CBR Interviews KISS

News broke this morning of the creation of the KISS Comics Group and its inaugural title, "KISS 4K." A joint venture between Platinum Studios and the hugely popular, multi-platinum American rock band KISS, the new title will be the first KISS comic ever produced in concert (heh) with the band themselves. Platinum will debut the "KISS 4K" with an oversized $50 Destroyer Edition at the Wizard World Los Angeles Convention in March, with an ongoing series to follow in May by writer Rcky Sprague and artist Kevin Crossley. Additionally, an online KISS comic will run concurrently to "KISS 4K," expanding on the continuity and story of the print version. As Platinum put it to CBR News, "Think 'Civil War,' without having to spend a ton of money and without having huge continuity problems."

CBR's Jonah Weiland spoke this afternoon with KISS members Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley as well as Platinum Studios founder/chairman Scott Rosenberg about the band's affinity for comics and their involvement with "KISS 4K."

Gene & Paul, thanks for talking with me today. It's been about three years since KISS was last published as a comic series. Why is now the right time to make a return to the comics medium?

Paul Stanley: I think the missing factor for a while was a new team. Sometimes new blood is what's necessary. I think between Scott Rosenberg and the whole Platinum crew, we have the makings of a team that can not only win the World Series, but become one of the best teams ever. KISS obviously is a band that has a dual identity in that we're musicians, but we're also super heroes and we've certainly found ways to market that before. I think this venture, just the fact that the first comic coming out will be the largest in history and certified by the Guinness Book of World Records, says that we're all on the same page. The truth is that games are won by teams and wars are won by armies and we've amassed a great bunch of people.

Gene Simmons: Jonah, it's important – because we're speaking basically to the converted – that the fanboys out there understand and realize that we're not outsiders. We grew up and lived, breathed and dreamed comic books. Not just Marvel, but the classic stuff from Gardner Fox, Denny O'Neil, etc., we know this stuff. For fucks sake, I grew up with Marv Wolfman! We were going to do a fanzine together as kids!

All the way back to the '70s when our first comic books came out through Marvel and broke sales records, we valued that relationship. We had a terrific time with Todd McFarlane who we've stayed friends with and continue to do business with and speak very highly of. Mike Richardson has been terrific with the Dark Horse stuff. It's just that every once in a while players switch teams, you get traded off and get reinvigorated. I gotta tell you, this team we have is small like a commando team, we talk directly to each other, not with assistants and secretary's who may mean well, but they don't know this stuff. We live, breathe and eat comic books and the fans out there need to understand we don't just arch our eyebrows and say, "Liefeld? Who's that?" We know our stuff.

Gene, you brought up the history of KISS comics publishing. As KISS has been featured in a variety of comics over the years, how does this new ongoing KISS series, "KISS 4K," compare to what's come before? As you're involved in the day-to-day operations of the book, does it better represent your vision for what a KISS comic should be?

Simmons: It's not really fair to say it's my vision or Paul's. This is really, as Paul said, a team. It started off with a conversation just starting with a joint venture – let's do something big, let's try to do something that doesn't just appeal to the fanboys out there. Whatever happened to those million plus people who used to buy comic books? What the fuck has happened to this thing that we love, this American born invention called comic books and specifically super heroes, which is purely an American art form? And art form is the correct way to describe it. Comic books have long stayed in the shadows and the reason we're all very excited about doing the biggest comic book of all time, period, is simply because we're proud of the content, but we also understand we have to grab media by the scruff of its neck and say, "Pay attention, comics aren't just kids stuff." That's what we're aiming to do together with Platinum.

Stanley: It's very easy for us to sing the praises of this relationship. We've got great writers and artists. I remember when I would go to newsstands and see anything Frazetta did. There was a time where I would pick up comics on the newsstands and it was different at least for me, maybe because I was younger, but I doubt it. I think it was because there was more complexity to them. What we're doing now is so multi-layered that you really have to have a bible to keep all this on track. Its heady stuff and we've really got a great team. I'm excited by it. I'm sitting here with Scott and he's sitting here stroking his chin in excitement, which I guess is better than stroking something else. [laughs]

Let's talk about your "KISS 4K" writer a bit, Ricky Sprague. He's a relative newcomer to comics, but apparently has a wealth of KISS knowledge. Where'd he come from and how'd he end up on your radar?

Simmons: You know, everyone comes in off the street and if you have any kind of reputation you have a name that's instantly recognized. However, a good story is a good story, period. Everyone is unknown at some point in their life. Stanley Lieber, before he became Stan Lee, was just a knucklehead 18 year old kid before someone read his stuff. It all comes down to talent. Ricky's a new guy who's work, how can I say it, it's engrossing. You start reading his stuff and you go, "I like this." It doesn't take a nuclear physicist to read this stuff, especially when there are visuals involved, but in comic books the words better be important, otherwise the visuals will overshadow it completely. When you're a kid, the visuals are what catch your eye. All those colors and people flying through walls. I remember Kirby's work, where he'd have one character punch another character who would fly out of frame. But at the end of the day, the words really are in competition with the visuals and when they mesh, you've got something really good. I think we've got a great team – sure, we're biased, but we're also very proud. There's a long tradition and it has to do with pride and that means nothing goes out with the KISS name unless we approve and sign off on it. We have to really be proud of it because it impacts everything else with KISS.

