The Return of Humanoids

Humanoids is one of the most storied publishers in the history of comics. Its magazines "Metal Hurlant" and "Heavy Metal" were revolutionary, and the work from writers and artists like Alejandro Jodorowsky, Moebius, Enki Bilal, Pierre Christin, Yves Chaland, Igor Baranko, Philippe Druillet, Milo Manara, and many others have influenced generations of artists and writers worldwide.

The company has spent much of this decade publishing projects through other publishers, first with DC and then with Devil's Due, but this spring, Humanoids re-established its American publishing division as overseen by Publisher Fabrice Giger and a new Editor in Chief Bob Silva. Initially, four titles were announced to be released this month, but the plan that soon changed to only two. CBR spoke exclusively with Silva about Humanoids, the company's publishing plan and what titles readers can expect to see this summer and fall.

CBR News: Bob, congratulations on being named Editor in Chief. For most of the decade, Humanoids has had deals with both DC and Devil's Due. What's the thinking behind going it alone and re-establishing the Humanoids line now?

Bob Silva: Working with another company like with DC or with Devil's Due, you have collaboration and compromise involved in the agendas of the different companies. With DC, clearly we were trying to find a way to collaborate with them that was beneficial to them as well to ourselves. Part of that was really strategizing and developing a publishing plan that was consistent with what DC wanted to do and part of that aggressive push to release titles was to fit in with the DC plan. With Devil's Due, their interest was in getting stuff into print that was primarily from American creators that we hadn't seen in the United States, yet. We also worked with Image doing the "Lucha Libre" line as well. But ultimately, I think when the time felt right, the publisher was always interested in being able to have a more active role in re-establishing Humanoids in the United States and allow us to have the vision and purpose of the company around something that's wholly Humanoids.

Now when you announced that Humanoids was back, you named four titles which were scheduled to be released this month - the fourth collection of The Metabarons and three series that you'd be releasing as miniseries, "Bouncer," "The Unfabulous 5" and "Whispers in the Walls." Why were those four titles chosen?

First, I think it's really easy and obvious to say why we're doing "The Metabarons." There's no question that people who are familiar with Humanoids as a company know "The Metabarons." We had a great reaction from fans particularly for that title, because you had an amazing epic story by [Alejandro] Jodorowsky and beautiful artwork by [Juan] Gimenez. We're going to finally finish the complete run of the series. It's been a while, but people have not seen the tail end of that series, so we're determined to release that for fans.

The other thing we wanted to do was present people with a variety of the types of comic books you can expect from Humanoids. People know us because of Moebius and Jodorowsky's work on "The Incal" and "The Metabarons." We're predominantly known as a science fiction and fantasy company, but in reality, there's a lot more that we have to offer and a lot more in the library of the European division of Humanoids. We cautiously chose four titles that we felt showed a nice gamut of what's available of what stories we can tell. Obviously, science fiction with "The Metabarons." "Bouncer" is a Western, and there's some crossover there because they're both works by Jodorowsky. "Whispers in the Walls" was a nice history horror/suspense story, which is really different from the feel of either of those books. And lastly, "The Unfabulous 5," which is an urban gritty comedy which we originally had published through the "Lucha Libre" anthology that was published through Image. We just felt it was a nice way to give people a mix of what we can offer.

You've had to change plans mid-stream since your original announcement, and you've canceled "Bouncer" and "The Unfabulous 5."

The plan is not to do them in printed miniseries.

"Metabarons" and "Whispers in the Walls" are still coming out this month, however. Is the plan to release the other two books online?

Right now, that's still in progress. With both "Unfabulous 5" and "Bouncer," we are creating the comics the same way we would as if they were going to print. Right now, of course, the one thing that's holding us back is the technology currently available to us, but the plan is to get it out in a format that is not as intimidating as the collection. So we're planning to release them online first, and then once we have the complete story, release them in the trade format. We're looking at doing it both off and online the website as well as having some iPad version as well, and then going into an actual collected trade version of the books. We're trying to get that done as soon as possible. Right now, the guys on the technology side at Humanoids are working on a system. We're trying to get it out there as soon as possible. As soon as it has been finalized, we'll be announcing something online. A specific date has not been set yet.

