Since Hank Kanalz joined WildStorm Productions as VP-General Manager in 2004, he has led the DC Comics imprint in a direction that has produced a multiple Eisner Award winning creator-owned series in “Ex Machina,” a rebirth of its shared superhero universe and a successful line of licensed video game titles.
Kanalz, who co-wrote the first issue of “Youngblood” with Rob Liefeld at Image Comics before moving over to Malibu Comics as a writer and editor, today oversees day-to-day operations at WildStorm, which includes editorial, production, coloring and administration. In addition to his business responsibilities, he also edits some titles, including “World of Warcraft.”
No stranger to the inner workings of Warner Bros. – he formerly served as Director of Worldwide Theme Parks for Warner Bros. Consumer Products, where he oversaw the company’s relationship with theme park licensees such as Six Flags and Universal Studios.
Saying it was too early to discuss the DC Entertainment reorganization and how it would potentially affect WildStorm, Kanalz provided CBR News with an in depth interview of what’s ahead for the imprint, and shared news of a forthcoming creator-owned series by “Ex Machina” artist Tony Harris and “Hawaiian Dick” creator B. Clay Moore.
Without the long history and built in fanbase of DC and Marvel, how do you attract new readers to the WildStorm Universe?
You try things like different creative teams to see what strikes a chord with other readers. I know when we did our last set of new creative teams, we chose them for a very particular reason, and one of the reasons was for the particular followings that they had. With “DV8,” coming out in April, we’ve got Rebekah Isaacs, who is a relative newcomer, but she’s outstanding. We’re very excited to kind of push her ahead to the forefront. And obviously, the writer, Brian Wood, has a very extensive fan following. So he’s both an unusual choice for us, but also, when you think it through, one that makes a lot of sense because it’s a way to attract new readers. And he’s great! For readers who are more casual, and don’t necessarily follow creative teams, I think what we are trying to do now is make every issue “new reader accessible.” There’s a lot of continuity, but as you say, not as much as Marvel or DC on their longer running books. But we are trying to make each of the issues more readily understandable. To that end, we put on the front page some “story-so-far” pages, so you can kind of catch up on the story. And then we’re hoping the information that Austin is putting out there on The Bleed and on other sites like this one is getting us more awareness and publicity. That will help too.
Adam Beechen and Tim Seeley have been teasing that their upcoming run on “WildC.A.T.s.” is going to be a monster of a team book with a huge cast. Can you shed any light on who may be starring in the book?
Not a huge cast, but a gigantic cast [laughs]. I don’t want to give too much away, and that’s obviously a big trick for comics. We don’t want to give too much away, because we want people to come and pick it up and see what’s going on, but at the same time, if we don’t say anything, nobody is going to be interested enough to pick it up.
They have been putting together extensive lists of everybody else that’s on our planet. When “World’s End” happened, we got a picture of some of the survivors, but not all of the survivors. We noticed as every issue went by, people said, “What happened to so and so?” And I think what we’re saying is that, if there is a world cataclysmic event that happens, how come some people didn’t die? And the answer is, “Well, we just haven’t got to that yet.” There’s so much story to tell, we’re going to get to a lot of that. We’re going to find out who lived, who died, and who will never be the same.
We’re going to be trotting the globe and seeing who else is around. And all of these characters are going to be integral to re-building the Earth. In what way? You’ll see when you read the books.
I’m skipping ahead here, but you mentioned “World’s End.” Does WildStorm have another major event coming in 2010?
I think you’re going to find the two main books, “WildC.A.T.s.” and “The Authority,” will be running really close in continuity, and it will all be working towards one thing down the way. It’s not going to be a big event like a ‘Crisis,’ but there is a significant plot point that both creative teams are working towards. We’ve worked it all out together, so Beechen, [Marc] Bernardin, [Adam]Freeman and our entire editorial staff have been working on this for months on end – conference call after conference call – and they’ve been bouncing ideas off each other. It’s all mapped out for the next 12 months.
Let’s talk about that new creative team coming on to “The Authority,” Marc Bernardin, Adam Freeman, and artist Al Barrionuevo. What makes them a good fit for one of your flagship titles?
Al hit the art scene a while back, and then he kind of disappeared. From what I understand, he was raising a family and he’s now at the point where he can come back. And he’s come back, and you can recognize his style, but it’s taken to the next level. It’s amazing work.
