@’s by FIRST COMICS’ Ken Levin!!!
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Okay, so I’m here with Ken Levin of First Comics and you have been at this for quite a long time, but First Comics is making its comeback right now. Is this the fist time you guys have been out on the convention floor for a while? You guys are front and center at the convention here.
KEN LEVIN (KL): First shared space at San Diego last year and did the same thing in New York. This is the first time First has had its own unique space and it’s been just enormously gratifying seeing people come by saying “Cool. We’re so happy you’re back.” That’s just so exciting and then they ask one of a thousand different variable questions, because First had an enormous variety of titles, formats, characters…First Comics was sort of the creative risk taker and didn’t really do superheroes, not because we didn’t love superheroes, but because frankly, what’s the point? If Marvel and DC are doing them and they are doing them so well, why not try and occupy some of the space that nobody else was doing at the time? There was no other independent comic book company when First Comics started.
BUG: And when was that?
KL: It was 30 years ago this weekend was the first First publication, the initial publication which was WARP! #1 and going forward the variety that existed at First, that same kind of creative risk taking is continuing. First had, some people say the first graphic novel was a First Comics book, which was BEOWULF. It certainly was the first one to bring in manga with LONE WOLF AND CUB if you don’t count ASTRO BOY, which actually came in the 60’s, but they made up all of the dialogue, so it really had nothing to do with the content and LONE WOLF AND CUB is I think one of the greatest comic series of all time. The first book to be done entirely around a computer, which was SHATTER…there’s a whole laundry list of “firsts”, if you will, that First Comics did, so it’s just been enormously fun.
BUG: What’s the con been like for you this year? Like I said, you’re the first booth that we see when we walk through the doors here.
KL: The people that have come up have been everything that you would normally expect from people that don’t know the brand or the books at all, who are just looking the way they’d look at anything that was new and interesting and the quality of First books was always first rate and that’s continuing. To people that knew a particular title, a whole bunch Mark of people have come up and said “You know, the first comics I read were First Comics titles.” “I learned to read on JON SABLE or GRIMJACK.” Or “Is there any chance we are going to see WARP! again? Or BADGER?” There’s all of that kind of thing and then a great number of creators. The primary reason that First Comics is back is it’s sort of the Batman mentality, you know? He’s there when you need him. There was a real feeling that if you’re an independent comic creator, there’s no place that you can publish anymore that doesn’t have at least one really serious flaw that will get in the way of what you’re trying to do, whether it’s economic, whether it’s creative freedom, or what have you. So a lot of creators who are friends or people we know of have come up and said “We are so happy you are back, and can we talk? Seriously, we would love to do something with you, because we’ve got a project” or “We’ve got a concept” or “I’ve got no place to publish that I’m happy with.” I get that. I absolutely get that.
BUG: So are all the books creator-owned? What are the titles that are coming out right now? You’ve got two of them that I see here on the table here that I have yet to check out so far.
KL: First was always a primary proponent of creator’s rights. As far as I know, the so called First Comics deal in today’s marketplace is the best possible deal available, the best deal available and arguably the only one that’s theoretically better is the so-called Image deal. If you get a pure Image deal where you deliver the finished product, so you’re doing it all on your dime and you’re doing all of the marketing and promotion, then on a gross basis the Image deal is different than First, but First takes the 180 degree other side of the coin approach. It’s promoting like crazy. There are four initial convention books that will become available to the retailers in May and then from then on of those four books First brought in, every creator including two from England, gave away posters for the books, had these gorgeous digital shirts printed up for each of the books and it’s really…it was really a serious effort to support the creators’ efforts and appreciate what they did and not let something get buried.
BUG: Fantastic. Well, you are a local Chicago publisher and you said it’s primarily a virtual company? Or do you guys have a company here in Chicago?
KL: There’s no brick and mortar office, but there really isn’t a need for that. There are a number of different editors who have responsibilities and there are different titles. Each title is managed by a particular title editor who works with the creators to get the books ready. There are fourteen titles in process and there’s sort of…every question we got asked is “Are there going to be…” The answer was always “Yes.” “Are there are going to be new stories of some of the classic First characters?” Yes. “Are there going to be books by some of the great creators who began at First?” Yes. “Are there going to be collections that present high end some of the stories that people today are too young to have seen the first time around?” like the E-MAN collection of Joe Staton and Nick Cuti from their Charlton days and the answer is “Yes.” “Are there going to be new original graphic novels from people we’ve heard of?” Yes. “Are there going to be new original graphic novels from people we’ve never heard of?” Absolutely. So you name it, it’s in process.
