CCI: Aspen Announces 10-for-10 Initiative

At this year's Comic-Con International in San Diego, Aspen Comics announced a special initiative in celebration of its tenth anniversary next year. Beginning in February 2013, the publisher will launch a new series with a new #1 for one dollar each month for ten months. While five of the new books will be based on established Aspen properties, the rest will be brand new creations from some of Aspen's most prolific writers for a celebration the publisher hopes will last the entirety of 2013.

To shed some light on the announcement and Aspen's tenth anniversary, CBR News spoke with Aspen President Frank Mastromauro and Editor-in-Chief Vince Hernandez about the initiative, what fans can expect from the books, why it lasts for ten months, and all the other Aspen news coming out of CCI and beyond.

Frank and Vince, tell us about the driving force and origin of the 10-for-10 initiative? What's it all about and how did it come to be?

Frank Mastromauro: Obviously, this is ten years in the making. A lot of people didn't think we would make it this far, especially when Michael [Turner] passed away. It was definitely a tough road for us. We tailspinned for a while, 2008 we barely put out any products -- it was just rough. We tried to recover from that. We never fully have and I don't think we ever fully will, but everyone here -- myself, Vince, Mark [Roslan], Peter [Steigerwald], Josh, J.T. [Krul] -- all of us knew that we needed to put our nose to the grindstone and get some things accomplished. It took us longer than we expected, but I can say next year we have probably the strongest game plan and the strongest schedule we've ever built. Every year, the stuff we have planned, sometimes it looks like a slam dunk every time and we think it'll go off without a hitch and somehow, someway, stuff happens. A book might not make it or this doesn't happen or whatnot, but we've been working on the ten year anniversary stuff since early this year and that's why we wanted to make sure come Comic-Con, we had pretty much everything solidified. We're still building teams and everything on the books, but that's okay because some of these books are a year and a half away, but we do have the whole line ready to announce. We do have the whole initiative ready to announce and we're just so excited. Heck man, ten years in this business is a pretty long time. We've outlasted other companies that people would have thought would have been around hella longer than us. I don't know if it's stupidity or perseverance or what, but we've definitely made it and we're proud and we're excited. We want retailers and fans to know, look, we're still here and this ten year anniversary, we're going to be giving you guys some cool and exciting stuff.

Aspen has five series based on established properties and five completely new ones slated for next year -- what can you tell us about the new properties?

Mastromauro: Every year, we try to introduce at least a few new properties, whether it's revamping something we've done or a spin-off of something we've already done. What we're doing is we're really looking within. Obviously, so many people bring in other creators and bring in licensed properties and at Aspen, we've never been about licenses. We've been flattered to have been offered so many different ones throughout our career and it's been really great, but the one thing that Mike thought about that was, well, if we're spending so much time working on someone else's property, that's taking him or Peter or whoever away from working on our stuff. For better or for worse, we've stuck to our guns on that and we've always developed properties from within the Aspen household. Bringing in certain aspects of creator-owned properties like when we did Jason Rubin's "Iron and the Maiden," that was some of our best friends working on that book. That was pretty much a no-brainer. Joe Benitez was one of our closest friends for years since back in the Top Cow days, so bringing his "Lady Mechanika" here was a no-brainer. David Schwartz did "Idolized," we've known him for years and it just sort of built to that.

For the 10-for-10, what we're really doing is all the new properties are properties from within Aspen from the creators here that have put their nose to the grindstone, worked their asses off to get to where we are now. It's basically their just due in putting out some new books, Mark Roslan will have a new book coming out, Vince will have a new book coming out, I have a new book coming out, J.T. has a new book coming out and the other one is from David Wohl. It's pretty much all the Aspen staples doing these new books. We're definitely not closing the door to doing anything else next year, it's just for the 10-for-10 initiative, we wanted to make sure it was Aspen-centric, built around properties that either people have come to love and expect from us over these last 10 years or brand new stuff from the same creators. Here's their next vision, let's see how it goes.

What's going on in the digital space for 10-for-10 and how will it differ from what you're doing in print?

Mastromauro: That's a great question. We haven't started those discussions yet with all of our digital partners, but bottom line is that we haven't been day-and-date at all. I think for this, more than likely, these books will be day-and-date for this 10-for-10 initiative. Right now, we're a little over 80% for our catalogue.

