CCI, Day 1: Talking with Fox Atomic Comics' COO John Hegeman

Announced right before Comic-Con International in San Diego, Fox Atomic Comics is the newest player in the comics industry, backed by Fox Atomic, the new teen division from Fox Filmed Entertainment, which is set to provide films, television programming and more to the late teen and young adult audience. With editor Jimmy Palmiotti and writer Steve Niles announced as part of their first wave, the company is looking to make an immediate splash in the industry and makes its debut with a large booth at Comic-Con International. CBR News caught up with Fox Atomic COO John Hegeman during Comic-Con to learn more about the new company and their plans.

John, thanks for talking with CBR today. I'm going to start with a simple question: Why Fox Atomic Comics?

Simply, the audience we're making movies and entertainment for read graphic novels and comics. In today's world, when you're trying to make entertainment for a specific audience, you have to make sure that you're creating things using all these different media platforms to do it. That really is the simplest answer. We think it makes it an overall fun experience for the audience we're going after. We know they like reading graphic novels and we enjoy making them. We think it's a fun initiative to branch out across all these different media platforms.

Was Fox Atomic Comics part of the plan when Fox Atomic was launched?

Yes, a handful of us at Fox Atomic who've worked together in the past have used comic books as an extension of properties, as marketing tools and stand-alone properties for the last probably five or ten years. It's a fun way to get alternative storylines out there. It's a fun way to engage the audience. Graphic novels and comics were always part of the plan.

According to the press release issued yesterday, there was a mention of you producing original content in comics. How will that original content manifest itself - will it always be related to various movie properties you have in development, or might you be putting out comics in the future that there may not be plans to put into film or television development immediately?

It's both of those. It's a development tool to launch original properties, as well as a marketing tool to enhance the movie experience. Just like Manga is a very popular graphic novel format right now, we think this is a great way to launch new properties as well. And if they work as a graphic novel it doesn't necessarily mean it has to be a movie. It could be a short online, it could turn into a television series or it could be just an ongoing graphic novel.

Interesting, so you are open to the idea of just publishing graphic novels that aren't necessarily connected to a film or television project?

Right, but we do think we'd like to let the property take its own course and let it grow in a very natural way. For instance, one of the graphic novels we've announced is "The Nightmare Factory," which is based on a series of short stories by Thomas Ligotti, an unbelievably good horror writer. Now, these may just turn into a series of shorts online. It's wherever the property takes itself based on how the audience responds to it - that's where we'll go with it. There are no set, steadfast plans. It's a development tool to introduce original properties as well as a marketing element to enhance the overall experience of a property.

How involved will you, the COO of Fox Atomic, be in the day-to-day operations of Fox Atomic Comics, or will you leave that to guys like Editor Jimmy Palmiotti?

The bottom line is whoever is the expert should be the one leading the charge. We're very fortunate that we have a lot of comic book fans [working here]. I've been reading comic books forever and have been going to Comic-Con for over a decade. We have someone internally, Eric Lieb, who'll be working with Jimmy on a regular basis. As far as the creative direction, we'll be doing that in conjunction with Jimmy and certainly utilize his expertise and background for everything we can.

Why was Jimmy the right guy as your first announced editor with Fox Atomic Comics?

He really knows what he's doing, has great connections, he's an expert in the area and he also has a relationship with Eric Lieb, who is our Director of National Promotions internally at Fox Atomic. Eric is a fanatic of comics and graphic novels and a genre enthusiast. So, the short hand relationship they have together would certainly make it easy for us to execute what we're trying to do.

I know all the comic creators reading this will want to know the answer to my next question: Will Fox Atomic be accepting submissions?

I think we'll be actively looking for submissions. We're trying to work with the best creative talent, whether it's writers or illustrators, and that doesn't mean just established talent. It also means cultivating the marketplace to help bring some of the new emerging talent together and we think that's where Jimmy can certainly help us. So, it'll be a combination of using established creative talent as well as finding out who the next group of talent will be.

The comics and graphic novels market has exploded in the last couple of years. How does Fox Atomic Comics rise above the noise?

I think we have to be focused on what it is we're trying to achieve and know that it's not volume, it's quality. I think initially tying into some established properties gives us a leg up. Tying into "28 Weeks Later" and "The Hills Have Eyes" and working with guys like Jimmy and Steve Niles helps. It's all about quality and it's all about execution. And of course working with HarperCollins. From a distribution perspective, that puts us in pretty good shape.

Your launch titles are all horror-themed titles and obviously Fox Atomic is investing in the horror genre ,considering the age group you're looking to attract. Will horror be your primary focus? Will there be a theme amongst the Fox Atomic books?

Fox Atomic in general will be making horror, comedy and action movies: We'll be making all sorts of movies. When it comes to graphic novels, we'll probably be focusing on horror and thrillers. For no other reason than I think they're the ones that work the best and are the most fun to read and the audience for those are the most avid and we think we can build a strong relationship by leading with that focus.

Will your focus be primarily on the book store market, or will you be embracing the comics direct market as well?

Everything. We're also going to be doing stand alone comics, as well as the graphic novels. One of the things we've done in the past in a lot of our movies is we've used comics to expand the experience. We love working with the Mom & Pop shops more than anyone and the goal is to always turn everything we do into an event and deliver something that's quality the audience likes. The Mom & Pop stores are unbelievably important to us.

We've done a lot of things in the past, going all the way back to the "Blair Witch" comics we did before the movie ever opened, to our "Saw" comics that some of us did when we were over at Lion's Gate. Those comics allow us to work with the Mom & Pop stores, not just to launch the comics, but to enhance the overall entertainment experience for the movie. It's almost like you can't just look at things as a movie or a graphic novel. It's sort of the overall experience tied to that property.

Will you be getting into the monthly comics business?

Probably not initially. If we get into the monthly comic book business, it's going to be more stand alone titles that are tied to sort of introduce different elements of a feature film. We're leading with the graphic novels.

If you wouldn't mind, give me some background on the relationship between Fox Filmed Entertainment and Fox Atomic and also Fox Filmed Entertainment and Fox Atomic Comics.

Fox Filmed Entertainment is unbelievably supporting of all of Fox Atomic's efforts across the board. 20th Century Fox will be distributing our feature films. We'll be producing, acquiring and marketing them ourselves, but they'll be our distribution partner. As far as their involvement in what we're doing with graphic novels, that probably will not be as much.

How will you be staffing Fox Atomic Comics? You've got Eric and Jimmy thus far, do you see a major expansion in any way?

I don't think there is going to be a major expansion. One of the things we try to do at Fox Atomic Comics is have everybody be fairly collaborative in all of our efforts and the lines of demarcation are going to be blurred. So, when we put out a graphic novel, it's not just turning it over to HarperCollins, it's working in conjunction with them and utilizing our whole marketing staff. Our point person is Eric, but everybody, including the entire creative team, whether it's the creative development team for feature films or the creative team that works on our marketing campaigns, everyone will be involved in everything we do at Fox Atomic, including Fox Atomic Comics.

That's interesting, because for a long time one of the problems that plagued the comics industry was a lack of marketing power and it sounds like you have that power to get the word out on your comics. It'll be interesting to see how that goes over in the marketplace.

It is going to be interesting and we hope that initially as we tie it into some of our theatrical releases, we could put all of our marketing efforts that we're doing not just for the movies, but also tie it into Fox Atomic Comics. Really, at the end of the day, the campaigns we have won't be just a month long campaign, they're six, seven, eight, nine months before the movie opens, so the more successful our graphic novels or comics can be, hopefully the more successful the overall property can be. So, everything has to work and everything has to have our complete focus and attention behind it.

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