Legendary DC Comics Editor Julius Schwartz once said that if you slap a gorilla on the cover of a comic book then you are almost guaranteed to see an increase in that issues sales.
So when Brent Erwin and David Hedgecock set out to start their own comic book company, they figured out a way to ensure that a gorilla appeared on the cover of each and every single comic they published. How? Why, they named their new company Ape Entertainment, and made their logo a big ol' gorilla.
And, well, Schwartz seems to have been right (once again) because in the past six months or so Hedgecock and Erwin's Ape Entertainment has really been making some serious waves in the indie comics marketplace, churning out a number of critically acclaimed and innovative new series, with many, many more equally impressive titles to follow in the coming months as well.
CBR News recently caught up with Ape Entertainment Co-Founder and Director of Finance David Hedgecock to get the 411 on all things pertaining to the big, hairy comic book company that he helps to oversee.
CBR News: Why start Ape Entertainment in the first place, David? I mean, we've all seen how "welcoming" the comics market can be to upstart publishers in the past (CrossGen, Speakeasy, Valiant, etc.), so what was it that made you want to take the plunge into the perilous waters of indie publishing in the first place?
David Hedgecock: Why start Ape? Short answer? I'm a masochist.
The long answer? Because my comic book IQ is higher than most guys. Because my partner, Brent Erwin is a Seventh-Order-Black-Belt-Master of Comic-Fu. Because we aren't interested in being 'Big' just in being 'Good'. Because there is a lack of 'New' in comic books and I won't stand for it. Because I want a home for my projects and for the projects of other talented people.
CBR:: And 2006 marks Ape's third year as company, right. How've the last three years been? High points? Low points? Any middle-ground to speak of?
DH: High points- Meeting my idol, Scott Shaw! for the first time and finding out that he's nicer and cooler than I ever hoped. That moment was nearly topped when I first saw his drawings of "Go-Go Gorilla and the Jungle Crew."
Selling out of "Point Pleasant" in about 3 weeks of the books release.
Making a deal with a new printer just before our old printer pulled the rug out from under us.
Gaining Kevin Freeman as our Managing Editor
Low points- Sinking a lot of money into a project and then watching the artist disappear on me before finishing his commitment.
Watching another company steal the premise and name of a book we were developing and then ruining the whole thing by publishing a big pile of turd and calling it a comic.
CBR:: Why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself, David. In addition to serving as Ape's Director of Finance, you're also an illustrator. What's you're background in the field? What past (or present projects) that you've worked on that fans might recognize? And can you define your role within Ape a little bit more explicitly?
DH: Alright, David Hedgecock 101:
I'm an illustrator by trade. I've done work in the RPG and comic field for a number of companies. My most recognized work to date is probably Disney's "Gargoyles" comic currently being published by SLG Publishing. Issue #1 hit the stores at the end of June.
For Ape, I own half the company. I handle most of the contracts, bills, printing, distribution, and boring paperwork stuff. I also do my fair share of handling new talent, marketing, advertising, lettering, and schmoozing. In my spare time (laughs hysterically), I get to work on my personal projects.
CBR:: Why the name Ape Entertainment?
DH: As DC editor Julius Schwartz once said (and I'm paraphrasing badly here), if you put a gorilla on the cover of your comic, then you're guaranteed an increase in sales. We called ourselves Ape Entertainment and I designed a logo that guaranteed we have a gorilla on every cover. So, yeah, our name and logo are one bad inside joke to the fanboys.
CBR: On the submissions page of the Ape website it says that you're "constantly on the lookout for fresh new talents and projects." So, then, what exactly is Ape looking for in terms of potential projects?
DH: The easy answer is quality. Look at the books that Ape Entertainment has published, if your book is better written and better drawn, then show me what you got because we are definitely interested in hearing/seeing what you are up to.
CBR:: And how "developed" should these submitted pitches from aspiring creators be?
DH: Check out our submission page for the full details. We are looking primarily for creator-owned projects at this time. All our 'in-house' projects have talent already attached through the middle of 2007.
CBR:: What advice would you give to any young, hungry, aspiring creators out there who might be reading this very article and thinking of approaching Ape in the near future with a project of own?
DH: Give us your best shot! Don't send me what everyone else is sending me. Make yourself standout. The best way to do that is to put together a professional pitch package that follows our basic guidelines accompanied by art and storylines that are at least as high a quality as the books we currently publish.
Know what we publish. Read some of our books and tell us why Ape is the perfect home for your project... and make me believe it.
Don't send me a submission package that starts out with "Dear Sir or Madame" or "To Whom It May Concern." If you don't know about Ape Entertainment and what we do, then why should I take the time to get to know you?
