SDCC: Creators Reveal The Face Behind Black Mask Studios

According to the creators who were on hand to discuss the new publisher at Comic-Con International in San Diego, Black Mask Studios is not just about bringing new comics to readers; it is about bringing new ideas to the medium of comics.

During the hour-long presentation, creators Matt Pizzolo, Darick Robertson, Matthew Rosenberg and Adam Egypt Mortimer enjoyed bottles of Blue Moon beer while being joined via video conferencing by Matt Miner, Steve Niles and Brett Gurewitz, displayed on a big screen to the right of the onsite panelists.

Robertson started off with a simple message -- "Thank you to everyone who showed up here and has no life and thinks this is the place to be on Thursday night at Comic-Con."

Pizzolo said Black Mask Studios was not only an "experiment with a new way of doing comics," it was also experimenting with a new way of doing panels with multimedia, which he emphasized by pointing at the screen displaying Miner, Niles and Gurewitz.

Rosenberg, the writer of "12 Reasons To Die," agreed with Pizzolo, saying he had tried other avenues to get his book published before it found a home with Black Mask. "I had meetings with pretty much every publisher. All the publishers had their ideas of what they wanted to do -- Matt wanted to know what I wanted to do, so it was a no-brainer to go with Black Mask."

Turning the panel focus to Miner, writer of "The Liberator," Robertson jokingly asked, "How are the repairs on the space shuttle going?"

The question garnered laughs from the audience and from Miner himself, who then talked about what brought him to the company which first came to his attention via the publication of the political comic anthology "Occupy Comics." The fact he was Twitter buddies with Niles continued to push him in the direction of the company, in addition to reaction to his work from other venues.

"I got turned down by another publisher," Miner said of "The Liberator," which is about vigilante animal rights activists. "It was for the best though, because this book is very politically charged."

Rosenberg said this kind of rejection from larger companies is very common, especially when it comes to titles that might be controversial.

"There's Marvel and DC Comics. Those companies are controlled by Time Warner and Disney. They control their stories," he said. "They play it safe and protect corporate interests."

He elaborated further saying those companies have their own place in the comic industry, but it is not with creator-owned comic books. Those companies do help creators in their own way because that is where they can make enough money to make a living, and that in turn allows those same creators to financially be able to do their own independent stories with other publishers.

Pizzolo said panels with the big publishers are more about pushing their books to the readers and getting publicity for them, whereas Black Mask Studios has a different goal for their panels, including this one. "We are really about supporting our creators. We are really passionate about comics and we all come from different places."

Robertson likened the company's approach to having a punk rock sensibility because it were about challenging the status quo, not being afraid to tackle controversial political issues and trying to connect with readers on a personal level.

"When you deal with a creator-owned situation, there are very few mediums that are direct to your audience like comics," Robertson said. "The only other medium I can compare it to is rock and roll. What Adam and I thought of is exactly what you get to read. I love the idea of Black Mask, where we can do a punk rock sensibility to comics."

He said when other publishing companies start dictating what their creators can and cannot write, it's a sign they do not trust their creators in knowing what their audience wants. "I'm a fucking nerd, too," Robertson said. "I know what people like me like to read."

Niles found it puzzling that big companies are controlling their creators so much, since it actually goes against their best interests.

"Everything the big companies are benefitting from now with the [comic book] movies is [from] when the creators on the comics were allowed to do their own thing on their titles," Niles said. He also stated his belief that publishers should allow creators to have more freedom since they benefit from it in the future, because those classic stories are what ends up influencing the stories of the movies.

"For me, one of the key things I liked is that both mediums [comics and punk rock] were challenging social norms," Gurewitz said, explaining he likes books that push the envelope, which, according to him, is exactly what Black Mask Studios does.

"Comics have a density, and yet a brevity where you can read it over and over again," Mortimer contributed, adding that each time, readers can get something new out of it.

In response to an audience question about Black Mask publishing ongoing series, Pizzolo responded that the company was not looking in that direction, that they would rather have more of a style like television shows in which each season has its own arcs that end a story, but not necessarily the main characters. He said they would rather do a series of miniseries that would tell complete stories on their own.

"When the curtain goes down, that character has to become a different character," Rosenberg said, explaining how each miniseries should matter to the character's populating it.

Mortimer said this format, and the fact Black Mask is going to allow them complete freedom in their ideas, is what will make their comic books stand out.

"When creators are inspired to dig deep and speak the truth and know they are not going to be flogged by the company they will be more diverse."

Though the company publishes titles that are very political, it is not a prerequisite for getting work published by them. However, Niles was quick to point out, "it is not something we discourage."

Pizzolo said the company is open to all sorts of stories, a fact illustrated by the publication of Occupy Comics, for which they recruited a very diverse lineup of creators. "Black Mask is a progressive company that is thinking not just about the stories, but the bigger picture. New stories need to be told with new ideas."

Robertson said regardless of finding a publisher, prospective creators should be forging their own paths.

"Do your goddamn comic," Robertson summarized. "Nobody is going to just give it to you."

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