WC13: Richie, Sablik, Watters & Grant Go BOOM!

BOOM! Studios Founder & CEO Ross Richie, ka-boom! line editor Shannon Watters, vice president of publishing and marketing Filip Sablik and writer Steven Grant -- whose "2 Guns" miniseries marks BOOM!'s first feature film adaptation -- sat in on the We Are BOOM! panel Saturday afternoon at WonderCon 2013 in Anaheim. The focus of the panel was not necessarily about any upcoming storyline or any other breaking news, but a profile of the company who is currently in the midst of a major rebranding and marketing campaign.

The hour-long panel was structured in three particular parts: the 20-some-odd people the publisher employs, its freelance creators, and, of course its readers. To start, Sablik, Richie and Watters introduced themselves to the audience, and recounted how they became associated with BOOM!

"I thought I knew who BOOM! Studios was, but I didn't," Sablik opened. "Then I thought if I'm a guy who's been working in this industry for over 12 years, and I don't have the right idea about this company, then you guys as the fans might not know who we are."

For Sablik, that is exactly what he wanted for BOOM! achieve with this WonderCon panel. BOOM!'s VP of publishing and marketing described how Richie pursued and recruited him to join the Los Angeles-based comic book publisher last summer. "He kept talking about this place. This environment that they were building; this thing that was not anything that I had known before."

One key moment for Sablik came when Richie wanted to address a particular subject, "Let's discuss the ethics and principles of the company."

"I never thought about a comic company this way," Sablik thought.

Richie told the story of how, in the mid-2000s, creator Keith Giffen tenaciously pursued him to be his collaborator on a comic book project at Image Comics. Despite his own tepidness, protestations and lack of confidence as a writer, Richie eventually relented. "When I completely suck at writing this, since you're a great writer, you're gonna re-write me, and it's not going to make our relationship weird," he recalled of his conversation with Giffen.

The project, "Dominion," was eventually published, and the process went near as exactly as Richie outlined. Afterward, Giffen had another suggestion for Richie -- that Richie publish his own comic books, and the veteran creator believed his young friend could be very successful at it. At first, Richie also resisted this idea, but upon reflection -- and buoyed by Giffen's acumen, body of work, and stature in the industry, not to mention his confidence in him -- Richie changed his mind.

"If Steven Tyler comes up to you and says that you ought to produce records, you gotta listen to Steven Tyler," Richie said, likening Giffen to the Aerosmith frontman. "It was a company that I started in my spare bedroom, and here we are today."

Watters talked about how her association with BOOM! began roughly three years ago when she interviewed with Richie and editor-in-chief Matt Gagnon, who was then a managing editor, for a position as an editorial assistant to Gagnon. "At the time, I couldn't take it because it didn't make financial sense," she said. "Then we kind of entered the new era of BOOM!, and I got a call six months later from Ross, and was he was like, 'You still want a job?'"

When Watters was eventually promoted to editor of the all-ages ka-boom! line, it was right around when Marvel was purchased by Disney, and BOOM!'s Disney license lapsed soon after. Enter their massively successful "Adventure Time," and the task of what exactly to do with the direction of ka-boom!

"I always wanted to do all-ages books. Ever since I started editing comics, I wanted to do all-ages books," Watters said. "My background is not superhero books; I'm a super fan of indie comics and webcomics." Watters further explained she had pitched the idea of assigning a web cartoonist to their newly acquired "Adventure Time" title.

"The greatest thing about BOOM! is this commitment to trying new things, and seeing what sticks, and doing the things that some people might tell you is wrong -- Ross will always tell you 'Yes!'"

"I do have a threshold," Richie joked. "It has to be awesome."

"Maybe they thought it was going to pan out," Watters continued on about the strategy for ka-boom! "but I was terrified."

From there, Sablik introduced a short clip of many of the company's employees in and around the BOOM! offices talking into the camera, and describing who they are in one or two sentences, followed by the tag line -- "I am BOOM!"

Afterward, Sablik stressed equal importance on BOOM!'s freelance creators. First touting the fact that the company was first to publish the likes of Rafael Albuquerque, Gabriel Hardman and Corrina Bechko.

"We discover the awesome," Sablik said before rolling individual clips of creators Paul Jenkins, Mike Carey, Brian Stelfreeze, Mike Kunkel and finally Say Anything's Max Bemis, who writes BOOM!'s new series "Polarity," all of whom talked about why they have chosen to work with BOOM!

Like the various BOOM! employees in the previous segment, the BOOM! creators ended their clips with the tag line -- "I am BOOM!"

"The third part of who BOOM! is, is you guys -- our fans." Sablik said, segueing into the panel's final segment. "We would not be able to do what we do without our fans. What makes BOOM! unique, just like the people who work here, and the type of creators we work with, you all come from different walks of life."

To help illustrate just how varied a spectrum BOOM!'s readers really are, Richie and Sablik told the crowd two very particular stories. Richie's tale was the story about how BOOM! acquired the "Garfield" license from creator Jim Davis.

"Jim approached BOOM! and asked us if we would be interested. I was completely, and utterly blown away. He was a huge fan of the 'Chip and Dale: Rescue Rangers' comic that we did when had the Disney license," Richie recounted. "It blows me away that Jim Davis is a BOOM! fan, and it was a career hallmark for me."

Conversely, Sablik's story was something on the other end of the spectrum, about a young female fan he encountered at the BOOM! Studios booth at Baltimore Comic-Con last year.

"I spent 10 years in Baltimore; it's my home town show. It's the one I have the greatest affinity for," Sablik continued. "So I'm working the booth, and this little girl walks by, and she starts looking through the 'Garfield' comics, and she points to one, and says, 'I'd like that one.'"

"That's issue #3. We have issue #1, it's the same price as issue #3, if you want to get that one," Sablik said in reply.

"I know, but I like this one," the girl said.

"Then she reached into her pocket for her velcro wallet, and counted out her own money, and then paid for the comic -- and then I thought, "Oh, man. This is why we do this."

As a new father, it made an especially powerful impact on Sablik. "I know that a lot of times, you guys get talked at, and it feels like we're just here to take your money, but we love the fact that we have such a connection with our fans, and get to talk about the stuff that you're passionate about, because we're passionate about it, too."

At various parts of the panel, the BOOM! personnel teased artist Brian Stelfreeze's upcoming project for the publisher, for which he will do full interior art, and the fact that there will be an original "Hero Bear" story found in this year's ka-boom! Free Comic Book Day offering. Grant even talked about his creation, the crime story "2 Guns," which has been made into a movie starring Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington. In fact, the movie's trailer was played during the panel as well.

"At the time, it was impossible to sell crime stories, but I just wanted to write it so much that I wrote the thing and basically handed it out as party favors to people that I knew, which is how Ross ended up with it. Generally, I don't write things without knowing I could sell them first. This one, I sat down and wrote."

Richie was able recall the exact reaction he told Grant when he initially read the story, "You bastard, this is brilliant."

Even with all of the upcoming projects and announcements, the focus was clearly on BOOM!'s ethos and mission as a company, with the panel was more akin to a presentation designed to convey the identity of who and what BOOM! Studios is all about.

"We believe in classic voices. We believe in doing it right. We believe in the next generation," Sablik said as he closed out the panel. "We believe in being original, and we believe that the future is now. We are BOOM! Studios. You are too; come innovate with us."

Stay tuned to CBR News for more on BOOM! Studios and its upcoming projects.

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