Vince Hernandez: Yeah, some of the stuff from the last year is still working its way up there, but we're pretty caught up in terms of digital right now.

Mastromauro: Yeah, I'd say within the next few months -- just because Comic-Con slowed us down in getting some of the conversions done -- but I would say by the end of the summer, pretty much 100% of our entire catalogue will be available digitally online through one of our partners and once again, they're still not day-and-date, we're still probably about a good 30-45 days out from the print date to digital. For next year, that is one of the big goals for us -- at least get this 10-for-10 initiative to coincide with our digital releases so we can just make a big, blanket-type release on as many platforms as possible. It's something that we're building towards while still maintaining exclusive content for print. Just like everyone, we don't want to exclude the retailers that are trying to push our periodicals and trades. We have a plan for both that when the digital is released on the same day, we'll have content in the book that people will only get if they walk into a store or purchase it from their local retailer. That way, at least, it keeps book sales up as much as possible.

What really set the stage for releasing ten new titles over ten months instead of releasing them all at once?

Mastromauro: At the beginning, and this was definitely my idea, I wanted something that was yearlong. January and December are the off months of 2013 because I thought that the holidays starting after the New Year was a good time to launch something and the get is that we premiered our first book in February 2003, so February 2013 was just the perfect spot. Starting the festivities in early February seemed like the perfect point for me. I wanted this to last the entire year because Aspen -- don't get me wrong, we definitely work our butts off to get press out there, to get recognition in terms of what we're putting out to get fans to realize what we're doing here with new properties. These last couple of years we've released a few new books -- "Executive Assistant Iris," now with "Assassins," "Idolized," "Broken Pieces," "Charismagic" -- we've had a lot of new titles that have done really well, but could they have done better? Definitely. Is that because of us not trying? I don't think so. Obviously, we don't put out many books each month and it's just quantity over what we're able to push against with Marvel, with DC, with New 52, with all the other things they have. They have so much more ability to get that out there, so with 10-for-10, what I really like about it is that it's not just a one-month or two-month thing that you'll have to catch on immediately.

What I'm hoping for is that the first couple books catch people's eye as we continue to grow and push the initiative forward and by the third month, the retailers will say, "Hey, we really need to make sure we're a part of this." So, by next summer, everyone -- knock on wood -- is fully engrossed in this project, in these new books and we're making sure we space it out accordingly. Not every one is going to be eight issues, ten issues long. A few will be a little longer, a few will be a little shorter. We're planning all the series' lengths out now. But as some are ending and some are beginning, we'll release trades and make sure we continue it for the entire year. This will be a little more of a marathon than a sprint for us just to ensure we do garner the retailers' attention, we do capture the fans' attention with these books and make sure that every one has the opportunity to pick up on it. If you haven't yet, no problem, there's still more coming instead of them feeling like they missed the boat on it and waiting for the trade. That happens to us quite often and I'm trying to see if we can circumvent that in some way with this project.

Aspen has a few other exciting things coming down the line announced at the Aspen CCI panel -- like a new "Executive Assistants" crossover between "Executive Assistant Assassins" and a new "Executive Assistant Iris" series called "Executive Extinction" coming in December. What's that all about?

Hernandez: This is the fun thing with doing an ongoing series, you can plan ahead past the initial storyarc. When we first started talking about doing an "EA Assassins" ongoing, I thought it was a no-brainer and I thought the fans would want to see this at some point. Why wait for it? Starting with "Assassins" #6 and "Iris" volume three, we're going to interconnect them into one giant 10-part storyline. Without revealing too much about the plot, you can tell right away from the title "Executive Extinction" -- it's pretty self-explanatory what the characters are going to go through in this story. Honestly, I just wanted to come up with a really fun, exciting, all-encompassing story arc that basically covers all the EA angles that we've already introduced. Talking with David [Wohl], he had some really big, broad ideas for what he wanted to do, so we just combined them into one giant storyline that you might not expect. Through these ten issues, they're fighting to survive and at one point in the story, we introduce a villain that we've been kind of building up in "Executive Assistant Assassins." In issue #6, we really take it to the next level. It's two five-part stories, but you don't have to read each one in order. They're both self-contained, but they form one giant story that I think fans are really going to dig. For me, it's the chapter that all the previous stories have been building up to.

Additionally, Vince, you have a new spin-off of "Charismagic" coming down the line in October called "The Death Princess." What was the impetus to spin-off "Charismagic?"

