In February, CBR News began a conversation with Matt Gagnon and Filip Sablik of BOOM! Studios. The Editor-In-Chief and Vice President of Publishing and Marketing fielded a series of questions about 2013’s big events, not the least of which was the combining of BOOM! Studios and Archaia.
Since then, BOOM! has made even more announcements, warranting another in-depth conversation along with a few follow-ups to our first talk. We cover everything from the surprising lack of growing pains that came with the Archaia merger, updates on the work of creators like George Perez and Brian Stelfreeze and more details about the company’s upcoming “Big Trouble in Little China” comic by Eric Powell and Brian Churilla, its first look deal with Cartoon Network and the BOOM! Innovators retailer incentive program.
CBR News: Incorporating an entire company’s worth of people into your operation like you did with Archaia doesn’t sound like a simple process. Were there any growing pains that came from that merger?
Filip Sablik: It definitely wasn’t a simple process — these things never are — but I’m happy to say that it was an incredibly smooth transition. Much smoother than any of us had anticipated, actually. I’d attribute it largely to the fact that the BOOM! and Archaia teams were already incredibly familiar with each other and had a shared respect for our individual accomplishments.
Matt Gagnon: Team chemistry is very important to us. I’d go so far as to say it’s one of the most significant contributors to our success. We have a team that looks out for one another; it was essential and vital to make sure the Archaia folks bought into that philosophy. One team. One mission. No internal drama. No internal politics. That’s our expectation for everybody who’s part of the team. Bottom line, if your team isn’t healthy and fortified it creates distractions. So I say, let’s leave the drama in our comics. Let’s focus on competing, doing some of the best work in comics, treating people right, moving the industry forward and challenging ourselves every day. All the folks that came over from Archaia took to that sensibility in stride. They’ve been a wonderful addition to the family.
Sablik: Mel Caylo and Scott Newman used to work for me at Top Cow. Stephen Christy and I have been friends for years. Matt and Ross have known Stephen and Mel for years as well. Rebecca “Tay” Taylor, Archaia’s editor, mentored a number of our younger team members when they were interns at Archaia. The other big factor is that our core philosophies really overlapped in a big way and those shared values drive both teams. As an example, when I was incorporating Archaia into our ComicsPRO presentation this year, I was really happy to see how easily they matched up with our core beliefs. It’s been eight months now and I’d say the Archaia team is fully incorporated and would proudly proclaim “We Are BOOM!” if you asked them. Our team deserves the lion’s share of the credit for that — from day one they welcomed the Archaia team with open arms and really made them feel welcome. I couldn’t be more proud of everyone for that.
You mentioned George Perez in our first conversation. How is he coming along with “She-Devils?”
Gagnon: George is a machine. He already has the entire “She-Devils” story plotted out and is in the throes of drawing the series as we speak. But most importantly, he’s having fun. He’s mentioned to us many times that he feels reinvigorated working on a series where he can tell a brand-new story with creative freedom and support.
Sablik: George has recovered from his eye surgery and hasn’t missed a beat in terms of story-telling, draftsmanship and detail. It’s really amazing. We’re on track to launch “She-Devils” in the Fall.
The “Big Trouble In Little China” announcement was huge. How did working in that world start taking shape and what was the process like for putting the creative team together?
Gagnon: I’ve wanted to do “Big Trouble in Little China” since I started at BOOM!. It’s something we’ve been working on for years. We’d float the idea around to our friends over at Fox every so often, and in the ensuing years, we were fortunate enough to build a relationship with Mr. Carpenter and Sandy King, who are both fantastic. As it goes with these things, a big part of the process is timing.
We received the actual go-ahead about a year ago. Fox has been a terrific partner for us going all the way back to the “28 Days Later” and “Die Hard” days, and continuing on to “Planet of the Apes,” “Sons of Anarchy” and now “Big Trouble.” We’ve had a lot of success together, and they’ve been phenomenal in helping us make “Big Trouble” a reality.
