We brought you first word
of Top Cow holding their prices at $2.99 through 2009, and now, it’s
time for a look ahead at 2009. For that, we sat down again with Publisher
Newsarama: Filip, you’ve recently announced big plans for both Witchblade and Darkness.
In terms of core titles, what are you looking at for the coming year? A
steady run with the two titles, or another year with a summer event?
Filip Sablick: For those two titles we’re going to go with the
former. 2009 is going to be a time to refocus, in terms of letting the
creators do what they do best with the books, and giving them a break
from having to worry about a larger event that they have to build
towards. Ron’s doing “War of the Witchblade” starting with issue #125,
but that’s a story that’s been developing organically since issue #100
or #101, and it’s something that he’s been wanting to do.
In Darkness, a lot of Phil [Hester]’s upcoming stories, while
they’ll be following continuing thread, will be self-contained story
arcs, either one or two issue stories. Issues #7-#10, and up to the new
issue #75 are all self-contained issues where people can pick up an
issue and get a complete sense of the Darkness and who Jackie is, and
hopefully that will be enough to pique their interest, and they jump
So that’s something we can promise – in 2009, Witchblade and Darkness
will not be involved in an event. We are going to be pushing the sense
of a shared universe in 2009 and into 2010. In that, we’re talking
about a “shared universe” in the sense of the classic Marvel days, were
you’d see Thor fly over in the skies of Manhattan, and Spider-Man would
wonder where he’s going. The cool thing with Jackie and Sarah is that
now that they have a child together, they have a built-in reason to
interact. So, it may be something as simple as occasionally Jackie
shows up at Sarah’s to check in on Hope, or it may be something a
little bit bigger. And that all will include other characters that
we’ve got in the Top Cow Universe, characters like Magdalena or
Aphrodite IV may show up from time to time for an issue, but it won’t
be a big event crossover type of thing.
NRAMA: Speaking of the larger Top Cow Universe, both you and
Matt Hawkins have said that the comfort zone for Top Cow is about four
books a month. Witchblade and Darkness take up two of
those slots, yet you’re building up other characters as well. So how do
you juggle those other two to three slots in the coming year?
FS: Pretty much the same way we’ve done in the past – we have Witchblade and Darkness
as our two ongoings, and by 2010 we’ll probably have a third ongoing
that we’re going to be building towards in ’09. Those will be the core
of the Top Cow Universe. The other characters will come in and out
through limited series or mini-seasons. The one thing we’re taking into
account in 2009-2010 is that you’ll see those series spin out more
organically from larger stories in Witchblade and Darkness. For instance, rather than just launching a series like Madame Mirage
cold, as we were able to do a few years ago when the market was more
open to new series, you may have a character like that first appear in Witchblade,
and introduce her to the fans, and then spin her out into her own
series. So things will flow a little more naturally. Again, that’s to
build the idea that these characters co-exist in the same world. That’s
not to say we won’t do series that are standalone – we’ll do an
occasionally one now and then.
So that’s the larger plan – hold the line, do projects that make sense.
And if we’re doing a standalone limited series hopefully it’s with
either a character or creator that will give it enough buzz so that
people will give it a shot.
NRAMA: This may touch on your plans for the third series coming
up, but you have both Magdalena and Witchblade in some stage of film
development. How does that affect what you do? We’ve seen both Marvel
and DC deal with it in their own ways where comics had to influence the
films, the films then directed the comics, and now, apparently the
films and comics are similar but don’t reflect each other. They seem to
have come full circle, but with a smaller company like you where you
don’t have different versions of say, Witchblade that you can play
with, how does the movie aspect affect the comics, and how will it as
the movies move forward?
FS: I would say that with Witchblade, it probably isn’t going to affect it a whole hell of a lot. We feel that, editorially, Witchblade
is really strong. Ron’s been the guiding spirit of the title for
several years now, and he’s doing an awesome job. So the goal there is
just to do the best comic that we can do every month.
The one thing that was nice about Wanted being different
in its film version than in its comic version is that, despite the fact
that there were differences, people still went out and bought the
graphic novel by the tens of thousands. So there’s some indication
there like you said, that comics and their movies don’t necessarily
have to match up to stir interest in one another. If it makes sense,
and once the movie is further along, I don’t discount that we might do
something separate, like a movie tie-in or something like that, but
really, the drive now seems to be more towards having a good series or
graphic novel line to support the movie. That seems to be what
moviegoers are going to pick up.
