have within the office in terms of the day-to-day responsibilities I’ll have with editorial.
Let’s talk about the line. As you’ve said, “Irredeemable” and “Incorruptible” have become the marquee books of the line in some ways -Â but not in all ways – while you’ve got a bunch of other irons in the fire. What are your general goals for how you’d like to see the company grow and change in the next year or so?
Gagnon: What we’re going to be doing is try to maintain the identity we’ve had since we got into the business which is that I feel like we’re the most diverse comic book publisher in the comic book space right now. It’s a very competitive market, and the competition is great because ultimately nobody is resting on their laurels. So what we want to do is continue to build our relationships with the distributors we have, build our relationship with creators and continue delivering diverse content. Anybody who’s a comics reader should be able to find something they’re interested in reading at BOOM! Whether it’s a superhero story or an action story or a horror story or a science fiction story, we want to be one of the leading publishers doing a wide, diverse array of good stories.
Waid: What he said! We do have a reputation – and I don’t mean to sound self-aggrandizing – but it’s a pretty well-earned reputation for having a wide range of genres in our books. There’s probably a BOOM! book out there for anyone who knows how to read. And we’re going to keep pushing that way in 2010 and 2011. Like I said, the Stan Lee line of books is a huge focus in our immediate future, but I will maintain until the day I die that the reason we are not primarily a superhero publisher is because there are other companies that do that really well too. If we do superhero books, I want us to do superhero books they’re not going to do or can’t do. But at the same time, that gives us the flexibility and resources to do a much wider range of materials to say nothing of the kids books of which we’re extraordinarily proud.
Gagnon: There’s also a quality to our books that Mark and I expect of everything that we publish, and being one of the fastest-growing companies in the comic book industry, we really put everything we have into each book we publish so that when you pick up a BOOM! comic there’s a certain level of quality that sets us apart. We’re a company that really cares and are looking to publish top notch material.
One other little thing I had to ask after was this phrase from the press release on the promotions where Mark says “I’m going to be able to focus my energies more on everything we’ve got going inside and outside of publishing.” I was wondering about the “and outside” portion of that. We know that BOOM! has always had some designs on bigger media adaptations for its comics. Is new phase of the business one in which we’ll see some expansion next year?
Waid: Absolutely. We’ve always been a company that’s producing comics first and foremost, but we’ve been through the equity of bossman Ross Richie -Â who is out there talking with movie studios and television production companies and video game companies all day long -Â we’ve been very lucky about landing a lot of our material with outside media. That growth is going to continue to expand with us. I just see that being something where we’re reaching a flashpoint where Ross can’t do that all himself. He’s built a machine he’s going to need help with, and whatever I can do there to expand our reach outside print media is something where I’m there if I’m needed.
I know details are expected for the Stan Lee line at the show this week, but beside that, what is your primary focus to do at the show now that your new roles are out there?
Gagnon: I think the Stan line probably going to emerge as one of the main things we’re going to be communicating on at the convention to the entire comic book industry. That will be one of our major focuses. In terms of what we’ll be doing the rest of the time, it’s going to be the same as I’ve come to expect from every San Diego: meetings, meetings, meetings. Panels, panels. Of course, Mark has 50 more panels than I do, so I can’t complain. [Laughs] It’s going to be a draining week. It’s going to be a lot of work. But it’s always good to see all your colleagues, associates and friends.
Waid: I think any publisher will say the same thing: whatever your publishing strategy for the next year was going into San Diego will be radically different coming out because so many opportunities and so many incredibly talented creators land in your lap. Deals are struck and ideas are had. Energy just percolates at that convention in a way where every publisher, including BOOM!, comes away with a bunch of brand new exciting possibilities for their line that they hadn’t even dreamed of the week before San Diego.
Be on the lookout for full coverage of BOOM! Studios and their new Stan Lee line of superhero comics as part of CBR’s extensive coverage of this week’s Comic-Con International in San Diego!