The behind-the-scenes team at BOOM! Studios took center stage at Emerald City Comic Con to show fans what makes the publisher tick. Saturday afternoon’s “We Are BOOM!” panel also revealed the publisher’s secret origin and provided an in-depth look at the studio’s identity, from its staffers and creators to its fans.
On hand were founder and CEO Ross Richie, Editor-in-Chief Matt Gagnon, Editor Shannon Watters and Filip Sablik, Vice President of Publishing and Marketing, who moderated the panel. Sablik kicked things off by talking about his 12-year career in the comics industry, making the jump to BOOM! last year.
“I thought I knew what BOOM! was,” Sablik said. “But what I found out when I started working for [them] was that my perception of BOOM! was incorrect and dated.”
Richie, who joked that the studio was “his fault,” spoke about his decision to start BOOM! in 2005, after being convinced by writer Keith Giffen. Richie explained he was doubtful it could survive given the ratio of publishers that ultimately fail, but Giffen’s persistence paid off and Richie opened up shop — with the company’s first office located in an extra bedroom in Richie’s apartment. The studio has since grown into a Los Angeles-based office with around 20 employees.
Gagnon talked about joining the company in 2008 after working as a buyer for Hollywood’s Meltdown Comics. Gagnon emphasized the importance of BOOM!’s singular approach to publishing comics, no matter what the project is.
“We want to be authentic in everything we do,” Gagnon said. “Any time we take on a project, whether it’s licensed or original, we want it to be authentic. We want it to be something the fans will be into.”
A commonality between each member of BOOM!’s team on the panel was an initial reluctance to join the publisher, with Richie ultimately convincing each of them that they belonged on his team. “Never bet against Ross Richie,” Watters exclaimed. Watters, who joined BOOM! in 2010, is credited with the assembling the creative teams on the successful “Adventure Time” books.
A video was shown featuring BOOM! staffers who couldn’t attend the panel because they were busy working the convention booths.
“Typically at these panels, you get to know the creators, the writers, the artists — you don’t really get the opportunity to meet the people behind the scenes,” Sablik explained. “We think it’s really important, because one of the things I discovered when I came over was that Ross had secretly been assembling the best team in comics. And that secretly, there was this intense passion and joy that I had never seen.”
A collage of past BOOM! creators was also shown, including comics veterans Mark Waid and Giffen, new talent that broke in at BOOM!, like Emma Rios and Rafael Albuquerque, and celebrities like Samuel L. Jackson.
“I’m convinced Sam Jackson doesn’t know my name,” said Richie. “He calls me Mr. Boom, and that is so much better than any name I could ever have.”
Promotional videos which debuted at last week’s ComicsPRO summit were then shown, featuring Paul Jenkins, Mike Carey, Brian Stelfreeze and Mike Kunkel. Each video ended with the respective creator declaring that they were BOOM!, keeping with the theme of the publisher’s new marketing campaign.
As the discussion turned to the fans, another important elements of BOOM!’s identity, Sablik said, “Every show we do, it’s a surprise. If you’re one of the big two comic companies, someone walks up and they’re a fan of your universe because it’s all one thing – it’s all superheroes,” said Sablik. “Whenever you guys walk up to our booth, we get to ask you what you’re into.”
Illustrating the philosophies important to BOOM!, Ross Richie discussed the desire to honor established creators. “Our belief is that creators that have had long careers like Keith Giffen have something to say. And while the marketplace…is distracted about the new hot thing, the people who have established themselves over a long time have a tremendous amount of talent. At certain times, they might not have the right venue, and we see the value to create the venue for them,” Richie said, citing Steven Grant’s “2 Guns” as an example, explaining that the series has been turned into a film starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg. Richie added that Grant had been one of his favorites since reading an issue of Grant’s “Marvel Two-in-One” featuring The Thing and Moon Knight as a kid.
Watters and Gagnon talked about the importance of creating all-ages books. “We believe in fostering the next generation of readers, Gagnon said. “So 15 years from now, as publishers and retailers and fans, we have an industry that’s flourishing — we want young kids reading.”
“If you don’t make comics for kids, kids aren’t going to read comic books,” Richie added.
Talk to turned to BOOM!’s emphasis on creating new series and stories, and continuing to innovate the industry.
“We want to see science fiction and horror and fantasy and crime all flourish because, again, we love superhero books, but at the end of the day, that’s not the one flavor you want to eat every single day,” explained Sablik, likening it to eating chocolate ice cream every day.
“BOOM! Studios: the 31 flavors of comics,” Watters quipped.
“I think we landed on our new tagline,” Gagnon said to laughter.