Dynamite Entertainment, publisher of Garth Ennis and Darrick Robertson's "The Boys" as well as such licensed comics as "Battlestar Galactica," "Army of Darkness," and "Zorro," celebrates its fifth anniversary in 2009. Founded by Nick Barrucci -- who also owns Dynamic Forces, an online retailer specializing in signed and exclusive-variant comics -- Dynamite launched in 2004 with the publication of "Army of Darkness" #1, based on the cult classic film starring Bruce Campbell and directed by Sam Raimi. CBR News spoke with Barrucci about the publisher's early days, the strange ways some comics come together, and his hopes for Dynamite's future.
Though Barrucci had already established a comics business in Dynamic Forces, the decision to start Dynamite as a publishing house was the culmination of many factors coming together, chief among them his acquisition of the "Army of Darkness" license. "We were discussing with other publishers publishing it with us," Barrucci told CBR. "Each of the publishers we spoke with had turned us down because they didn't see what we saw in 'Army of Darkness,' and we ended up deciding that the best way to handle it was to publish it on our own. We knew we had faith in the property, we knew we had faith in the mythology, and we could have fun with it."
After devoting itself to publishing only "Army of Darkness," Dynamite came back one year later with "Red Sonja," a sword-and-sorcery series debuting with a 25-cent issue #0. "'Army of Darkness' made us, but like many publishers who have lightning in a bottle, nobody knew if we were going to be a one-hit wonder," Barrucci said of Dynamite's first year. The overwhelming success of his second series--"Red Sonja" #0 sold 240,000 copies and #1, the first to sell at a full cover price of $2.99, sold 100,000 in initial orders-- cemented Dynamite's standing as a publisher.
However, despite these impressive early numbers and the growth of the company since year one, Barrucci does not see Dynamite as a direct competitor to Marvel and DC, but rather a new voice in the comics field. "Marvel and DC have 70 years of characters that no one can take away from. When you find a character, when you find a voice that works, what you're really doing is hopefully adding to the market," he said. "You're not competing, you're adding a voice. It's probably the equivalent of Marvel and DC will always be the comics equivalent of the big four networks -- ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX --and everyone else will be the cable stations. What I always thought was cool was, a few fans started stating that we were the HBO of comics. We were the buzz shows, we were the buzz comics. We're on that level, where sales are better than they are anywhere else, but not quite Marvel/DC levels. It's like, the 'Sopranos' can reach 4 million people, 'Battlestar Galactica' can reach 3-4 million viewers. But you have that same kind of buzz, that same kind of water cooler effect that 'Lost' had when it first hit, when it had 18 million viewers. I think part of it is the consistency that we've been able to create buzz over the years."
Barrucci said each Dynamite project comes together in its own unique way, but even he is surprised at how some properties ultimately became matched with their creative teams. Juan Callado, Dynamite's Chief Operating Officer, had been advocating for a Lone Ranger series for two years before the pieces started falling into place. "I didn't see how we could make it work, for those two years that Juan pushed it. But then having a conversation with John Cassaday, where he said 'I'll be the cover artist,' and knowing that we were going to have that kind of support, made me go, 'I want to publish the Lone Ranger,'" Barrucci recalled. "And then came the hard part! We spent two days trying to figure out writers. And then Joe in our meeting said, 'Why don't we approach Brett Matthews?' He did 'Serenity,' which is a Western in the sky. Why not ask him to do a Western? I tossed that idea by John Cassaday and he said (I'm going from memory here), 'You know what's funny? I'm flying out to LA tomorrow, I'm gonna have dinner with Brett this week. I'll bring it up to him.' That's how that came together."
From there, Dynamite attached illustrator Sergio Cariello and colorist Dean White after looking through several artists' work in search of the right match for the project.
"Project Superpowers" emerged from similar serendipity. "Again, Juan and I were talking about how do we create our own world of superheroes," Barrucci said. "One night, I just wrote and wrote for about five and a half hours. I wrote an outline of what I thought would make it work, after months and months of talking. Joe and Juan read it, thought it was fine, but stated 'what's the hook?' And I have a few guys that I will talk ideas over with, and Alex Ross is one of them, and I asked him if I could get his feedback. 'You've got a feel for cool classic characters, we're thinking about doing these cool classic characters with our spin.' When I talked to Alex the next night, he said (and again, going from memory), 'You know what, Nick? I'm in.' I was stunned. I think I said something to the effect of 'You know, I was just trying to get your feedback!' and Alex said, 'That's my feedback, I'm in.'"
Barrucci credits Brian Michael Bendis for helping attach a creative team to "Red Sonja." "When I called him to ask him if he'd be interested in writing it, he said (and going from memory), 'I can't, I appreciate your offer, but you should talk to Michael Avon Oeming. He loves sword and sorcery, that's right up his alley.' And we talked to Michael Avon Oeming and we were talking to Mike Carey, and all of a sudden, I thought, what if we got them to co-write it? Oh my god! You've got the thinking-man's writer with Mike Carey, and you've got sword & sorcery and action writer with Michael Avon Oeming. Two great tastes that can taste great together! It was a good mix having them work together. They sounded off each other so well."
"I've got the best story with Zorro," Barrucci continued. Joe Rybandt, Dynamite's Director of Marketing, suggested Grendel creator Matt Wagner. "My thought was, Matt doesn't do anything that he doesn't want to do, and he mostly does creator-owned. I didn't think Matt was accessible to us. If memory serves, within two days we got an email from Michael Avon Oeming, and the email said: Nick Barrucci, meet Matt Fuckin' Wagner. Matt reached out to us, he wanted to do it because he loves the character and loves the Isabelle Allende novel. And that's how we got Matt Wagner.
