A Top Cow Pilot Season 2008 Wrapup

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In its second year running, the newest Pilot Season initiative brought new characters and concepts to the Top Cow pasture. Five new books launched, with their future in the fans' hands as they vote for which continue. Last year's winners were Cyblade and Velocity, and both have new series debuting later this year. Between those two inaugural winners and this year's crop of five books there's a lot to talk about.

As the final day of voting draws near, Top Cow's Vice President – Editorial Rob Levin came by to talk about this year's crop of books and how Pilot Season came to be.

Newsarama: Let's get right into it, Rob. How are this year's Pilot Season books doing?

Rob Levin: I would say pretty close to fantastic. I can't really look at any of the books and say, "Well, it's too bad we had that weak link in there." I know that's a common knock amongst anthologies, but the same goes for unified launches like this. One bad egg can spoil the whole bunch. Or bushel. Whatever the expression is. We set out to make six great books, and I'm really proud of the teams on all of them really stepping up and helping us deliver just that. We didn't light the sales charts on fire, but we did respectably, especially when considering how afraid of the “new” the market seems to be right now, and the response from fans and especially critics has been great.

NRAMA: Why were these six books chosen?

RL: It all began with looking for books that were unlike the rest of what we were putting out at the time. We have fantasy, slice of life, espionage, socially relevant, mystery, and sci-fi books in the mix this year. And while the majority of our line skews across many genres, the idea was to find something different and unique that didn't just slot in easily with the rest. Essentially to make people stand up and take notice, and to do it with ace creators. Plus, Fialkov is putting my kids through college with all the bribe money he's been paying me for new gigs. Ahem... He's also a fine writer and a generally decent human being.

NRAMA: Thanks Joshua Hale Fialkov, writer of one of last year's winners Cyblade and writer on this year's Alibi.

Last year's Pilot Season was all about reviving some Top Cow characters. This year is different – why is that?

RL: We have enough properties that we've developed over the years to the point where we could just revive, rebrand and reboot old characters and titles for a few more seasons if we wanted. But the one thing that we really focus on is generating new ideas and telling new stories. We don't rest on our laurels, and that's why you're always going to see new, original books at Top Cow. That doesn't mean we're not going to keep the other books fresh (I mean, look at The Darkness right now and tell me it's not a complete reinvention of the title while staying true to the crux of what makes that book what it is), but it means we don't want to sit here and recycle the same stories over and over again until it becomes continuity porn.

For my money, creators get more excited when working on original properties than they do on Work-for-hire gigs. That's not to say it's not a dream of many to tackle a childhood icon, or work on the book that got you into comics in the first place, but there's something genuinely special about building a world and populating it with characters all your own. It's why so many creators always talk about their creator-owned ideas, and how they're just waiting for the right time or financial situation to make it happen.

As I'm a huge proponent of the “new,” I'm always asking people what they want to do next if they had their druthers, and accepting way more pitches than any one man should reasonably take on. This year's Pilot Season allowed us to put out 5 new and one re-imagined but essentially new books. From a creative standpoint, it's a dream to get to work on this many new titles.

NRAMA: Look at this year's crop of creators working on Pilot Season, what was it like working with them since they'd see Pilot Season 1 play out?

RL: Last year it was all about friendships. This year, knee-capping. They had a chance to sit back and see how the game was played. There wasn't anyone we went to who didn't think, "I've got an angle. I can win this." Last year most everything was confined to individual efforts - mailing lists, MySpace pages, etc. This year we've seen guest blogging on the PS page, facebook groups, a creator-organized signing in NY, more mailing lists, some viral marketing (yes, those of you who have seen Troy Hickman dressed as Twilight Guardian know what I'm talking about), and more. That's not to say we haven't put our own marketing efforts behind it, but it's pretty cool watching everyone really fight for their books. They know what's at stake, and it all comes down to that same passion I mentioned earlier.

NRAMA: What happens to the top two vote-getters in this year's contest?

RL: Well, from our end they get a new series out of it. But seeing how gung-ho all the creators have been... I'd be more scared to win than I would be to lose. Do you have any idea what Marc and Adam and Afua (the geniuses behind Genius) are capable of? Everything in that book could happen, so imagine what they'd do to someone who took their spot...

