Talking FC9 Publishing with Tilman Goins

Over the past six months there've been a wide variety of new comics and graphic novel publishers announced. One of those is Tennessee based Funnel Cloud 9, or FC9 for short. They've already announced their first title, the June horror release "HELL, Michigan," with writer Dan Jolley and artist Clint Hilinski. CBR News caught up with FC9 President Tilman Goins to learn more about the publisher and what some of their future plans involve.

For Goins, laying the groundwork for his new publishing company started with choosing the right name. He began by listening closely to radio and television advertising to see which names and campaigns really stuck with him. "Funnel Cloud 9 is a mouthful to say, but there was some agonizing that went into it to say the least," Goins told CBR News. "Before going into comic books full-time, I was an Air Traffic Controller. When brushing up on some of the abbreviations for different weather conditions, FC+ (which is actually a tornado) stuck in my head for some reason. I didn't want to name a company 'Funnel Cloud Plus' so I took an earlier quickly disregarded company name 'Cloud 9 Publishing' and put the 9 with the FC. So, FC9 was formed, under Funnel Cloud 9, Inc.

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"My background in comics is very modest. Like most, I'm in it for love of the medium. I feel strongly that comic books are a great form of entertainment and need to be reintroduced to not only children, but could effectively be marketed to parents as a 'gateway to reading' for children. I'm not sure if Hasbro planned this, but I actually read an article in one of those parenting magazines saying that Transformers helps increase motor skills. They even put skill levels on the packaging. Did they do this for the children who want to play with them, or the parents who want their kids to play with them? I'm sure it was effective marketing on Hasbro's part if their approach was to market it to parents for the children. I don't see why comics can't be marketed in a similar way to the 'Oprah' crowd. Imagine, if everyone reading this interview went on the Oprah website and e-mailed them a story idea on comic books, and how they take some of kids favorite characters and give them new and exciting adventures to read every month. It could have a profound effect in the comics community."

With so many new publishers announced in recent months such as Speakeasy, Kandora and Alias, you might think this could have Goins concerned. Not at all. "I think that if I were in any other business, the idea of added 'competition' would be unwelcome," said Goins. "In comics, as a fan in general, I'd love to see more original and well thought out titles on the shelves. Anytime you introduce new talent or an original title, especially if they are able to turn a few heads in the comic community, it has an impact. Even if they don't bring in new readers to the comic shops, they'll at least perhaps raise the bar, or if they're good enough, set a new standard in comic books that all us fans can benefit from. So new creators, new and unique titles, are a welcome addition in my book."

While some publishers have opted to team up with larger publishers to produce their books, FC9 will be publishing all their books in house with the FC9 logo displayed proudly on the front cover and for very specific reasons. "Let's say you've got 'ABC Publishing' who accepts solicitations, and becomes widely known for marketing and selling new comics for new creators," explained Goins. "If even a sliver of the comic world never checks out 'ABC Publishing' because they don't like the genre of a book they've become known for, or they've been put off by them for some reason in the past, the new creator who just signed up to have his book published by ABC will never have the chance to have it read by that sliver that pays ABC no attention.

"So many new publishing houses seem eager to become the next big thing that they're overlooking some of the fundamentals of what makes each comic great. Concept, story, art. There are some new publishers out there that seem to be throwing a bunch of titles on the wall, and hoping that a handful of 'em stick. What I've come to realize real quickly was that retailers (and consumers) are probably only prepared to spend a certain amount of money on FC9's books as a whole. I'm being tested as a publisher, if not as much, then more so than the actual titles I'm putting out. If I were to start with any more than two books, I'd be eating into my own sales because they'd take some of the money they have earmarked for FC9's debut books, and spread it thinner.

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"So, what sets FC9 apart from the others? I'd have to say it's that we are actually taking the time to nurture each title into something that's going to have some staying power. I want to make sure that every new comic we put out is going to get as much exposure as we can possibly get it, that it's top notch, and is something that's going to find its market and have some staying power. As a new publisher, I'm promoting the talent, and the titles, just as much as my company's name.

"I don't want to short change any of our creators by having exposure on their labor of love trumped by everything else the company is doing. I can't let any hype for the company outweigh the actual hype for our comics. It's a balancing act, for sure. I've got to get the FC9 name out there, and build it's reputation just so people know where to find us in Previews. At the same time, I've got to get the product out there. With some of these other new publishers, I'll never forget the company's name, but I probably couldn't name half of the books they've got coming out, and it's my business to know what's on the market."

