REFLECTIONS: Top Cow Publisher Filip Sablik, Part II

The Top Cow interview so big it could not be contained in a single installment is back, and publisher Filip Sablik still has plenty to talk about. In case you missed last week's "Reflections," simply click here to catch up on Sablik waxing lyrical on "Broken Trinity," "Witchblade," "The Darkness" "Freshmen" and much more.

Last year, Top Cow tried something new with their very first Pilot Season, an initiative by which they offered readers one-shot comic books, the comic equivalent of a television pilot, and then gave the fans the power to vote via MySpace on which title they wanted to go to series. It was a huge success, with over 4 million votes cast and Cyblade and Velocity taking the top spots. Top Cow is doing it again this year, and Sablik has all the details on 2008's contenders.

If that wasn't enough, we've also got the scoop on "Madam Mirage," "Hunter/Killer" and the movie versions of "Wanted" and "Witchblade."

CBR: Let's begin with Pilot Season, specifically the unprecedented success of the first round of books.

Filip Sablik: It shocked us completely. We expected we were going to get a fair amount of interest and buzz about the books, but when we heard from our MySpace contacts that we got over 4 million votes, we emailed them back immediately and asked them if they misplaced a decimal point or added an extra zero! People were out there voting like crazy for their favorite books. I guess I'm pessimistic to begin with, so I asked them if there was any way there could be some sort of vote tampering. MySpace's tech department ran an analysis of the votes, and as far as they could tell, there was no vote tampering. We were blown away.

Has your approach changed with the second Pilot Season?

We changed the focus of the promotion. The first one was established characters from the Top Cow Universe. With this Pilot Season, we are going mostly with all new concepts, with two exceptions. The first was "Lady Pendragon," which Matt Hawkins self-published through Image in the late '90s. It's been a little under ten years since a new "Lady Pendragon" book came out, and Matt approached this as a new series. We figured that it would be new to most readers.

The other is "Twilight Guardian," which existed previously, but only as an ashcan that Troy [Hickman] self-published, so this is its first full-color debut of the series.

Let's talk about "Lady Pendragon" first.

It is a magic and mysticism meets the real world scenario, this time slightly in the future. If you like your dragons fighting Chinese fighter jets, this is the book for you.

And what about "Twilight Guardian?"

It's definitely the slice-of-life stuff that Troy is well known for, the type of story seen in "Common Grounds," Troy's first series for us. In this case, a middle-aged woman has something happen in her life that motivates her to put on a superhero uniform, which consists of a jumpsuit, sweatshirt and domino mask every night. She then patrols her nine-block suburban neighborhood. I don't know if you live in the suburbs, but my suburb does not have a lot of crime in it, and there are no masterminds trying to take over the world.

What are the other books featured in this year's Pilot Season?

We are going to follow that with "Genius" from Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman. The artist on that is a new find called Afua Richardson, and readers will be blown away by her stuff. She is a phenomenal new voice that works primarily digitally, and her work has a slick, animated, urban look to it.

The high concept is that, in every generation, there is a great military mind. There was Hannibal, there was Churchill, and in this generation that person is a 16-year-old girl who grew up in south Los Angeles. She decides she is going to secede her neighborhood from the nation, and the proverbial crap hits the fan.

What about "Alibi"?

"Alibi" is a book that was co-created by Matt Hawkins and Michael Renegar, and is being written by Joshua Hale Fialkov, who was one of the Pilot Season winners last year with "Cyblade." We teamed him up with Jeremy Haun and that book is about the world's greatest assassin. The trick to that book is that every time the authorities think they have him, he comes up with the perfect alibi. He's always someplace else, and it's well documented.

Then there is "The Core" by Jonathan Hickman and Kenneth Rocafort. Jonathan did "Nightly News" and "Pax Romana" over at Image, and everyone agrees he is a rising star. Kenneth, of course, did "Madame Mirage" for us and went straight from working on issue six to this. It's a sci-fi story in the vein of "Babylon Five," and combines science fiction with allegorical political themes.

It's going to be awesome because Kenneth is one of the best character designers out there. He is essentially creating all of these alien races for Jonathan, and they look amazing.

And the final offering is "Urban Myths."

Jay Faerber, who does "Noble Causes" and "Dynamo Five," is writing and Jorge Molina is drawing. He's really fresh talent who is coming out of the gate at 100 mph. It mixes Greek mythology with your favorite Noir detective story, and the main character's name is Jack Medusa.

Last year's promotion was very easy to sum up because it was branded, but this year it is essentially six brand-new concepts. There's something in Pilot Season for everyone. We have no idea what people are going to go for, but we would be happy to publish more of any of them.

