In terms of degree of difficulty, launching a new comic book publisher is pretty high up there. Vault Comics, though, already has something of a head start — though the first comic under the Vault banner won’t be on sale until February, the publisher already has teamed with “Hitman: Agent 47” producer Adrian Askarieh and film and TV vet/sometimes comic book writer F.J. DeSanto to develop titles from its slate, in news announced this past August.
While that announcement hit the industry trades a few months ago, it’s now time for Vault to start showing off what’s driving that Hollywood attention: the comic books themselves. After previewing its initial lineup this past July at Comic-Con International in San Diego, Vault’s first releases will be solicited in this month’s issue of “Previews,” for February release: “Fissure” #1, from the team of writer Tim Daniel and artist Patricio Delpeche; and “Heathen” #1 by Natasha Alterici, originally solicited for release from Heavy Metal. Vault’s roll out will continue through April with “Karma Police” from Chris Lewis and Tony Gregori, “Powerless” by David M. Booher and Nathan C. Gooden, “Failsafe” by F.J. DeSanto, Todd Farmer and Federico Dallocchio and “Colossi” by Ricardo Mo and Alberto Murie, all firmly within the fantasy and sci-fi genres; something that the folks behind the publisher say is integral to the company’s identity.
CBR spoke with three of Vault Comics’ co-founders — Publisher Damian A. Wassel, Art Director Nathan C. Gooden and Editor-in-Chief Adrian F. Wassel — about what the company is looking to provide that other publishers aren’t currently offering, why the focus on fantasy and sci-fi is key, the importance of creator-owned comics, putting together Vault’s initial lineup and the message that, while Hollywood deals are nice, “We’re here because we love comics.”
CBR: Naturally, a lot of smaller comic book companies have come and gone over the years. What did you want to do with Vault Comics that isn’t already being done in the marketplace? How are you looking to stand out?
Damian A. Wassel: The hardest part of launching a comic book company is earning the trust of the market. Retailers and comics fans have to trust you enough to spend their hard-earned dollars on your books. From day one, the goal at Vault has been to show retailers and fans that we’re worthy of their trust. To me, that meant we had to do three things: Establish a clear and visible brand identity so that retailers and fans know what to expect from us; Produce books of unimpeachable quality; and, deliver those books on time.
Nathan C. Gooden: In concert with establishing a clear market presence, we also wanted to make it clear to creators what we have to offer. Our small-shop approach allows us to be very hands-on and supportive. We have a talented editing team that thrives on developing close relationships with our creators. At the end of the day, the work is a lot of fun. And when the process is fun, it shines through in the final product.
Adrian F. Wassel: Fun and focused. We’re committed to publishing the best in sci-fi and fantasy comics, in large part because fans, retailers, and creators deserve a publisher that isn’t reactionary. That’s our aim: To focus on the books we love — books that have loyal and awesome fan-bases — not the next fleeting trend.
One thing that stands out about Vault is the clear focus on sci-fi and fantasy—it’s interesting to see a new publisher define itself so clearly. Why sci-fi and fantasy? And what kind of room did you see in the marketplace to expand in this genre?
Adrian F. Wassel: We live and die by sci-fi and fantasy. As Damian once said about “Dune” and a host of other classics, “These are our sacred texts.” That kind of genuine commitment is bedrock on which creators can build and take risks. Instead of feeling like they’re hurling hard work and great stories into a swirling vortex of who-knows-what’s-in-vogue, they’re approaching Vault with stories they know we’ll cherish. Retailers and readers are smart. They can tell when a book has been supported. Our focus means we throw every ounce of weight we’ve got behind all of our books.
Damian A. Wassel: As I said above, brand identity is deeply important to us. Focusing on these genres help us shout over the noise of the market. Moreover, we think there are vital and relevant sub-genres of science fiction and fantasy that thrive in prose publishing but are seriously underserved in comics. Some that come to mind are so-called hard sci-fi (think Alastair Reynolds or Poul Anderson), biopunk (think Paolo Bagicalupi), dystopian science-fiction (think Octavia Butler), dying Earth fantasy (think N.K. Jemisin’s absolutely amazing, Hugo-winning recent work, or Gene Wolfe’s early novels) and classic sword-and-sorcery romps.
