Last month’s news that Ardden Entertainment would be reviving Atlas Comics properties — a company started in 1974 by Marvel Comics founder Martin Goodman in an attempt to challenge Marvel and DC’s market dominance, employed legends including Neal Adams and Steve Ditko, then folded a year later — got a healthy amount of publicity through both the usual sources and also mainstream media outlets, like Hollywood industry blog Deadline.com.
The first two relaunched characters, Phoenix and Grim Ghost, debut with new #0 issues this weekend at New York Comic Con. With art by Qing Ping Mui and Ian Dorian, the #0 issues feature writing from Jim Krueger of Earth X fame and Ardden editior-in-chief J.M. DeMatteis, and scripting by Ardden co-president Brendan Deneen.
Newsarama talked via telephone with Deneen and Jason Goodman — grandson of Martin Goodman, who worked to put this revival in motion — to learn more about what prompted the decision to revive these characters, possible Hollywood adaptations and what might come next.
Newsarama: Brendan, Jason, could you clarify how exactly the relationship between Atlas and Ardden works? Is one an imprint of the other?
Brendan Deneen: The most accurate way to describe it is “Atlas Comics, in association with Ardden Entertainment.”
Jason Goodman: Atlas is its own entity, but we’re very, very happy to be working with Brendan. We had been looking for an independent comic publisher to partner with for our relaunch.
Nrama: The initial announcement that the Atlas Comics properties were getting a revival got a ton of publicity, including mainstream media sites like Deadline.com. From your perspectives, how has the reaction been? Have you seen any skepticism over bringing back 35-year-old properties?
Goodman: I feel like everything’s very positive. There’s been almost no skepticism. There’s always a drop of rain that falls into every light, but almost unilaterally it’s been a positive response. It’s been great. It’s been from an existing fanbase who had a familiarity with the older properties, whether they bought them as a child or bought them out of the discount pile as Brendan did. There’s been so much wonderful feedback, everybody’s chiming in with which title they want to see next, it’s been really exciting and validating feedback.
Deneen: I went into this kind of in a very innocent way. When I approached Jason, I didn’t even really understand the nature of the legacy. When we announced this, the reaction was larger than I even expected. For me, it’s been a pleasant surprise to see how excited people have gotten about this. Of course, there’s always the jaded talkbackers who are going to talk about this in a negative light, but I feel like that has been about 5 percent of the people. Atlas Comics were around three or four issues each, but each one seems to have brought about this excitement from people, even back then, that is totally carried on to present day.
Nrama: Why is now the right time to bring back this stable of characters?
Goodman: They were right to bring back now for a number of reasons. One, there’s just more and more market interest building. I gauged that personally based on the number of unsolicited e-mails that I got, either on the fan side, on the licensing side, on any Hollywood interest side, all of that was starting to pick up, honestly, over a few years. I had long planned to bring these [properties] back, and it just turned out to be this brilliant intersection that at the time I was looking for an independent comic publisher and really felt in my heart of hearts that the viability of these characters was great, that I bumped into Brendan.
To answer your question a little bit more specifically about all the characters, we’ve got such a range. We’ve got everything from horror to crime drama to straight superhero, it’s really meeting a mix of fans and really great stories across the board. It can touch a lot of areas, it’s not a one-trick pony. It’s a 28-title portfolio with hundreds of characters in it.
Deneen: Exactly. I work in Hollywood, I’ve got some projects in developments at studios, television companies. Everybody wants stuff that has an existing fanbase. In Atlas Comics, I know it’s been 30, 35 years, but you’re talking about stuff that people really loved back in the ‘70s. There are a lot of people right now who are my age and a little older — I’m in my mid-to-late ‘30s — for whatever reason, in that one year that Atlas Comics was being published, love these characters. It crosses genres, it crosses generations. The timing is shockingly perfect for these characters, and I feel very fortunate to have come across them when I did.
Goodman: One of the other nice things is that many of these characters were originated by comic industry legends. It doesn’t just relate to anyone who read them 35 years ago, it related to current fans of the Ditkos of the world and everybody else who at one time or another wrote for, illustrated for or participated with Atlas.
