Crossing Borders: Paul Benjamin talks Humanoids Publishing

DC Comics is well-known for its diverse imprints, from the mature readers Vertigo to the atypical superhero tales at Wildstorm, the superhero publisher has dipped its hands in all the genres. As announced earlier this year, DC Comics has formed a partnership with the European juggernaut known as Humanoids Publishing and managing editor Paul Benjamin took some time to talk to CBR News about the types of material we can see from Humanoids and what makes the merger so unique.

"Humanoids is the first link between the European world of graphic novels and the American world of comic books," explained Benjamin. "This unique platform is powerful because it takes advantage of the best of both worlds: 1) The graphic novel business in Europe is very mainstream and enjoys a large audience (some titles sell millions of copies at a cover price ranging $10 to $15), 2) the comic book business in the US needs books like Humanoids' that focus on all genres beyond the superhero, which is nice since the US market can lead to broader usage of the rights, such as movies, television and more.

"The American audience now has access to a variety of books with a variety of themes for many different types of audiences. On the top of this, the mix between American and European talents is very rich ('I Am Legion' [by artist John Cassaday] is the perfect example)."

Readers in North America are also getting a bonus not found in Europe- more material per release. Though initially released as individual "albums" in Europe, the U.S releases of material such as "The Technopriests" collect multiple albums for a lower price than in Europe. "Though 'I Am Legion' is an exception, for the most part, each book that is released in the US by Humanoids/DC Comics is the equivalent of two to three European albums."

While Japan is usually the standard used to compare North American comic industry success, Europe and surrounding countries have found great mainstream success with their graphic novels. Not only are the albums financially viable, they're quite profitable and represent the production model that many North American comic book companies would like to emulate. "We think at Humanoids that the question is less about the format than the distribution," says Benjamin. "As soon as a broad range of titles from various publishers is widely available to a larger audience not only through comic book stores but also through book stores (on more than one or two shelves), we will see a great expansion in the graphic novel business, including a wider variety of formats. We've seen a sustained growth in mainstream distribution for graphic novels over the last few years and we hope that this is only the beginning."

While Humanoids deal with a lot of science fiction, it isn't the Star Trek or Star Wars style tales that North American fans are used to seeing. "There is definitely a huge difference," contends Benjamin. "European graphic albums have been exploring the sci-fi genre for many decades, but there are few publishers in the US that consistently release sci-fi material that does not have a super hero element. The European album market is more like the mainstream bookstore market in the US for prose sci-fi novels. The European writers tend to approach the subject of sci-fi like a novelist, while the US writers tend to come at it with a super hero influence/filter."

Though much of the material falls under the sci-fi or thriller category, Humanoids isn't shying away from any category, though it may seem they aren't doing much superhero or romance work. Benjamin explained, "The main reason we have not produced super hero stories is that there is not much point in producing material in a market that DC and other US companies have already cornered. Their strength is in telling great super hero stories. Humanoids strength tends to be in other, more mainstream genres such as sci-fi, fantasy, horror, adventure, etc... That said, there is no restriction in genres at Humanoids. From a certain perspective, the Metabaron is a superhero. So is Albino from 'The Technopriests' or the android from 'Exterminator 17.' We also publish some romance in Europe. For example 'Sasmira' has been a wide success in France and we hope to publish it in the US when the second album is complete."

As previously mentioned, Benjamin is the managing editor of Humanoids and he explains what the job entails. "Basically, I am in charge of all of the editorial content that comes out of the American comic book market. I hire and manage the writers and artists from the American comic book market (though not all of them are actually from the U.S., they do work in this market). In the case of a book like 'I Am Legion,' I coordinate with a European editor who handles the European talent on the book. I have a few dozen titles in various stages of development at any given time. I also edit our bi-monthly anthology, 'Metal Hurlant.' It's a lot of work, but I get to collaborate with some of the most talented writers and artists in the world, so it's a pretty amazing job."

Though fans may be getting a better deal on page counts, the Humanoids releases in North America are technically smaller in page size and this has upset some fans, a concern that Benjamin is quick to address. "This is essentially a distribution issue. To expand the Humanoids line for a larger audience, we had to fit in the standards of the market. Our books are a little bit wider than standard comic book trade paperbacks because of the wider 'aspect ratio' of European graphic novel pages, but now they fit on shelves in comic book stores and book stores. That said, the readers also win here, because they now get two to three times as many story pages for the same price as a single album."

Humanoids is still a relatively new name to North America and Benjamin says the key isn't to try and go it alone- the DC deal is paramount to wider recognition. "In the US, it is not about Humanoids alone; it's about the Humanoids/DC Comics brand and we value this relationship a lot. We think that the people at DC Comics have created a unique opportunity to bridge the energies and talents of the two continents for the best. Hopefully in time, the Humanoids/DC Comics brand will be as recognizable as Vertigo or WildStorm."

Some fans may be wary of checking out projects that have unfamiliar creators, but Humanoids are also releasing some exciting projects from North American creators, as CBR News reported in July. "We have 'I Am Legion' with John Cassaday, 'Olympus' with Geoff Johns, Kris Grimminger and Butch Guice, 'Redhand' with Kurt Busiek, 'Flywires' with Chuck Austen and other books with creators including Terry Dodson, Chris Cross, Stuart Immonen plus more. Every creator has a different combination of reasons for working with Humanoids. Some of them want to see their work produced in the gorgeous, over sized, well printed European format. Others enjoy having more control over the characters and the variety of subject matter. Some want to work with European talent, others sparked to a specific story or script. There's also a purely financial motivation, with the potential of royalties from a much broader market."

If your interest in Humanoids is piqued, Benjamin is happy to recommend books for whatever your interests may be. "As a fan myself, this is always a hard question to answer because we cover so many different genres: If you're into sci-fi, grab 'The Metabarons' and 'The Technopriests.' Fantasy fans will love 'Deicide' and 'The White Lama.' If you want to read books from one of the top selling comic book creators in the world, read 'The Beast Trilogy' and 'Townscapes' from Enki Bilal. 'I Am Legion' is a great WWII supernatural horror book and Chaland's 'Freddy Lombard' books are gorgeous adventure stories. For whacked out metaphysical action, read the 'Horde.' I guarantee you won't find anything else like it -- it's a great story. For all of the above, read 'Metal Hurlant' every other month. It always has a great mix of talent and fantastic stories."

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