Top Cow in '09 - Hunter-Killer, Magdalena & More

Darkness #75 (#10) by Michael Broussard Darkness #75 (#10) by Michael Broussard

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 Filip Sablik.

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 back in.

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?

Witchblade #125

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.

Witchblade #124

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, correct?

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 MiragePaul [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?

Darkness #75

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 stuff.

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.

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