When we first spoke, your plan was to release most books as miniseries before collecting them. Now, of the first three miniseries you announced, you're canceling two of them due to low pre-orders. How does this change your publishing plan?

What we're seeing from the numbers that we got is that it looks like the market is not ready to support multiple comic book miniseries from Humanoids at this point. Maybe we're wrong. Maybe it has more to do with the titles that have been chosen, but clearly, with the numbers that we received, there's no financial benefit at all to publish either "Unfabulous 5" or "Bouncer" in the miniseries format. "Whispers in the Walls" we will. "Whispers" is a new series, and maybe there's a bit of confusion as far as what's being released with "Bouncer" and "Unfabulous 5," but of the three series it was the only one that really made sense to publish. What we're going to do now is experiment and see if there are other series or titles out there that potentially have that appeal for the mass market comics format.

More immediately in terms of our publishing schedule, before, we were thinking of doing roughly one graphic novel per month, and now that's changed and we're looking at probably putting out two graphic novels per month. It's going to waver back and forth.

When you talk about collections, you're referring to paperback or hardcover collections that will be roughly the same size as the Humanoids books that DC released, correct?

For the most part. It really depends on the specs of the actual book itself. Something like "Bouncer," the ratio of the page is way more square than the typical U.S. format. In order to really get people as much art as possible, we would do something that would be kind of equivalent in height to your traditional US trade but wider so that will be closer to the DC format. There are cases where you have books that are formatted close to the American comic book size. It's really what's going to best suit the work itself.

There's a long, ongoing discussion over size and format. I love the oversize format and I know a lot of people are really fanatic about it, while other are very much opposed to anything non-standard sized. Are you thinking about releasing, even in a limited run, hardcovers or paperback collections in the oversize format?

We're figuring out what we're doing with that. We definitely have a very devoted and loyal following of people that love that oversize format. The challenge is that we kind of have to respect the demands of the retailers, and there's a lot of retailers that just don't know how to shelve those books. I completely understand. When you have 90% of your market in a standard size, you don't know what to do with the oversize books a lot of the time. The feedback we got from a lot of retailers was, we really love your product but there's no way that we can shelve this stuff. It just won't fit. We'd go to retailers, and they understood the material and the format, but they had no place in their store for them. Of course, if there's enough demand for it, it's something we can definitely look into, but for right now, I think we're trying to go with a standard size that would be kind of available and appealing to as many people as possible. Of course, to make sure it's not an issue, we're making sure that the standards of printing are the highest quality possible, so we can give people a good quality product even if it's on a smaller size than the traditional European album.

Have the rights for all the books published through DC reverted back to Humanoids?

All the stuff that was released through DC has now reverted back to us. Any trades that were left over, we now have, so it's essentially our inventory now. The rights are back and we can do with it whatever we want.

What's the status of the books that were released through Devils Due? They announced a number of titles that featured work by U.S. creators, but didn't release most of them.

The Devil's Due books have reverted back to us as well. They released actual issues, so we're not going to compete with that at all. We will eventually be releasing collections of the material. So the most obvious one, or the one that's scheduled currently, is the "I Am Legion" hardcover in July.

One of the other Devil's Due books was "Zombies That Ate the World." Are we going to see a collection of that book this year or next year?

We are definitely going to release a collection of that. I've been talking to Guy Davis about how to go about doing that. He wants to add some behind the scenes material. We actually just had a new "Zombies" story written by Jerry [Frissen] approved. I was speaking to Guy Davis today and he said that he read the script and loved it. We're just figuring out the scheduling for that. Guy Davis these days is very busy with both "B.P.R.D." and "The Marquis," which are awesome series, so we have to find a way to schedule our stuff alongside that. Which is great, because I love his work on all of them.

Devils Due, according to their announcements, were planning to reprint many other books, including titles by Kurt Busiek, Stuart Immonen and Geoff Johns. Is part of your longterm plans to release those books?

Definitely. But part of that is also figuring out how to release them. We have books, for example, with Busiek or Immonen, but they were one album books, so 48 pages. In its current form, it doesn't really make sense to release them. We have to figure out what's the best way to release the material. We definitely want to get as much out there for people [as we can], but at the same time we want to be as respectful as possible. I don't want to give people a chunk of something that's unfinished. We want to give them something that's complete and is worth their investment. I know there's a lot of great stuff out there, and we want to make sure that everything is worthwhile.