For the creative on the series, Eric Powell was always at the top of the list for us. His creative voice — his sense of humor — is just perfect for Jack Burton and the world of “Big Trouble.” All of us had the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Carpenter, and it really seemed to click from the get-go. And the artist, Brian Churilla, is somebody we worked with back in ’09 on “The Anchor,” and we’ve be dying to work with him ever since. He’s an incredible talent who has been working on his own series recently, so this is the first time we’ve been able to collaborate in almost five years. I really can’t wait for this series to hit shelves. We’re all having a total blast working on it.
Could the “Big Trouble” book lead to more Carpenter comics in the future?
Sablik: More Carpenter comics — that’s an interesting idea.
Gagnon: Excuse me, I have some calls to make.
How did Paul Levitz joining forces with BOOM! come about? What sort of interaction does he have with the company on a day-to-day basis?
Sablik: The exact details are probably best relayed by Paul and Ross Richie, but basically, Paul and Ross reconnected last year and started chatting about comic history. One thing led to another, and we had the opportunity to ask Paul to consult with us on a number of big-picture things, including how we could improve our creator contract. He brought an immeasurable amount of insight and knowledge into the process — I mean, c’mon, Paul has probably forgotten more about the comics industry than most of us will ever know, and he doesn’t forget much.
Gagnon: Yeah, there aren’t many situations Paul hasn’t encountered in his career as both an executive and a creator. As our company transitions into its next phase and looks toward the future, Paul will be a massive resource and mentor for us. Even in the early discussions we’ve already had, it’s been a revelation to soak up the knowledge and experience he has to offer.
Sablik: We found the whole process so valuable and game-changing that Ross invited Paul to join our Board. Paul won’t be involved in the company day-to-day, but he will be active on our Board — flying out to LA for meetings a number of times a year and helping guide the big-picture strategies of where BOOM! goes in the coming years. We always talk about wanting to build the best team in comics and you don’t get much better in the category of advisor and mentor than Paul Levitz.
On a personal note, as someone who has worked for a decade on the business side of the industry, it’s still a bit surreal to kick out an idea for changing the way your company and the industry does business and not only have Paul weigh in on it, but say, “Not a bad idea, kid.”
“Day Men” made a huge splash when it debuted last year, but as of March 5, only three issues have come out. Are you considering shifting to a non-traditional schedule to fit artist Brian Stelfreeze’s process?
Sablik: Brian’s process is not only incredibly detailed, but his development process is intensely comprehensive as he builds out not only the characters and the world, but in the case of “Day Men,” an entirely new visual language for telling the story. One of the innovative things we did when we started working with Brian is that we built in a development period to allow him to tell “Day Men” the way he wanted to. Brian has invested so much of himself, and in turn so have [writers] Matt and Michael [Alan Nelson], that it’s taken longer to get rolling than we’d initially anticipated. But as Brian would describe himself, he’s like a locomotive. He needs to build up a head of steam to really get going. We’re anticipating #4 should be out in a few months, and then we’ll start back with the second arc being solicited on a bi-monthly schedule.
Gagnon: We’ve noticed that as the industry evolves and the market grows, there are so many retailers and readers that are open to supporting projects that don’t necessarily fit into the standard publishing model. Obviously, 99.9% of the titles we produce fit that model — and we have a phenomenal track record for shipping on time — but the market has been very accepting of “Day Men,” which is kind of a different animal. In return, we’ve been reaching out to our retail partners with specific incentives per issue and trying to back them as well.
Sablik: What’s been incredibly gratifying is how excited and supportive fans and retailers have been, despite the schedule. Both the first two issues sold out at Diamond, and issue #3 just did the same. In the meantime, we’re kicking off the Pen & Ink line with a stunning “Day Men” installment, and we’ll be rolling out some other “Day Men” and Stelfreeze related items over the next year that will help tide fans over on the off months.
Gagnon: I think folks have seen that we’re committed to the series and every issue has a lot of heart of passion infused in it.
