When Team Red Star announced they were leaving Image Comics back in April to self publish "The Red Star" it took a lot of fans and industry professionals by surprise. The most immediate concern fans had was what would happen to the title? Historically when creators have opted to leave a studio and self-publish, the frequency of the title's release decreases. This could be for any number of reasons, most often having to do with the increased responsibilities, work and pressure of handling every aspect of getting the comic into consumer hands.
Next Wednesday sees the release of the final Image Comics issue of "The Red Star." Team Red Star provided CBR News with a preview of this issue, plus series co-creator and artist Christian Gossett sat down with us to discuss the pressures and challenges they've faced in setting up their own publishing concern, Archangel Studios.
"The process has entailed a lot of infrastructure improvements, which were really necessary anyway," Christian Gossett told CBR News when asked about setting up Archangel Studios. "We switched to a broadband internet connection (woohoooo!) we set up a 'warehouse' to hold all of our stock -- (okay, look, it's one of our garages, alright? So it's a small warehouse...) A couple new computers (for me and Snake) and establishing or reinventing relationships with all of the people we'll be working with from Prepress (Comicraft and Creative Visions) to Printing (Studio Color Group and Quebecor) all the way to Distribution and Sales (Diamond and the retailers)
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While physically setting up Archangel Studios to do business doesn't appear to have been too painful, that doesn't mean there's not plenty of hard work yet to be done.
"As I'm always telling to retailers that I meet, we're very much like them in that an independent comics publisher is almost always a tight-knit group of friends making things happen," said Gossett. "Both retailers and independent publishers are, in essence, family businesses. The challenge for any family business, especially one as new as ours, is cash! cash! cash! Money is the big resource challenge for anyone wanting to do their own thing.
"Fortunately, our first releases as an independent are two very strong products. We just solicited our second Trade Paperback and the first ever 'Red Star' Annual. Our first trade is up for two more Eisners this year (Thank You, Eisner judges!) and made the retailers who contacted us very happy as far as sell-thru. The Second Trade, which is going to be almost 200 pages long, is going to answer a lot of the unanswered questions that were left after our first story arc, and will sit very handsomely next to the first one since they'll both be the same oversized format. We're also going to extend the Sketchbook section out so young artists that want to work in 'The Red Star' Style can do some more homework on how we've established computer generated comics.
"Annual #1 was designed from the start to be a lot of fun for our readers (we put our readers through plenty of heavy character development and complexity, and we love 'em for it. But we thought it might be time to give 'em a good ol' high-paced romp) It's titled 'Run Makita, Run' and is the fastest-paced, most action-packed issue we've done so far. It's the origin srory of Makita, and shows what it's like in a day in the life of the Nokgorka (Nok-GOR-ka) resistance forces."
The future looks promising for Archangel Studios and they have plans to expand "The Red Star" universe beyond just the printed page.
"We've done very little merchandising for 'The Red Star,' and that's about to change. Merchandising & Licensing is very challenging, and we'll have to deal with all of the legal aspects of this kind of stuff. We've got new T-Shirts in the works, wall scrolls, posters, etc. and a big surprise that I can't talk about yet. (I didn't say 'something sculpted from one of the best art-houses in the world' out loud, did I?)
"A main challenge of merchandise is making stuff that's really cool. Anyone can make 'stuff'. Can you make cool stuff? Dat's da gig."
Anyone who's ever been a small business owner knows it's not always easy to focus on the job at hand especially with all the distractions life can throw at you. This can be particularly hard for creators who offer a product that video game makers and Hollywood would like to adapt.
"It's about the most ironclad hardcore focus you can imagine," said Gossett when asked about the adjusments he's had to make as publisher. "And it ain't easy, man. It's about as easy as Chinese Algebra. I will say this, we've stayed true to our promise that we wouldn't let videogames or movies pull us away from our comics work. We've had some heavy offers, but these offers would have taken us the same way as 'Danger Girl' and 'Battlechasers,' so we declined them. Yes, we've had some schedule irregularities, but we've proven time and time again that we're commited to continuing this work.
"We want to do games badly. We would love to see a movie made. But the offers so far have not been what we want, and so we stood firm, bit the bullet, an have faith in the world that we're creating."
And what has Team Red Star learned about the comics industry since taking this all in house?
"[We've learned] how many people really love 'The Red Star' and want us to succeed. That has been incredibly encouraging. At Philadelphia, [DC Editor] Bob Schreck gave me some pointers on comics survival, at Wondercon, my good buddy [Comic Relief owner] Rory Root had lots of wisdom to impart from a retailer's perspective, and at his shop's anniversary party (congrats again, man!) Jackie Estrada and other industry icons were offering constant support. It was really inspiring, actually, to have all of these pillars of the biz rallying to our cause when we need them most."
The future of "The Red Star" and Archangel Studios is clear for Gossett and the operating word here is expansion.
"It's always been a part of our plan to show the rest of the countries of the world. Our next issue (issue #9) hits the shelves June 12, and it gives readers the first glimpse at the soldiers of the 'American' side of the story. We'll briefly meet Colonel Steven Rogers (no relation to that other Steve Rogers) of the Western Transnationalist Alliance, whose father was killed in recent terrorist attacks on 'The Imperial City' and is now on a tour of duty in Al'Istaan to take out the threat to his nation. We'll get our first look (don't blink!) at a basic Transnationalist trooper as well.
"We want to spin off the story of Col. Rogers and the Transnationalist wars in Al'Istaan as soon as is possible for us. There are other huge ways that we're going to expand the world of 'The Red Star' but these are very specific and formal announcements will be made as soon as we get details finalized (no hints this time!).
"Our immediate goals are to take care of our long term goals as far as doing everything we can to firmly establish 'The Red Star.' Increasing our releases per year, increasing our depth of promotion, relaunching our Web site (it'll take awhile, but the process is begun! woohooooo!!!) and the coveted increase in the size of our readership is obviously important. Basically, we're entrenching ourselves in the world that has been a success for us and our goals for right now are to focus on making that world better than it has ever been."