"Metal Hurlant." Humanoids brought the anthology back early in the decade, though, like pretty much all anthologies nowadays, it didn't last very long. Do you have any future plans for the title?

At this point, there are no clear plans. We definitely love doing the anthology book, but the difficulty with it is that it tends to be very time consuming because you're dealing with so many creators on a book like that, and of course it's very hard to position those books in the market these days. Both in Europe as well as in the United States. But we're definitely hoping to. It's brought up every once in a while, because there's no question that the spirit and the foundation of the company is really built on that particular anthology. We want to make sure that, if we do eventually release a new version of that particular series, that it has the same spirit as what's come out before. There are some ideas and some things going on right now where we're experimenting with the way we're bringing teams together creatively, so it's definitely something that's possible, but nothing scheduled.

Could you take us through the next year? Any specific plans or goals?

One thing that I've been pushing for and we're planning to do, and I know a lot of fans have been looking forward to seeing and asking over and over again for, is some Moebius material. There's no question that when people think of Humanoids, one of the first artists they think of is Moebius. We haven't really been able to always have it in the past. It's a bit tricky. Some of his work is tied up with different rights, but I'm determined, and I've talked with the publisher and he agrees, to release all the Moebius material that we're able to release here in the States.

I just want to go through the release schedule you've laid out for this summer and fall. This month, "Aghora and the Metabaron," the fourth and final Metabarons collection, will be released. In July, "I Am Legion" is coming out in hardcover. What's coming out this fall?

"The Madwoman of the Sacred Heart" in September. It's a Jodorowsky/Moebius collaboration. Right now we're trying to get out to the audience books either by recognizable established European talent or stuff that we've done with American creators that has not been seen by the American market. "Madwoman and the Sacred Heart" is a three album series. The first two albums were released over ten years ago by Dark Horse in black and white, so it's never been seen in color. We're going to release that and include the final volume which was never seen by the US market. It's a really beautiful and interesting story by Moebius and Jodorowsky.

In October, you're releasing two collections, "Metal" and "Flywires," which both feature work by US creators.

"Metal" is a book that we did with two American creators. The writer's Paul Alexander. It's a three album series, and the first two albums are [illustrated] by Butch Guice. It's a nice way to see this beautiful Butch Guice work that has not been seen in the States. I mean, I know he's established himself with his great work with Marvel, but it's nice to see him stretch his talents and show the other things he can do. He did "Olympus" with us a while back with Geoff Johns, but this is even further out there because it's medieval scifi, which is something that I've never seen before.

It's funny, because in some ways "Metal" was "Avatar" in concept. It's a very different story, but it's about these guys who, instead of actual hand to hand combat, go into these rooms in which they are able to actually embody these robot droids and do battle that way. They're preparing for battle against some larger alien force, and because of some form of betrayal, the king has his soul stuck in this robot. No one knows he's out there, and he's trying to find a way to band his people together and defeat this menacing evil force. The world itself it's a science fiction world [that] has a lot of the genre tropes of medieval fantasy, where you have castles and huge battles with robots that look like knights. It's very beautifully done. Very epic.

Your other October release is "Flywires" - what can you tell us about that?

"Flywires" is something that was done with two American creators, Chuck Austen and Matt Cossin. Chuck Austen hasn't really been published for a while in the United States, and it's actually it's a really great story. It's a science fiction action comedy in a way that only Chuck Austen can really do. And Matt Cossin, his art on this is absolutely beautiful. I'm surprised that he's not getting more work. I think [from] what I've seen, he's an amazing talent, and the art on the book actually reminds me a little of a Ryan Ottley style. Recently Cossin did some work for BOOM!, but I really think the work he did on "Flywires" is the strongest I've seen him do.

"Flywires" is a very simple but brilliant concept. A flywire is a device connected to your brain behind your ear and allows you to be always connected. Imagine if your brain was literally connected to the internet. Everyone in this universe is connected that way. The protagonist is an unemployed cop who can no longer work as a cop because his flywire got destroyed and he can't afford to fix it. He gets involved in this crazy conspiracy, and you start to really see how this technology, which gives people instant access to everything, is actually not as wonderful as everyone thinks it is. It's all happening on this crazy spaceship, which is so large, it's essentially a planet. The city itself is very highly controlled because they don't want the community to grow too quickly, because if there are too many on this very closed universe, it cannot survive. It's very good story.