What kind of conversations have you guys had with Ricky thus far?

Simmons: Very little. We believe in the notion of once you have a partner, you have to take labor and divide it. Our point of view starts with putting the entity together, and then sitting down and doing a division of labor. Before Ricky was involved we did in fact have some pretty substantial discussions about the kinds of characters and we basically talked about the Universe. Having said that, after for example Stan Lee creates a character, somebody else can come in and write it. So, we have never sat down with Ricky. Except when the material started coming in, we had to sign off on it. We reacted to it exactly the same way the reader will – this is good stuff! It's up to Scott and the team to make sure that it all works. Nothing goes out there without us signing off on it, though.

I want to add something here about the comics market, if I may. Not just you guys or the conventions or whatever, but we better start looking at this thing of ours, and it is ours, this American thing called a comic book, as a bigger idea and we've got to stop just preaching to the converted. There's a bigger world out there with brand new fans that can come in and start reading their favorite comic books and it doesn't matter which company they start with. We should be supporting the comic book industry as a whole first and foremost as an art medium. It belongs right along side books.

Early on, Marvel had an interesting point of view. The Panel Graphic and Pop Art Productions names they used early on, they were visibly aware that the word comic book had its negatives and there's no reason why this should be relegated to funny animals and kids stuff. There's important stuff being done in comics, even back thirty, forty years ago. I remember those Denny O'Neil/Neal Adams "Green Lantern/Green Arrow" books where one of the characters was a drug addict. I remember thinking back then, "Wow, these characters have problems, too!"

And, of course, with television and film looking to the comics medium for content and inspiration, it appears finally the mainstream is beginning to embrace comics once again.

Simmons: A lot of that comes from our good friend Avi Arad. He originally started off with Toy Biz, which was the toy division of Marvel comics, who came in and single handedly went out and started making important movies. Now, you've got to remember that Warner Bros. owned lock, stock and barrel all those DC characters and couldn't figure out what the fuck to do with them, and here's an outsider who comes in – and by the way speaks English haltingly with a thick Israeli accent (I'm one of those guys, too) – and in the beginning, to be quite frank, I was very taken by Avi and his vision. We sat down and he actually gave me the rights to produce "Inhumans"

Scott, in the Variety story published earlier today it was revealed there were plans to use Platinum Universe characters in the KISS comics. What can you tell us about that and which characters are involved?

Scott Rosenberg: We're not revealing which characters. It'll be a surprise as the series unfolds. One of the things that happens is the whole storyline, which is a twelve issue arc that branches off into other KISS storylines, goes from dimension to dimension and universe to universe as our friends at KISS have to save all the universes, or at least our very own while the others blow up along the way.

Simmons: We're taking it one universe at a time.

Rosenberg: Hey Jonah, something interesting happened today and I don't know if Paul and Gene even know this yet. This morning, once news got out there, the site got so much traffic it crashed. It came back up and we've been making the necessary revisions. The online store at Signatures Network has already sold out of some of the limited edition product on there.

Gene and Paul, obviously you're both huge comic fans. How did your fascination with comics begin?

Stanley: I remember the first comic I saw was at my cousins house. I had never seen anything like that before. My parents certainly wouldn't expose me to comics as I'd already found my way to rock and roll, which was bad enough! It was Batman with the Crimson Knight. I remember being fascinated with the art. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before. The whole idea of a story not only being told in dialogue, but in these drawings, was all new to me and it hooked me immediately. It was over the years that I became more fascinated with the cover art in particular. Take "Conan" with Frazetta and Ken Kelly doing these amazing covers on these books. The only thing I wished is that they had the time to do the interiors, too.

Simmons: You don't want to know everything about my love of comics because we just don't have the time! I came from Israel. Comic books, for me, were the bible. It taught me literally that this was the land of dreams. That while Europe gave everybody the Scarlet Pimpernel, he was nothing compared to Steve Rogers. I'm not talking just about the Simon/Kirby Golden Age stuff, but when he came back in the "Avengers" from the frozen ice and then for a while it was a fake Steve Rogers, you know, all that great stuff. I was even familiar with Simon & Kirby's "The Shield" and I used to buy "The Fly" comics when Kirby used to do them.

Clearly you're an old school comics fans.

Simmons: Absolutely, but I love the new stuff, too. You should check out "Unique," this title coming from Platinum. Very hip stuff. And the "Storm & Ember" stuff [based on a Belgian comic called "Storm," being developed by Platinum] is something you should be checking out. I saw an animated version of it and the artwork just knocked me out. It's sort of like "Cadillacs & Dinosaurs" meet "John Carter From Mars," and I'm not talking about the Dell or Gold Key Jesse Marsh drawn "John Carter from Mars," the same artist that used to do "Tarzan" at Dell.

I loved a lot of the EC writers and artists. I'm a big Wally Wood fan. I was aware that Dan Adkins was his inker and learned his stuff from him. Reed Crandall continues to be one of my favorite artists of all time. The early Frazetta and Al Williamson drawn EC Comics still stand out to me as just astonishing stuff. I love Hal Foster's "Prince Valiant," Joe Kubert's "Tor" and obviously we're all fans of the Lee's of the world – Jae Lee, Jim Lee and the Stan Lee's. Lots of room for Lee's.

Thanks Gene, Paul and Scott for talking with us today.

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