Darkness #75 cover by Lee Bermejo
With Magdalena, I think there will be an effect…probably, of all the
core Top Cow characters, her origin story is the most convoluted in
that there were several different creative teams that came in and did
their own take on her. So yeah, in 2009, we are looking at working with
Ron to streamline her origin, and present a story that says, “Here is
Magdalena” in a very clear and concise way, so that when the movie does
come out, we do have a trade paperback that you can hand to somebody
who’s never read anything else – Darkness, Witchblade,
or any of the Top Cow titles she’s been in, and say, “Here’s a book
about that character that you liked in that movie.” It may not be
exactly the same – in fact, it may be quite a bit different, but it
reads quite well by itself.
I would say probably towards the end of 2009, we’ll be looking at some
sort of Magdalena series that will hopefully accomplish that.
NRAMA: Related to that, with these projects in their stages of
film development, how much of a voice do you have with the filmmakers
in regards to the interpretation from comic book to movie?
FS: With both Witchblade and Magdalena – obviously, every film
deal is unique – Marc Silvestri and Matt Hawkins are intimately
involved. I know that Marc has had several meetings with Michael Rymer,
who’s the director on Witchblade to talk about the character
and what direction the story will go in. Both Matt and Marc are reading
through potential scripts, and are helping to select the screenwriter
who ultimately gets the job. As far as I can tell, it’s about as
hands-on as you can get. Part of that, of course, is dependent on who
you partner with, so both of those films were set up through Platinum
Studios, and Magdalena is with Gale Anne Hurd’s company, and Witchblade
is with Arclight Films. Both are production companies that have a
really good sense about what makes a good comic book movie – obviously,
Gale Anne Hurd has been involved with a lot of comic book and science
fiction movies, so she has a very good sense of what makes for a good
movie, but on the whole, having creators involved when you can, just
makes for a better movie.
NRAMA: Moving away from your core titles and characters, as
you’ve brought up, with Wanted and Madame Mirage, Top Cow has another
group of books that exists such as Madame Mirage, Dragon Prince,
and the Pilot Season books. What are things looking like in that arena
of Top Cow for 2009? There will be a new iteration of Pilot Season,
FS: Yeah – there’s definitely going to be a Pilot Season in 2009.
NRAMA: With a similar set up to this year?
FS: That’s right – we’re going to have six original properties
from six different creative teams. No Top Cow Universe characters or
pre-existing characters. We’re still finalizing the list. What’s been
kind of cool about this process is that Pilot Season started as an
experiment and then evolved in its second year. Now, in its third year,
and people have a sense of what it is, particularly creators, we’ve
gone from where we were approaching creators and asking for pitches to
now essentially stepping back and having pitches come in. People have
seen that it’s a cool bit of promotion, and a great way to get a new
concept out there and test the waters.
So we’ve got a lot of really interesting combinations of creators and
concepts coming in for 2009 which, on the one hand, makes things a
little tougher to decide what we’re going to go with. Ultimately
though, we want a similar format to last year in the sense that we want
to have a variety of genres and types of stories represented, so you’ll
get something for horror fans, something for action-adventure fans,
whatever the mix ends up being. We don’t want to end up putting out
five zombie books. That’s no fun for anybody, and besides, Robert
Kirkman has the market cornered on that.
I think the one major thing that we’ll change is that we’ll be bringing
the price back down to $2.99 on all the books of Pilot Season. It’s a
program that we believe in and think is unique and cool in the
industry, so we’re behind it to nurture it and hopefully it continues
to strike a chord with fans.
NRAMA: And the winners of this year’s Pilot Season – they’ve
been set as miniseries to date. Could those possibly go on as ongoing
series if they’re popular enough, or would that require a change in the
4-5 series a month model?
FS: Ultimately, and this is our attitude with any limited
series, if we put something out there and it really catches on with
fans, we’re going to continue with it. We’d be dumb not to, as long as
the creator has more story to tell, and the fans and retailers are
supporting it and are telling us that they want to see more. So Genius and Twilight Guardian
are slated to run through one complete arc, which I think is
tentatively at four issues each. That will be enough to collect into a
nice trade paperback. But if people get into the stories and like what
they see, and the sales reflect that, we’ll keep doing it. Some of that
may come in the form as how we’re approaching Madame Mirage –
Paul [Dini] had an initial story that he wanted to tell, so we put out
the six issue story, and it was really successful, so when we started
talking to Paul about doing more stuff for us, one of our first
thoughts was to do more Madame Mirage. Fortunately, he’s got more ideas, so it’s something that makes sense.