A few years back there was talk of BOOM! teaming up with Shia LaBeouf to make comics. He’s come under a lot of fire lately. Did that change those plans?
Sablik: We had some conversations with Shia, but no deal ever actually came together.
BOOM! also announced a new first look deal with Cartoon Network at ComicsPRO. How did you choose which books to start with for that new venture?
Sablik: We were actually already talking to Cartoon Network about taking on a number of new properties just based on our excitement of what we’d seen when the First Look discussion began. The one we’ve already revealed, “Steven Universe,” is a great example. We’re huge fans of Rebecca Sugar’s work online and on “Adventure Time” as well as having a big contingent of “Sailor Moon” fans in the office, so when “Steven Universe” was first announced, we immediately wanted to do a comic.
Gagnon: We just went up to the Cartoon Network offices last month and met with all of the showrunners for the projects we’re publishing. The synergy between everybody at Cartoon Network and BOOM! is such a cool thing to be a part of. There’s a real kinship based on creativity and alternative ways of doing things that make all these titles so special. I think the only way you get the accolades and the fan support that we’ve had is by having that type of collaboration. There’s a mutual sensibility we share that makes these books so fun and groundbreaking.
Sablik: It’s an incredible vote of confidence to have Cartoon Network give BOOM! their first-ever publishing First Look deal. We really pride ourselves in the way the work on “Adventure Time” and “Regular Show” has not only helped build the all-ages market in comics over the last couple of years, but also expanded from a creative standpoint what is possible in all-ages comics. It’s amazing to have a partner like Cartoon Network recognize those efforts and want to reward them. The folks at Cartoon Network, led by Pete Yoder, Rick Blanco and Marisa Marionakis, have encouraged us to push the envelope since day one.
Does the deal work retroactively, too? In other words, can you make comics of existing Cartoon Network properties that aren’t already being produced elsewhere?
Sablik: If it’s a contemporary, active animated property, yes. Most of our attention will be focused on upcoming debuts, but “Amazing World of Gumball,” which will be debuting in June, has been on the air for a while.
What kind of rewards are you offering stores with the new BOOM! Innovators initiative?
Sablik: Retailers are going to benefit in a number of ways if they participate in the BOOM! Innovators program. We’re going to actively promote them through a variety of avenues, including dedicated ads and spotlights in our comics, on our website and through our social media. They’ll receive special promo items to identify them as a BOOM! Innovator, including a poster to hang in their store. But the biggest benefit for stores will be a quarterly stock exchange where they can swap out unsold BOOM! single issues for virtually anything we have in stock. They’ll be able to return stripped cover single issues and get back trades, hardcovers, or even variant covers, depending on what they want. It will allow retailers to reduce their risk and take a bigger position on BOOM! so we can grow our business together. Another fun benefit is that over the last few months we’ve been doing some really innovative promotional mailings and pre-FOC limited rewards based on orders. Recently, we mailed out about 75 packages for “Dead Letters” #1 that included an advance review galley and a limited-edition hospital bracelet with a QR code on it. Before that, we sent out 50 hand-crafted screenprints for “Evil Empire.” BOOM! Innovators will automatically receive those mailings even if they normally wouldn’t qualify for them based on their orders. I’m sure we’ll add more benefits as we go. Basically, if a retailer backs us, we will go to the mat for them.
Gagnon: What we discussed when conceptualizing the initiative was the ability for retailers to order greater quantities of our books, but do so in a way that protects them and gives them some flexibility. As a former buyer myself, I know how difficult it is to approach a catalog the size of “Previews.” With the volume and breadth of titles being published on any given month, it’s a big challenge to support so many worthy titles on a budget.
The stock exchange we’re offering will give retailers the opportunity to turn anything they can’t sell into product that they can. It’s a way for both parties to try to grow their businesses and do so by sharing the risk. Ultimately, it’s about finding people that believe in what we do and trying to give them as much support as possible. The state of the industry has been really encouraging the last couple years; it feels like us publishers and retailers have an opportunity change things for the better right now.