In 1992, Marc Silvestri founded Top Cow Productions, Inc., one of six studios that comprised the newly formed independent publisher, Image Comics. Silvestri's "Cyberforce" was one of Image's launch titles, and it started off the fledging Top Cow with a bang. Eventually, strayed away from its superhero roots to create what have since become the pillars of the company, "The Darkness" and "Witchblade," which also facilitated a rise to prominence of the late, great Michael Turner, just one of the many young artists Top Cow helped develop.
Top Cow has spearheaded pioneering initiatives like Pilot Season, whereby the publisher releases a selection of one-shots featuring new or underused characters, and readers will vote via MySpace to determine which title will graduate to ongoing series. Top Cow has also found great success in other media, with projects like "The Darkness" video game, the "Witchblade" anime, and the film adaptation of Mark Millar and J.G. Jones' "Wanted."
CBR News sat down with Chief Executive Officer Marc Silvestri, Publisher Filip Sablik, President/Chief Operating Officer Matt Hawkins, Vice President of Editorial Rob Levin, and writers Ron Marz ("Witchblade") and Phil Hester ("The Darkness") for a week-long feature we're calling the WEEK OF TOP COW.
For our first installment, we talk to the man who's been there since the beginning, Top Cow founder Marc Silvestri, about the company then and now.
CBR: How did Top Cow come to be, Marc?
Marc Silvestri: Top Cow popped up with the start up of Image Comics back in 1992(!). All seven original partners formed their own companies within the umbrella of Image. We had one simple rule really: You do what you want and I'll do what I want! The only way this was possible was if we all had our own companies: Todd McFarlane Productions, Wildstorm, etc. Mine was Top Cow.
For me personally, the timing couldn't have been better. I had already done all the big stuff in comics that interested me ("X-Men," "Wolverine") and found myself kind of bored with the creative end of the biz. I was at a loss because I didn't know what there was left for me to do in the one thing I was good at!
As for Image itself, the timing couldn't have been better either. The market was waiting for us. It was the perfect storm. I have the creation of Image to thank for providing all sorts of interesting things that the world of comics has to offer. There are opportunities open to us comic people now that were unheard of back then. It's fun to think we helped a bit in opening the door for creative people to control their own professional destinies.
What was it like in those early days?
The early days were like the Wild West! Valiant, Dark Horse and Image were really redefining what publishing comics was all about. Image was the wildest of them all simply because we felt as a group that if there was an established rule, it needed breaking, even the good ones! We literally rewrote the book on a daily basis. The sales were so high back then that no matter how wacky the idea, we could afford to at least take a shot at it. We were a bag of mixed nuts and believe me, we weren't just playing the part. We were nuts. Good times.
With sales so huge in the early-to-mid '90s, were there any tangible hurdles you had to cross to fight your way into the competitive comics marketplace?
The biggest hurdles we had to face back then were usually us! Since Image could do no wrong, we often did. Everything happened so fast, we all had to learn on the fly and Top Cow was no different. The next biggest hurdle was the rapid decline of the marketplace. I think the success of Image had a lot (and I mean **a lot**) of people thinking they could repeat the formula. That, combined with a speculators' market driving artificial sales and the reaction of Marvel and DC to what we were doing, had a lot to do with the ensuing chaos. Trust me, the mid-nineties were not for the faint of heart. There's a reason there aren't a lot of us left!
A mostly unknown pitfall of success is the inevitable competition it brings. The cost of putting a comic together got so out of hand that when the market bottomed out, a lot of publishers simply couldn't afford to put out a comic of any quality. It was like free agency in the sports world: the good creative talent became unaffordable. At least there was somebody willing to cut big checks, even at the risk of going out of business within a few months. Those were scary times. The good edge on that double sword is that the past decade-and-a-half has seen some truly amazing creative people come into comics.
Tell us a bit about some of Top Cow's earliest successes that put the company on the map.
Some of Top Cow's earliest success came with series like "Cyberforce," "Witchblade" and "The Darkness." This is especially true with the latter two as evidenced by their longevity and high-profile presence in other media. We were, and are, always at our best as a company when we do things a little off-center. "What are the other publishers doing? Okay, let's do something different!" Making good decisions such as creating concepts matched with talented people didn't hurt. Michael Turner on "Witchblade" is a perfect example. I feel his artistry and fingerprint on that book helped define Top Cow as a player in the nineties.
What would you say sets Top Cow apart from other publishers?
I'd have to say it's our willingness to take risks and stay true to our philosophy of seeing what's missing from the market. Also, working with interesting creative partners is not only good business, but it's fun, too. Being the only independent publisher out there that develops new talent will always set us apart as well. We'll continue doing things a little different than the others. Business is business (and the comic world is a tricky one), but ultimately it has to be fun. We like to have fun over here.
How has Top Cow changed over the years?
Many things are different about today's Top Cow. Much of it has to do with the marketplace and what is needed to survive in it. These days, no publisher, big or small, can ignore other media. Without it, the cold reality is there would be very few, if any, comic books being published. There would probably still be the iconic titles like "Batman" and "Superman" out there, but certainly not the choices we have today. As a company, we've grown smarter and act rather than react. We don't sit around waiting to see Chicken Little running around covering his head. We're already looking at the sky and checking the weather.
What does Top Cow have coming down the pike?
We have lots of cool stuff coming in the next two years. We're bringing back some favorite books and characters that have been away and coming out with some new titles that we feel will click with the audience. As for other media, there is so much going on that it's tough to keep up sometimes! Everyone knows about the Witchblade, Magdalena and Darkness movies in active development, but that's really the tip of a Titanic-size iceberg. Keep watch for Top Cow news in movies, TV and games. We've been fortunate enough to have some successes in those areas and we're going to ride that wave.
Even with all the other things going on in various media, for us, it all starts with the publishing. Not only does it make sense, it's also still a hell of a lot of fun. And like I said, we like to have fun over here.
As for me, I'm having more fun than ever right now and that deserves a big shout-out to my Image partners and all the people that have been with Top Cow over the years!