A Dynamite View of Comic-Con

Before the flood gates open at Comic-Con International in San Diego, Dynamite Entertainment has given fans a taste of what's to come before the year is over. Prior to the show, the publisher announced that it would be relaunching its flagship "Red Sonja" title as "Queen Sonja" with a new #1 by Joshua Ortega and Mel Rubi and adding three titles to its line in the form of "Stargate" TV adaptations.

Dynamite has spent the past year expanding its presence at conventions as well, and with an eye towards examining how a smaller comic publisher can make a splash at the increasingly crowded Comic-Con, CBR News spoke with Dynamite Publisher, Nick Barruci about his view of the con, his plans for a packed Friday afternoon panel, and where Dynamite sits five years since its inception.

"San Diego Comic-Con is the Mecca of comics in the United States, and people fly in from around the world. I think much like Michael Jackson walked the streets to see who was doing the break dancing and how he could incorporate that into his dance, we spend more time walking through Comic-Con - walking through the trenches talking to talent, looking at what retailers are selling, what fans are buying," Barrucci told CBR. Comic-Con has become the show where people get to show off all of their upcoming success, or in some cases 'blow out' of over flowing inventory. You find out which toy company made too many of select figures and which toy company is selling out of toys, with prices going above MSRP. You find out what the real value of something is - who's selling trade paperbacks at $5 and who's selling them for regular price. It gets harder and harder to do so every year, but when time allows, you get to chill with your writers and artists. It's important, and I can never take away from that."

Barrucci echoed a sentiment heard often these days when getting ready for SDCC: the old con lives on for those who look for it. From legendary figures to today's biggest creators, the show remains a place to meet the best and brightest in the comics industry amongst the big name movie stars, tangentially related "nerd products" and general corporate hype. You only have to try. "All the glitz and the glitter of Hollywood has grown as part of our industry, but to feel comfortable, I'd rather be at the Eisner Awards. It's people I know and grew up with, in the industry I've grown up with," he said. "Every year I got to Comic-Con, and I repeat the same thing: I am lucky that I'm part of this. We are fortunate enough to do the business that we love the most. I love what I do and I do what I love. I'll take that.

"San Diego has grown so much, it's matured to being the Mecca for all forms of entertainment and narration - whether from comics, movies, or other mediums, including video games. Yes, It's become a different organization of fans, but at the heart of it, it's still Comic-Con. There is a downside, the event that it's become allows us to barely say 'hi' to the people we only see once a year. It's not as socially tight as it used to be ten years ago."

Despite that crowded feeling that can severely cut down on general hang out time, Barrucci expressed excitement to bring a wide lineup of talent to Dynamite's panel taking place Friday at 5:00 pm in Comic-Con's room #8. Along with Dynamite creators like Darick Robertson, Marc Guggenheim and Jeff Katz, the Publisher has invited a large lineup of crossover Hollywood talent to both announce new projects and discuss the connection between comics and movies. Aside from names well known to comic fans like writer/producer Javier Grillo-Marxuach and WB Animation's Sander Schwartz, the panel will feature "Notorious B.I.G." producer Bob Teitel, technical film wizard Jules Urbach, "Buck Rogers" company rep Flint Dille, and writer/producer Geoff Burdick - best known for his work with James Cameron and announcing details of a comic called "Militia" at the panel - amongst others.

"The panel's got a very eclectic list of luminaries from outside the comic industry, but these are people who are interested in the comics industry," Barrucci explained. "The title of the panel is 'Dynamite's Fifth Anniversary: Moving Forward with Narration,' but ran in the guide as 'Dynamite Entertainment: Adapting Comics to and from Film, Television and Video Games,' which is fine, and the underlining story is that it's all about the narrative. Just like how for Marc Guggenheim the narrative of the 'Green Lantern' movie is different than that of 'Galactica 1980' for us, it's still about the narrative. And what we are going to encourage people to do is talk to us about how to take their words and turn it into great narrative."

While new project announcements are scheduled for the show, Barrucci recognized that in this day and age, making something seem big at a show known for dropping news about multi-million dollar films can be tough for a small publisher. Dynamite has worked to make their time in the spotlight count. "I think that we're limiting the show to three or four announcements because of the fact that there's going to be so many announcements, it will turn in to white noise. But at the same time, we picked three to four projects that have real appeal inside and outside of Comic-Con and the comics industry. We've got a huge list of guests, and we're scheduled to give out a poster of one of our announcements, 'Militia.' This Comic-Con Panel looks to be a good one."

While four announcements may seem small by the standards of some overloading on Comic-Con hype, the number is a contrast from the slow boil that Dynamite staked its early reputation on. "We started five years ago with 'Army of Darkness,'" recalled the publisher. "The first year of publishing, we focused only on 'Army of Darkness' because we knew we had to build a foundation slowly. The one thing you see when you look at the landscape littered with publishers that have failed is that they all wanted to throw out as many titles as they could to get market share. We knew the only way to get market share was one title at a time.

"That was a fairly successful book in its own right, and when we got to 'Red Sonja' we did something that nobody would have thought possible - we made Sonja more popular than Conan. Looking at it from a sales point of view, I think we outsold Conan the first 18 issues of our launch. Both of those books led into 'Battlestar Galactica,' 'Xena' and 'Darkman.' Then 'The Lone Ranger' was our first critically acclaimed book -- up through that point, we'd had a lot of commercial success. And as much as the fans loved the books, as much as the books were selling - I think we were known by those who realized as 'Yeah, Dynamic Forces. They're doing a couple of comics that are hits.' A lot of that changed when we did 'Lone Ranger.' When we did 'Lone Ranger,' that became a water cooler book. That became the point where creators would come to us and go, 'This is good stuff. - almost like they were saying, 'Didn't think you could do good stuff.' It took us two years to get 'The Lone Ranger' done the way we wanted to get it done."

With a stable of titles now under their banner and more than a few commercial and critical successes to their name, Dynamite plans to leave Comic-Con with more confidence in their ability to shake up the stories they've already begun, starting with "Red Sonja." "Now, we can take a chance and try and do different interpretations within our story and have fun with the character. We can't assume that the audience will always want the character if she's like the old issues of 'Turok.' Turok would be lost in a valley, have some people to protect, and then by the end of the issue he'd get out of the valley only to be lost in another one the next month. We can't go full circle every month, and doing a story where she becomes queen of a kingdom, for me as a publisher it allows us to try something new. Whether we succeed or fail, time will tell."

And hand in hand with classic properties, the Dynamite panel aims to introduce new ideas and stories much like they've done with past summer initiatives. "Now we're able to do creator-driven books like 'The Boys.' And 'Project Superpowers' was a three and a half-year plan. That started off with Juan [Collado] and me talking about it for years. 'How do we do the right superhero project? How do we get the right team of superheroes? How do we create a universe but not launch five titles at once?' It just happened one night where I was sitting there typing for almost five hours, typing a long diatribe. I sent it to the guys, and they said, 'It's interesting. It has potential, but what's the get?' The next day I talked to Jae Lee and Alex Ross. Jae thought it was a good idea and wished me luck. Alex said, 'Hey! I'd like to get involved with this!' And I said, 'Cool, I was just looking for your opinion.' And he said, 'That's my opinion. I'd like to get involved.'"

For more on "Militia" and the rest of Dynamite's San Diego news, check back to CBR this weekend for full Comic-Con 2009 coverage!

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