In 2004, comic shop owner and former Valiant Comics direct sales manager Keven Gardner collaborated with comic book professionals Doug Wagner, Jason Pearson, Brian Stelfreeze and Cully Hammer to launch their very own publishing company. Looking to make an impact in the industry, the group named the company 12 Gauge Comics, and this fall, they look to blow readers away with a veritable buckshot of new titles.
Featuring gritty, realistic stories typically based in a Southern setting, 12 Gauge first made its mark in comics with the black-and-white series “The Ride.” The company since went on to produce such titles as Jason Pearson’s “Body Bags,” “The O.C.T” with actress Rosario Dawson and, most recently, a tie-in to the “Boondocks Saints” films by writer/director Troy Duffy. The company expands its line this fall with four new titles: “Magus,” “Loose Ends,” “25 to Life” by actor Eriq La Salle and “R.P.M.” by wrestler and New York Times Bestselling author Mick Foley.
Gardner spoke with CBR News about the new limited series, the difference between modern fantasy and traditional and future plans for 12 Gauge Comics.
CBR News: Keven, we already have interviews on the site with both Mick and Eriq, but I wanted to get some perspective on your end about these two accomplished professionals and bringing them into 12 Gauge. Starting with Mick, what do you think he brings to the table for 12 Gauge both in terms of him personally and his storytelling style?
Keven Gardner: For me, it’s always what feels right. We worked with Rosario Dawson and that was really successful for us, but she was also a good fit. There are a lot of celebrities who want to get into comics just to get their name out there, and that doesn’t really fit with what we do. Mick, that’s a guy that when it comes to the 12 Gauge audience, there’s a little bit of crossover there. He’s like the everyman of wrestling. He’s got the hardcore persona, but he’s not the Hulk Hogan, super-strength guy. He’s just a guy that the fans love and appreciate because he works really hard at his craft. He is the best at his style of wrestling and 12 Gauge, in a lot of ways, that’s what we strive to be: we want to be the guys who get recognized for their hard work and dedication to the medium. We’re not ever going to be Marvel or DC because that’s just not our business model. We just want to put out really good, quality books that when you read it you feel that you spent your three or four dollars wisely. I think Mick really just fits that same feel. And he’s a great writer and the story was great. It was a completely like a 12 Gauge book – high on action, fun story, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Just really good all around.
Eriq is working on “25 to Life,” and he’s done a number of things in the entertainment industry, including acting in such films like “Coming to America” and starring in “ER.” You often hear about how quite a few actors are actually comic fans, but how did Eriq get involved with 12 Gauge?
A couple years ago, he actually moved out of being a full-time actor and started getting into directing and producing. He had contacted us about another property, just expressing some interest in possibly developing it as a film. We opened a dialogue, and Eriq had this idea called “25 to Life” that he told me about, and I just fell in love with it. I thought it was just a fantastic idea for a series – the gritty crime with a neat little twist as far as the setup. It’s another kind of thing like Mick Foley, where we’re not trying to put Eriq in a book for a vanity thing. This was just a really good story and when I heard it, I just had to do it. He had this story worked out, and Doug Wagner, who has been with me since the start, brought him in to adapt it into a comic book form. That’s really what we look for. It’s just a cool project.
Looking at some of the other projects you guys have coming out, there’s the upcoming “Magus,” by Jon Price and David Norton with art by Rebekah Isaacs. This comic focuses on the idea of magic returning to humanity after being cut off for centuries, and we see the ramifications of this happening. What else can you say about the story?