People are going to be very surprised by the lineup. I think some people will be upset by our lineup, but other people will be saying, “Oh, my gosh. I can’t believe they’ve done that.” And that’s what we’re going for. We’re not intentionally upsetting people, but we don’t want to do the same old, same old. So we’re not. We’re doing something completely different. And again, those are the things, going back to your very first question, hopefully will attract some attention and people will try us out again.
Is Phil Hester still coming on board “Gen13?”
He is! I was telling you we were running really close continuity between books, and when Shannon Denton (who edits the “WildC.A.T.s.” and “The Authority” books) started laying everything out in his head and on his desktop, he realized we forgot one critical thing that is happening in those books has an impact on the “`Gen13” book. I’m not going to tell you what it is, but it was one of those, “Oh, what we need to do is this!” It kind of pushed Phil Hester’s arc a little bit by one issue. And then, when Adam Beechen was going to be doing #33, and started laying it out, the story just became larger than we had all anticipated, so we made it a two-issue story. Phil is doing a terrific job on his arc, and he’s working ahead of schedule now. He just got a little bit of breathing room. But then Adam, of course, got hit with double writing duties on “WildC.A.T.s.” and “Gen13.”
The other thing is, and I’m not sure if anybody is noticing, but we’re shipping these books on time, which is why we want to work so far ahead in advance. We want to make sure that when we’re soliciting a book, we know it’s going to hit that day.
Another title in the shared universe is Gail Simone and Horacio Domingues’ upcoming sequel to “Welcome to Tranquility.” Any word on shipping dates for that title?
Keep checking The Bleed. There will definitely be an announcement soon. And it will definitely be out in 2010.
Ian Edginton, who is writing “Stormwatch: Post Human Division,” has an upcoming Sherlock Holmes project called “Victorian Undead.” Was it just fortuitous that it arrives in time for the Robert Downey Jr. movie, or was that the plan all along?
I think it was probably a little bit of fluke and a little bit of planned consciousness. I think when we first started talking about doing the project, one of the things we always start on is, “When do you think the best time to put this out would be?” And then when we looked at the schedule, it was like, “OK, well, we have to put this out in November.” We would have loved to have put this out in October – the horror month – but we want to ship it on time, every time, so we’re going to put it out in November. The art, by Davide Fabbri, is just gorgeous.
Ian is doing a swell job writing it. He’s such a Holmes aficionado that I think people will love what he’s doing.
Let’s switch gears to your creator-driven books. Right now, you’re shipping “North 40″and “Red Herring” and you have “Garrison” and “Sparta, U.S.A.” coming in 2010. I guess it’s like picking your own child, but how much of your time and effort is dedicated to finding new creator-owned projects, and how important are these titles to WildStorm as a whole?
I’d say a tremendous amount of time and effort goes into these things. If you look back on the last couple of years, there has been a little bit of a lull from us on the creator-driven stuff, and it’s not because we didn’t have anything. It’s because, we’ve been working very hard on putting this together. And also, historically, many of our creator-driven titles had some release issues, meaning a lot of time between issues, and that’s no way to build confidence in a reader’s mind. “If I buy this first issue, will the second one come out next month?” And a lot of people decide to trade wait, which can be a challenge for us, as well. So during that lull, we’ve been working towards this. Once again, when you see these things solicited you will know that it’s done and in the can. Just because we’re not releasing it, doesn’t mean that the attention and the passion aren’t there. It actually kind of reinforces the fact because we don’t want to go out there until it’s ready.
You mentioned “North 40″and “Red Herring,” of course, and “Garrison” will be coming out early in 2010, “Sparta, U.S.A.” by David Lapham and Johnny Timmons on art — another talent that we’re not breaking in terms of this being his first work but I think we’re really pushing him to the forefront – it’s gorgeous art work. We get so excited about these things and we want to tell the world everything we can about them but we also want to make sure we have everything in place before we do.
We have about seven other creator-driven series actively in the works that we’ll roll out when ready. We’re definitely focused on this, and making sure it works.
“Ex Machina,” sadly, is coming to an end. Do you celebrate its conclusion and what it was able to generate in terms of sales and reception for WildStorm, or are you walking around hanging your head because it’s story is finished?
