Fans hoping for more information on all the teasers BOOM! Studios released just prior to Comic-Con International in San Diego likely left their panel on Saturday slightly disappointed. But judging by the cheers in the room for the creators on the panel — the loudest being for Noelle Stevenson, co-creator of “Lumberjanes” — that was likely a small minority of those in attendance.
The “We Are BOOM!” panel included Filip Sablik, who was recently named president of publishing and marketing for the company; BOOM! CEO and founder Ross Richie; Stephen Christy, president of development; Matt Gagnon, editor-in-chief; Frank Gibson, writer of “The Amazing World of Gumball;” Paul Jenkins, writer of “Fairy Quest” and the upcoming “Fiction Squad;” and Stevenson, who is also a former BOOM! intern.
To kick things off, Sablik said he wanted to answer the question “Why?” at the panel — specifically why the staff and creators at BOOM! make comics.
“Last year at this panel we talked about who we are; this year we’re going to talk about why we do what we do, why we get up in the morning,” Sablik said. “At the end of the day, the reason that everyone at BOOM! and our creators get up in the morning and do what we do is because we sincerely believe that the best comics have yet to be published. A lot of people in our space spend a lot of time looking back at the past. We always want to be looking toward the future.”
With Richie running late for the panel, Gagnon gave a brief history of BOOM! Studios, noting that the company’s 10-year anniversary is coming up in 2015. “Ross started BOOM! with very humble beginnings,” Gagnon said. “He started BOOM! in his spare bedroom at his place, and he’s built this company from the ground up. But he’s always built it on the notion of partnership. That partnership extends as far as us working with our creators, partners like Cartoon Network, partners like Fox — you know, working on ‘Sleepy Hollow’ with Fox, ‘Planet of the Apes,’ things like that — but also it’s with our creators, and what’s important to us is for them to have a voice in the creation process, for them to have equal partnership with us because it takes both parties in order to make something that’s really special.”
He then recounted the story of BOOM! Studios’ first project, “Hero Squared,” and how when Richie was first working with creator Keith Giffen, Giffen wanted the publisher to take 50 percent of the ownership. Richie asked why, and Giffen said, “Because I want you to care.”
“Ross really responded to that, and Keith was such a sharp guy,” Gagnon said. “What Keith was saying is that as a publisher, he wanted us to have skin in the game. He wanted us to be engaged in the project and he wanted us to really care.”
Sablik added that June was BOOM! Studios’ biggest and most successful month ever. “We really believe that’s an outgrowth of the partnership we have with our creators and some of the other folks we’re going to talk about,” Sablik said.
Christy, former editor-in-chief of Archaia, which BOOM! Studios purchased in June 2013, then gave an overview of the BOOM! management team. He said that when he joined the company Richie “wanted to bring the absolute best people in the industry under one roof to create the best comics out there,” later adding, “It’s so nice to be able to work in a company where you truly feel inspired and challenged by your peers every single day, and that’s why I truly believe that we have the best team behind the scenes in comics.”
Sablik then turned to talking about various BOOM! Studios projects, emphasizing the creators they’re working with on current and future comics. “One of the things we’re incredibly proud of is we work with really established creators, guys like Paul, who have been in the industry for many years and worked for many other companies and have done some seminal stories in the industry to brand new creators like Noelle,” Sablik said.
He noted that as an intern, Stevenson worked at the BOOM! Studios booth during Comic-Con two years ago, and fans kept coming up to the booth asking for her. “We were like, ‘Who the heck is this intern that people want to meet and get signatures from?’ And we discovered she was doing this amazing webcomic called ‘Nimona’ that you should all check out,” Sablik said.
During the panel, several of the videos released prior to the convention were played again for the audience, in which creators Mark Waid, Roger Langridge, J.G. Jones and David Petersen teased new comics with the publisher. They also reminded the audience that James Tynion IV, writer of “The Woods,” had a new book called “Memetic” with artist Eryk Donovan starting in October and that BOOM! will be working with Grant Morrison on a project in the future.
Jenkins, who had just raised more than $63,000 in his latest Kickstarter for “Fiction Squad,” discussed the project as well as an as-yet-unrevealed comic he’s working on. BOOM! will serialize “Fiction Squad,” the story of a detective who comes from the world of detective fiction who “sucks” at his job, so he moves over to the nursery rhyme genre to solve their mysteries.
“My relationship with BOOM! rekindled my interest in comics,” Jenkins said. “I was this close to not really wanting to do them anymore, because I’ve always been a guy that was driven by the creativity of it, and I think things changed over time.”
He credited Sablik with calling him up and bringing him into the BOOM! fold. “I could not be happier. My creative fulfillment comes out at BOOM! because I’m never told ‘No,” unless I’m wrong,” Jenkins joked.
Jenkins said he was dying to tell the audience about his next project with the publisher, but only teased it with a story. “This will tell you how dedicated I am to this project,” Jenkins said. “At this convention, I’ve had a staph infection inside my sinuses. I feel awful. And I’m running around this convention and I’m signing, and every spare moment that I get I go back to my hotel room and write that project. I’ve been doing that since I’ve been here in San Diego because I’m so excited to just write issues of that.”
Gagnon then spoke about the importance of doing original comics, particularly original comics that fall outside the superhero genre, noting that’s how BOOM! has differentiated itself, by “not doing the same thing over and over again.” He said he thinks they’ve hit their stride recently, naming off titles like “Curse,” “Evil Empire,” “The Woods,” “Dead Letters” and “Lumberjanes” as examples of original material they’ve produced this year.