Initially this was a little bit of a stretch for my comfort zone, but I’m a big fan of Rebekah Isaacs and had been trying to find a project for her. She was a student at SCAD, and 12 Gauge has always had a good relationship with SCAD. We’ve done a special project book with them where their students created an issue of “The Ride.” They actually had a class called Ride 101. But about two years ago, I saw her portfolio and I’ve been trying to find a project to work on together since. It was about the time she took off when we started talking, and she went on to do “Ms. Marvel” and she did some work for Devil’s Due and is now working on the “DV8” series with Brian Wood. She came to me, she and Jon, with the idea, and I thought it was a really intriguing story. Even though magic has been done in many different ways, this seemed really fresh to me. It’s very much team oriented. They’ve got a really big story and have thought it out. Again, it’s just a quality book and even though it didn’t quite fit us completely, it was just too good not to do.
I wanted to ask about that. 12 Gauge definitely sticks to the grittier, realistic stuff and magic encompasses a whole different territory, but this is magic in a more modern setting as opposed to the more traditional fantasy setting. Was that part of the reason it was able to fit with 12 Gauge?
Yeah, exactly. If it had been a traditional superhero team in costumes, I think there are other publishers that are better. I don’t want to say we’re never going to do that, but we’ll first look at how good the story is and how good the artist is. If those two things get the big check mark, then we’d like to figure out a way to make it work. But, yeah, this was definitely an easier decision because the magic was just part of the story and the characters are what’s important. I guess it’s kind of along the line of “Heroes,” where you take these extreme events but everything is based in reality. More like the first season of “Heroes,” when it was still pretty good.
Do you think it makes it more accepting to a wider audience as well? You see elves and dwarves and it caters to a specific group while cutting off another area of the market. Meanwhile, if it’s magic but in a modern day setting, more people are willing to give it a go.
Yeah. Fantasy especially, there’s a big audience, but you’re limiting yourself a lot if you go after pure fantasy books. There are a lot of people who definitely wouldn’t touch it if they saw an elf on the cover. We try to be more accessible to the guys who don’t gravitate more toward the superhero and traditional fantasy book. We try to be a more real-world universe.
Shifting gears, the other book you guys have coming out fits more obviously within the 12 Gauge model. You’ve described “Loose Ends” as a “southern crime romance.” What does that mean for what we’ll be seeing in this book?
Chris Brunner is the artist, and he did a story for me in “The Ride” a couple years back and is probably the one today that people always notice. It was just really perfectly executed. It was just the most amazing art I had seen. Jason Latour had written this story and talked to Chris about drawing it, and they came to me almost two years ago and wanted to have 12 Gauge publish it. I think it’s going to be a book that people will be picking up for years, and when they find it, they’ll have to get the whole collection. The story is definitely really gritty. There’s going to be a lot of brutality in it and a lot of realism. It’s a really great story and Chris’ pages are just absolutely stunning.
What would you say is the appeal about these stories featuring these characters that you just feel like you could know or even hear about in everyday life?
The thing with “Loose Ends” is that, sure the story has been turned up a couple notches – it’s about a guy running drugs from Carolina down to Miami – but the real story is that he’s running from his problems. He’s on the run and he’s got a lot of guys after him. It’s a story about how you can hide from your problems and you can try to run away from them, but everything always catches up to you in the end. That’s what this story is about. It’s kind of our “True Romance”-style story. I just can’t rave about it enough. I think that crime and action, you can never get enough of them because it is always based in reality. There is crime all around us, and it’s interesting to explore that dynamic of what makes people do the things that they do, bad or good or whatever. It’s great to get into that and see stories about these characters and their motivation behind their crime sprees. “Loose Ends” is a really good example of that.
Closing out, 12 Gauge will obviously continue to publish these realistic, gritty titles, but will you be looking to bring in more celebrity creators to work on projects?
You’ll never see 12 Gauge publish a book that is strictly because it’s a way to make money. The story has got to be there first. Any way we can offset some of the cost and work with somebody like Mick Foley, that helps, but it’s all about the story. I don’t go out looking for those things. Sometimes they come to me through relationships. I won’t say that we won’t continue to do those, but that’s not the focus of our company. It’s a small company, so every book that we do gets a lot of love, but that means we can’t do a full line of books. We just want to do our stuff and do it well and make our mark by quality over quantity.