Drew Ford on 'Red Range,' and preserving comics history with It's Alive!

Two years ago, editor Drew Ford launched a line of graphic novel reprints for Dover Publications, starting with "A Sailor's Story," Sam Glanzman's account of his service on a ship in World War II, which received aglowing review in The New York Times. Since then, Ford has demonstrated a knack for finding interesting titles and bringing them back in enhanced editions: David Michelinie and Bret Blevins' "The Bozz Chronicles," Chuck Dixon and Gary Kwapisz's "Civil War Adventure," and Steven Murphy and Michael Zulli's "The Puma Blues," which has been nominated for an Eisner Award.

Now Ford has left Dover and set up his own publishing house, It's Alive!, to continue producing high-quality reprints of classic comics. His launch title is "Red Range," by Joe R. Lansdale and Sam Glanzman, which was originally published in 1999 in black and white. The new edition has been colored and includes a new afterword by Stephen Bissette. A Kickstarter to fund the project has just reached its initial goal, but Ford has some stretch goals as well. His next project will be Trina Robbins' "Dope."

We talked with Ford about his plans to preserve the history of comics by bringing classic comics back into print as graphic novels.

ROBOT 6: To start with, please tell us a bit about your first two properties.

Drew Ford: "Red Range," by Joe R. Lansdale and Sam Glanzman, is a story that shines a light on the forgotten or ignored black heroes of the Old West. Trina Robbins' "Dope" is a comic book adaptation of Sax Rohmer's 1919 novel, which was one of the first books to explore the international drug trade and the death by overdose of a major celebrity.

Two years ago you launched Dover's comics imprint. Now you have your own imprint, It's Alive! Is it an independent imprint, and if so, why did you choose to go this route?

It's Alive! is an independent imprint owned solely by me. I went this route, like many I suppose, to be my own boss. I was ready to take responsibility for every aspect of each project, so that, sink or swim, I could ultimately “do it” the way I believed it should be done.

What was your background before you came to Dover?

I had worked as both a comic book writer and editor for a number of publishers over the years. Highlights include having had one story I wrote published by DC Comics, and creating and writing a comic book called "RIB," which had artwork by Michael Kelleher, and was originally self-published, and later picked up by Caliber. I also published a few comics for others here and there. Nothing on the level of what I am doing now.

Why are you interested in bringing these older properties back to print? What indications do you have that there is an audience for them?

I don't want to see our medium lose its history. And I looked around and couldn't find a publisher that focused solely on saving the history of comics. I realized at that moment that there was an opportunity to do something really great, but also really important. When I first started, I wasn't sure what the response would be. I did it because I thought it needed to be done. But the strong sales, and incredible support for these books, that has come in from fans, retailers and the press has shown me that I'm on to something ... apparently, I'm not the only one who wants to preserve the history of this incredible art form.

Are you finding a bigger audience in bookstores or the direct market? Do you have a sense of whether your readers are longtime comics fans who are welcoming these books back into print or new readers finding them for the first time?

I can honestly say that the support is coming in equally from inside and outside the comic book industry. The comic shops (which are still the life blood of this industry, and need to be supported (they got us to where we are), and their regulars have definitely been picking up these books, but I have also seen and heard from a lot of folks who either don't read comics regularly or haven't read comics in a few decades, who have allowed these collections to be their bridge back into mainstream comics. So one of the great side effects of publishing these collections has been the return of many older readers. I have also seen a growing interest from the library system. I am excited to see this, and I hope as many libraries as possible will pick up these important archival and reprint collections.

For that matter, why are you choosing the graphic novel format rather than republishing these as serial comics?

I toyed with the idea of bringing back old comics in serial form, but the strong sales on the first few collections I did made me realize that was the way to go.

How do you find these comics to begin with?

Fifty percent of the books I am bringing back are books I grew up on, and the other 50 percent are books I have discovered later in life.

What sort of challenges does a re-release present that an original publication does not?

A re-release can be as easy or as hard to put together as you want it to be. My philosophy on doing this is to bring things back better than they were. If possible, I want to see the art restored, new content added, and changes made IF the original creator wants the changes made, because they were never happy with the original presentation of their work. In those instances, we get the chance to not only reintroduce an out of print work, but we get to bring it back the way the creator originally envisioned it.

What advantages does it offer over original publications?

The only real advantage offered by these republications is that the work is already done. We are still paying the creators, and we are still adding new material and doing a ton of other work on each book. But the fact that the story and art have already been done obviously means we can get them out to the public a bit quicker than a new work, where we must wait patiently for the creator(s) to finish the work.

What do your new editions offer that a reader wouldn't find in the original editions?

The new editions usually present the readers with a new cover, new content such as new forewords, introductions and afterwords, and new back-matter filled with never-before-published character designs and concept art. But the books are always restored in some way, printed with better inks on better paper, and sometimes are re-lettered and even colored for the first time. When we are really lucky, the creators produce a little bit of new material, such as with the case of "The Puma Blues," where Stephen Murphy and Michael Zulli produced 40 new pages of story and art, finally able to give their story an ending after 20-plus years.

About how many books do you plan to publish per year?

Eventually, I would like to see a minimum of one archival or reprint collection per month. But in the beginning, I will be happy if I can get a new book out every few months or so.

What are you planning to do next?

Right now I am wrapping up a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to publish Red Range by Joe R. Lansdale and Sam Glanzman. After that, I will turn my focus to "Dope" by Trina Robbins.

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