For Christian Gossett and Team Red Star the last couple of years have been a wild ride which culminated in a major announcement this past June when it was revealed that the standout title "The Red Star" would be moving from Image Comics to CrossGen's newly formed creator-owned publishing arm CG Entertainment. Since that announcement the team has been busily putting together their second trade paperback, which includes a hardcover edition, an annual, a mini-bust and of course their first CGE "The Red Star" book. CBR News caught up with Gossett to learn what he's been up to, where the team is headed and to discuss how things have changed for Team Red Star in this transition.
"We've just completed the first 'Red Star' Annual, titled 'Run Makita Run' and we're all very happy to be coming close to the release date, which is this very Wednesday, the 18th," Gossett told CBR News. "'Run Makita Run' represents a lot of different things for us as a company. The first one is obvious-- it's our first Annual. As anyone who has been following our little saga knows, we're really pleased with our achievement; to have reached a situation in our career where an Annual of 'The Red Star' is a reality."
Following soon thereafter will be the hardcover edition of their second trade paperback, "The Red Star Nokgorka," a limited edition of 2000 books each of which were hand signed by Gossett, co-creator Brad Kayl and colorist Snakebite.
In January of next year fans will be able to get their hands on the first issue of Volume 2 of "The Red Star." In addition to the change in publisher, Gossett revealed that Team Red Star has a new member contributing to the title and shared some insight into where they're going next.
"We're really excited about the new story arc because it's such a new beginning across the board. We're working with a new publisher in CrossGen, we've got a new 3D artist, Paul Schrier, who has brought an insane new energy to the team (he's so fast with his models and renders that I simply have to draw faster to keep up with him. I thought that'd be good news to all of you valiant and long-suffering Red Star Loyalists that keep us alive. Hope has arrived, my friends.) Digital Painter Snakebite has a shiny new computer setup, and the story has reached a point where it truly is the beginning of a second volume.
"It's a fun trick we've attempted. If you've been reading the whole time, then you're right there with Maya, Urik, Kyuzo and Makita on the decks of the mighty Konstantinov, blasting their way onward to save Marcus Antares from the demon lords of the Spiritrealm. But if you're just picking us up for the first time, then you've stepped into a completely new story, in which a group of heroes in a bitchen looking flying fortress is on a mysterious quest to save their fallen comrade from beyond the grave. You'll have to get to know the characters, but we haven't made the mistake of trying to over explain everything and revisit old stuff. We tested the scripts on both kinds of people: hardcore Red Star readers and total newbies, and we tripped out on the results of our little experiment. People that knew the story felt that we hadn't skipped a beat, and were happy that the story had only gotten faster paced. The newbies couldn't wait for this 'new series' to come out. When they were told that 'The Red Star' had published two previous trade paperbacks, that's the first moment they felt that they were missing out on something. Up until then, they felt like they knew everything there was to know about the story."
If all that isn't enough to whet the appetite of your average "Red Star" fan, Team Red Star also has a line of mini-busts coming. Gentle Giant Studios, world renowned for their sculpture work for properties like "The Lord of the Rings," "The Matrix" and "Harry Potter," will be producing the line. The line is called "Heroes of the Red Star" and figures of most of the major characters from the story are planned with Makita being the first.
While story wise readers can expect more of the same that they've been getting all this time, from a business stand point the move to CG Entertainment is a big one. Gossett very enthusiastically discussed the deal he has with CrossGen and detailed the opportunities available for creator owned projects enthusiastically.
"I think I'd like to do a little work for my friends at CrossGen," said Gossett. "When they decided to offer comics creators the two best publishing deals that comics management has ever conceived, they started a real ruckus. I mean, honestly, it's really been a massive load of excitement since we started, with people constantly asking us about the specifics of our deal (which we obviously can't go into) and hoping to be chosen to receive the red carpet treatment that we have been fortunate enough to receive. So, out of my love and respect for my gang at CG, I'd like to give yet another basic primer about the deals. Okay, first of all, there are two. Repeat: Two possible deals on the table. One is called Code 6, and the other could be called, for sake of ease, a CrossGen Entertainment deal.
"First of all, let's talk Code 6. The basic breakdown, and I do mean BASIC, is this: CrossGen picks up your property, and you retain a 25% stake in said property. You and your creative team also get paid to create the work! Now, if you don't know how groundbreaking a deal that is, then you should think about the fact that if Jack Kirby owned 25% of the characters he created, God rest his brilliant soul, he would have passed from this earth a multimillionaire.
