BY JENNIFER M. CONTINONat Gertler
is celebrating his tenth anniversary as the comic book publisher. His About Comics
imprint has released dozens of collections and the publisher has a lot of plans for the next ten years! He's launching a sci-fi imprint, the Blank Comic Book
and a few other things. We talk about the past, present and future with Gertler as he reveals his initial plans for About Comics
weren't long term ....THE PULSE: How does it feel to be reaching the tenth anniversary of About Comics? When you were first starting did you ever dream that ten years later you'd be still in the comics game, especially the way the market was then compared to now?
Well, I was in the comics game well before I started About Comics
, writing for other publishers. So me still being in the comics game was not a surprise. As for About Comics
, I was really viewing it one project at a time at that point. The plans weren't exactly long-term.THE PULSE: What was the plan then?
I started publishing with a miniseries called The Factor
. Basically, I'd gotten tired of spending my writing time writing pitches for whatever-comic-might-take-me, and I figured that if I spent that time writing non-comics things that earned money, I could use that money to publish my own projects... and I chose The Factor
(an alternative superhero series where you never see the hero) partly because it was already in progress, with three short tales having run in anthologies, and partly because it was the least licensable of my concepts. Now, I wasn't in it primarily for the movie/TV deals, but I reckoned that if I were to make beginners mistakes and mess up publishing something, it might as well be something where I only messed up a comic book, and not take some potential movie deal with it. As it turned out, we actually ended up talking Hollywood deals for The Factor
on a couple occasions, so my ability to predict the future ain't perfect.
But after that, it was actually more than a year before the next project. I'd long thought that someone should publish a book of comic book scripts by various writers, so that would-be comics creators can see the different formats and styles. I got tired of waiting for "someone" to do it and did it myself... and that's how we got Panel One, which is still our strongest selling backlist item. And that's really what made About Comics an ongoing concern.THE PULSE: It must have seemed daring to create something like Panel One back then ... what were the challenges of putting that project together?
The big challenge was getting up the courage to reach out to the writers. Some of the folks whose scripts are in the book, like Neil Gaiman and Dwayne McDuffie, are people I'd known for years. Others like Kevin Smith I'd never met. But they were all not only willing, but eager -- almost every single one of them said "this is the book that I wished I had when I first started writing comics." So that made it all surprisingly easy. THE PULSE: What was next for you after Panel One? How did you follow up a project like that?
Well, the obvious way to follow up PANEL ONE would be with PANEL TWO... which we did, of course. Actually, that was a mistake, not in following it up, but in calling it PANEL TWO. It sold well enough, but I think sales would be better if folks didn't think they should get PANEL ONE first. It's another bunch of scripts by a different group of writers, so it's not like there is some ordered relationship to the first book.
But before we got to Panel Two, we licensed our first comics reprint - Stewart The Rat. This was a Steve Gerber/Gene Colan graphic novel, two strong unique voices who had done some great Marvel work together, and of course the Marvel work has been reprinted at various times. But one of the advantages Marvel has is that they've got an organization that can keep looking at what they have laying around that should be brought back out. Creator-owned material generally doesn't have that. So we reprinted that as a one-shot, and started down our road to being a reprint-heavy publisher.THE PULSE: How did you decide what to reprint? I mean there was a lot of great stuff out there, but also some stuff on the fringe that may or may not have been a big hit if given the chance ...
First off, I look for stuff that I like. I don't have some big marketing team that can mechanically push any pile of material, so I really have to rely on my own enthusiasm to get it through. Beyond that, I want it to have some clear sales hook, something that will make it sell. That hook can be a creator -- The Liberty Project was a Kurt Busiek series. The hook can be content - Alice is a full graphic novel adaptation of Alice In Wonderland, and there are sure a lot of Alice In Wonderland fans out there. We actually have one deal in the works where the "sales" hook is that someone is willing to underwrite the expenses of reprinting it, but for the most part, it's finding a work with an audience.THE PULSE: What special plans do you have for the tenth anniversary of About Comics? I'm sure there are some things in the works ....
We're announcing our new imprint, About Infinity, for science fiction and fantasy works. There are three projects announced: Fusion, which is a space adventure series written by writers from Star Trek and Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica and things like that. So it has an audience in the science-fiction crowd, and it's semi-anthropomorphic nature -- it's about a cargo ship staffed by both humans and intelligent animal species, with a lot of the art by Albedo's Steve Gallacci -- should bring in the furry crowd as well. And there's The Misadventures of Prince Ivan, which is a work by popular young adult fantasy author Diane Duane and the artist Sherlock; the original story was only 60-some pages, so we're having Diane and Sherlock do a new story to round out the book. And then there's The Weasel Patrol, which is just plain fun stuff. We've got the intro website up at AboutInfinity.com now. Those books, and The Blank Comic Book, are the only things we have locked in for the coming year, although other projects are in the talking stages.