“That’s just kind of a handful of the original stuff that we’ve done this year,” Gagnon said. “But to us, you look at the landscape of the industry — obviously we all love licensed books, we all love franchise characters, we’re doing ‘Sleepy Hollow,’ which we’re incredibly excited about — those are things we need to do as well. But the original comics, those are the ones that are more difficult, that take more energy, that take more attention. It’s not easy to produce these books, and for us, we take a lot of pride in pairing creators together and giving creators a stage and an audience to tell their best stories and to do their best work.”
Sablik then turned the conversation to their all-ages kaBOOM! line, noting that the company is passionate about bringing in new readers. “If you do not publish comic books for the next generation of comic book fans to read as they grow up, there will not be the next generation of comic book fans,” Richie said. “The first time I read a comic book I was six years-old, and I was bitten by the bug and completely obsessed, and I read them my whole life. If we are not publishing comic books for the next generation of six year-olds, or people who are six years-old at heart, like myself, then they’re not going to be there.”
Richie said the publisher takes pride in creating all-ages material that anyone can read. “Just because the material can be read and understood by a child doesn’t mean it has to be watered down or feel like it is patronizing its audience.”
Gibson said there isn’t a comic industry in his native New Zealand, so most creators leave. He kept self-publishing and attending Comic-Con, and eventually went to work for BOOM! Studios on “The Amazing World of Gumball.”
Sablik asked him what it was like working on a licensed book after self-publishing for so long. “I’m given an unbelievable amount of freedom,” Gibson said. “Cartoon Network really understands what we want to do, and everyone at BOOM! — they pick the right people for the projects, I think, and I say that because they employ me,” he joked. “I turn my scripts in and they don’t get broken. They just let me do what I’m gonna do. It’s so nice.” Gibson then teased that he’d be doing his own creator-owned series with BOOM! in the future.
Gagnon mentioned this was the first time Gibson worked for a comic company, and asked what the experience was like. “I don’t have to do any of the stuff I don’t want to do anymore, like worrying about hiring people and printing books and marketing,” Gibson said. “I don’t have to worry about any of it — it’s just like this big warm blanket. It’s so nice.”
Sablik then said BOOM! Studios is focused on building the comic company of “20 years from now, today,” noting that’s reflected in the makeup of their team and publishing line, as well as the types of projects they take on. BOOM! Box, he said, is an imprint that’s “a home for innovative work that you can’t find anywhere else in the industry,” noting it’s featured such comics as “The Midas Flesh,” the upcoming “Teen Dog,” and “Lumberjanes,” which features an all-female creative team working on a book with an all-female cast.
Sablik then asked Stevenson how she became involved with “Lumberjanes.” “I was an intern in 2012 — I was a design intern, so I moved ‘Garfield’ panels around all day, which was really fun. I was really excited, because it was my first time doing anything behind the scenes in comics, and it was really exciting for me,” Stevenson said. During that time, she became friends with BOOM! Studios editor (and eventual co-creator of “Lumberjanes”) Shannon Watters, who Stevenson said became a mentor to her. After graduating from art school in Maryland, Stevenson moved back to Los Angeles and over brunch, Watters pitched her on working on “Lumberjanes.”
Gagnon asked Stevenson how she balances the “ton of work” she does on “Lumberjanes” and her webcomic “Nimona.” “It helps that one of my favorite things in the entire world is to tell stories,” also noting it was just a short time ago she was “put through the wringer” at art school. “It’s definitely work,” she added. “Anyone who’s like, ‘Ah, yeah, do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life’ is lying. But at the same time, I don’t know if there’s anything else I’d rather be doing.”
Stevenson said there are times she’ll be out at a party and all she wants to do is go home and write. “All I want to do is tell all these stories and tell them as best I can, and if I have to give up certain things for that, then I’m kind of okay with that right now.”
The panel ended with Sablik and Richie calling up Paul Levitz to the stage. Levitz, former president and publisher of DC Comics, is on BOOM!’s board of directors now.
“I think when you build a team — part of how you build a really great team is there have to be some people in it who are so young they don’t know what’s impossible, so they keep trying to change it, and there have to be some people who have hit their head against the wall enough times that they’ve figured out some ways around the wall,” Levitz said. He joked that he “raises the average age by a little bit, just by setting foot there,” when he visits the BOOM! offices, but hopes his experiences can help them around that wall.
“One of the things that was very important to me during all the years I was working at DC was that we were moving the industry toward rooms like this,” Levitz said, noting the diversity of people in the crowd. “When I came to comics in the early 1970s, the definition of who comics were for was very narrow,” citing that comics were geared toward people between the ages of five and 12, and they left when they found “better things to do.”
“We knew that was horseshit,” Levitz said. “We knew it was possible to do wonderful comics for people of all ages, genders, mindsets, attitudes in life. But it took the evolution of the comic shop world, the graphic novel world to begin cracking that, and then it took the coming of age of a generation of people like you’re seeing on the panel who had grown up seeing comics being created for diverse people.”
He said it’s a wonderful moment to be working with BOOM! and to see that diverse audience. “But I think we’re really at just the beginning,” Levitz said, explaining comics in France and Japan have had a greater creative range compared to the United States.
“It’s only in the last 10-15 years we’ve really begun to explode,” Levitz said. “I think the next decade, next two decades, are going to be even more amazing in terms of what’s ahead. I don’t know what the hell you guys are going to create. It may not be anything I want to read. That’s okay. It’s going to be things you want to read. The job of a publishing company is to create the stage on which people can perform, to invite the audience in, sell the tickets and honestly split the proceeds with the creative artist on the stage. BOOM! takes that responsibility seriously, I think it is developing a set of methods to do it well, and I hope to help them with that. And I think there are so many more artists to invite to the stage. And some of you in this room may be among them. I look forward to that journey.”