Joe Suitor (future Comic Rock Star) is a great example of a guy who went through the process and made me believe he was someone I had to work with. He pitched a beautiful looking project to me in Los Angeles a year or two ago but the story wasn't quite what we wanted. He asked for pointers and then came to me with another project. Which we again shot down, because as cool as it sounded, it just wasn't something we were going to be able to sell. We gave him more pointers and he pitched a third time and-Wow! A solid pitch, fantastic art, and by his perseverance, he proved that Ape Entertainment was the place he wanted to call home.
Joe Suitor. Comic Book Rock Star. Mark my words.
CBR:: Some free press time, here, David. Talk a little (or a lot, if you wish) about the books Ape's currently putting out, and also tell us a bit about what you guys have got in the pipeline for the coming months for fans look forward to?
"Sullengrey" - Our first mini-series wraps up in July with an explosive issue #4, but the book isn't going to end! "Sullengrey" has done so well that we're bringing it back for another mini-series in early 2007! Drew Rausch and Jocelyn Gajeway have all new neuroses to share and Ape Entertainment can't wait to bring them to you! For a glimpse of "Sullengrey," go to http://www.sullengrey.com. Zombies, zombies, zombies!
"Horrorwood" - An intriguing murder-mystery set against the backdrop of 1950s Hollywood. A special effects make-up wizard, his estranged B-movie actress daughter, a carnival worker, a magician, and a mysterious cult and if I say anything else I start giving the story away. A book done in a beautiful two-color process that really has to be seen to be fully appreciated. Bi-Monthly. Check http://www.horrorwoodcomic.com for more!
"U.T.F. (Undead Task Force)" - A comic book for comic book fans. I really only have to say two words to sell this book- Tone Rodriguez. That should be more than enough to get most people to buy it. But, if for some insane reason that's not enough, Drew Rausch says, "It's 'G.I. Joe' meets 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer'" and, you know, that ain't too bad for a one-line pitch. The most under-ordered book I've ever seen and retailers are quickly realizing it by the size of our re-orders. Check http://www.apebooks.com/projects.htm#utf for a cool preview.
"The Black Coat" - 5 star reviews, sellouts across the country, if you don't know about "The Black Coat" then you haven't been in a decent comic book store lately. If Batman and James Bond had a baby and he grew up just before the American Revolution, we'd call him The Black Coat. All you need to know is at http://www.the-black-coat.com
"Athena Voltaire" - I have a feeling that "Athena Voltaire" will be Ape's flagship title for the next few years and I can't tell you how excited that makes me. If the title is good enough to be nominated for an Eisner, then it's good enough for everyone. A free 22-page preview of issue #1 can be found at http://www.athenavaoltaire.com. The 48 page, double sized issue #1 will hit stores in August.
"Magnitude" - We're setting out to prove that we're not comic snobs by publishing two different Super-Powered comics at the end of this year. "Magnitude" is one of them. The super-power market is pretty full of great talent and stories right now so for us to try a super-power book, well, it has to be exceptional. "Magnitude" is just that. Five issues, starting in November. CBR has the first glimpse at this book right here!
"Progeny" - This is the other super-power series created by Ape's own Brent Erwin! CBR has the first preview pages right here and I can say without a doubt that this series makes the big companies look like amateurs!
"Monoluminant" - Comic-Book-Rock-Star in the making, Joe Suitor, will get his turn to shine in early 2007 with his punk rock fantasy, "Monoluminant." CBR has the first glimpse at some of the pre-production art for this series.
And there's more!!! Keep your browser tuned to the website for details on all of Ape's new books in the coming months!
CBR:: Alright, it's 5 years from now, David, where do you hope to see Ape in that time? How do you and Brent Erwin go about getting the company there?
DH: Five years from now: I'll have my feet up on the veranda, drinking a beer with Drew and Jocelyn, toasting their completion of the "Sullengrey" storyline and to the franchise successfully passing the 250,000 copies sold mark. Drew will be giddy because he'll have just come back from his first meeting with Tim Burton on a "thing" they're doing.
I'll be having dinner with Comic-Rock-Star, Joe Suitor, laughing at him as he has to put down his fork full of pasta to sign a girl's bosom.
I'll be sitting in the movie theatre watching the first "Athena Voltaire" movie, amazed at how well Selma Hayek pulls off the part of an action-adventuress even though she wasn't Steve Bryant's first choice.
ApeJr.com will be celebrating it's 2nd year as 'the' premier website for all-ages entertainment.
How does all this come to pass? Just keep following the plan. If you track the evolution of Ape Entertainment, you'll see the blueprint for what we are doing. We are building our audience carefully, developing relationships with printers, distributors and retailers so that we are a name they know and trust. Giving fans what they want before they even know they want it.
More importantly, we are building relationships with creative talent that we see as the future of this industry. Guys like Drew Rausch, Steve Bryant, Francesco Francavilla, Dustin Evans, Ben Lichius, Joe Suitor, Chad Lambert, Brent Schoonover… these guys are all total professionals that are going to be creative juggernauts in the years to come. No matter what they do, they will (hopefully) always call Ape Entertainment their home.