Answers to Questions: Filip Sablik on Pilot Season

concept art by Marc Silvestri for this year's Pilot Season

Earlier this week, the news broke that this year, for their Pilot Season competition, Top Cow would be turning over the battle of the books to two creators – Robert Kirkman and Marc Silvestri.

Together the two would, according to Top Cow, develop five new ideas, and each of which will see print as a one-shot, with fans voting on their favorite. That favorite will see life again.

However, with the news of the third Pilot Season outing, there were some questions – to date, only one of the previous two Pilot Season winners (four total) have seen their full miniseries ship. How will this new Season work, and where are the previous winners? We spoke with Top Cow Publisher Filip Sablik to find out.

Newsarama: Filip - the news about the third installment of Pilot Season contest has broken, with all of the new projects being developed by Robert Kirkman and Marc Silvestri. Can you explain why you chose this direction?

Filip Sablik: Robert actually approached us with this idea. He's a guy full of ideas and a limited number of hours in the idea to get those ideas out on paper. He wanted to put some ideas out into the world and we had a built in promotion to do just that without him necessarily committing to five more ongoing series. It's the beauty of Pilot Season - it leaves the decision to the fans and whatever they want, they'll get more of. Robert and Marc have also been wanting to work together for some time and this seemed like a great opportunity for two creative minds to collaborate and bring out the best in each other.

Plus let's be honest, Kirkman and Silvestri on Pilot Season makes for a pretty nice headline, doesn't it?

NRAMA: So how will the work break down? Will Robert write all five books, with Marc on covers, or will writers and artists be brought in and handed the ideas?

FS: Robert and Marc are co-creating all five ideas. Some of them started as a germ of an idea with Robert and some started as a kernel from Marc. Marc is bringing his great design sensibilities to the equation and between the two of them they are fleshing out the basic concepts and story beats and world. From there Robert will write all five "pilot issues" and we'll bring in five different art teams to bring them to reality.

NRAMA: What's the scope of the projects this time out? One of the main strengths of Pilot Season was that the diversity of creators allowed for a diversity of projects and voices. Doesn't the same team developing all of them limit that?

More Silvestri art

FS: I think it's safe to say that the two guys who brought you The Walking Dead, Invincible, Cyberforce, Witchblade, and Hunter-Killer have some variety hidden up their sleeves. These will be coming from the same two creative voices, but both Robert and Marc have a track record of creating new and innovative concepts that are unique from each other so I'm not terribly worried about that. And the art teams will also bring their own voice to the process. The whole thing is a very collaborative process and I think that will show in the final product.

NRAMA: With the news of the third Pilot Season outing, many folks have had questions about the previous Pilot Season books - can you give a status update on what is it - the missing issues from Season One and the winners from Season Two?

FS: Sure. Let's run down the list of Pilot Season winners:

Cyblade: one of our 2007 winners. We released the first four issue arc by Joshua Hale Fialkov at the beginning of 2008. The series launched with the original pilot issue artist, Rick Mays on the series, but unfortunately Rick had other obligations that prevented him from completing the series. We worked with him as best as we could, but in the end decided to bring on Lee Ferguson to finish out the series. We would have loved to do more, but unfortunately the sales for the series weren't where we needed them to be to continue with further stories. Cyblade is going to play a vital role in this summer's Cyberforce/Hunter-Killer series and I hope she's a character we get to revist on a solo basis in the future.

Top Cow's Velocity
Top Cow's Velocity

Velocity: the other 2007 winner. This series is unfortunately "missing in action". We started working on the series with the original Pilot Season writer Joe Casey with the best of intentions. We couldn't secure original artist Kevin Maguire so we brought in ChrisCross, who was Joe's top choice for artists and Snakebite on colors. We actually had the first entire issue complete and a script in for the second issue along with some art in progress when we ran into a disagreement in how the first story arc should proceed. Joe had a direction he wanted to go in, which we didn't agree with and truthfully wasn't something we felt represented Velocity (as a company owned character) in the best way. We tried to work it out with Joe, but reached an impasse and everyone decided it was best if Joe walked away from the series. It's a damn shame too, because as any publisher can tell you it's never an easy financial decision to have an entire issue plus completed and not be able to put it out. At the end of the day though, we can't afford to put out a comic we're not completely happy with. We're still looking into how best to retool Velocity and hope to be able to update the fans in the near future. Again Velocity is going to play a vital role in this summer's Cyberforce/Hunter-Killer series and I hope she's a character we get to revist on a solo basis in the future.

Twilight Guardian: We've been working behind the scenes with creator and writer Troy Hickman to get together an outline for the first story arc that everyone is happy with. Troy is hard at work on it and we'll hopefully be able to get a script going in the very near future and have the series out before too long. If nothing else, Pilot Season is a darn fine example of just how long it takes to develop a fully formed comic series from start to finish.

Bernardin & Freeman on Genius
Bernardin & Freeman on Genius

Genius: Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman have completed two issues and are hard at work on the third script now. Afua Richardson is working on the first issue art and folks can see a five page preview of Genius #1 (at no additional cost) in Witchblade #128, which came out this past week. Destiny's story is one of my favorites and I can't wait to see fans reactions as they learn more about her.

Pilot Season is a new and ever evolving process for us. It has definitely taken us longer than expected to get some of these series going and we know fans want to see more of their favorite series, but we want to make sure these series are the best we can make them.

NRAMA: But still – two contests, millions of votes online, four winning titles, and none of them have run a completed miniseries. Was this just a grim reality thing where the premise didn’t work out in the reality of today’s market – were they affected by Diamond’s new cutoff numbers?

FS: There is a certain amount of grim reality in that retailers are ordering more conservatively and it's a crowded market, but that's the case whenever you launch a new property in a market like this. We're fortunate in that retailers have been supportive of Top Cow over the years and continue to be, so Diamond's new cutoff numbers don't really affect us.

NRAMA: Did the creators who were asked to enter know that this was a possibility, that is, that despite getting loads of votes, their books still might not come out?

We promised the creators that we would release the winning series and that is still the plan.

NRAMA: That said, when can we expect to see the missing Pilot Season books?

FS: I believe both Genius and Twilight Guardian are looking strong for 2010 releases, but it's still a little early for me to commit to an exact release month. Velocity is something I'll have to update you on once we have a clear direction.

NRAMA: Give what you just explained, will the third Pilot Season winning books see anything more than their initial offering?

FS: We're getting a little wiser in knowing not to bite off more than we can chew, so for 2009 there will be five pilot issues and one winning series. And yes, Robert has committed to writing the winning series and we're committed to publishing it.

NRAMA: And just to nail down the last detail, when is Pilot Season 3 slated to begin?

FS: We'll be launching this October.

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