Up until a couple of years ago, computer generated comics were something of a novelty in this industry. There were people making valiant attempts at using the new tools offered by computers and merging them with the kind of layout comic fans have come to expect, but generally the efforts failed and weren't well received by comics fans. One of the most successful attempts has been "The Red Star," a completely computer generated and rendered comic. Where the medium used to create the comic was somewhat unconventional, the story was even more so, with a fictionalized telling of a war involving the former Soviet Union. The book was a surprise hit, influencing a new wave and style of computer generated comics coming to market. The journey for co-creators Christian Gossett, Brad Kayl and the entire Team Red Star crew hasn't always been an easy one. Today their adventure took another surprising turn.
June of 2002 saw the announcement that "The Red Star" would make CrossGen Entertainment (then a newly formed arm of the growing CrossGen publishing group) the new publisher of the series. Today, CBR News has learned that there will be another shift in the publishing plans for Team Red Star as CrossGen will no longer publish "The Red Star" and the team will bring the title back in-house and publish it under their own Archangel Studios name, as was their plan originally after leaving Image Comics in April of 2002. Confused? Well, we contacted co-creators Christian Gossett and Brad Kayl to get more on why this change is being made and to learn more about the future of the title.
In the first of our two-part interview regarding these changes (don't miss part two with Brad Kayl), Gossett provided CBR News with a publishing timeline of "The Red Star's" recent past, which serves not only as interesting reading, but offers a close look into what it's like to be an independent publisher in today's difficult market.
"Spring 2002 - The Red Star leaves Image Comics
"As Todd McFarlane said in interviews using 'The Red Star' as an example, Image wasn't ever about holding on to people or their creations, it was about helping creators learn the ropes so that they might build upon their own success and reap the benefits, as opposed the model of exploitation that had been the experience of those, like Jack Kirby, Neal Adams, Frank Miller and the Image creators themselves, who had all tasted the bitterness of not owning their creations and being powerless against publishing conglomerates who held the upper hand over their work.
"In this light, Archangel Studios, the home of Team Red Star, was the archetypal Image success story, having been brought to market thanks to Image, we had built an audience that appreciated our world and had now graduated into our own independence. Diamond Catalogue here we come!
"Summer 2002 -Archangel Studios independently releases the second Red Star TPB, titled 'Nokgorka,' and our first ever Annual, titled 'Run Makita Run.'
"Dr. Jo, my fiancee and Archangel's frontline executive, along with my writing comrade Bradley Kayl, telephone thousands of comics shops all over the nation in a grass roots assault to keep our small company alive. The calls went something like this:
"…Yes, that's right, we'll no longer be found in the Image Comics section, when you'd like to order The Red Star, please go to the 'A' section in the Diamond Previews Catalogue and look for Archangel Studios - we're right next to Archie Comics…
"We did it all. We arranged a business relationship with Quebecor for printing, with Diamond for distribution, and with almost every retailer in the country who cared to meet us halfway as we offered each of them personal attention via the calling campaign. If we couldn't convince them that we were serious about keeping our product alive after 2,000 phone calls, then we would at least go down swinging. 'Thanks for calling, I don't know many creators who'd take such personal interest in the retailers' part of this whole game'we would hear again and again from those comics sellers who truly understood our position and saw just how hard we were willing to fight to keep 'The Red Star' a success.
"Sadly, many of the comics shops we called had already gone out of business. We knew that things were tough all over, and that the hype about things getting better for the industry was just that; empty, desperate hype. Fortunately for us, the campaign worked. Our orders stayed strong nationwide, and Dr. Jo and Brad wear their accomplishment like a medal. Honestly, try making 2,000 sales calls sometime. See how far you get before you go nuts.
"Late Summer 2002 - The Red Star announces affiliation with CrossGen Entertainment
"Yup, it was quick, alright. If you think it seemed weird to hear about it, then lemme tell you how weird it was to have to make that decision at that time. We had just worked like hell to stay alive as Archangel Studios, and now we were going to give all of that up to become a CrossGen book? Why?
"As far as the 'why' of our decision, I'll get to that later on in the interview. First to finish the timeline and bring all y'all up to date on this whole saga.
"The important thing is that the deal we were offered was much different than every other CrossGen title. But again, you'll have to read on to find out how…
"And a beauty of an issue it is, if I don't say so myself. Forgive my indulgence, y'all, but if you can't love what you create then why go through all the agony of creation? The important thing to note is that for all intents and purposes, we were still as independent as we would have been had we never decided to 'crash on Crossgen's couch' as one might say. We paid for the printing, we dealt with Diamond directly, and Crossgen was good to their word: They did not attempt to exert any creative control whatsoever. This relationship was definitely a test case for both CGE and Archangel, and to both our honors, we did a really good job of keeping things at a clean distance in case we should change our minds. No simple task in any industry, believe me. Crossgen is a very professional squad.
"March 17, 2003 - Archangel Studios announces that the affiliation with CGE will not continue past issue 2 of the current story arc.
"Again, if you think its weird to read about all this, then you should try livin' it!
