How do you follow-up from a line-up of books dreamt up by Robert Kirkman and Marc Silvestri?
That was the question before Top Cow Publisher Filip Sablik and his team as he set out to define the 2010 iteration of the popular comics competition series Pilot Season. For the past four years, Top Cow has released a line-up of standalone titles by an assortment of creators that are put side-by-side and voted on amongst fans to see which of each year’s groupings most deserves a chance at a full-fledged series. With the last competition, superstar writer Robert Kirkman came on board to dream up five titles and partnered with comics legend and Top Cow founder Marc Silvestri to create and design the books. While those books were hitting shelves, Sablik and crew were already thinking of what to do next.
In this year’s Pilot Season, Top Cow has assembled a diverse and unique line-up of concepts, characters and creators for five first issues and one guaranteed chance for a miniseries. In previous years the entrants were released over the course of several months, but with this year’s group they’re coming out in back-to-back weeks starting this week. Pilot Season: 39 Minutes came out last week, with four more titles to follow at a brisk pace leading to a two-week voting window in November where scores will be settled, votes will be counted and a single winner crowned.
While we’re not sure there’s a crown for the Pilot Season winner, Newsarama wrangled in Filip Sablik, who in addition to being Top Cow’s publisher, is also a participant in this year’s competition as writer of the one-shot The Asset. Also, stay tuned as we’ll talk to each title’s creative team about their respective books, but first we wanted hear from man putting the whole line-up together.Newsarama: There’s a lot of interesting aspects to this year’s group, Filip, so let’s get started. One of the things that jumps out to me most about this year’s books is the schedule – back-to-back weekly from beginning to end. I know you had some trouble with the release schedule of previous years, but why’d you choose this grueling of a release schedule?
Filip Sablik: Each year we’re learning new things from fans, retailers and even reporters, to help us to refine the process. One of the things we definitely picked up on is having the books’ releases staggered apart from one another disadvantages the books that come out first. It became more confusing and harder on the fans to give each book a level playing field.
By doing them as weekly promotion for 6 back-to-back weeks, people will really be keep their anticipation and excitement high. For creators, it’s a more concerted time window to do promotion. It kicked off with the release of Pilot Season: 39 Minutes this week, and will run the five other titles over the next five weeks. In November we’ll open up a two week voting window for readers.
Nrama: You said you learned new things – what else did you improve on from previous years?
Sablik: Well, the most obvious would be planning further ahead. Making sure once we do greenlight a project, the creators have the time to in the schedule ro rock and roll. We really enjoyed the heck out of Robert Kirkman coming in and doing those stand-alone issues with Marc Silvestri in the last Pilot Season; it gave it a real unified presence. But besides that, we got a lot of feedback that readers enjoyed the previous years with six unique teams and six unique genres, with vastly different looks and flavors to choose from. Never say never, but we’ll probably stick with different creative teams from now on and explore as many different ideas as possible.
Another thing we learned is how long it takes us to spool up the winners from each year into the miniseries. Quality is the hallmark of our brand, but the creators can’t start – the writer or the artist – until they know they’ve won; until the votes are counted and verified. But once the winners are determined, we begin the planning process – from seeing If the original creators are available and can work it into their schedule, to breaking down the concept into a sustainable long-term story. There’s been a learning process dealing with previous years’ winners, and I think with us starting to get the backlog turned around and out the door – like the Velocity series – we can better gage what it takes to kick it off.
Right now we’re working on getting both Genius and Twilight Guardian series ready for a 2011 debut.
And the third big thing we learned is its smart just to have one winner – one clear winner. But just because something doesn’t win doesn’t mean we won’t do it – the winner is guaranteed, but the others might return as well. But focusing on one winner is better logistically, to put twice as much effort than splitting it between two books.
Nrama: I see a lot of new faces in this year's line-up. How'd the find these talents and these books?
Sablik: In some cases, we didn’t find them – they found us. We’ve never done a big call out to the creative community for pitches. A lot of it is creators who have reached out to us – creators we have worked with in the past. This year’s writing team for Pilot Season: 7 Days From Hell, Bryan Edward Hill and Rob Levin, worked with us on Trinity: Pandora’s Box. They actually turned in this pitch for the Pilot Season book before Pandora’s Box, and I really loved it – as did Matt Hawkins.
And William Harms who’s writing Pilot Season: 39 Minutes we already worked with previously with Impaler. For him, he was wrapping up that series and we asked him ‘what else do you have?’ so he pitched us 39 Minutes.
And I’ve got a story called The Asset that’ll be a Pilot Season book this year.
With Forever, Matt Hawkins had been carrying it around and read a spec screenplay by a guy named Brad Inglesby and thought it was brilliant. Although Brad’s never done comics before, Matt reached out to him about coming onboard and developing the concept for Forever into a Pilot Season book.
And Marc Silvestri has had the idea for Crosshair bouncing around for a number of years, and Pilot Season seemed like a good way to introduce that. Maybe he got bit by a bug from working with Robert Kirkman with the last Pilot Season set of books. So Marc mentions this to Jeff Katz, who shares office space with us with his company American Originals, and Jeff came back to him with a bunch of ideas. Jeff was real eager to get back to writing comics, and it all fell into place.
It all fell together pretty seamlessly, and we’re already working on what we’ll do for 2011. We spoke with several writers at San Diego, and also reached out to writers who’re currently working with us to be involved.
Nrama: I also notice a broader diversity of stories and genres with this than past books – Forever really stands out. What's the origin of this broader landscape of titles? Did you set out to be more deserve, or did it just come through in the pitches?
Sablik: A little bit of both. This year we really looked at Pilot Season as an opportunity to produce things that don’t fit into the traditional Top Cow U brand. So we actively looked for things that didn’t fit into the same universe as Witchblade, the Darkness, Cyberforce or Hunter/Killer. Another thing we did intentionally is mix up the genres for each book – we didn’t want to have five sci-fi books or five horror books. Looking back at previous Pilot Season years, one of the things we enjoyed about the second one was how diverse the offerings were.
But that’s not to say we won’t do two ideas if they’re in the same genre. This year, we have two books that are both espionage-related: Crosshair and The Asset. But Crosshair is more of a conspiracy, while The Asset is espionage tinged with romance. There’s a juxtaposition there different enough o put them in the same line-up.
Nrama: You're wearing many hats here – editor, publisher, and your finally doing some writing. I've seen you do some writing and drawing for other publishers, so what took so long to get something going at Top Cow with The Asset?
Sablik: Doing this book has probably been one of the most gratifying and exciting things I’ve been able to do. The invitation by Matt Hawkins to contribute was a real show of confidence for me on his part. I’ve written some things in the past, but this is the first time I’ve done something on this level and it’s very exciting. It’s always exciting to see new artwork come in as an editor on the book, but when you’re the writer it’s a whole new level.
Nrama: Finally, what will the voting process be like for this round of Pilot Season?
Sablik: Voting process will be online after the final issue is released. There will be voting on Topcow.com in a similar fashion to previous years, as well as sites like Newsarama.com, Previewsworld.com and a number of digital comics partners as well.Which Pilot Season book are you most excited for?