Top Cow is looking to add a few more characters to the comic book business, and while these newcomers aren't wearing spandex, they've got a very important superpower: the ability to create new comic books.
Earlier this year, Top Cow Productions announced a new partnership with Heroes and Villains Entertainment, a production and management company focusing on the creation of new entertainment brands for comic books, film, television, video games and the Internet. HVE is working with Top Cow to create original content for the comic book medium, with their debut effort "Tracker" hitting stores in November. CBR News spoke with the founders of HVE to learn more about its plans for the comic book industry and what fans can expect out of "Tracker."
Founded in November 2007, HVE's focus rests on the idea that genre fans are looking for more than just a television show, just a movie or just a comic book - that they want all three and then some. "Batman started as a comic book series, Harry Potter was a book, 'Tomb Raider' a video game and Transformers a line of toys, but as an entertainment brand they transcended their injection medium and found life in many other entertainment arenas," HVE co-founder Mikhail Nayfeld told CBR. "This exposes two truths: one, that the audience demands a more intimate and immersive experience from their entertainment - they aren't satisfied with waiting for a new film every two years, they want to watch the TV series, read the comic book and play the video game. Bottom line, they want to engage their favorite worlds and characters as they see fit, and it's up to us to provide them with ample opportunities.
"Two," Nayfeld continued, "there aren't enough established brands with 'pre-awareness' to go around, and eventually someone is going to have to step up and fill the void by creating new stories with new worlds and new characters that the audience wants to discover and claim as their own."
The founders of HVE - Nayfeld, Dick Hillenbrand and Markus Goerg - felt compelled to create new properties for a variety of reasons, not the least of which were their personal relationships with each other. "Markus, Mikhail and I have been friends for years and have always dreamed of working together," Hillenbrand said. "The old adage says never mix business with pleasure, but we vehemently disagree. Business is pleasure, so why not share that with your best friends? Secondly, we have the same vision - we want to entertain audiences with the best damn stories, plots and characters across all platforms of media. Given our diverse backgrounds, each of us has our strengths in comic books, finance, film, video games, television and the Internet. Collectively, our strengths service our vision."
While their focus is divided across all of these different forms of media, the founders of HVE have a strong appreciation for the types of stories that comic books can yield. "There are no limits in comic book storytelling," said Nayfeld. "The only limit to the scope of the adventure is one's imagination. That's very exciting to us as storytellers. Also, we can take more chances in the comic book medium than we could if we were choosing to launch an entertainment brand in film, TV or video games. Our goal is to always do something different by bringing a fresh take to an established genre or creating a new genre altogether. Comic books are the perfect home because your average comic book reader loves to consume entertainment in all forms and lives on the cutting edge searching for what's next."
What was next for HVE, once they realized their desire to work within comics, was to find the right partner - which they found in Top Cow. "We've known Matt [Hawkins, President of Top Cow] for several years and have always been huge fans of [Top Cow founder] Marc Silvestri and the quality of art at Top Cow," Nayfeld said. "From meeting one, it was really a love fest. Those guys are all about quality over quantity, and we feel the same way. Those guys are just so involved in every aspect of the process. Obviously [Hawkins] is the conductor of this symphony, and it trickles down to [Publisher] Filip Sablik's amazing story sense and [Managing Editor] Phil Smith's attention to detail. Those guys just love to create cool worlds and rich characters and they really push our game to the next level."
The first title to come out of HVE's partnership with Top Cow is "Tracker," a reimagining of the werewolf genre written by Jonathan Lincoln and illustrated by Francis Tsai. "'Tracker' is what can only be described as a noir-genre thriller involving an FBI tracker who is inadvertently infected with the lycanthropy virus and has to hunt down the werewolf that infected him and get a sample of his blood to create an antidote," Goerg explained. "Meanwhile, he has to keep his infection from the FBI, his girlfriend and everyone else around him while trying to control his new powers without becoming a monster himself. When Jonathan Lincoln approached us with his new way into the genre, we were hooked. It's tough to reinvent well-established mythologies, and we believe Jonathan really knocked this one out of the park."
