For a little over three years now, Jim McLauchlin has guided the ship that is Top Cow Studios as their Editor-In-Chief. During his tenurem the studio produced a number of critically acclaimed and fan favorite titles, including the popular “Wanted” and “Hunter-Killer,” and he’s over seen major changes to key Top Cow titles “The Darkness” and “Witchblade” as well as a relaunch of studio founder Marc Silvestri’s first Image book, “Cyberforce.” On March 1st, McLauchlin will step down while VP of Publishing/Managing Editor Renae Geerlings will step in to the EiC chair. CBR News spoke with Geerlings and McLauchlin Tuesday afternoon to get the details.
To begin with, McLauchlin is leaving the studio to revisit a prior career. “I will be returning to my former life as a sportswriter, and will spend the bulk of March in Phoenix, Anaheim and San Diego covering the World Baseball Classic for ‘FHM,’ ‘Playboy,’ and ‘Baseball America,'” McLauchlin told CBR News.
While McLauchlin will be exploring a new career, he won’t stroll too far away from the world of comics. “I will still keep a toe in the Top Cow pool for the next 12 months, working with the company as a consultant on some specific sales and marketing issues,” explained McLauchlin. He’ll also continue to serve as the President of the non-profit ACTOR (A Commitment to Our Roots ) Comic Fund.
McLauchlin will stay on as Editor-In-Chief through the end of the month, with Geerlings set to take over on March 1st. When asked about making the decision to leave the post he’s held for three years, McLauchlin said it was definitely not an easy one to make. “I guess the word ‘bittersweet’ was created for moments like this,” said McLauchlin. “Looking forward to the future, still fond of the past.”
For Top Cow, the future looks promising with Geerlings filling McLauchlin’s shoes. Geerlings has one of those great “starting at the bottom and worked her way to the top” type success stories. She started at Top Cow in the summer of 1997 as a temp, simply answering phones for the company. Over the years she worked her way through President’s Assistant, Editorial Assistant, Associate Editor, Editor, Managing Editor, VP of Publishing and now Editor-in-Chief. “It’s hard to believe that it’s been nine years since I was playing ‘Puzzle Fighter’ on 3rd Street Promenade with Dave Finch, D-Tron, Peter Steigerwald and Richard Isanove,” Geerlings told CBR News.
As to how she came to land the EiC gig, she said it was a simple case of succession of powers. “When Jim decided that he missed the world of journalism, I was the next in line,” explained Geerlings. “I suppose I should come up with a better tale for posterity’s sake. I’m not sure what– I don’t want to sound ruthless or anything, so I’ll have to work on that.”
Geerlings admits that she’s had an eye on filling the EiC chair should McLauchlin ever step down. “I think there’s a natural inclination to look up and see what your options are. When Jim came on, I thought it was a match made in heaven and I pretty much let go of those thoughts. I will admit that it is exciting now that it’s happening,” said Geerlings.
As the Editor-In-Chief of Top Cow, Geerlings isn’t just an influential player in comics, but is also one of the highest ranking and most visible women in the industry. When asked if that weighed heavily on her, she responded, “Well, it didn’t… until Just. Now. (laughs)
“People keep bringing that up, but at the end of the day my main concern is keeping both the timeliness and the quality as high as I possibly can,” said Geerlings. “Second to that is how to get these great stories into people’s hands and raise the visibility of our product. The fact that I’m female doesn’t affect the way I visit those issues. I can’t worry about whether it affects the way readers and retailers view me. I’d love to serve as an inspiration to other women who are interested in joining the industry, but I can only do that by doing my job to the best of my ability.”
Taking a look at the current state of Top Cow, Geerlings feels the company is in a good place and headed in the right direction. “I think we’ve been putting out some of the best stories of the company’s history in the last couple years. I’m very proud of the direction we’ve gone.”
But what about the areas that need to be addressed within Top Cow? What needs to be worked on? “We need to let people know we’re putting out great stuff,” said Geerlings. “Marvel and DC are such juggernauts that it can be difficult to get seen beside the deluge of books from those two. Don’t get me wrong, I love those books and those characters, but I want to cement our place as the top boutique studio.
“Back in my early years with the company (I sound so old when I say that), we had a loud, distinctive personality in the industry. There were specific people within our fold that people were interested in, in a personal sense, beyond the stories and the artwork– a sort of celebrity. We’ve allowed that to quiet down. I want to get back in people’s faces! In a very fun-spirited way, of course.”
The best way to describe the goals Geerlings’ has set for herself as Editor-in-Chief would be ambitious. “All top 100 books, with at least two in the top ten, like clockwork each month, by 2007 for starters. Aim high.”
Whenever a new EiC comes into a publishing company, there’s a transition period that takes place and considering how far in advance a publisher must plan their schedule, it can take some time for the new EiC’s touch to be felt. How long will it be before we see the affects of Geerlings’ guidance on the studio? “How long before my touch will be felt… ? See, right there is a question you could most likely ask a guy without the chuckle I just had.
“I’m trying to think of a good answer for that question and I can’t. Some of the books we’re working on right now were set in motion by David Wohl. One of the things we’re doing in ‘Witchblade’ #100 is something Scott Tucker and I had pitched about two years ago. It’s such a collaborative and far-reaching process that I’m not sure any of us could take full credit for a final product. I’m not going to impede any of Jim’s projects or planning, that’s for sure. He did some great things while he was here and we’ll be affected by them for some time. I respect him highly.
“I don’t know. I guess I’ll have to give you a call when that day comes.”
Closing things up, we asked McLauchlin to share with use what he thought were some of the highlights of his tenure as Editor-In-Chief of Top Cow. “Among ‘new’ stuff, ‘Wanted’ was great, and I’m also very happy that the creators involved, Mark Millar and Dr. Jeffrey G. Jones, went from being mere acquaintances of mine to very good friends,” explained McLauchlin. “‘Common Grounds’ was also a high point, both professionally and creatively, and it was great to work with Troy Hickman there as well. I just did my taxes and ran across a $150 check I wrote last year to get Top Cow a table at the Eisner Awards. I really don’t believe that three years ago, people would have believed that stuff from this organization would be up for awards like that. But there we are.
“Among ‘ongoing’ stuff, I think ‘Witchblade’ is hitting on all cylinders right now, and Ron Marz and Mike Choi are doing monstrously great work. It’s been great retooling that book.”
Before we let him go, we asked McLauchlin if he had any words of wisdom for Geerlings. McLauchlin thought about it for a second, then responded, “Alcohol is the cleanser!”