Hernandez: The first volume ends this month. If you read it, it opens up the world a lot and you'll see at the end of "Charismagic" volume one that there's this huge world and that's basically what rides into "Death Princess." For "The Death Princess," I really wanted to take it back to the ancient roots of magic, so this is -- I don't want to say it's all ancient, but it starts in prehistoric times and builds from that. For us, it's a spinoff, but it fleshes out the universe. I want to say it's the starting point for the Charismagic universe. It's a big story and we've spent the last few months designing the Death Princess character. In the story, you find out she can control minds, which I think is a devastating power for a magical thing to have. Everything stems from that.

In addition to the 10-for-10 books Aspen plans to launch, you also announced two other new books for 2013 -- a second volume of "Dellec" and a new series by Peter Steigerwald called "Zooniverse." Why were these not included in 10-for-10?

Mastromauro: Since the first "Dellec" volume ended, we've had an idea for "Dellec" volume two. "Zooniverse" is an idea that Peter's had for quite some time. We debuted an image of it in our Free Comic Book Day issue this year. He's been working on that almost daily in terms of figuring out this world and this character. The whole problem is that Peter wears so many hats. For him to just dedicate the amount of time to the book itself on a regular schedule is very tough and very daunting just to get a schedule out. What we're doing is just giving him some time to get the book done. We really did want "Zooniverse" and "Dellec" to be a part of this 10-for-10 initiative but we also understand -- no matter how much I want to be selfish and say, "Let's put 'Dellec'" in there because I love "Dellec" -- I also understand our artist for volume two isn't the quickest guy in the world. He's very good, but we just want to make sure he gets some issues in the can and then we can start soliciting it. These two books will be along sometime next year. Whether it's early or late in the year, we don't know yet. Those books will still be a part of the Aspen universe along with a few other things. The 10-for-10 initiative are ten books that we said we could get done. The creative teams are people who we know can get these accomplished and get done when we need to. As long as we start now, which we already have, we're going to be good. The huge thing with this is letting retailers know, "Hey, not only are we giving you the first issue for a buck, we fully guarantee that if this book doesn't come out when we say it's going to come out for you to sell to your customers, it's 100% returnable." I really want retailers to get behind this. We're already speaking with a lot of the larger retailers as well to get a big push behind this and get these little areas around the whole country who support this initiative to get fans involved and make a huge event out of it all year long.

What else does Aspen have going on at CCI this year?

Hernandez: We have a boatload of new Aspen products that we're taking preorders on at San Diego.

Mastromauro: Over the years, I've always felt that Aspen has been underutilized in terms of ancillary products. It's my fault and Peter's fault because everything we make here, we like to do it ourselves because we always felt like we could do it the way we wanted to do it and get it done. Sometimes that works, but a lot of times, we just didn't have enough time. We ran out of weeks and months building up to when we originally wanted to release stuff and it didn't get accomplished. We're at the point that we've got so much going on. Walking around Comic-Con, I want to see people walking around in Aspen shirts and buying our products.

I went to the licensing expo for the first time this year in Las Vegas and met a lot of really cool people there. I learned about all the different marketing and all the different ways to expand our brand. I met with a lot of different people and we've got a lot of really cool things on the way. We should have our line of skateboards debuting at Comic-Con, a line of bottle openers, these little things called Floppets -- a brand new product that "The Guild" made really popular. They're these cool things that you put on your lanyard and keychain. We'll also be taking preorders on the Aspen necklace. That's probably the product that people have asked the most about. We'll probably be releasing an image of them later in the month after Comic-Con dies down. We'll also be releasing some of our apparel, I'm working on towels and there are some board games, iOS games -- all those are works in progress, but I am working on all that stuff with all the different companies. Hopefully we'll have a few things by the holidays and few things by next year's con season. I'm really excited because there's definitely going to be a lot more Aspen brand out there other than our comics and trades and hardcovers, which people are used to -- other things that people have been asking for and others that they haven't, but hopefully we make them cool enough and worthy enough that people are going to want to pick them up from us.

We're also debuting a brand new product at Comic-Con similar to prints but different. They're these Aspen acrylic-type poster/pin-ups that are really cool and you can display on the wall. We're going to have a store section actually built at our booth for all the new stuff we've got coming out. I couldn't be more excited.

Stay tuned to CBR News for more on Aspen's 10-for-10 initiative and other upcoming projects.

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