And then in November, you're releasing a Milo Manara book.

"Pandora's Eyes." It's a very straightforward story, and because it's Manara, it's going to be in the deluxe format. All of the hardcover books are similar in approach, I feel, like Marvel is taking with their omnibus and oversize hardcovers. Our hardcovers will be printed on high quality paper, and although they'll be in a standard size, they're going to be done with very high quality materials.

The Manara book is, of course, beautifully illustrated. [It's] about this girl who finds out that her dad was known for being this tough, evil mafia guy, and she unknowingly gets kidnapped and has to figure out how to escape. It's an action book with elements of cheesecake. Manara has two styles of books he does. He has the very simple fun and cute and beautifully illustrated action adventure books, and his other stuff tends to be more on the erotic side. This is clearly more on the action-adventure, but of course, as with anything with Manara, it deals with beautiful women. That particular book will be done in black and white. It was originally published in black and white.

You spoke of Moebius earlier, and trying to release all of his books that you're able to. Are we going to see a new edition of "The Incal" this year?

I'm getting us ready to release "The Incal" in a nice deluxe hardcover format in their original colors. When we released "The Incal" through DC, it was in these newer colors that were done to modernize the book. I personally felt it was kind of a disservice to the original book. The original colors were done by Yves Chaland, and they're beautiful and vibrant and unique and different, and we are now planning to re-release it with those original colors.

What's holding it up a little bit is they're currently right now taking the color files of "The Incal" and making them digital. It takes a little bit more work. The reason why I think they did "The Incal" in revised colors is because it's way easier to take the film with the black and white artwork or scan the black and white artwork, and build color files on that. When you're trying to create digital files with the original colors, it tends to be more time intensive because they have to find the original film. If they can't find the original film, they have to scan the original comics pages and correct the colors that way. The plan is to get that out in November.

If it's okay, I just wanted to throw some names at you and ask about books coming out. When we were talking earlier, you mentioned that Ladronn is currently working on a book with Jodorowsky. Another artist who did a book with Jodorowsky that American comics fans probably know is Travis Charest. Are there any plans to release that book?

We are tentatively talking about having that released in November. I just spoke to the publisher last week, and the two books we're tentatively talking about for November are going to be "The Incal" and the Travis Charest Metabarons book. That book it's a little different, because in that particular book, the story is completed in somewhere between 48 and 54 pages, so it's going to be a smaller book. But we'll release that in hardcover.

Enki Bilal is another one of those people associated with Humanoids. Are we going to see any books of his soon?

The thing is, a lot of Bilal's work, his library, has been bought over by another publisher. A lot of those books are no longer ours.

Will you be publishing anything by Igor Baranko, whose book "The Horde" was one of the first DC/Humanoids titles?

We're huge fans of his work. We loved "The Horde," and he's been actively working on several miniseries with Humanoids, so we're open to it, but we're waiting to see when the right time to release it is.

The publisher of Humanoids was really in love with ["The Horde"]. I remember back in 2002 or 2003 asking him what creators he was most excited about, and he said, "I really like this Baranko guy." He's got something very different about him. We've done two other series with him since that, I believe, and they've not been released here, so we would definitely be interested in doing that

What about Mario Alberti, who's been doing some work from Marvel recently?

We did "Morgana," which I believe was two albums. The first album was released here, and we never saw the second album. He did the first book of a story with Kurt Busiek called "Redhand."

"Redhand" was planned to be longer, is that right?

Exactly. It was originally planned to be a series. Busiek was really busy and it just didn't work out because of scheduling. Right now, there's no immediate plans. Of course we'd like to find a way to release that to the U.S. market. The only problem with releasing "Redhand," although it's really cool, is the challenge of, we have an incomplete story and we haven't figured out the right package for it yet.

I would imagine that because Humanoids has such a library of short work by people from "Metal Hurlant" and other sources, that it's hard to collect them, even in the cases where there is enough for a good size book, just because collections of short stories don't sell nearly as well.

It's true. Moebius is a special case. An artist who other artists are particularly in love with. I understand why. I love his work too. We are currently releasing some of his earlier work in special editions in France, so there's a chance we'll release that material here.

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