"Tracker" isn't just HVE's first foray into comic book creation, it's also writer Lincoln's major introduction to the medium as well - but his relative rookie status was hardly a concern for the HVE founders. "What excited us about Jonathan was not only his new way into the familiar werewolf genre, but his tremendous attention to detail creating the characters and the world, which really speaks volumes about Jonathan as a storyteller, and that's really paramount for HVE," explained Goerg. "We don't care so much about track record and precedent; we care about a very well told and exciting story, engaging characters and a cool, new world. Jonathan brought all those things to the table and he has the world so well thought out, you get hooked by this story right away."
There are a variety of different characters appearing in the pages of "Tracker." "Our hero, Alex O'Rourke, is an FBI agent and the world's greatest tracker," Hillenbrand described. "His Jekyll and Hyde journey will answer a fundamental question: what happens when a good man gets blood on his hands? Herod is our grounded super-villain, the deadliest serial killer the world has ever seen. He's Hannibal Lecter with fangs; Alex is going to have his hands full. Cyril Tucker works for the shadowy Handel Foundation and knows more about our hero and villain than anybody else, but is he friend or foe? Finally, Jezebel is Alex's partner and Tory is Alex's girlfriend - the two of them are as smart and cunning as they are beautiful. Hello, drama."
The real hook of "Tracker" is its purported departure from the norms of the werewolf genre. "Without giving too much away, we really tried to create a werewolf mythology that holds up on its own without being too much of a departure from what our audience already knows or expects," Goerg teased. "One thing I can say is that the full moon has no bearing on our wolves, and they also don't look like dogs at all. Other than that, you'll have to pick up issue #1 when it hits stands this November to find out!"
Although it's planned as a comic book right now, the very mission statement of HVE implies that the wheels are in motion - or will be soon - to move "Tracker" from the paneled page to an entirely new medium. "The most important thing for us when creating 'Tracker' with Jonathan and the guys at Top Cow was that it was a really cool and exciting story that works in the comic format," Goerg said. "I don't think people care too much about what format they're entertained by, I think they care a lot more about the story being good, the characters being engaging and that they're entertained. Beyond that, we'd be excited to make 'Tracker' the movie or 'Tracker' the TV show. What we'll be most excited about is readers telling us that we created an exciting new world with interesting characters that our audience wants to follow, no matter what the format."
Beyond "Tracker," HVE's next comic book project is called "Epoch," which was announced at this year's Comic-Con International in San Diego. "It's a cop noir present wrapped in supernatural fight club paper," described Hillenbrand. "The mystery of this tale rivals 'The Usual Suspects' and answers the question: who's the baddest supernatural of them all? We're going to launch 'Epoch' early next year and are super-psyched for its debut!"
After "Tracker" and "Epoch" are unleashed, the subsequent comic books coming from the production company could very well be created by... well, you. "There's a simple submission policy that is outlined on our website," Goerg said. "People are welcome to submit a log line of their project, and if we're interested in hearing more, we'll contact the person and request additional material. We hope people understand that because of the sheer volume of inquiries, we can't respond to each and every submission individually, but if something sounds interesting, we usually give it a look. What we're looking for is simple: great stories with interesting characters that are exceptionally well written. It's an ever-contracting marketplace out there, and therefore exceptional writing and exceptional stories are the very least someone has to bring to the table to get noticed, not only by us, but by anyone in this industry."
At the end of the day, that remains the central concept for the folks at HVE -plot, plot, plot. "First and foremost, we absolutely, 100% without reservation, love story at HVE," Hillenbrand said. "Rich worlds, complex characters, surprising plots - we are 100% committed to creating the best damn comics imaginable and entertaining audiences for years to come."
Heroes and Villains Entertainment's first comic book endeavor, "Tracker," hits stores on November 11, 2009, courtesy of Top Cow Productions. The second title, "Epoch," is expected to ship in early 2010.