In addition to the goals Goins noted above, he's purposely choosing to publish a wide variety of genre's so that they don't get pigeon holed as a one-note publisher. "We're trying to avoid any stereotypes that can block a group of fans from reading a comic of ours because they're used to seeing a particular type genre from us," said Goins. "There are publishers that are more widely known for presenting characters with spandex and capes, those who produce more horror, those who are known for publishing licensed books from a different era, and they all do it well. That's their niche. For them to try and break out of that niche can be difficult. FC9's first two titles are of a completely different genres, and each target a different fan base.

"'HELL, Michigan' is a horror suspense, type book, where our other June debut title is an all ages piece. I can't say too much about it right now, but in a few weeks, you'll see more of what I'm talking about.

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"If they'd both been horror comics, again, I'd probably be eating in to my own sales. Diversity is something that FC9 does really well. I wanted to create a company where fans of all different kinds of comics can find a title to enjoy and read on a regular basis. At the same time, I haven't trapped myself, or limited FC9 to only being able to be taken seriously doing one specific type of book.

In choosing "HELL, Michigan" as FC9's first release, Goins has selected a book by a writer who's already established in the comics industry. "Dan Jolley is a great writer who's got a following (and rightly so). He's done other work in the genre of 'Hell, Michigan,' but what prompted me to actually consider him for this title, rather than one of the other FC9 properties, was his 'G.I. Joe Frontlines' story. I've read a lot of the horror and suspense comics, but I've never had a comic book really set the mood in the same way this story did. The story wasn't necessarily a favorite of all G.I. Joe fans, because it was different than what they were used to, but the story did what it was supposed to. When reading the four-issue arc, Dan was able to actually make me get the 'eerie' feeling that can be hard to get across in this medium. Now all I had to do was contact him and make him an offer he couldn't refuse. Apparently, I was successful. (smiles) We'd discussed at length what my vision was for 'HELL, Michigan' and the characters and he fell in love with the concept. It's great having someone on board who's just as excited about the project as I am. His scripts are always top notch, usually going above and beyond what even I was expecting. He's really taken the characters and the town, and made them his own.

"You know, I've gotten such a huge response from 'HELL, Michigan' that it's almost overwhelming at times. I'm currently in negotiations with multiple production studios over the movie and video game rights. One of which wants to start almost immediate production for a 'Halloween 2006 theatrical release!' I was at a con with Dan last weekend and we were able to show fans some of the stuff from 'HELL, Michigan' and fan response was tremendous. We've shopped the idea around to retailers, showed them some of the art, told them about the concept, and retailer interest was astounding.

"'HELL, Michigan' is a story about a town which has become possessed and has the potential to becoming a gateway to Hell," continued Goins. "Only a handful of people with strong wills have been able to realize that there's something going on, and have taken a vow to try and put a stop to it. The town sees these people, and others, as an infestation of 'good' that must be eradicated before it's able to produce a more pure form of evil. The lower the population becomes, the stronger the town is."

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Current plans are for FC9 to begin publishing five titles by Fall of 2005, with the first two books set to debut in June. Goins admits it's been hard to stick to that plan, though, as he's been presented with a number of great ideas, but he doesn't want the company to grow too quickly and out of his control.

"You now, we've all heard that there is no specific 'formula for success' in this business, and that's true. However, I do feel that there are a few formulas for failure," said Goins. "I've been studying the independent side of comics publishing for awhile and I'm determined to stay out of the same traps that we see people fall in to over and over and over again. FC9 is in it for the long haul, and I intend to fight for every reader we get. Those hard fought for readers tend to be more loyal, and are the ones who are actually enjoying the product. When a fan buys a book based on an overactive hype machine, those are the fans that will drop the book in an instant if it hasn't lived up to expectations. Publishers often get a false sense of security from a strong selling debut and it leaves them hurting in the long run.

"For the most part, everything is moving forward as planned. I've delayed the announcement of another of our June titles, because we're still making sure that 'HELL, Michigan' gets pushed out there as well as it should. I will tell you this -- It's an all ages epic called 'Genie' and written by the new 'ShadowHawk' scribe Jim Keplinger.

"There's always going to be some bumps along the way, but everything is really falling in to place well. The sudden onslaught of Hollywood interest for 'HELL, Michigan' is more than I'd expected, if not sooner than I'd expected, but I've been able to make time to deal with it in my schedule. Let me tell you, being contacted by movie studios is one of those bumps that you love to cross."

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