Nrama: What made you decide on Phoenix and the Grim Ghost as the first two properties to be re-introduced?
Deneen: I feel that right now, people publishing comics, mainstream publishing and Hollywood, everybody wants horror; and sci-fi is very big right now. That’s why I personally was leaning more towards Grim Ghost and Phoenix. There are arguably more popular character — The Destructor, because it was co-created by Steve Ditko — but for me, those two were two that would be very exciting for both comic reading and the eventual Hollywood interest. For me, they seemed like the perfect blend of the commercial and the creative.
Goodman: You had to start somewhere. We weren’t going to come out with 28 different titles in a day. We had to pick somewhere to start, and these were really natural storylines that we thought both were current and particularly relatable to the film industry and what’s going on in pop culture these days.
Nrama: I don’t think it’s a secret that a major motivating factor in revisiting these characters is attempting to expand them into different multimedia platforms, like film.
Goodman: That is certainly part of the attractiveness of it. We had a very, very methodical undertaking in terms of where we were — you have to be willing to, and prepare to, and want to, tell great stories, make great comics and have a good and successful, profitable comic book business.
Deneen: We’re not so cynical where we’re only thinking about the movies and we’re putting out sh*tty comics. The comic books are, first and foremost, the most important thing that we have in terms of this re-launch. We want these to be great comics. If they happen to be great movies and great TV shows, that’s just icing on the cake for us.
Nrama: What’s it meant to have a respected comics veteran like J.M. DeMatteis on board as Ardden editor-in-chief and working on the #0 issues?
Deneen: He’s been editor-in-chief of Ardden since 2007 when we launched. He’s been an important part of our team. Having Jim Krueger co-write Phoenix with me has been huge. Not only for these two titles, but for a number of other titles, we’re in talks for some major, major comic book writers to come on board. Unfortunately, we’re not ready to divulge those names quite yet.
Nrama: Jason, going forward, what’s your role going to be with Atlas Comics? Do you have a title?
Goodman: I’m deeply involved in every aspect — development, marketing, storylines, etc. This is a hands-on endeavor for me; I’m having the time of my life.
This is the comic industry, I don’t want to have anything un-fun like “CEO” [as a title].
Nrama: And Jason, your background is in publishing, but is this your first foray into comics?
Goodman: This is my first foray into comics other than as a comic retailer at my lemonade stand when I was 10 years old on 90th and West End, when I liquidated what might have been one of the world’s most valuable collections, for probably, $20.
I have a lot of publishing experience, but this is my first comic book publishing experience. I’m loving it, I’m totally diving into the pool head-first, right into the deep end. If I had known the comic business was this must fun I would have gotten into it years ago!
Nrama: But it must have been something you grew up with, to an extent, at least.
Goodman: Absolutely. But I think it’s fair to say that sometimes we take our youth for granted. I grew up with a bounty — there were more comic books than I knew what to do with, and it was wonderful — but I don’t think I truly appreciated it, or I wouldn’t have sold them all at my lemonade stand.
I was a wonderful comic book fan when I was very young, and had been away from it for a while, and am just sort of re-discovering, and re-celebrating a lot of what’s cool about comics. And learning a lot.
Nrama: The most surprising part of this might be that there are so many people who appear to remember these comics, when they’re from 35 years ago and existed for such a short time.
Deneen: This happened in the early ‘70s, when there was nothing except Marvel and DC. Nowadays, we have these upstart companies, and it’s like, “here’s another company.” Back then, it was not normal for a third company to come along, and even think to challenge the supremacy of Marvel and DC. And you had these characters that were actually really interesting. And for a minute there, you read some of the press at that time, people were like, “holy sh*t. These guys might actually challenge them.”
They didn’t, ultimately, but at the same time they opened the question that they could, which led to Image. Which led to Dark Horse. Which led to IDW. Which led to BOOM!. This was the original idea — that somebody else could do it, and not be Marvel, and not be DC.