"If, back in the day, he would have asked his old buddy Stan Lee to propose even a 5% ownership offer to Marvel's top brass at the time, Stan would have laughed in his face! Marvel was too busy building an empire on Kirby's back to think about rewarding him for his brilliance and dedication. [CrossGen Publisher] Mark Alessi knows the history of this exploitation and he's got his entire company bending over backwards to give comics creators the kinds of options they've never had while working for a major company.
"Now, as amazing a deal as Code 6 is, there is another deal just as progressive that is, in all honesty, built on very similar ideals as the original 'Image' framework, (which we all know was a historic moment of opportunity in the long drama of American comics) with some inevitable improvements. When you've got the kind of business structure and background that Mark Alessi, Mike Beatty and the rest of their mighty crew have going over at CrossGen, you get a very tight ship as a result; But anyway, onto our type of deal, which we'll refer to as a 'CGE' deal. I repeat, 'The Red Star' is Not a Code 6 title. We're a CGE title.
"A CGE deal is, first off-- an independent publishing deal. You have to be able to bring to the table much more than the ability to draw pretty pictures and write an interesting script. We own 'The Red Star,' and that means we have the responsibility and control of 'The Red Star.' We pay for the production, We pay our artists, We choose the paper, format and style. (What a CGE deal offers to a creator is vast and wonderful and advantageous, and is summed up much more elegantly elsewhere, and if I tried to go into it here, I would only confuse you more.)
"We had so much foundation built already, that not all that much is changing with the move to CGE. We only want one thing to change at CrossGen: we're going to get more books out more regularly."
As Gossett describes it there are smiling faces all around for Team Red Star and CrossGen, but the road traveled to this point hasn't always been an easy one and Gossett recognizes the position he's in and looked back at the challenges he's faced since he started this journey.
"To be frank, a CGE deal, like any publishing deal, is like an award. Everyone is welcome to try for it, but only few will be chosen. I'm not trying to be discouraging; I just can't forget what I know. I began research on 'The Red Star' in 1994 and most mainstream fans didn't even know we existed (yet). It was April of 1994, I was 23 years old. I did not have the slightest hint of what I was in for. Not a damned clue. After eight years, I have the beginnings of a clue.
"1994 to 2002 for me and my dream is a lot like what happens to most independent creators. It was eight years of preparation, planning, (and failing to plan...) assembling a team, losing team members, finding new ones, finding a style, learning business the hard way, making major mistakes, losing major amounts of money, fighting expensive legal battles against scumbags and parasites with powerful friends, learning the ins and outs of digital production as your ship-date passes you by, thinking you were going to sell enough to get your best friend's investment back quickly, and then you get your issue one preorders and the cold, cold reality sets in. Learning to deal with lettering, printing, distribution. Dealing with trucking companies that have destroyed a thousand dollars worth of merchandise and you can't afford a lawyer to do anything about it. Screwing up your schedule and apologizing a thousand times to your readers, retailers and team members. Dragging a couple-hundred pounds of luggage through an airport all night to go to a convention on the other side of the country, knowing the whole time that you'll most likely lose money when you get there. Coming home from your father's funeral and still having to find a way to get those pages done, having to always be ready to kick ass-- every time, at every moment, because the deadlines don't give a damn about your little problems and if you've worked so hard and so long, and you love your pages so much that it brings tears to your bloodshot eyes and you're passing out as you sharpen your pencil-- if, at that moment, you've got the kind of moxy to say to yourself, 'Fuck no, nothing's stopping me. None of that bullshit is gonna stop me.' If you and every member of the team around you can deal with that kind of pressure, then you're ready to be an independent comics publisher. You're ready to have the kind of control that CGE offers. If not, then you really should examine your dreams if you want to give them any chance of becoming real.
"It's totally possible. We're doing it at CrossGen, and other people are doing it all over the business. Jamie Rich and Oni Press are gods. Like Greg Rucka said about them at last year's Eisners, 'Oni Comics is like, three guys in an apartment in Oregon!' They know what it is. Brian Michael Bendis was a self made comics creator before he ever stepped into the hallowed halls of Marvel. Carla Speed McNeil's work is going to be required scholastic reading someday. It's impossible to honor all of these incredible people. And only those with the strength know that they have it in them. If you think you're one of those people, then I say give it a shot. Maybe CGE will return your call."
