In today's comic book marketplace, it's hard to make shockwaves with readers. But over the past three years, one new player in the comics publishing game has tried to live up to its name by mixing veteran storytellers with often ignored ideas: AfterShock.
The series and original graphic novels published by AfterShock don't follow a market formula or sell themselves on a shared universe mentality. Instead, made a splash by promoting both well-known creative talent and high concept story hooks. AfterShock Comics has become a home for fan favorite writers like Garth Ennis, Cullen Bunn and Paul Jenkins as well as established art talent like Goran Sudzuka, Wilfredo Torres and Juan Doe -- and that's just barely scratching the surface of the publisher's impressively deep roster.
That approach comes in large part thanks to the AfterShock executive team, all longtime comic book veterans. Publisher and CCO Joe Pruett's credits go back over 20 years including his classic Negative Burn anthology. Editor-in-Chief Mike Marts has had multiple runs leading lines at both DC and Marvel. And recent arrival SVP of Sales and Marketing Steve Rotterdam has run his own creative agency as well as served on senior staff at DC.
That trio spoke with CBR about what makes AfterShock a mix of old school comics creativity and formally experimental market player, and below the team digs into their outlook on exploring genres outside superheroes, why they're betting on the large graphic novel hardcover and how a combination of creators and concepts is an approach that can survive a soft market.
CBR: AfterShock is a very different player in comics. It's a newer publisher, but you utilize a lot of veteran talent since you guys are veterans yourself. You're not tied to a major media company, yet you've been able to put out a lot of titles early on. Most importantly, you don't seem to be the kind of player that's gunning for marketshare or talking aggressively about taking on Marvel, DC or other premier publishers in a head-to-head way. What would you say were your goals for AfterShock as a publisher overall?
Mike Marts: Right from the start, like you said, our goal was not to be Marvel or DC. It was not to overtake marketshare. We just wanted to tell the best stories possible from the best people possible. And whether that meant established pros like Garth Ennis and Warren Ellis or newer voices like Marguerite Bennett, our goal was just to put the best quality product out there. If we happen to reach #3 in marketshare along the way, that'd be a great side effect. But that wasn't the goal in total.
Joe Pruett: Like he said, we're more concerned with telling great stories by great creators. We just want to grow naturally.
Steve Rotterdam: Yeah, when it comes to marketshare if you're telling good stories with good creators, you'll tend to grow naturally. That's how we're doing business right now.
You've done a variety of books in many genres – some superhero stuff, some horror, even war books. Was there a creative identity you were looking to establish?
Pruett: We weren't going into it saying, "We want a horror story or a superhero story." We just wanted good stories. So we went out and found an initial group of creators that we know and said the deal is, they do what they want. It doesn't have to be a horror story or a war story. If it's good, we'll publish it. We don't want to have any boundaries that way.
Marts: It's exactly what Joe said. I think that we've been fortunate that all the different creators we've worked with have brought us different genres to play with. And we've been lucky that there's not much repetition. We haven't tried to set out and do too much in the way of superhero comics because we feel there's enough of them in the market already. It's the stories that come first, and we've been well represented all over the place.
Rotterdam: I came in late to the game and wasn't there for the AfterShock launch, but looking back on it and assessing the company and what it's assets were, one of the things I really appreciated, having worked at DC and a lot of other publishers, was that the folks at AfterShock were very secure at identifying their lanes and staying in those lanes. There was no attempt to try and go toe-to-toe with other publishers at our level who were dealing with creating shared universes and larger, ambitious initiatives which are very, very challenging and somewhat quixotic in trying to go up against DC and Marvel.
There's a sense of surety and comfort in the knowledge that the people at AfterShock and the people we're working with can say, "We're a place where you can come and tell the stories you've wanted to tell that you may have not been able to do in the way you wanted until now." The publisher is not a hands-off publisher, but it's not a micro-manager either. There's guidance and assurance and ways that the company works to get those stories out in the best way possible, but it's not overbearing.
I think creators have responded to that not just by coming on board but by repeatedly coming on board. There's a lot of places you can park a property, but there are certain kinds of stories where you can now say "That's an AfterShock story." Three years in, and we can say that now. The evolution of the company has just been phenomenal.