SDCC: Matt Hawkins Reveals Top Cow's Big Plans

Top Cow might have recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, but that doesn't mean this bovine's out to pasture. Indeed, the company's panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego proved that's anything but the case. In addition to the continued publication of mainstays "Witchblade," "Cyber Force" and "Aphrodite XI," the company is expanding its Minotaur Press line with new books by President/Chief Operating Officer Matt Hawkins and Larime Taylor. Hawkins will also write a graphic novel titled "Tales of Honor," set in the world of David Weber's Honor Harrington book series.

The Cow is also planning to expand its media presence with a few new projects. The biggest foray they discussed was a "Darkness" film from New Regency, Mandeville and Sketch Films that will also feature Witchblade. The Darkness will also get the motion comic treatment from Madefire in the near future.

Other upcoming comic book projects include an un-named new Marc Silvestri series that will launch with a Free Comic Book Day offering, the most recent Top Cow Talent Hunt winners creating "Artifacts" #33-35, new volumes of Ron Marz and Stjepan Sejic's "Ravine" in August and February and the youth-oriented "Teen Witchblade."

With so much in the works at Top Cow, CBR News caught up with the increasingly busy Hawkins to talk about the announcements in more detail, including his upcoming books "Control" with Colleen Doran ("A Distant Soil") and "Wildfire" with Linda Sejic.

CBR News: One of the biggest pieces of news from today's panel was the announcement of the "Darkness" film from New Regency, Mandeville and Sketch Films that will also feature Witchblade. How did it come about that both would be included in the project?

Matt Hawkins: It was a natural evolution of the story that was being developed, so we agreed to it. In the comics, the Witchblade, the Darkness and the Angelus are a trinity of sorts and the stories all interrelate. When we started talking about the forces of Light in the Darkness, it seemed silly to not make it the Angelus. Jackie is a crime figure in New York, so of course we need cops in the story. It just kind of happened that way and I'm very excited about the direction it's going.

You also announced a deal with Madefire to do Darkness motion comics. What era will they be starting with?

They're starting with "Darkness" #101, which is the beginning of the Rebirth stuff that David Hine and Jeremy Haun did.

Perhaps the most surprising title announced was "Teen Witchblade" -- what can you tell us about that project?

"Teen Witchblade" is an Ultimates-style book that Stjepan Sejic is doing. [It] is a tentative title. He was calling it "Twitch" online, but with "Sam and Twitch" we need to come up with something else. It's basically a young adult version of our universe that includes some creator-owned characters, including my Lady Pendragon character and Ron Marz's Dragon Prince. It's funny and charming and the response to it on deviantART was so overwhelming we decided to publish it.

"Cyber Force" recently made the jump from free to the more traditional pay structure. Were there any problems going from the free model to pay? How has the fan reaction been to the book overall?

The biggest problem we had was retail reaction at the comic book stores, and that was our miscalculation. We learned a lot from doing it and I can't blame retailers for how they handled it. We'd definitely do it different if we went back and did it again. In regard to the question of did it work, I'd say yes. "Cyber Force" #6 is the first paid issue of that series and it's Top Cow's highest sales for both digital and print for the 32 page books.

What can you tell readers about the second arc of "Aphrodite IX," the new character Aphrodite XV and how she'll come into play as the series progresses?

The second arc of "Aphrodite IX" opens the world up a bit. The story thus far has been contained to the two city states, but the world is larger than they let on. Both groups have splinter factions, the genetic people have cybrids which they consider inferior to them. Cybrids are humans with animal DNA spliced into their own and they take on certain traits. Some of them are powerful but most of them are merely cosmetic differences. The cyborgs have full singularity robots that have downloaded their consciousness into a full, mechanized body. The cyborgs also consider these to be inferior and they're somewhat afraid of them. Aphrodite XV becomes critical to this story and so does the bounty hunter we introduce in the fourth issue. 

Stjepan Sejic and Ron Marz's "Ravine" seems to be doing really well, with the first volume going back to print and the next two scheduled for August and February. Do you think this book is bringing in a different audience for Top Cow?

Stjepan Sejic has an insane online following on deviantART, and his "Sunstone" online strip is one of the site's most viewed series, ever. So yes, he brings a different group into these things. There's been some crossover for this with "Aphrodite IX" as well, which is cool. I am in love with Stjepan's artwork, so am excited, as a publisher, to continue "Ravine," and as a writer to be working with my friend.

Larime Taylor's story is fascinating. Even though he was born with Arthrogryposis and his joints are fused together, he still draws comics, but using his mouth instead of his hands. How did you wind up hooking up with him to publish "A Voice in the Dark?"

My attorney Harris Miller asked me to take a look at the book. We don't pick up many outside series -- in fact, we've pretty much stopped picking them up entirely -- but Harris asked me to take a look. The combination of the story, which is about a teenage girl struggling with psychosis, and Larime's personal story pretty much knocked down any "Noes" I had to offer. Between "A Voice in the Dark," your own "Think Tank," "Control" and "Wildfire," it seems like Top Cow's really building up its Minotaur side of the business. Was that a goal for the year or did it just come along thanks to some interesting submissions?

It wasn't intentional. Part of that was the kind of original stuff I like to write fits more naturally in that line. I don't think I'd write a very good Darkness or Witchblade book, but the more contained, eclectic style of the Minotaur line suits my tastes, both for my projects and projects we pick up.

Colleen Doran of "A Distant Soil" fame is drawing "Control." How did that come about?

I am Colleen's hugest fan. She is so talented and her work speaks for itself. She's going from working with Neil Gaiman, to J. Michael Stracznyski, to me, so I hope she's not too disappointed.

Top Cow's also doing a series of graphic novels called "Tales of Honor." Now, you're writing these, and they're based on the book series. How did that deal develop? Did they approach you, or did Top Cow start the conversation?

It was a combination of my friend Rich Leibowitz making an introduction and the producer involved having picked up "Think Tank" in a comic shop. We don't normally do work-for-hire projects, and I told them that when I went in to meet with them -- I wasn't that interested, initially. The contact at Evergreen, Richard Browne, suggested I read the first novel, which is available on Kindle and iBooks for free. So I read "On Basilisk Station," and the read of that first book totally changed my mind. I loved the book and the character and bought the next novel "The Honor of the Queen." I read that in a day, went back in and met with them and we started plotting out the deal.

I've read and watched a lot of fiction with women in the military, but not like this. [Lead character] Honor Harrington an amazing character, and author David Weber has weaved an intricate world for her to inhabit. All good sci-fi stories are moral allegories for what is going on today, and this one is no exception. Racism, sexism, economic inequality, political cronyism, corruption; it's got it all. 

When dealing with a character like this, who has so many novels already in her canon, how do you go about researching her in order to make sure your stories make sense within the world? Or is this more set in the world of the film?

The comic book will be loosely adapting the novels, but in a long-arcing structure. It's why we're calling it Tales of Honor. We're still working out all the creative details, but I've had time to talk to David Weber and hear his take on these things. At this point, I'm a fan of his and just want to do the series justice. I'll be working with the filmmakers and the creator/author of the novels. But this will ultimately be its own thing -- I hate straight adaptations.

You also have two more Minotaur books coming out in "Wildfire" and "Control." How do you find the time for all of this?

Both of those are self-contained books. "Control" is a temporary title until I find a permanent one but the word will be in the title. It's all time management, but it's hard. I want to do the more creative work and when I have conflicts because I need to go cut payroll or work on taxes it is frustrating. Ultimately, I spend my mornings writing and my afternoons working on everything else. I usually take Saturdays off to spend with my family, and Sundays I write.

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