Most know Marc Silvestri’s Top Cow Productions as one of the original Image Comics partner studios, creating some of the most flamboyant superhero and “bad girl” comics of the 1990s. In the last ten years, the studio has grown into much more. In addition to handling the production of several Marvel Comics titles, today’s Top Cow line of books also include the comedic “Freshmen II” by Seth Green & Hugh Sterbakov; the dark and complex “Hunter-Killer” series by Mark Waid; and Ron Marz’s fantastical run on “Witchblade.” The studio is now set to grow even more with the addition of Filip Sablik, Top Cow’s new Director of Marketing who joined the company just shy of three months ago.
For those readers perhaps unfamiliar with the job of a marketing director, it is quite simply to make sure the project in question – in this case, Top Cow Productions – finds the largest possible audience. “The goal for 2007 is to build awareness for Top Cow as a quality entertainment brand and really create awareness for our key projects for the year,” Sablik said in a conversation with CBR News. “And trust me, we have some awesome projects coming up in 2007.”
Sablik is uniquely suited to the challenges of marketing a comics company in such a competitive marketplace. “I spent most of my career prior to Top Cow at Diamond Comic Distributors,” Sablik explained. “I started in their Customer Service department right out of college and worked with a great batch of retailers on the West Coast & Northwest. After a year there I moved up to Diamond’s Purchasing department and eventually became an Assistant Manager, where I worked with some fabulous publishers like Image Comics, Dynamite Entertainment, Oni Press, Boom! Studios, Avatar Press, and many, many others.
“In working with Image, I got to be good friends with the guys at the Image Central office as well as the guys and gals at Top Cow. Matt Hawkins (president of Top Cow) and I always had a great working relationship, but even so I was more than a little surprised and flattered when he approached me about a job at the Cow. The family over at Diamond had been nothing but fantastic to work with, but the opportunity to work on the publishing side was very appealing. Matt made me ‘an offer I couldn’t refuse’ and the rest as they say is history.”
Unquestionably, Sablik’s greatest strength is his considerable experience in working side by side with retailers as well as publishers – not to mention his intimate understanding of Diamond Distributors – but his greatest challenge is, arguably, the legacy of Top Cow itself. “Most people think of us as an art driven company and some less kindly as a ‘T&A’ company,” Sablik said. “Whether or not that was true 10 years ago, it’s definitely not true today. While we still maintain an incredibly high standard for art, our editorial staff works their butts off to make sure we get top notch writers and demands the best from them as well.”
Indeed, in addition to Top Cow’s impressive visual output, the studio also works with some of the biggest writers in and out of the comics industry. DC and Marvel mainstays Mark Waid, Ron Marz and Paul Jenkins are all presently writing well-reviewed Top Cow comics, and TV writers Seth Green & Hugh Sterbakov as well as novelist Joshua Ortega are also doing exciting work for the Cow.
Sablik believes that when it comes to overcoming pre-conceived notions of a Top Cow comic, nothing speaks louder than the work itself. “I defy anyone to read Ron Marz’s run on ‘Witchblade’ and categorize it as ‘popcorn’ entertainment. Or read ‘Hunter-Killer’ and not agree that Mark Waid is writing some of his most intelligent, complicated storylines to date.”
He added, “Top Cow is the comic company that gives you a complete entertainment package just outside of our standard superhero milieu. We give you fantasy, action, horror and sci-fi without abandoning our superhero roots. You take a book like ‘Witchblade’ and you can definitely give it to a Marvel or DC fan, but you could easily give it to a fan of TV’s ‘X-Files’ or ‘Homicide.’ Or give ‘The Darkness’ to someone who likes vigilantes at the same time as a fan of ‘The Sopranos’ or classic horror films. If the big guys are the equivalent of NBC or ABC, we’re a cable network like Sci-Fi, HBO, or FX bringing you hip, cool, and edgy entertainment you’re not going to find on network TV. And we’ll make sure you can get our properties in whatever medium best works for you, whether it’s comics and trades or video game, TV, anime, or motion pictures. It’s all about entertaining the fans.”
Even with top quality content, the comics marketplace is relatively small and therefore fiercely competitive, which presents Top Cow with the additional challenge of making their message heard. “Too many times in the past, we’ve suffered when we had great content but didn’t get the word out in a timely and effective manner,” Sablik said. “We’re a small company compared to DC and Marvel, but our editorial content and production value is second to none. I’d put our artists head to head with any of the fine creators Marvel and DC have working for them, which is one of the reasons we were able to set up our current deal with Marvel. You see Tyler Kirkham on ‘Phoenix: Warsong’ or Mike Choi on ‘X-23’ and there is no doubt these guys are of the same caliber as artists Marvel has on other books.”
With so much happening for the company in 2007, it’s no surprise that clarity of message is at the top of Sablik’s to-do list. In addition to all of Top Cow’s comics output, the company is continuing to make roads into the mainstream media. “[Top Cow president] Matt Hawkins has developed wonderful partnerships with various license holders on our properties. Just in the first part of 2007, we’ve got a ‘Darkness’ video game from 2K, a ‘Witchblade’ Anime from Studio GONZO, and a ‘Witchblade’ Manga. So, the material is definitely there to work with, we just need to make sure people know about it. That means a regular presence in print, online, and radio both within and outside of the comic industry.”
Despite the studio’s multimedia-based plan for world domination, Sablik is quick to point out that the Top Cow’s focus will always be the comics industry, saying, “Hopefully by the end of 2007 you’ll be used to seeing Top Cow all over the internet, in print, and listening to our creators talk to you.” Sablik also renewed Top Cow’s commitment to retailers, adding, “I’m also working on building relationships with our retailer partners. These guys are the backbone of our industry and developing a positive relationship with them is key to our thriving in the marketplace. I’ll always make myself available to talk with them and listen to their ideas whether its on the phone, online, or in person at shows.”
CBR Staff Writer Andy Khouri contributed to this story.