Top Shelf released this month its first volume of Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" with "Century 1910," which landed at #4 on the New York Times's Graphic Books chart. "League" -- which stars literary characters in the public domain such as Mina Harker from Bram Stoker's "Dracula," Captain Nemo, and Mr. Hyde -- saw two volumes and the original hardcover "Black Dossier" published by WildStorm before conflicts between Moore & O'Neil and WildStorm parent company DC Comics led them to migrate the title to Top Shelf, which publishes several other of Moore's books. "1910" is the first of three 80-page graphic novellas taking the heroes through the twentieth century.
CBR News spoke with Top Shelf publisher Chris Staros about his thoughts on the new "League" release and early reactions to "Century."
Staros spoke with CBR shortly after returning from the Bristol International Comic Expo in England, where "League" artist Kevin O'Neill signed copies of "Century 1910" at both the Top Shelf booth and UK publisher Knockabout's booth. While in the UK, the Top Shelf publisher also took the time to meet with Alan Moore and wife Melinda Gebbie, who illustrated "Lost Girls." "Alan was very happy with the new edition of 'League,' which of course made us very happy," Staros told CBR. "He's finished writing the script for the second one, '1968,' and Kevin is illustrating that right now, and he's right in the middle of writing the final chapter of 'League' at the moment. That script was on his computer as we were sitting there."
Staros added that because of the larger 80-page size of the "Century" volumes, the books will be released annually. "I would guess the April timeframe each year is when they'll be coming out. April/May 2010 for the next one, April/May 2011 for the next one. That's the tentative plan."
With review copies of "Century 1910" having circulated for some time and the finished edition in readers' hands for more than a week, early response has been overwhelmingly positive. "On our website we've posted about 25 or 30 reviews that have come out on 'League' already, so we're very happy with it," Staros said. "It's a beautiful book, and it's a different kind of story than the last two editions and definitely different from the 'Black Dossier.' But it's still very compelling and there's a lot going on--it's a complete story but also there's seeds being laid for some really, really big developments that will be happening in the second and third editions."
Further comparing this first Top Shelf "League" release with earlier editions, Staros said, "I actually think initial orders for 'League,' for first day of sale, were actually better than DC Comics' numbers because of all of the 'Watchmen' [film] hoopla that's been going on lately, pushing interest in Alan Moore stuff even greater. The first print run of 'League' -- which was rather large, 100,000 copies -- is actually almost sold out."
Staros noted that unlike the first two DC volumes, which were released in single-issue format before being collected as trade paperbacks, hardcovers and an Absolute edition, the "Century 1910's" larger perfect-bound format and ISBN coding allowed it to gain sales from the bookstore and library markets, as well.
In addition to its usual practice of sending advance copies to reviewers, Top Shelf was able to promote the new "League" book through the extraordinary efforts of its creators. "Alan and Kevin graciously allowed us to set up interviews for them through the months of January, February, and March, to support the book," Staros said. "And there were about 20-30 interviews related to 'League' that have come out or will come out. Having Alan do those things for us, which was a lot of work for him, and Kevin also, was a big help. Plus the general momentum we were able to feed off of with 'League' and also of course 'Watchmen,' these things helped to propel the book to quite good numbers right off the bat."
Staros acknowledged that Moore's projects with Top Shelf, including "From Hell," "Lost Girls," and now "League of Extraordinary Gentleman," differ from much of the publisher's line in that there is a division of labor more typical of mainstream comics. "In general, Alan's books involve a little bit more of an assembly line process, where you've got a high quality colorist helping out, a high quality letterer, designers, and pulling in the writer and artist, all this crew to get the job done, as opposed to the indie books you do where it's black and white and you've got the cartoonist who writes, draws, and letters it, and sometimes they're good enough designers to put the whole package together for you," he said. "There's a lot more work involved in these, but obviously the quality team you can put around an Alan Moore book to get it done right is really nice. So the books are more expensive to put together up front, but obviously they sell well once you get them out and you recoup all that investment and more once you're done."
For his part, Staros enjoyed the lyrical aspect of the new title. "This book has a little bit more of a sing-songy approach to it in that there are some Threepenny Opera musical elements to it that I really like. I also like that Alan felt freer in this issue to do some of the things he wanted, even things that had a little bit more a sexual overtone to them and so-forth. And so the book feels a little less restricted in that way. But for the most part, it is, you know, quality 'League' material just like what DC put out in volumes 1 and 2 and the 'Black Dossier,' it's very consistent. The truth is, Alan and Kevin and 'League' transcend whatever label they're on. 'League' is 'League,' Alan is Alan, Kevin is Kevin, and people are coming in droves to pick up this book! So we're proud to be associated with that, but it's them people are coming for."
Other Alan Moore projects coming from Top Shelf in the near future include a single-volume hardcover edition of "Lost Girls," which will be released in June and sell for $45, and a paperback edition of the prose novel "Voice of the Fire" shipping in May. "And then we've got Alan's next big thing which is his 'Moon and Serpent Bumper Book of Magic,' which is all of his religious and magical thinkings boiled down into one working grimoire," Staros said of the long-awaited project. "That's going to be quite a remarkable piece, as well, and that's maybe 2-3 years out but we're working on that right now. It's an everything piece, it's going to involve text pieces, comics, tarot cards, pop up temples, music, everything. It's going to be quite sophisticated."