Bringing culture to comics: Buccellato talks 'Comiculture'

Art © 2002 WalterSimonson[Comiculture #2]Comiculture #2

Art © 2002 Don Hudson

For most comic fans familiar with the work of Steve Buccellato they know him best as a colorist. In the early '90s Buccellato, along with the crew of his now defunct Electric Crayon Studios, helped change the way comics looked forever by introducing modern desktop publishing tools to bring more color and style to comics. Comics never looked the same again. Since those days Buccellato has continued to color comics and now has an entirely new project he's working on, a new magazine called "Comiculture."

"Comiculture" is a full-color, magazine-sized anthology of comic stories from all genres published quarterly. The first issue, which debuted at Comic-Con International earlier this year, contained a crime story, a western, a true tale from within the comics industry, science fiction, supernatural horror, humor and other stories that don't quite fit into any one category. In addition to the comics, the magazine contains articles about comics and pop-culture that ties in heavily with their Web site. The book features a varied listed of creators which includes Rob Tokar, Don Hudson, Klaus Janson, Marc Siry, Jessica Wolk-Stanley, Benjamin Raab, Richard Starkings and John Roshell at Comicraft and newcomers Allen Gladfelter and Jeff Zornow. The cover to issue #1 was provided by Walt Simonson. Future editions of "Comiculture" will feature work by Tim Sale, Karl Altstaetter, Brian Buccellato, Buddy Scalera and Marie Javins.

"Our goal [with 'Comiculture'] is to present entertaining and interesting stories with great art," Buccellato told CBR News, "that's why we're springing for the larger format & glossy paper! The stories in 'Comiculture' are all original, some are multi-part serials and some are stand-alone stories."

Your first thought might be that this book is an American version of "Heavy Metal" or similar to the old "Epic Illustrated," but Buccellato believes the content found in "Comiculture" is more varied than those publications.

© 2002 MarcSiry

"The focus of those other magazines seems to be on science fiction & fantasy," said Buccellato. "We're trying to cover as many genres as possible. 'Heavy Metal' also tends to favor stories where the 'mature' content is just a lot of sex & nudity. We label 'Comiculture' 'for mature readers,' but that's mostly because of themes and language. So far, no sex & nudity -- not that we're ruling that out. We're trying not to be gratuitous about our content."

For Buccellato, "Comiculture" is a project that he's wanted to do for a long time.

"'Comiculture' is really a combination of many projects I've tried to get off the ground over the years. My colleagues at Mad Science Media and I have pitched similar projects to publishers in the past but ultimately decided to do it on our own. We all have similar goals and varying motivations, but one goal we all share is that we'd like more exposure for our characters and creations. The model we're following is that of the European comics industry. I see 'Comiculture' as a sampler of original stories that potentially can be spun-off into their own series. In the first issue, we started a couple of serialized stories and, if there is a demand, we intend to collect these stories and present them as graphic novels. Maybe even as hard-cover albums as the French do.

"Perhaps my background as an assistant to Archie Goodwin at Epic has a lot to do with the inspiration. Creator-ownership has always been an important issue for me and all of the properties featured in 'Comiculture' are creator-owned.

© 2002 SteveBuccellato

"I'd like to mention one other thing about the format. The idea of doing short and serialized stories grew out of necessity as much as any other factor. Because we are funding this project ourselves, nobody is being paid unless we can recoup the costs. Everyone involved has a 'day job' (mine is coloring 'Spider-Man') that takes up most of our time. It's hard to make the time to draw stories in our 'free time,' even with our quarterly schedule. Still, this is a project we all believe in."

Once the idea was in place it just took time to convince Buccellato he needed to stop just talking about it and self-publish the book. At last year's Comic-Con International in San Diego Buccellato felt frustrated because he believed his career was stagnating a bit, having not done anything new to further his career since the previous Comic-Con. That was the catalyst he needed to get started and wheels were set in motion to launch "Comiculture."

"Basically, I sat down with the core group of creators, Rob Tokar, Don Hudson, Klaus Janson, Marc Siry and Ben Raab, and we came up with the content that would eventually be in issue #1. Working in our own 'free time,' we really started production at the end of last year, with the goal of presenting issue #1 at Comic Con 2002."

For those who've seen the magazine the reaction has been very positive, but Buccellato notes that those who've seen the magazine aren't many.

©2002Jessica Wolk-Stanley

"The biggest problem has been getting noticed. Unfortunately, we're not working with a standard business model. Our budget is extremely limited, and we're spending most of it on our high production values. Not much money for advertising. However, when we've been able to show people our material (at Wizard World Chicago and at San Diego) people have almost always been impressed.

"At both conventions our Executive Editor, Rob Tokar, went around to all of the retailers to spread the word. In almost every case he had the same reaction: First, he was treated with suspicion! Then, Rob started his pitch and handed them a copy--which they looked at reluctantly. After flipping through a couple pages to be polite, all the retailers began to warm up. They slowed down and really looked at the magazine with interest. Some had heard of 'Comiculture' before, but too many people had not -- this is especially isappointing because we paid for an 8-page insert that went into Diamond's retailer order-form packs.

"It's an uphill battle. We hope now that the first issue is out, retailers who may not have known what to make of the book before will get behind us and order some when the first issue is re-offered along with issue #2 for November shipping."

© 2002 KlausJansonFrom "The Lost Tribe."

© 2002 Benjamin Raab& Allen Gladfelter. Inks by Jeff Zornow.

Buccellato feels Comiculture has a lot to offer a wide spectrum of fans, not just appealing to the "Heavy Metal" crowd or just indy fans.

"We like to think of 'Comiculture' as a magazine with 'indy' sensibilities and 'mainstream' high production values. What we mean is that our stories aren't the usual stuff of the mainstream (super heroes), but at the same time, we're trying hard not to be inaccessible. Too many independent comics are. We're trying to cover many different pop-culture genres and trying to keep a high level of quality in the art and storytelling."

For Buccellato, publishing "Comiculture" has been one of the biggest challenges of his career and he's looking forward to what comes next with the series.

"Producing Comiculture has been the most rewarding (and difficult!) experience of my professional career, but this is what I want to do. I want to write, draw and publish comics. If we can get the support, I'd love to put 'Comiculture' out more frequently than the scheduled four times per year. I'd like to do those hard-cover graphic novels I was talking about before. I'd like to spin off characters into their own comic book series under the "Comiculture" label. But that's for the future - right now, we're just concentrating on making issue #2 even better than the first!"

"Comiculture #2" is listed in the latest Diamond Previews and will be published this November.

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