BUG: That’s fantastic. Well if there is one business motto or across the board kind of way to encapsulate your philosophy of First, what would it be?
KL: I think it’s to try and strive for great entertainment. There was an editors’ meeting where they were trying to figure out “How do we filter? We’ve got all of these proposals, many of then from people we know who are wonderfully talented. How do you decide whether something is worth going forward with?” And the ultimate answer turned out to be you look at something and see if it has the possibility of being really great entertainment. That doesn’t mean you’re always going to succeed, but if that’s the criteria, it lets you both take more risks and appreciate uniqueness, whether it’s uniqueness in the characters or the story or the artist or writer’s particular talents. There’s a lot of “very good” in the industry today, but there’s places for very good. The truth is there’s not many places for “great,” because great often means you’re taking risks and nobody would have done MARS when we first did it. Nobody would have done AMERICAN FLAGG. It was just too radical. Certainly nobody would have done SHATTER and I don’t think anybody would have done JON SABLE FREELANCE, even though it’s more conventional story. There were no superpowers. There was no Batman zealousness in that driven sense of DARK KNIGHT. So there’s a real commitment to having the First imprint mean something that if somebody is, say, in a comic store, and they see a book they don’t know and it’s got the First logo on it, they’ve got a reasonably good chance of believing that it’s going to be worth the bang for the buck. There’s also a very strong commitment to the quality of the books themselves; First books always look beautiful. If there’s a choice like on that E-MAN book, we could have done that E-MAN book with existing files, especially some of the flat color available, but when the question got asked in production “Is it going to look great?” The answer was “No. Not unless you recolor the whole damn thing.” So First recolored the whole damn thing with 220 pages and it looks gorgeous.
BUG: Very cool. So I see the posters for ZOMBIE ANTS and NECESSARY MONSTERS. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
KL: NECESSARY MONSTERS is a book that Daniel Merlin Goodbrey wrote that’s right on the muscle and Sean Azzopardi did the art. He’s a terrific storyteller. Both of them have a lot of followers in England. They both live around the London area. I’ve known each of them for several years. Daniel also does some really terrific online web comics. There’s going to be a collection of those out by San Diego, the first of two collections, and the idea of NECESSARY MONSTERS is essentially that there are some levels of evil that are so evil that they go against their own self interest and given the opportunity, they would wipe out the entire population of Earth, which from a monster point of view would be a bad thing, because then there wouldn’t be anything more to feed on. So they need evil keepers of other evils to keep them in check, which works fine until one of them goes rogue. Daniel is just a super writer. We are going to have another graphic novel coming out from him at the beginning of the year that’s totally, totally different. He will be a find for American audiences and we are really happy about working with him. FRICKIN’ BUTT-KICKIN’ ZOMBIE ANTS was a concept that Steve Stern, who’s…
BUG: I love that title by the way.
KL: Yeah, I do too. Steve Stern is one of the co-creators of ZEN: INTERGALACTIC NINJA and he pitched that to First and it just cracked us up. It’s sort of…there’s homage aspects of the book, but then its just so happens that the Fillbach brothers had just finished one of the STAR WARS CLONE WARS series and they were loose and looking for something to do and they read the script and literally lobbied to get it--“We really have to do this book”--and they are perfect for it. Matt and Sean Fillbach have some real fans in the States, but they are very special too and we’ve got four different books from them on the schedule that will be coming out this year and next year that they have written and drawn, all very different from each other, and I couldn’t be happier. They are really worthy additions to the First roster and they are funny as hell.
BUG: Very cool. Well, I’m very excited to see all of the things that you guys have coming out and hopefully we can catch up again when I’m in San Diego in the summer time. Are you going to be there?
KL: Oh, First will be there in booth 2001, like the SPACE ODYSSEY booth, which is right in front of I think it’s Gate C if I remember right. We will have the four books that will have gone out to the retailers by them and I got told last night we should have four more that they’ve targeted for release at San Diego and then we will have six more for the New York Comic Con in October. So it’s going to be a really fun and exciting year.
BUG: Well, fantastic. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. Best of luck with First. It seems like you guys are continuing to be a major force in comics.
KL: Thank you Mark, we appreciate it.
BUG: Find out more about FIRST COMICS in the coming months!
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/reviewer/co-editor of AICN Comics for over ten years. He has written comics such as MUSCLES & FIGHTS, MUSCLES & FRIGHTS, VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, WONDERLAND ANNUAL 2010 & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND & has co-written their first ever comic book LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in October 2012 as an 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark has just announced his new comic book miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment to be released in March 2012.
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G