NRAMA: What about the other four?

RS: There's nothing to say we won't eventually do more with any of the series that are not picked up, but our goal right now is to keep doing Pilot Season and testing the waters for what readers want to see more of, and giving them that. In the future, who knows what will happen? Maybe we'll run a "On the Bubble" campaign and bring back some of the "other four" (nice PC term for those who lose...). I don't think in the two years we've been doing it that there's been a stinker. I'd be more than happy to see any of the books from last year or this year get some more life breathed into them.

NRAMA: At San Diego when asked about Necromancer from last year's Pilot Season, Matt Hawkins mentioned that although it didn't make the final two it was being considered as prose novels. Is there that potential to take any of the Pilot Season books to prose, tv, movies, games or what-not?

RL: Absolutely yes. None of these are properties that are being killed.

NRAMA: The PETC (People For The Ethical Treatment of Comics) will be relieved. Tell us more.

RL: Necromancer seems an easy fit for the prose market because Joshua Ortega, the writer and co-creator, was a novelist before he found his way into comics. It's a form he's comfortable with, and given the genre and the scope of the story we want to tell, prose might actually end up being a more fitting home for the title. I think if we had our way and there was a way not to dilute the project, everything that needed 30 or 40 issues to be told properly would get it. But we are dealing with the realities of the market and the costs involved with making comics (not to mention the time).

As for ancillary media beyond publishing, absolutely. We'll be looking to adapt the books to other media for sure, but we wouldn't be doing it without having something we felt was a great book and a great concept to begin with. If it doesn't stand on its own, there's really no point in trying to shop it to an alternate market and medium.

NRAMA: Let's back up and talk big picture. Pilot Season has caught on well with readers, but what was the original reason for doing Pilot Season?

RL: Pilot Season grew out of two different things we wanted to do. Keep books from going five or 10 years between stories, and to do more original stories. I think as we were talking about this and the market shifted into a very stratified, very continuity-affected or brand-recognizable state, we saw it was becoming increasingly harder to launch new books, especially with up-and-coming talent. Pilot Season grew out of necessity more than anything else and it allows us to take more chances, both with subject matter and style, than perhaps we would be able to do normally. We are committed to new books and ideas. That's not going to change. We just want to find the best delivery method to the readers, that gives the books the best chance at life.

NRAMA: And last year's Pilot Season winners – Cyblade and Velocity – how have their upcoming debuts been working out?

RL: Cyblade will be up first in October, and the original team of Joshua Hale Fialkov, Rick Mays, and Guru-eFX are back, along with Sal Regla on inks. It's been kind of like putting on a glove, and it fits perfectly. We've all gotten right back in sync despite some time off since the pilot. I think that time has been good for everyone to look at the book with an objective eye, and rather than just settle for what people liked about it, we're pushing and reaching and getting better. It's going to be good. But then again, Josh might have paid me to say that...

Velocity we had to shift the schedule around a little bit on to accommodate everyone, but ChrisCross is stepping in for Kevin Maguire on pencils and... He's come with a fire and intensity about the project that's a little bit scary. I would think an industry vet who's been around as long as Cross might come to a project and just say, "I'm a professional, this is a job, they know what I do," but I've had none of that from him. He's looking to show people things they've never seen from him, things they've never seen in a book about a speedster, and generally just blow people's minds. And Joe Casey's story is allowing him to do just that. They had been itching to work together for a long time, and I think they're both out to top what the other is bringing. They're going to leave a lot of people in the dust when this one's done.

NRAMA: Anything you'd like to add?

RL: Don't forget to vote for your favorite Pilot Season 2008 book right now!

Voting for Top Cow's Pilot Season 2008 ends September 8th, 2008. Check back with Newsarama next week where we will present all six Pilot Season 2 comics in full - one a day, starting Monday.

Related:

Jay Faerber on Pilot Season: Urban Legends

Joshua Hale Fialkov on Pilot Season: Alibi

Bernardin & Freeman on Pilot Season: Genius

Joe Casey on Velocity

Joshua Hale Fialkov on Cyblade

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