For Gossett, the biggest surprise in regards to his new relationship with CrossGen hasn't been on the production or business side, but in how he feels the industry has, or has not, embraced the publisher.
"The surprise for us in regards to CrossGen is why the industry doesn't give them more support," said Gossett. "No one has a better release record than these guys! They got the squeakiest clean record of anybody! They don't miss deadlines and no matter how bad the weather is, they don't let their ship dates crash! They're like the freakin' Quantas of comics! Everybody's always talking about 'late books late books' but then when someone consistently makes books on time, what's their reward? Being outsold by MutantComixRehash #900?
"I shouldn't be going on like this, I'm making it sound so good over there it's gonna be a stampede and my little paradise is gonna be ruined," joked Gossett.
Somehow, in-between all the production work, Team Red Star managed to take a trip to the southern hemisphere to attend to comic shows in Australia and New Zealand and got the chance to tour the Weta Workshop, the special effects home for the "Lord of the Rings" feature films.
"We were invited to Wellington, New Zealand by way of Sydney, Australia to attend the two best comics shows South of the bleedin' Equator! Comicfest (Australia) and Armaggedon (New Zealand) run by Daniel Zachariou and Bill Geradts, respectively. Can you say paradise? We had such a great time Down Under that it would be impossible to describe. There are some pictures posted on our new friend's websites that offer a bit of a taste of the brilliant times we had. This was a very tough year for me, personally, after the death of my father, whom I was very close to. Taking this trip with Dr. Jo and Brad, and meeting all of the people who befriended us, really shook me up and got me living again.
"One of the great and most inspiring highlights of the trip was our tour of Weta Workshop. Weta is the Academy Award winning Special Effects, Design, Fabrication, Armory, Shipwrights, Prosthetics (and if they had to build a functional spacecraft I have no doubt they could) studio that shocked the world with their work on 'Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring,' and are about to do so again with film 2 of the 'Rings' trilogy, 'The Two Towers.'
"Dr. Jo, Brad, and I (and Paulie too, but that's a whooooole different story) led by Richard Taylor and Daniel Falconer, (check your 'Lord of the Rings' DVD's, they'll be there) breathed in the very dust of the place that changed the future of cinema, and it was beyond description. One of the most formative books in my high-school years was a book titled 'Castles'-- illustrated by the great Alan Lee. As we walked thru Weta's halls, meeting legend after legend, there he was-- Alan Lee. It took all my power, but there was a great satisfaction in having fought off the urge to do a full freak fanboy in front of such a talent. It became even more difficult when he actually remembered in total detail the exact story that had happened to be one of my favorites. You just don't meet that calibre of artist every day.
"So, there we are in downtown Wellington, selling our work at the very cool show (a DJ spinning at a Con? How cool is that?!) when Mssrs. Taylor and Lee arrive to check out 'The Red Star.' Richard had seen the work before, having been given the first trade paperback by my friend Jon Gillard of Games Workshop UK, and had actually remembered us, recommending it to his family at Weta (believe me, they're family) many of whom were just as excited to meet us as we were them! God Bless the Kiwis. I can't describe what an honor that was. It's moments like those that keep you fighting onward."
Finally, Gossett closed out with some comments for his fellow independent creators in the audience.
"In interviews, I always find myself wanting to speak directly to other independent publishers, or other young creators out there with little more than a dream, a computer and some art supplies, because that's exactly how all of us at Team Red Star feel. We feel gifted to have created a place for ourselves out there in the madness that is today's comics world. It's a small, cozy place, but we have something that hundreds and hundreds of creators out there wish they had, and that's ultimate power over our work. We take that power very seriously, and the strange thing about power is that it's neutral. It will do whatever you want with it, and it won't do anything you don't do. Where the common corporate-comics philosophy is create thin soup on a regular basis, we've obviously chosen to use our power to create the richest, most in-depth experience we can for our readers, to create a world that actually comes to life in the mind and begins to create itself in the imagination. 'The Red Star' is all too rare a feast, and our readers will be glad to know that we're farther ahead production wise than ever, but at the same time, our readers are guaranteed the satisfaction that when they are taken away into the world of our fiction, they are seeing the collected passion of the entire creative team. We take very seriously the job we do."