NRAMA: Speaking of Paul with Madame Mirage and Ron with Dragon Prince,
are you looking at expanding in that area, that is, more creator-owned
projects eith reby creators who are working for you, or others?
FS: It’s always a possibility, and is a case by case thing. Ron
is somebody we’ve worked with for many years, and when we started
talking about an exclusive contract, he brought up some ideas that he
had, and Dragon Prince in particular, and asked if it was
something that we could do at Top Cow. It made sense for us, so we
moved forward with it. The same thing goes for Paul – he’s a guy whose
credentials speak for themselves, and he’s been very easy to work with.
Phil Hester is somebody that we definitely want to work more with, and
we’ve got a couple of projects that we’re talking about, but it’s
something where we need to find the right combination of factors and
what makes sense to green light. We’re probably going to a larger focus
on the Top Cow Universe stuff immediately though, because that’s solid
for 2009. Ultimately, though, we’d love to do more of that kind of
NRAMA: So what else are you looking at for 2009?
FS: Probably the biggest thing for 2009 is going to be our
summer event series. It’s not going to be a Witchblade and Darkness
event story – it’s going to be a Cyberforce/Hunter-Killer five
issue series. It’s a corner of the Top Cow Universe that’s been left
alone for a few years. Both those team kind of popped up briefly in First Born,
but for the most part, we haven’t really done anything with them in a
while. They’re series that we get a lot of fan interest form, so we’re
bringing back Mark Waid to write it, and Kenneth Rocafort will be
drawing it. We kind of expect that it’s going to be everything that a
big, popcorn summer event should be.
If everything goes to plan, it will set up something very, very cool
for 2010 that we’re not ready to announce yet, but this is our way of
doing something cool that’s set within the Top Cow Universe without
telling Ron and Phil that they have to find yet another way to shoehorn
an event into their stories.
What’s really interesting about this series is that it fits very nicely
with themes that people are thinking about these days – technology, a
fear or wariness of government, and a distrust of large corporations.
So that will be something that we think fans will really respond to.
NRAMA: And there are a couple more projects coming in 2009, right?
Black Vault #1
FS: Right – the two other projects we’re doing are Black Vault in March, which is a limited series that we’re co-producing with Kickstart, the guys who did the Wanted
film. The nicest way to describe that is “Guantanamo in space.” Imagine
being caught with terrorists and their interrogators on a very
claustrophobic, tiny ship. That’s by B. Clay Moore, based off of a
screenplay by a guy named Jeffery Simmons that we got form Kickstart,
and Nelson Blake, who did the Broken Trinity: Witchblade book for us – he’s drawing that, and Jeremy Haun is providing cool, creepy and disconcerting covers.
And then the other series we’ve got coming up in the summer, launching in June is Berserker,
a series that we’re co-producing with Divide Pictures. That’s Milo
Ventimiglia and Russ Cundiff’s production company. A guy named Rick
Loverd is writing that – he’s a screenwriter. This is a project that
Russ and Milo found through their production company. They got a
screenplay that they liked, and thought it would make a great comic
book first. They brought it to us, we agreed, and here we are. The
artist on that will be Jeremy Haun, moving over from the Black Vault
covers. The basic concept behind that is that there are normal people
who find out that they are descendents from this legendary Viking race
called Berserkers who were undefeatable in battle, because they would
psych themselves up into a rage-fueled battle fervor and wipe out
anyone in front of them. The same way we did with Wanted, it’s
taking a high concept to a gritty, realistic level. So instead of the
Hulk smashing a building and everybody getting out okay, we have people
getting hurt and dying when super-strong giant-sized people start
fighting. And it’s not always just the bad guys. It should be pretty
cool all around.
NRAMA: All in all, it looks like you’ve got a pretty full year coming up…
FS: Yeah – it should be an exciting year. The cool thing is
that, with all these various multimedia projects come out in 2007 and
2008, and the things we have in development, we feel pretty comfortable
going into 2009. With some of the larger economic changes that have
come into play, I think a lot of people are wondering how they’re going
to navigate the coming year, but luckily, we’re not in a place where
we’re running around thinking that we have to raise prices and cut
books. You’re not going to see Rob write the books and me drawing them
anytime soon. We’re kind of moving forward with the same plan we had.
It’s going to be a fun year, and a good one for our readers.