NYCC, Day 1: Top Cow Comics Panel

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In one of those fun and fuzzy snafus that Comic Conventions throw up from time to time, what was supposed to have been a Spotlight panel on Top Cow head honcho and fan favorite artist Marc Silvestri, at the New York Comic Con, ended up being cancelled. However, all was not lost when Top Cow Vice President of Marketing Filip Salik stepped in at the panel to outline Top Cow's plans for 2007, many of which he and Silvestri were originally planning to announce had the Spotlight talk proceeded.

After a relatively low-key 2006, Top Cow is ramping up the profiles of its major franchise characters "Witchblade" and "The Darkness".

There will be three tie-in issues of "Witchblade" from #110 through #112, written by Ron Marz and drawn by Matt Haley, with Mike Mayhew drawing the covers. "Firstborn" will be written by Ron Marz. The big storyline is Sara Pezzini having a baby, who will be pivotal to the Top Cow universe.

"We haven't revealed who the father is, because Sara doesn't know who the father is. That's not because she's not a promiscuous girl. Quite the opposite."

"Immaculate conception," quipped Ron Marz, who dropped in to back up Sablik's announcements and answer questions.

"It is a mystery," continued Sablik. "Sara realized in #100 that she was pregnant," said Sablik. "and in #103, she decided that having a baby was not. Too dangerous. So we made a kind of unique move in superhero comics in that she's given up the Witchblade to a new bearer so she can be a mother. And Ron is very fond of Sara, so we're going to continue to include her as a pivotal part of the series. So you're going to have Sara's story and Danielle's story running in the monthly series concurrently. "Firstborn" will reveal who the father is. That will happen in #1 and culminating in #3."

Sablik and Marz insist that this isn't one of those bait-and-switch stories, with the status quo of the series remaining changed, and it will explore what it's like to have a baby. As a father of three, Marz has a lot to write about.

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"Firstborn" will offer a complete story in three issues, but its outcome will effect the stories in "Witchblade", 'The Darkness" and all the Top Cow titles for the rest of 2007.

"It will bulld and build and build." Said Sablik. "The child is going to be a very important part of the universe."

Phil Hester will be the writer of "The Darkness" after "Firstborn", with a new take for the relaunched ongoing series.

"It'll take Jackie into places he hasn't been before. I can't tell you want it is, but it's very cool. It's very much in keeping with what "The Darkness" should be, in the kick-ass dark and gritty stories it should have, but it's not just a repeat of 'Jackie fighting other monsters'. It's a completely different setting and a completely different kind of story that dovetails with what we're doing in "Firstborn"."

The other big news is the eminent launch of the "Darkness" video game in late Spring or early Summer. Game producer 2K will be featuring playable demos of the game at the convention over the weekend.

Negotiations are still underway to place the anime series with a US cable channel, with hopes that it might end up on Cartoon Channel's Adult Swim slot, for which it would be the perfect fit. Funimation will also release the series on DVD, with an average of four half-hour episodes per disk. Apart from 2007 being the year where Top Cow will re-vitalize its two core titles and make them as strong as they've ever been, the other big launch will be Paul Dini's new creator-owned series "Madame Mirage", With "Hunter/Killer" artist Kenneth Rocafort penciling.

"It's a mystery: who is Madme Mirage?" Said Sablik. It's kind of a femme-fatale-vendetta book. Madame Mirage is this character after group of covert criminals under the ASI. They're basically supervillains in suits. She's got some sort of revenge scheme after them, and they don't know who she is or why she's coming after them. That will be revealed in the first story. I've read the first four issues, and this is classic Paul Dini. If you like his Batman stuff, if you like his "DETECTIVE COMICS" work, this is Paul at his best. It's a character he really cares about. Not only is it a character he's been working on for a long time, but it actually came together when he met his wife. A lot of the character is based on his wife's personality, on her stage persona."

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Dini's wife is magician and illusionist Misty Lee, who often bears a striking resemblance to DC Comics' Zatanna.

"There's going to be a lot of intrigue, smoke and mirrors, as the name suggests in the title. The six issues of the first story arc will reveal who Madame Mirage is, what her mission is, and why she's on this quest for revenge.

The first issue will feature alternate covers by Kenneth Rocafort and Greg Horn.

Top Cow also plans to announce a new partnership with a major publisher at Wizardcon LA, continuing their policy of partnering with other publishers and companies like Marvel and 2K rather than being in direct competition with them.

"We're one of the few companies in the industry that works with virtually all of our competitors. We've worked with Marvel, we've worked with DC, the only company we haven't worked with is Dark Horse."

"Because they hate us," quipped Marz. "They think we're dicks."

"We're a publisher that is interested in working with everybody else."

The most significant announcement is Top Cow partnering with IGN to launch a major foray into online comics. This will be part of IGN's drive to become a major entertainment portal offering downloadable movies and videogames. Top Cow's downloadable comics will be available as high-resolution pdfs for the reader to own and with the option to print it as a hardcopy as if it had been bought from a store.

Sablik acknowledged that the core of the comics market is still the Direct fanbase, but with the advent of iTunes and other online download stores, there is a whole group of people who will not make the trip out to the comic shops, citing the recent success of Comicspace.com and myspace as proof of the emergence of a market that likes to get stuff online.

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Top Cow comics will be released simultaneously in comic shops and online, with the digital versions being sold at the same price as the physical monthly comic, $2.99. The intent is to continue to show support for the Direct Market and not undercut the shops with a cheaper price point for the downloadable comics, which have supported Top cow's books all these years. Sablik said Top Cow wanted to do their part to allay retailers' fears that comic publishers will move their sales online and eventually cut them out of the equation. Top Cow has been doing e-commerce for years, but they have sold the books at the same cover price rather than undercut the retailers.

IGN plan a big Public Relations blitz, and Top Cow is the first comics publisher they have signed with to offer online comics. Sablik hopes this will introduce a new audience to Top Cow and comics in general.

Initial plans are to offer current comics and Top cow's vast library of past titles will be offered later, including long out-of-print back issues. They are still thinking about how they might offer graphic novels, which are bigger books and, thus, much larger files that would take a long time to download. Imagine trying to download a high-resolution digital version of "The Darkness Compendium", which is over 300 pages' worth of material. And anyway, the core comic book fans prefer to own a physical copy of a book anyway, and constitutes a different market from fans who prefer to download digital versions. Downloaders tend to be buyers who might decide to purchase an digital comic on impulse after reading a free online preview.

Asked about Top Cow's policies towards illegal or bootleg downloads of comics, the latest example being Marvel's "Civil War" #7 being available for download on torrent sites, Sablik merely shrugged and said since there was nothing they can do to stop people from grabbing books without paying, there was no point in trying. The honorable readers will pay for it, and if people are determined to get a copy of a comic for free, they will succeed. He sees no point in trying to stem the tide of bootleg downloads by introducing software like DRM to their downloadable comics.

The bottom line, said Sablik, is to make Top Cow's comics available in as many ways and mediums as possible, and working with different content providers, creating podcasts, online trailers and dealing with different media outlets to publicize the books, is part of that policy.

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