When will voting begin?

Voting is going to start in August. People are going to be able to vote not only on the MySpace home page (www.myspace.com/pilotseason), but also on the Top Cow Web site, on CBR, on Newsarama, on Wizardâ€"essentially there will be a voting mechanism that will be available on all those sites. It's hopefully going to be bigger and better than last year.

Did you vote last year?

I did vote.

Let's move on to "Madame Mirage." Any plans for a second season of the Paul Dini-penned series?

We've been talking to Paul and formulating some ideas. Right now we don't have a time to put that out, but Paul is interested and we are interested. Everybody who read the series liked it and we had great critical response to it. I think my favorite pull-quote was when someone said "Every time you think you know what the book is about, Paul Dini turns it on its head." Paul is a great writer, but the thing that makes Paul unique is that he always surprises you. I would read his scripts and go "Oh no, he didn't!" And he does it in a way that is practically seamless.

The trade is coming out in September, and we've got a ton of bonus material in it. We've got character designs and sketches, and Paul's original doodles of what he wanted Mirage to look like.

Speaking of second seasons, any news on "Hunter/Killer's" second season?

We have something big planned for "Hunter-Killer" in 2009.

Is it going to involve volume one writer Mark Waid?

We don't know yet. We would love to work with Mark again, but he is very busy these days running his own editorial department elsewhere in L.A. We talk with him regularly and if he was available and interested, we would love to do it with him.

What was great about the first series was the complete story was impressively seamless. It is definitely one of my favorites. For us, though, it has to be the right team, and it would have to be either Mark writing it or someone on Mark's level who could really bring something phenomenal to the table. We would rather not put out anything at all than put out something crappy. It has to be good and represent us in the best possible way.

Have you seen "Wanted" yet?

No. I'll be seeing it next week before the movie comes out.

Has anyone else at Top Cow seen it?

Marc Silvestri and Matt Hawkins have seen it, and both came back raving and ranting about how awesome it was. I promptly stormed out and threw a hissy fit because I didn't get to go. [laughs]

I'm really excited. Have you seen the Russian trailer? It's R-rated and not for the kids, and you will be jumping up and down because of how cool it looks. It's going to blow you away, with people's brains exploding and gore galore. It looks like the kick-ass popcorn movie of the summer. The way Universal is marketing it is ensuring comic fans are going to love it, and so will people just walking into it off the street, which is great.

What's going on with the "Witchblade" movie?

It's currently going into production. From what I've heard, they have locked in a director, but have not officially announced it yet. The financing is in place too. I don't believe there is any casting yet, since the director just got locked in and has a lot to say on that. Hopefully they will have it out in 2009.

Lightning round time. What is your favorite comic book movie?

Right now it may be "Iron Man." I saw it opening night and thought it was phenomenally well done. Jon Favreau really nailed the pacing and the story and Robert Downey, Jr. is Tony Stark now. Brilliant stuff. I also have a soft spot for the first two "Superman" movies and the first "X-Men" movie. Hopefully next week it'll be "Wanted," though!

What is your weirdest convention experience?

At [Comic-Con International in San Diego] last year, VP of Editorial Rob Levin and I were walking back from the Warren Ellis Avatar Press/Atomic Comics party near the convention center and we saw two Comic-Con attendees in the midst of a fist-fightâ€"sort of. One of them was much larger than the other, but the smaller guy appeared to be more drunk. I guess at some point the smaller one had cold cocked the bigger guy, but by the time we got there the small guy was taunting the larger guy and every time the big guy would lumber towards him to get into it, the small guy would run away. Then the big guy would turn to walk away and the whole thing would repeat. We stood there watching it transfixed for 10 minutes until it culminated with the small guy trying to unleash a "Street Fighter" Ryu style fireball complete with a "hiryuuuuu-kin" sound effect. It had us cracking up most of the show.

But apparently it was far from the strangest altercation at the show that year. In talking with a buddy, he said he witnessed an actual fist-fight between overweight Batman and Obi-Wan Kenobi while Princess Peach and Luigi from "Mario Brothers" looked on. I tell you, cons are getting dangerous!

If you could only be remembered for only one thing in your career, what would it be?

That I wasn't a jerk. [laughs]

Next week in REFLECTIONS, J. Michael Straczynski begins a frank and in-depth interview about his burgeoning film career, his "Amazing Spider-Man" in retrospect, the highs and lows of his work, what team-ups you will and will not see in "Brave and the Bold," "Thor," and so much more.

Now discuss this story in CBR's Image Comics forum.

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Tags: top cow, filip sablik, witchblade, pilot season, wanted

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