There was a time not too long ago when the future of Archaia, best known for their publication of the popular "Mouse Guard" fantasy series, was in doubt. With a new owner and several new projects on the horizon, however, Archaia came to WizardWorld Philadelphia to let fans know they weren't planning on going anywhere anytime soon.
On hand for the "Archaia Returns" panel were David Rodriguez, writer of "Starkweather: Immortal," Alex Eckman-Lawn, artist for the series "Awakening," Nick Tapalansky, writer for "Awakening," and Archaia publisher and "Artesia" wrter/artist Mark Smylie, who didn't show up until halfway through, due to bad weather and bad traffic conditions in downtown Philadelphia.
The panel began with a lengthy discussion of the company's recent restructuring and publishing woes. For those who don't know, in January of 2008, Archaia, then Archaia Studios Press, stopped publishing and printing stopped as one of Smylie's publishing partner decided to leave the company. The company was then purchased by Kunoichi Inc., a creative services firm.
"We are now the comics arm of Kunoichi" said Tapalansky.
According to Tapalansky, the restructuring allows for Smylie to divide his time better between the publishing end of things and his own artistic endeavors. As proof of that, Tapalansky noted, the third volume of Smylie's "Artesia" series is finished, has been solicited and will be in stores in July.
Later asked if he missed running a company, Smylie offered an emphatic "No."
"I'm very happy to have all that stuff shifted elsewhere," he said.
Asked what the overall "feel" of the Archaia line was, Tapalansky described it as "horror/sci-fi/fantasy" with a bit of "thriller noir," but added that pretty much the only exception was superheroes.
Essentially, if it's a new concept, if someone's bringing something new to the table, then it's something [Archaia] will be interested in," he said.
Asked about the company's business model, Tapalansky said it was closer to IDW's model than, say Image's, in that while the works themselves were creator-owned, the creators shared intellectual property rights with the company.
"Asked if they felt pressure to produce more commercial, crowd-pleasing work in order to get that big Hollywood contract, Tapalansky said no. "We get final say," he said. "Everything is in the creator's hands."
"We don't have anyone editing our stories saying 'It should be more like this,'" added Rodriguez.
"It's basically the same company, we just have more resources now" Tapalansky said, adding that while the restructuring process was frustrating and required a lot of patience, it was all for the best.
Segueing into the company's future plans, Tapalansky, and later Smylie, talked about their partnership plans with Roddenberry Productions. The company will produce a five-issue mini-series entitled "Days Missing."
Smylie said the series is about pivitol moments in history that have been erased from human memory. Each book will take a particular moment and tell the true story of what happened in that particular junction in history, what Smylie described as "things that we think we know, but find out are actually distorted."
The first issue is being written by Phil Hester and drawn by Frazier Irving. Each issue will have a different artist and writer team. The covers will be done by Dale Keown, though the series will offer limited edition alternative covers by the interior artists, a first for the company.
The first issue of "Days Missing" will debut in San Diego and be in stores in August.
Both Tapalansky and Smylie hinted at another big partnership coming up, but said they couldn't reveal any details until Monday.
"Watch the news wire for that one," Taplansky said coyly. "I would really like to talk about it. It's very exciting."
Could it be that Archaia is headed to "Fraggle Rock?" CBR reported this news exclusively in May, but the Publisher would not comment at press time.
Tapalansky said partnerships like these were important for the company and creators like him as they had the strong potential to draw new readers, retailers and others to the Archaia brand.
Tapalansky was quick, however, to emphasize that the company would remain committed to publishing work by unique, individual small press creators.
"Shining a spotlight on new and unique talents is something that Mark is really big on," he said. "He doesn't discount anything that gets handed to him."
Rodriguez then talked about his series, "Starkweather: Immortal," which focuses on the main character Alex Starkweather, a mysterious figure who not only has magic powers, but can trace his lineage back to Jesus Christ's 12 disciples. Sadly, he's had his abilities and memory erased, so the story focuses on him discovering who he is and the world he comes from, which faces a dire threat from malevolent forces.
Rodriguez said the first three issues were available now and a hardcover collection of the first arc will be in stores in October.
Eckman-Lawn and Tapalansky then talked about their series, "The Awakening," which the latter described as a "zombie noir." The story focuses on a small town in upstate New York that is facing a string of odd missing person cases and gruesome murders. The local crazy person in town thinks it's zombies and the catch is that she may be right.
Tapalansky stressed that he tried to make the series different from more traditional zombie fare, to the point where readers won't actually see any of the supernatural creatures or have any apocalyptic scenarios, at least initially, allowing the creators to focus on the characters and themes they want to explore, like science vs. religion.
Asked whether the company planned to participate in Free Comic Book Day next year, Smylie, who had at this point arrived to the panel, said while they hadn't previously done so, they had talked about doing it for 2010, but nothing concrete had been planned at this point.
Asked if they regarded the popular "Mouse Guard" series as Archaia's "banner book," the panel members concurred. "I think he's our Spider-Man" Tapalansky said.
Overall though, the panelists stressed that the restructuring has not dimmed their commitment to their work or their love for their publisher.
"It's very much a family atmosphere" Tapalansky said of the company. "We're all very good friends. We all want each other to succeed."