Back in October, Newsarama talked with Ardden Entertainment co-president Brendan Deneen about their acquisition of the Atlas Comics properties — a short-lived but fondly remembered '70s publisher that included contributions from the likes of Neal Adams, Alex Toth and Steve Ditko, among other notable names.Now, a little more than six months later, we're checking back in with Deneen in an email interview about the status of the Atlas revival — three titles have debuted thus far, Grim Ghost, Phoenix and Phoenix — and the overall state of the company, which celebrated its third anniversary this month.
Newsarama: Brendan, with Ardden at the three-year mark, what do you see at this point as the company's niche in the comic book industry? I imagine the identity has changed a bit recently, given the influx of the Atlas titles — in fact, all your releases solicited for July were Atlas titles.
Brendan Deneen: Our niche seems to be twofold at the moment. We’re already known for taking older properties and updating them in a way that is both faithful to the source material but also exciting for a 21st century audience. The critical response to our reboots of Flash Gordon, Casper the Friendly Ghost, and the Atlas books proves that.But we’re also expanding now into original content. We’ve got a number of amazing books in the pipeline, which include: Minx, a female-driven supernatural thriller; Comeback Kings, a dark action satire starring Bruce Lee, Elvis, Jim Morrison, and many other celebrities you only thought were dead; The Devil Comes to Dreary, a really cool horror-western; We Can Never Go Home Again a teenage superhero action/adventure love story; Mixtape, an “indie-style” book that’s a love letter to 1990s music and culture; and The Stand-In, a political thriller. It’s true that July is an “Atlas-only” month, but September will see the release of our third Flash Gordon arc, "The Vengeance of Ming." That leads into our fourth and final six-issue arc, "King of the Impossible." Several of our original books are slated for the fall as well, and you should be seeing Atlas Unified this fall as well, which will showcase the first-ever team-up of the Atlas characters. Oh, and we just branched out into fiction. Our first e-novella, another dark satire called Vatican Assassin Warlock is available on Amazon. It stars Charlie Sheen as an actual warlock, who's an assassin for the Vatican. His partners are two literal Goddesses. I co-wrote the novella with novelist Max Brallier. We took the subject matter very seriously… it reads like an urban fantasy… and of course, there's a lot of humor from taking the subject matter so seriously.
Nrama: The initial announcement or Ardden working with Atlas properties got a lot of publicity, even from non-comics press like Deadline. Now that the Atlas revival is in full swing, what's the internal assessment on how things have gone? Have the comics thus far performed to your expectations?
Deneen: The Atlas books are going really well in my estimation. We’ve had a few hiccups along the way, which is always frustrating, but the critical response has been almost universally positive. But it’s a challenge because we’re fundamentally trying to please two separate audiences: people who read these books as kids (myself included) and people who have never heard of them until now. We’re hoping to drive sales further up… it’s a tough time to be an indie publisher in this industry… but the re-orders have been shockingly good. I think people are finding the books and falling in love with them. Jason Goodman, who is the grandson of the founder of Marvel Comics, is in this for the long haul. We have some pretty grand plans for the Atlas universe.
Nrama: Also, based on our original interview back in October on the subject, part of the appeal of the Atlas characters were their potential viability in movie or TV adaptation — though there's probably not a lot concrete you can say about the subject at this point, has the needle moved forward in that regard at all?
Deneen: Yes, we are in active talks with a number of producer and studios. But it's a long process. I've been working in the film/TV industry for over a decade… including executive stints with über-producer Scott Rudin, and at Miramax and Dimension Films… and it's almost never an "overnight" thing. We are actively pursuing this avenue for both the Atlas books and our other original titles. I've also been in on-again off-again talks with the producers of the Flash Gordon movie, which is still in development.
Nrama: Another piece of news was Mike Grell coming on board as editor-in-chief in December. What kind of impact has he had on the company thus far?
Deneen: It's next-to-impossible to quantify the impact of this kind of thing. That being said, Mike Grell is a legend in this industry. He's someone I grew up reading and admiring, and when I start representing him (when I was a film agent), it was one of the "pinch me" moments. I was representing Mike, J.M. DeMatteis and Kurt Busiek, among others, and it was a dream come true. But then you have to get over it and… you know… represent the hell out of them.
But I digress. Mike has already brought some great story notes to the table and I expect him to get even more involved as we get up and running with him as EIC. We're kind of entering "Ardden 2.0" this year, and I see Mike as a central part of this new company growth.
Nrama: One of the steadiest titles for Ardden has been Flash Gordon, and I know Dynamite is producing a comic starring the character starting in the fall. How do you see that move affecting your product?
Deneen: As you might guess, I wasn't pleased when I found out about this. I was not informed by the licensor and I made sure to make my displeasure known to both them and to Dynamite as well. While Dynamite had the legal "right" to do this, I still think it was dirty pool. If I knew someone else had the license to a character like this, I would never, ever go after it. Even if I thought someone else might still have it, I would reach out to them first and ask. It's baffling to me. I don't understand that kind of absolute disregard for someone else's business/company. This industry is a fairly small one... while we are all competitors, we should be looking out for each other to some extent and not actively looking to screw each other over.
As for how it affects our version, I think and hope we'll be okay. The response to our version has been amazing. And I think that's because I am hewing so closely to the stories, concepts and characters from Alex Raymond's original comic strips. I mean, Dynamite will probably have ten different Alex Ross variant covers, which will be amazing, of course, and will help their sales, but I think our stories will blow theirs out of the water. Our Flash Gordon trades constantly outsell their Buck Rogers trades on Amazon. I'm just sayin'.
Nrama: You mentioned that it's a "tough time" to be an indie publisher. In an environment where even the top-selling books are only selling a fraction of what they used to, what kind of challenges are Ardden navigating in the current market?
Deneen: It's tough. Really tough. But we're finding creative ways to stay alive. Digital comics are a huge part of the future of this industry. And of course, there are film and TV sales, as previously discussed. We're trying to stay small and nimble, and only put out great books. I don't think we've put out a single book that I'm not proud of.
Nrama: And with three years down, what are the immediate goals for Ardden as a publisher? Where do you want the company to be?
Deneen: While we're really proud of the last three years, my immediate goal is to get books out more consistently. I know we've been plagued with lateness on most of our books, and that drives me crazy. But Rich and I are doing the work of a much larger company. We both have full-time jobs, not to mention the fact that we both have kids. That being said, we're doing our best to streamline our development and production process. That's my main goal for the next year. Get our books out in a more regular fashion. Oh, and complete world domination.
Nrama: OK, final question — what's up with Ardden's website? It doesn't appear to have been updated in months.
Deneen: That's another of our goals! Again, [Ardden co-president Richard Emms] and I are stretched pretty thin but we are committed to getting caught up on everything, including the website. Rich also runs the Atlas site, and he's designing and lettering all of our books, so he's got his hands full. But our fourth year is going to be dedicated to getting caught up on all of this.
Finally, I want to thank any and all fans of our books. If you've bought all of our comics or even just one issue, we appreciate your support and interest. I grew up loving comic books and it is a dream come true to be writing and publishing them. We're not a perfect company, we know that… but we love comic books and we want to put out comics that are fun, entertaining and fresh. As mentioned earlier, it's not easy being a small comic book company in this day and age, but we are having a blast!!Visit Newsarama on FACEBOOK and TWITTER and tell us what you think!