"So what happened? Read on, oh perplexed and panting patron of pathos and paradox! For here in cyberspace we present the Surreal Story of The Star and The Sigil!
("No, my little Stan Lee act in that last sentence was not a hint. We're NOT moving over to Marvel. Well, at least not this week…")
Ultimately there were a number of factors that contributed to the current decision to again self-publish "The Red Star," but, as Gossett explains, he feels he's been self-publishing all this time with assistance from previous publishers Image Comics and CrossGen Entertainment.
"The actual case is that we've been self-publishing since our very first issue," said Gossett. "As the guys from 'Violent Messiahs' or 'Rex Mundi' or 'Devil's Due' or 'Dreamwave' can tell you, working with Image is not very different from doing it all yourself. The only difference is that Image is, ideally, a kind of support structure to help you deal with Quebecor, Diamond, the Comics Press and the Retail community. But you pay all of your own artists, including letterers and graphic design, and you pay your own printing, ultimately, with your sales. You hope (laughter).
"When you leave Image, as Dreamwave and Archangel did last year, you initiate your own relationship with Quebecor and Diamond for printing and distribution, and with the Retailers and Comics Press to let them know what's going on with your products (again I refer to that phone calling campaign). These are big jobs with tons of new decisions to have to make, but essentially if you're an 'Image House' you're fast on your way to becoming completely your own entity.
"As I also said in the timeline above, we released our second Red Star Trade Paperback and our first annual as Archangel Studios in that quick transition period between affiliations with Image and CGE, so this isn't so much a new thing as a decision to stay on our own after a brief period of experimentation.
"Anybody that has met us at a convention, or has had a few drinks with us at an after-party pretty much knows how 'people-oriented' we are. Some people make relationships because of what it can do for them, but for us it has to do with how well we get along with someone. If you wanna have a laugh with us and get silly, then come on over and let's have a good time. If you wanna power play and ego-trip and pretend that you really matter in the grand scheme of the universe, then you're in the wrong business. No bullshit. Go be a music executive if you want to play with people's lives.
"This was why we were open to the idea of working with Crossgen, who were some of the nicest people we'd yet had the privilege to meet in the business. When it came down to it, though, both parties realized that as much as we really enjoyed each other's company, we had different goals as businesses, so we decided to call off the experiment.
So, now you know the saga of "The Red Star," at least the publishing side. With all the switching around, some might jump to the conclusion that Team Red Star is either difficult to work with or indecisive. Gossett was eager to set the record straight while also placing the relative importance of such a decision in greater perspective.
"If I were reading about Archangel Studios and didn't know who they were, I'd think it was hilarious, myself," admitted Gossett. "Because, honestly, it's kind of a fun little soap opera when you think about it, and why take the fate of a small comics publisher so seriously, you know? There are hundreds of thousands of people about to die by fire in the Middle East - something like that, that's worth an in-depth examination. Like many Americans, I've got friends in several branches of the armed services stationed over there right now. I dearly hope to see them again when this current world situation is all over. Compared to that, the particular logo that's on the cover of a comic book doesn't really add up to a whole lot, ya know?
"I mean, yes, we take our work seriously. Very seriously. Archangel Studios and Team Red Star are my closest friends and they are giving me their time, work, love, and life savings to continue this dream of ours. These were major decisions we had to make that we agonized over and agonized over. At Megacon in Orlando a couple weeks ago, we had the last few meetings with Crossgen doing everything we could to make the best decision possible for both parties. And we did.
"We are on a different path from our pals at Crossgen, and that was the bottom line. Crossgen has a goal in mind, and that goal is something they're not shy about. They want to knock Marvel off the top of the heap. They want to be number one. Right now, in America, when you talk comics, the everyday civilian says, 'sure, comics - 'Daredevil,' right? And 'X2' and 'Hulk' and 'Spider-Man' and all that jazz…' What Crossgen is aiming for is to become the premiere comics publisher in the nation. They want the guy on the street to know their characters. That's a far-reaching decision that only a company of their level of resource can even attempt, and we wish them triumph.
"As far as we're concerned, we just want to be free to tell our stories. We want to show Maya and Marcus reunited after their long suffering. We want to show Makita mature into the great warrior she is destined to be. We want to push our graphics and blow people's minds with Snakebite's color and Paul Schrier's 3D graphics and this world Brad and I have imagined. This is our main focus. We've realized that Archangel Studios is about the work itself, not our status in the industry.
"In that respect, nothing has changed since we began. 'The Red Star' will continue to be told the way it has been told from issue one. This didn't change anywhere on the timeline I've given. Not from Image to Independence, nor from Independence to our brief stay at Crossgen, nor will it change now. That's the meat of the matter. The story is still in the care of Team Red Star, who are the people that love it most, and want to continue to share it with as many people as possible. In a world of corporate advertainment, we're proud in our ability to hold on to something so pure."
And while Team Red Star has decided to leave CrossGen, Gossett wanted to take a moment to talk about that which CrossGen offers and why their offering is still a very good idea for new creators looking to get published.
