Ardden Expands on "Flash Gordon" Success with "Multiverse Magazine"

It's been quite a year for Ardden Entertainment. In addition to continuing their acclaimed "Flash Gordon" series, it revived the Atlas Comics line of titles including new takes on "Phoenix", "Grim Ghost" and "Wulf" before bringing them all together for the first ever Atlas crossover event, "Atlas Unified" -- and 2012 holds even bigger plans for the publishing company. Next year, Ardden Entertainment heads into the future with -- a print magazine?

Yes, it's true. Ardden launches "Multiverse Magazine" in early 2012, a comic news print publication bundled with a special preview comic featuring exclusive content. Furthermore, Ardden goes on the offensive against "Flash Gordon" competitor Dynamite Entertainment in the New Year. In November, Ardden issued a press release saying it would send a free trade paperback of its flagship "Flash Gordon" series for every copy of Dynamite Entertainment's "Flash Gordon: Zeitgeist" book that did not sell.

CBR News spoke with Ardden co-publishers Brendan Deneen and Rich Emms about the "Flash Gordon" series and retailer trade-off, "Multiverse Magazine" and its free preview comic and what the future holds for the publisher.

CBR News: Brendan, let's start off with a bit on your "Flash Gordon" series. There have been a couple "Flash Gordon" comics in the past couple years, including the latest from Dynamite Entertainment. What do you think sets Ardden's version apart from the pack?

Brendan Deneen: That's true, there have been a "couple" in the past couple years. Two. Ours and Dynamite's. And ours predates theirs by three years. They knew full well that we were still publishing the character when they went after the rights (and if they claim they didn't, they still didn't try very hard to find out if we were still publishing the character). What sets us apart from the "pack" (i.e. what sets us apart from Dynamite) is that we were publishing the character for years before they decided to go after the license in a very weird and rude fashion. That aside, our version was recently described as "the definitive modern take on the Flash Gordon mythos" [by Geek Goggle Reviews]. Dynamite's version has not been described as the definitive modern take. So, there's that.

In August, you spoke with CBR about "Flash Gordon" and its role as Ardden's flagship title.. Since that time, how has the series changed and how do you think the market for a "Flash Gordon" title has changed, if at all?

Deneen: We've finished our second story arc, "Invasion of the Red Sword" (and our third book, after "The Mercy Wars" and "The Secret History of Mongo") and we're gearing up for our next one, "The Vengeance of Ming." Our fourth and final storyline, "King of the Impossible," will hit stores in mid-2012 and I think it will get people talking. It will showcase a Flash that I don't think has ever been done before.

I think there's always been a market for Flash Gordon. We've seen very strong sales for our first arc, "The Mercy Wars," our star-studded anthology, "The Secret History of Mongo," and our second full story arc, "Invasion of the Red Sword." This is a character and a mythos that captures the imagination. It's true that the market, in general, is not great (unless you're DC, apparently) but we have devoted fans of our take on Flash Gordon, and fans of all of the books we're doing. I'm very proud of all of our titles.

Why do you think Flash Gordon is such a strong choice for a comic book protagonist?

Deneen: Flash Gordon is a strong comic book protagonist for two main reasons: first, the character has been around for 75 years and continues to capture people's imaginations; second, this is, largely, the story of an ordinary man thrust into extraordinary circumstances. There's no fancy costume, no utility belt, no mask -- this is just a guy who finds himself put into these intense situations and he's got a strong moral compass, and he's willing to fight injustice, whether it's on Earth or on another planet. And that's just cool.

Ardden is also taking a bold stance getting behind their version of "Flash Gordon," offering retailers a free trade paperback of your "Flash Gordon" series for every copy of Dynamite's series that doesn't sell. How did this initiative start and what is Ardden hoping to gain from it?

Deneen: This initiative has been very good to us. Look, it's no secret that Dynamite is a bigger company than us. The fact that they went after our flagship character while we were still publishing it is an incredibly rude decision on their part. But we can't compete with them on some levels. I think our version is 100% better than theirs but they still have Alex Ross on their side. We can't compete with his name. But we can compete in terms of storytelling and getting our name out there. If I have to get creative to compete, then that's what I'll do.  Once people read both versions, I think they'll see which is the superior one.

Ardden is also launching "Multiverse Magazine," a direct market comic-centric news publication next year. How did "Multiverse" come together and why did you feel it was the right time to launch this project?

Richard Emms: As well as running Ardden with Brendan and working on the Atlas titles with Jason Goodman, I run a busy retail store in the UK and I always get asked by customers, "What ever happened to Wizard?" or "What can I read that will tell me more about the industry?" etc., etc. "Multiverse" is by far one of the best magazines that we've ever stocked in my store and deserves to be in the hands of the masses. It's a very well produced, edited and designed mag. There's no gloss, no BS and has an editor behind it who understands the industry.

I approached Mike Conroy -- the editor -- about branching out into the US stores and re-packaging the mag with "extra stuff" and incentives that fans would go crazy for. After a couple of months of talking and giving some input into how we could make this really work for today's market, the US format Multiverse was solicited to hit comic stores in February 2012. In fact, we're aiming for a launch to coincide with the London Super Comic Con and Image's Expo.

Now is the time for such a magazine -- and "MV" has everything a die-hard fan needs to know!

In a market that's largely dominated by digital news online, the demand for print news magazines (especially in comics) seems to have shrunk drastically. Why should readers and fans jump onto the "Multiverse" bandwagon?

Emms: Why shouldn't they?! The sales on monthly books are still strong -- probably the strongest they've been for over a decade -- and, fair enough, the digital market is really booming but fans still love the printed format and collecting.

One thing a consumer doesn't get from digital download comics and online forums is the banter and chit-chat that its local comic store offers -- and feedback is key. That's why printed comics will never die. If they did, we'd have no need for conventions and comic stores -- wouldn't life be boring!? Plus, you can't read the latest news and online gossip on the toilet unless you have an iPad!

We're in the process of getting limited edition prints done for retailer incentives, free comics bundled with exclusive content and sketch books from the best artists this industry has ever seen. It's all about promoting the industry from within the mag. We also have an open offer to publishers to print a 28-page comic book for them and bundle it in the magazine -- which we will pay for.

We're currently talking to four of the big guns about this and we hope to have the details of each free comic very soon. We only have a budget for one comic per month, but [we're] willing to bundle a publisher's new book -- if the content fits with "Multiverse's" readership.

Could you elaborate a little on the content of the bundled comic? What's going to be the draw of the freebie month-to-month?

Emms: Each month we want to give fans something cool to put in their collections. I miss the days of the Wizard #1/2 editions and the issue #0s that were bundled with the mag. Towards the end of "Wizard's" life the mag was just an advertising platform and added nothing new for fans to get their teeth into. As for the free comic and its content -- watch this space. We'll have news very soon about the freebies. In the meantime if any publisher wants to talk to us about the comic promo incentive they can email me or Mike directly.

What are Ardden's eventual goals for the magazine and what does it hope to accomplish both in the short and long term?

Emms: All we want is a mag out there that is promoting this industry to its full potential. We are in talks with one major chain about stocking "Multiverse" on its shelves next to the comics and books -- and hopefully the deal will be done in time for issue #1. Outside of that, world domination!

Really? Honestly? That's it. We don't want to run conventions, etc., etc. -- but we will be at as many shows as we can attend around the world. Both Brendan and yours truly have busy day jobs -- but one thing's for sure: we love comics. It's the most dynamic industry you could ever be a part of.

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