It’s a combination of both. We love this book so much. We are very proud of what we accomplished together. I normally can’t speak for Tony [Harris] and Brian [K. Vaughan] but I think in this case, I can. We’re all very proud of what was accomplished. Ben Abernathy, who has been the editor on that book from the first issue ’til the last, 50 issues, really built a solid series with Brian and Tony. It’s an amazing run in comics these days, especially for WildStorm.
It’s telling a complete story. Are we sad that we don’t have “Ex Machina” #51? Certainly! But we’re also very satisfied creatively. “Satisfied” is probably not the right word – we’re ecstatic that we accomplished what we set out to do. It’s great. But it’s sad too. I could have “Ex Machina” every month and not get tired of it. It’s executed perfectly all of the time.
Now that BKV has left “Lost, are there any future projects forthcoming with him as the writer or Tony Harris as the artist?
The door is always open. I know that we’re always talking about things. He’s at a crossroads in his career. He’s got a lot going on and he’s got tremendous opportunities ahead of him. And with Tony, we have been in talks with him for about a year now and already have a deal in place for a new creator-owned series with him and writer B. Clay Moore. He’ll be going straight into the new series from “Ex Machina,” which we have not announced yet.
What we can talk about is the return of another great series, “Astro City,” going monthly. As a creator-driven title, when we go monthly, I think people will stop trade waiting that and start buying it on regular basis like they used to.
This is something we’ve been talking to Kurt about for years, and everything was always, “I’m doing this,” or “I’m doing that,” but he’s finally in a place where he can actually do it.
We were having a conversation where a suggestion I made (in addition to taking the book monthly) kind of rendered him speechless for about 30 seconds, where he went “Hmm. Wow. Let me think about that.” And then he called me back the next day and said, “OK. All I’ve been thinking about is this, and yes, I agree, if we do this, let’s take it monthly.” So we took it monthly.
So what did you say?
I can’t say yet but when we get closer to its release, let’s talk again.
Kurt also has “American Gothic” coming. Can you share any details on that project?
Those are stories Kurt wants to tell and he’s already started to talk to us a little bit about it. I think they’re pretty cool, and with the Kurt Busiek spin on it, they’ll be great. I think there will be a lot of interest in this, but I want to hold off on talking much more about it until we’re closer to release.
Another major part of the WildStorm brand would be your video game properties. How do these projects come together? Do you reach out to video game creators, or do they come to you looking for adaptations?
I think every title is different. First and foremost, for all of them, we ask ourselves if it’s something that we want to do? And if the answer is yes, we pursue it. A lot of the stuff that we’ve done – we’re doing “World of Warcraft” as you know, “Starcraft,” “God of War,” “Gears of War,” “Modern Warfare” – these are games that we play. These are games that we like. These are games that prevent us from seeing our families or finishing projects on time. When I first started playing “Warcraft,” it was to find out what the whole thing was all about. And then, of course, we ended up doing the book, and I was able to use the excuse that it was research. A couple of months later, my wife was wondering what happened to me. She’d send the kids to find me, and now I’ve got the kids hooked on the game, and they’ll cheer me on when I’m playing, which is a lot of fun. She’s not buying the research excuse anymore, but it’s stuff that we have a passion for. And that’s the overlap. That’s where we see there is a lot of potential there, because of the overlap interest.
Jim Lee is heavily involved in video games himself. What is your working relationship like, and what roles do each of you play at WildStorm on a day-to-day basis?
It’s interesting you ask that, because I was just meeting with him earlier today. And we keep such varied schedules – Jim does a lot of stuff that doesn’t have direct impact on what we actually publish in many ways, but also oversees and guides what we actually publish. I think people forget, or maybe they don’t know, that WildStorm is more than an imprint. We are a creative studio. We do a lot of stuff other than just comics. And in this digital age, and with Jim being as forward thinking as he is, Jim and I have virtual meetings, 24/7. We IM each other. We’ll Blackberry, we’ll email, and we’ll talk, but it’s not structured meetings. We meet, we discuss, we set some goals, we go and do it. As you know, Jim and our artists are very integral to the DCU Online game. WildStorm did a lot of the character concept artwork for the “Batman: Arkham Asylum” game. Not a lot of people know that! Well, they know about the game, they don’t know that we did the artwork for the game. And that adds to the connective tissue to WildStorm doing its video game books.