THE PULSE: How'd you come up with the idea to do something like The Blank Comic Book?
I could say that I got sick and tired of dealing with writers and artists! But no, it just always struck me as a cool thing to have. Plenty of people fold together bits of paper and draw comics on them. What if you could actually have something that's the "right" size, where you could end up with something that felt like a standard comic. But once I started really thinking about it, I saw a lot of other uses, whether it's as a gag gift, as a way to keep lists that you could easily file in your longbox with your comics collection, and so on. Really, it's the sort of thing that should have been obvious to others a long time ago. Then again, I think that with most of our successful projects; they're not a case of me being some sort of genius, but of others overlooking the obvious.THE PULSE: Will the paper in the Blank Comic Book hold up to the inks and stuff?
The goal with The Blank Comic Book was to use a genuine comic book paper inside, not some special archival paper or the sort of board one might use for professional comic creation. However, there are a range of papers used in comics, and I chose a paper that we'd been using for our trade paperbacks for a while now. It's not slick, and it is thick, more like a thick newsprint than like the gloss magazine stock many comics use these days. We haven't thrown every sort of media at it, but the pencils and inks we've tried its taken fine. And we are putting a cardstock cover on, so the book is a bit better protected. But as I say, the goal is not to provide a high-end production item, but rather something one can have fun with.THE PULSE: How'd you come up with the idea to do the About Infinity line? There is a lot of sci-fi on the market ....
I've been looking at the material that forms the base of About Infinity for a while, because it was stuff I liked when it first came out. And with the way the graphic novel market is growing beyond the comic shop, I realized that something with an identifiable audience, like the science fiction audience and the fantasy audience, mean that you could effectively market to those people, let them know this is available. Forming an imprint seemed to be a way to create a focus... and then once the imprint is in place, it becomes easy to start looking around for projects that fit that imprint.THE PULSE: What do you find the most intriguing about this genre?
I've been a science fiction fan since I was a kid, in large part because it matches the way I think -- what would be the implications of a Big Change? What if there were intelligent animal species, what if we knew the sun was about to go out, what if we find the answer to the Big Question. Science fiction lets you play things out in a big way.
I've been a science fiction fan since I was a kid, in large part because it matches the way I think -- what would be the implications of a Big Change? What if there were intelligent animal species, what if we knew the sun was about to go out, what if we find the answer to the Big Question. Science fiction lets you play things out in a big way.THE PULSE: What job is more difficult publisher finding things to get in print or writer, creating your own unique works?
They each have their own difficulties. Publishing is more financially risky, writing more emotionally risky. I'm working at getting more writing done, but publishing always gives me an excuse to procrastinate the writing.THE PULSE: When's the next 24 Hour Comic Day?
That hasn't been announced yet -- and it's no longer my decision. Starting with 2008, I passed control of 24 Hour Comics Day over to ComicsPRO, the retailer organization. So this year, I actually got to participate for the first time!THE PULSE: Cool! Do you already have an idea in mind of what to do?
Well, this year's was in October, so it's already done. I went in with no specific story plans, and in fact as the 24 hours started I grabbed the nearest magazine and picked out two words at random to build my story around. "Percentage due". So I ended up starting on the theme of the sub-prime mortgage crisis... and set it undersea, mostly built around the relationship between a little sea blob and a goldfish.THE PULSE: I think we hit a lot of things in this interview, but is there anything else you're working on that you wanted to mention that we missed?
A couple things. One is that About Comics has been growing in an unexpected direction, and that's what we've been calling "packaging" but is really more appropriately "comics services". Basically, About Comics available for hire for any portion of comics publishing that other folks need. Create content for other publishers? Find creators for a project? Help someone create a limited print-run comic to showcase their film concepts? Find reprintable material to license? That's the sort of stuff that we're handling. About Comics is in final negotiations or has already agreed to projects with five different larger publishers, both within the comics industry and outside, for projects that will carry our credit in some form.
And in a way, that goes back to how About Comics started. The first time that the About Comics name and logo were used, before we started publishing, was in a deal that we had in the works with a major tech publisher that wanted to produce an ongoing giveaway comic with a seven-figure circulation. Alas, after beating out some bigger names to get the gig, management changed at the tech publisher and the entire plan was scotched.
And I guess the other thing is to express the joy I still feel in comics. Yes there's day where it's like working in a sausage factory, where dealing with the business end of things. But I can still curl up with a new issue of True Story, Swear To God, or take care of my Peanuts book collection (excuse me, "the AAUGH.com reference library") or read my four year old daughter the new issue of Tiny Titans, and the joy is still there. Which is good. This is not a business you should be in if you can't love it on some level.http://AboutComics.com http://AboutInfinity.com http://blog.AAUGH.com