Gooden: Piling on what Damian said, these genres open the creative doors when it comes to art direction. They offer a level of creative freedom that the typical superhero or action comic does not. On the personal side, fantasy and sci-fi stories are so enchanting and rich that I often can only see the fun in it. They offer a unique escape, for those who need one from their heavy reality.
It’s also notable that you’re coming out and saying “creator-owned”” — a lot of companies sort of play with that terminology, but can’t quite promise what it means (instead using terms like “creator-driven” or some such). What can you share about the nature of the creator-owned dealt at Vault, and how important that is to the identity of the company?
Damian A. Wassel: We’re built from the ground up as a creator owned brand. It is essential to who we are. Our basic deal is this: we pay production costs, we split revenue fairly, and creators remain in creative control of their books. Of course we provide creative input and editorial support. But — at every level — we’re committed to giving creators the freedom they need and the respect they deserve. I think if you ask any creators we work with they’ll say the same.
What was your approach in getting the initial group of creators involved in the company? Some may be familiar to comics fans, but many won’t be. What were you looking for in this talent?
Adrian F. Wassel: Indie comics is a community. Sure, there are neighbors who play music really loud, really late, and neighbors who don’t want you on their lawn, and neighbors who hand out toothbrushes at Halloween, but there are also a lot of welcoming neighbors, who will go out of their way to help you because they know you’ll do the same for them. Once our friends knew what we were up to, the word spread, and new faces started appearing left and right. We gained the trust of good people, which continues to help us gain the trust of more good people. Some of our creators have pretty well-established names in the indie comics world, like Tim Daniel. Others are newer to the scene, like Chris Lewis. But they caught our attention the only way you can: making undeniably great comics. If you do that, people take notice — and the kind of neighbors you wanted in the first place welcome you in.
Gooden: The emphasis for this company is finding originality and inventive people. We focus heavily on character construction and rich environments. We find artists whose style and vision don’t just tell the story, but add more depth and layers. In my opinion, the medium is still growing and I’m striving for us to be one of the leaders in pushing it to new heights.
Looking at the first slate of books, what do you like that it says about the line as a whole? What statement were you looking to make with these five comics?
Gooden: I have to get a bit personal to answer this question. Our first lineup of books proves that heroes and stories come in all shapes and sizes, and that is what’s important and exciting to me. As a young Black man, it was meaningful to me to have such a diverse group of creators and characters. Each story unique and each character reflecting different parts of society. There is truly something for everyone. We are letting the comic community know that even though we are the new neighbors in town, you are always welcome to come over for coffee. No matter what part of town you’re from.
Damian A. Wassel: I think our lineup says that we have a lot of faith in and respect for our audience. I think we’re giving them some bold, adventurous, original fare. Yet I genuinely believe that each one of these books has real chance for success in the market, and I think that’s a testament to how much the comics fan base yearns for quality titles.
We’ve already seen there is movement in Hollywood towards developing some of those comics for live-action, months before the comics are in store. How vital was this aspect in terms of priorities for Vault? And how do you see the company’s relationship with Hollywood going forward — are you mainly looking for comics projects that could also have a natural life in other media?
Damian A. Wassel: Above all, we aim to make extraordinary comic books. We make all of our editorial and business decisions with that aim in view, and we urge the creators we work with to do the same. As it happens, Hollywood has a lot of interest in comics now, and we owe it to our retailers, fans, business partners, and most of all our creators to pursue those development opportunities with fervor. We count ourselves incredibly fortunate that some of our titles are already catching interest, and we know that’s entirely due to the extraordinary people we have the opportunity to work with in Hollywood, like Matt Sugarman, F.J. DeSanto, Adrian Askarieh and Oliver Ridge.
Adrian F. Wassel: The short answer is: We look for stories that elevate the comics medium. We’re happy to see those stories take new shape — if for no other reason than it helps the creator reach different audiences — but we’re not here because we love movies and television. We’re here because we love comics.
“Fissure” #1, the first release from Vault Comics, is scheduled for release on Feb. 1, 2017; with “Heathen” #1 scheduled for release on Feb. 15..
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