2007 was quite the year for Top Cow Productions, with the publisher making a mark for itself in a number of ways. There was the release of the highly successful "The Darkness" video game, re-launches of both "The Darkness" and "Witchblade," the debut of Paul Dini’s "Madame Mirage," the "Witchblade Anime" DVDs saw U.S. release, the "First Born" event helped redefine the Top Cow Universe, and there was the unique "Pilot Season" push, by which five one-shot titles were released, each featuring a different Top Cow character, with fans voting on which title would become an ongoing.
The future is brighter still for Top Cow, with the forthcoming release of the feature film adaptation Mark Millar and J.G. Jones’ "Wanted."
But 2008 looks to be filled with not just growth but change as well, with one taking place immediately. Matt Hawkins has served as something of an everyman at Top Cow for a little over ten years, and has been President of the company since 1999, handling all the publishing and ancillary operations. With the company’s growth over the last year and future plans looking even busier, it became clear to Hawkins that some of his duties had to be delegated so he could better focus on business development.
With that in mind, Top Cow has elevated former Vice President – Sales and Marketing Filip Sablik to Publisher of Top Cow, effective immediately. Hawkins will remain in his role as President of the company, focusing his energies on further expansion into film, television and video games, while Sablik will focus on matters related to the publishing division of Top Cow.
CBR News spoke with both Hawkins and Sablik about the changes at the company.
"We’ve had enormous success in the last year, a meteoric comeback I like to say," Matt Hawkins told CBR News. "With success comes more work to be done and rather than trying to do everything myself, which I simply cannot do effectively, I want to staff up a bit with good, self-starting people that can manage themselves and fix problems on their own. There are things at Top Cow I micromanage, including contracts and finance, but I prefer to hire smart people and let them do what they were hired to do.
"The primary reason I lobbied Filip hard to move out to LA and take over the day-to-day of the publishing business was so that we had someone that exclusively focused on that," continued Hawkins. "I spend a great deal of time dealing with outside licensors, attorneys, banks, etc. We’ve had a significant comeback in publishing over the last 12 months and I want to push that to the next level. With Filip and the existing guys focusing hard on getting out good books on time, our sales will continue to go up."
"It started with a phone call Matt gave me one Friday evening," Filip Sablik told CBR News. "It was actually the night I was celebrating my anniversary with my fiancé and we were getting ready to head out for dinner. I don’t think Matt expected me to pick up that late in the day, but when the boss calls I make it a policy to pick up!
"Matt explained he felt Top Cow had the opportunity to parlay our success with ‘The Darkness,’ ‘Witchblade Anime,’ and the upcoming ‘Wanted’ film into more expansion into other media, but that he would need more time to devote to pursuing that new business. Then he wanted to know if I’d be interested in moving to Los Angeles to take over as Publisher. Anyone who knows me well knows I’m not the kind of guy who saw himself moving to LA. I’m an East Coast boy and have been working very happily out of the luxurious Baltimore offices for about a year and a half with no complaints. But then again, I never thought I’d be marrying a lovely ex-sorority girl from New Jersey, so apparently I can’t predict my future very well.
"This all culminated in a visit my fiancé and I took out to LA in December," continued Sablik. "It’s a big move for both Top Cow and myself, so we wanted to make sure it made sense for everyone involved. Top Cow has been phenomenal to work for and I’ve been having the time of my life already. I couldn’t be more excited to be taking over as Publisher."
Sablik’s not been with Top Cow for long, having only joined the publisher in September 2006, so his ascension to Publisher marks a rather meteoric rise for the relatively new hire. "Filip is one of those hard to find guys that doesn’t turn it off," said Hawkins. "What I mean by that is there are a lot of ‘worker bees’ out there and we need those. An easy way to explain those are simply people who show up to work, do their job and then clock out. They don’t think much about their jobs when they’re not in the office.
"Filip is like me; we just can’t really turn it off. We’re always thinking about it, whether we want to or not. Our best ideas tend to come up when we’re not sitting at the office, but out on the bike path, in the pool or at dinner with the family (the wives never appreciate that).
"Filip is also one of those rare individuals who has both creative and business abilities and can successfully merge those. That’s rare."
Sablik admits that being approached as Publisher not even 18 months into being with Top Cow surprised him. "I’ve always enjoyed new challenges and leadership positions and never been one to be satisfied with standing still, so while my goal wasn’t specifically to get into a Publisher position it has always been to keep moving forward," said Sablik. "I’ve wanted to get more involved in the editorial process and bigger picture efforts and this new position will certainly give me that opportunity.
"It’s funny, one of the things I kept in the back of my mind when I started at Top Cow was, ‘You’re really going to have to kick some butt in order to keep Matt comfortable with telecommuting cross-country.’ I guess I overshot a bit! Honestly, I cannot think of a time I’ve been more excited professionally. This is an opportunity of a lifetime and I can’t wait to get started!"
As he begins his role as Publisher, Sablik will endeavor to push forward Top Cow’s already-in-place agenda for 2008 and will work hard to ensure that editorial and production continue to get books out in a timely manner. "I think on-time shipping is critical to building trust with the fans and the retailers," said Sablik.
"From there I have a number of less definable goals. I want to work to change fan and retailer perceptions of Top Cow as a publisher. We’re putting our some of the best quality books in the history of the company right now, but I don’t think enough folks are aware of it. Some of that is based on perceptions of what the company was in the past, which doesn’t hold true these days. That’s why we’ve done promotions this year like ‘Pilot Season,’ the 99-cent ‘First Look’ books, and our ‘Witchblade’ trade re-branding program. We know the quality of our books is competitive with anything else on the stands, we just need folks to pick up the books and give them a shot. I’d like to work to get us more critical reviews and mainstream coverage, a goal I’m carrying over from my marketing position.
"And, of course, I want to make sure we put out the highest quality written and drawn books that we can. If we can do all of that, it will hopefully result in higher sales and a larger fan base, which ultimately is the goal of any publisher."
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