"So you really don't know how it's all going to come together. You just plan and some luck and great partners and great creators just come together."
Other series, like Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson's "The Boys," developed very much in the public eye. WildStorm published the first six issues of the series before parent company DC Comics decided it could not continue with the extreme Mature Readers title, at which point "The Boys" was picked up by Dynamite. "The reason why we got 'The Boys' was because of our production value, because of the way we get the word out, our feedback with the fans. We got 'The Boys' because of the hard work we put in before that," Barrucci said. "It also helped that I happened to be a huge fan of the actual comics. I think I was one of the only publishers, if not the only one, who when this became available and I read it online, when I called up Garth and Darick, I was able to say, 'Dude, I love it all! We care!' I'm speaking for them, and I hope I'm not speaking out of turn, but I think it was eye-opening for them, and we also did everything right to prove ourselves. What nobody remembers is, it took weeks if not more than a month for them to make a decision. And finally they made theirs Dynamite."
Though the publisher's list has prominently featured westerns, sci-fi epics, and sword and sorcery, Nick Barrucci sees Dynamite as primarily a superhero company, with its stories focused on the classic matchup of good versus evil. Explained Barrucci, "Even if you look at what we're doing with Sherlock Holmes, what we've done with Dracula -- the Dracula story is going to be the complete story that's never been told elsewhere. Sherlock Holmes, he's the original detective, he's the predecessor for Batman and so many other great characters. We got rid of all the bi-product that Hollywood had put in. We took it back to the original character that helped inspire everything that came after. Same thing we did with Zorro, same thing we did with Lone Ranger, same thing we're doing with Buck Rogers. We're giving reverence to the source, but still making it viable and compelling for a new audience."
As with any new endeavor, launching Dynamite has opened Barrucci's eyes to the challenges of the field. "What I've learned in publishing comics is that there's no cookie-cutter answer to anything, and that it's not easy. It is the hardest thing in the world, but it is also the greatest passion in the world. So overcoming every trial, every tribulation, makes everything more rewarding."
Barrucci also ran down some highlights of the company's first five years. "Defining moments in Dynamite was having the wherewithal, the brazenness, to say every other publisher or co-publisher turned us down for 'Army of Darkness,' we're still going to do this," he said. "When we launched 'Red Sonja,' that one I give to Juan because he came into my office and asked, 'Do you know an A. Michael Lieberman?' I said I know an Arthur Lieberman, I've been working with him for years with Stan Lee. He's like, 'Well, let's go after Red Sonja, and you need to use your relationships to make this work.' We went after Red Sonja -- found out later the big guys had turned it down. What I have heard, is what happened was, every other publisher looked at Red Sonja with the eyes of, oh, if only she was as good as when Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith worked on her. And we looked at it and said she could be as great as or even greater than when Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith worked on her. They created the foundation and told compelling stories, but why does that stop anyone from taking it to the next level."
Another defining moment was Dynamite's acquisition of the "Battlestar Galactica" license. "Universal was not looking to license out Battlestar Galactica, from my understanding, and [Executive Producer] Ron Moore was not crazy about licensed comics because he worked at CBS when the Star Trek comics weren't something that he thought were great when he was working on 'Star Trek: The Next Generation,'" Barrucci told explained. "He looked at our marketing and comics and said, yeah, if these guys do it they could do a decent job, I could go with them. And Universal licensed the comics rights to us."
Other highlights included the launch of "Lone Ranger," which Barrucci described as Dynamite's first water cooler book. "That gave creators pause to consider us better. Up until 'Lone Ranger,' we were very commercial. And there's nothing wrong with being commercial, but the Lone Ranger gave us a lot of creative respect. John [Cassaday's] name and covers brought us attention, Brett's scripts and Sergio's art with Dean coloring kept everyone coming back."
Barrucci also credits his Dynamite team for the company's successes. "Juan Callado and Joe Rybandt, Josh, Jason, and the team at the office--could not do it without them. They make me look good," he said.
"I'll tell you one more defining thing: knowing I'm not always right. I can't make every decision a snap decision, and I can't push everything as fast as I want," Barrucci confessed. "You know 'Buck Rogers' was two years in the making, and now it's almost perfect (and yes, I'm biased), but because it took us almost two years to put it together that it was able to be as perfect as it is."
Barrucci's goals for the next five years and beyond are to "continue doing what we enjoy, to continue working with great creators, to continue developing and creating great properties.
"Finding something like 'Dead Irons,' and creating something out of nothing and being able to work with an up and coming talent like Jim Kuhoric, working with Jae Lee, Jason Shawn Alexander on that project, working with people all along the lines. In no particular order, everyone from Alex Ross, Mel Rubi, Greg Pak, Jim Krueger, Stephen Sadowski, Jonathan Lau, Marc Silvestri, Rick Remender, Howard Chaykin, Frank Miller, Joe Quesada, Jimmy Palmiotti, Paolo Rivera, Phil Hester, Scott Beatty, Brian Reed, Walter Geovanni, Garth Ennis, Darick Robertson, Frank Cho, Doug Murrary, Nigel Raynor, Leah Moore and John Reppion, Paul Renaud, Fabiano Neves, Carlos Trillo, Eduardo Risso to Brett Mathews to John Cassaday, Michael Avon Oeming (whom hopefully we'll get to work with again, he's got a lot on his plate) to Michael Turner who was always a great friend in life, and will always be someone as an inspiration to everyone who I did not get to name, they all deserve a thanks!
"Just everyone down the line who's worked with us, helped us, we've been friends with, to just be able to create cool, compelling comics that people want to read. What it comes down to is, I love comics. I love talking about comics, I love comic books themselves, I love promoting comics. I just love comics."