"It's easy to forget what Crossgen does for its creators and employees," said Gossett. "I'd like to remind people that, in the midst of today's wrecked economy, there is a place in Tampa where people of our generation are receiving full benefits, a salary, are working closely with some of the best creators of the last twenty years, and have a kind of job security that very, very few people have these days. All this for making comics. Who else is offering that to comics creators of our generation besides Crossgen?
"I can hear people out there yearning to hear the dirt about what went wrong, but you know what? There ain't none. I'm singing Crossgen's praises because there are praises to sing. Anybody reading this that's wondering whether or not they're going to have a job by the end of the year, in whatever they might be doing, knows how tough and thankless it is out there right now. And despite all that, there is a company that is bleeding generosity to try and achieve something in this medium. I won't knock 'em. Forget it. I've got too much respect for them, and what they're trying to do.
"I guess its kind of a theme in this interview, isn't it? Examining priorities, and that change is a good thing. Like Snakebite says, 'If you keep doin' what you're doin' you'll keep gettin' what you're getting'.' Well, right now, with the top ten comic in the country selling near the 60,000 unit range, a measly and pathetic number, we'd sure as hell better try something different than the same old useless gossip. For our part, I mean Crossgen and Archangel, we're doing what we can. The simple fact of the matter is that we've realized that our affiliation wasn't going to help either of us contribute to the growth of the industry in the way that we would prefer.
"Others who are thinking about doing a Code 6 book, or for those proud few who may be candidates for a CGE title, you should know that we still consider it a great opportunity.
"So why didn't we remain, then? Let me be clear on this so as to dispel all claims of contradiction. The fact is that the CGE deal has a lot to do with ancillary opportunities; Movies, Vidgames, etc.. Crossgen, with its vast human resources, is quite proud of its claims that it can help comics creators take advantages of these enterprises. In our case, having been raised in the entertainment industry, I feel very comfortable tackling those kinds of deals on our own, when we decide to go down those roads. That said, if you haven't the slightest idea as to how to turn your dream into a profitable enterprise, or if you do and you just hate dealing with 'They who Wear the Suits and Ties,' then the CGE deal and the Code 6 deal are both great opportunities.
"As I've said before in regards to the Code 6 deal specifically, the fact is that if Jack Kirby had been given that same deal by those exploiting sons of bitches at Marvel back in the Silver Age, he would have passed from this earth a multimillionaire. Hell, having been saved the soul-crushing hardship of having his life's work stolen from him by the "House of Jack's Ideas," he might still be alive today.
And to finally put any speculation to rest, Gossett tells CBR News that the split is a totally amicable one.
"Bring your cameras to San Diego, folks, if you want to get some ridiculous photos of Archangel Studios and Crossgen people getting silly drunk together! My personal faves at Crossgen are Mike Beatty and John Smith. Beatty's like a teddy bear and Smitty's a big loveable lug. He reminds me of my dad and uncles. Real tough guys, ya know? Snakebite and Smitty are both from the same part of central California, too! They got along like brothers. And Smitty's wife Sandy is just a doll. A really great person. A whole other part of this story is how sad we were when we realized that we weren't going to be a family anymore. It totally sucks. Barbara Kesel bought me my first expense account dinner at San Diego Comicon on Mike Richardson's dime back when I was a kid doing Tales of the Jedi for Dark Horse in 93. Ron Marz and me got wasted together that same year! I crashed on the floor of his hotel room! Me, Snakebite and Paulie did these great panels with Brandon Peterson, another great guy at CG, talking about digital comics and how 'The Red Star' and 'Chimera' were both trying to bring new graphics to the comics page. I mean we have history with these people, so all of this was weighing on us, ya know? Megacon was really difficult for us. We really, really have so much affection and respect for so many people over there, that the fact that we didn't want to let the complexities of business get in the way of our friendships is one more reason why we made the decision we did.
"We'd much rather throw business on the fire and stay friends than let details get in the way of good drinking buddies. Some of them didn't even realize this bomb was going to fall until after we last saw them, so I hope they forgive us and we can get back to the good times."
"The Red Star's" immediate publishing plans are that the title will stay with the current numbering system. Their first CGE issue, released in February, was numbered Volume #2, Issue #1. CGE's final issue will be #2 with the first Archangel Studios issue being #3 all the way until the end of the current "Prison of Souls" story arc, at which point Archangel Studios will collect those issues into another trade paperback. When that third issue is solicited in Diamond, "The Red Star" will not be alone as the second title from Archangel Studios, "Assassin," will also be available for order.
"'Assassin' is a story that Brad and I came up with to pitch to Vertigo, but then decided that we wanted to do it ourselves instead (laughter) oh, jeez-see? A whole other soap opera out of the can! What can I say? We're control freaks. I admit it. 'Assassin' is pencilled by newcomer Jeff Henderson, who just recently did a 'Birds of Prey' story written by our pal Paul Storrie. Henderson rocks. He's gonna be a star. And he's not a control freak, so he'll get a lot of work with the big publishers (laughter)."
For more on "The Red Star" publishing changes as well as a look at artwork from "Assasin," read part two of our interview with Brad Kayl.