Christian Beranek cares about comics. And he wants you to as well. Beranek’s been involved in comics for years from many angles. He’s been a writer, he’s been in publishing, he’s been in film... he’s been, above all things, involved. And now, he’s pushing activism in terms of demanding a fair price-to-page ratio and accessible content. But before we get to the movement that Beranek is trying to foster, it’s important that we establish his origins and cover some important moments, like his involvement in Kingdom Comics. So, from Dracula and King Arthur to Max Payne and Disney, here’s Christian Beranek.Newsarama: How do you first get into comics as a fan?
Christian Beranek: When I was about 5 or so my family was stationed in West Germany. The PX store on base had loads of comics on the racks. I loved Star Wars and am pretty sure the first comic I bought was Issue 27 "Return of the Hunter". I also remember reading one of the Batman digest books and there was this incredible Jim Aparo drawn story inside.
I was hooked.
A few years later back in the states I used to go to the local Kwik Mart (which is still there) in Glenwood, Iowa and buy comics off the rack. Then, at the People's grocery store I came across an issue of Saga of the Swamp Thing. I was very intrigued and asked the owner if she could order more of this title. She looked into it but had a hard time getting more issues. It had appeared randomly with their shipment.
So of course I had to investigate where I could find back issues and then discovered there were these places known as Local Comic Stores (LCS) -- places that specialized in selling these things! I had to find one and quickly looked in the phone book. I saw a listing for a store in Omaha called Dragon's Lair (also still there).
Kids these days have the internet. It's easier for them to find all this info out. This was 1986, you had to work for that knowledge. You had to look in phone books, make calls, look at maps and wait for your mom to drive you there.
When my mom and I pulled up to the store it was this little place in a strip mall. She was actually kinda nervous letting me go in there because it was kinda dark and dusty. But I knew wonders awaited! It was there I discovered not only a bunch of Swamp Thing back issues, but The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen.
I loved Watchmen so much I wanted to call Alan Moore and tell him. Granted, this is me as a 12 year old kid -- I thought it would be entirely possible to do so. So I saved up some coins, rode my bike down to a pay phone and asked the operator if there was an Alan Moore in Northampton, England.
I didn't reach him but think I may have woken up some other poor guy in the UK.
Somewhere down the road I saw a sign for a convention at the shop. I once again convinced my mom to take me. It was there I picked up my first "creator owned" book. It was called Tales from the Aniverse and artist Randy Zimmerman signed it. It was the first time I had ever met anyone who actually made these things.
That experience and the realization that you could do comics independently had a huge effect on me. In fact it was then that I started writing and drawing my own comics.Nrama: Tell us about your beginnings with Silent Devil.
Beranek: I stopped reading comics for awhile back in 1991 so I missed the boom. I had started dating girls and I'd rather spend my money on them rather than comics! Haha What got me back in was the Age of Apocalypse. I bought every single last issue and even went to a big signing with several of the writers and artists at Another Universe near DC.
Then I fell in love with Preacher and discovered early Warren Ellis.
I was hooked again.
After I graduated university in 1996 I moved to Chicago and quickly got a pull list going at Graham Crackers. It was fun going in to the shop every Wednesday. The store clerks were pretty good about recommending not only Big 2 titles but a bunch of other stuff as well. They were the ones who turned me onto a new writer named Brian Bendis.
Somewhere during this time I got a crazy notion: I can make comics. Hell, I did it before when I was kid. This time they would be even better and people might actually read them!
I often quip "I want to draw badly and I do draw badly". The only way I was going to be able to create comics was to write them and collaborate with artists. But this was 1996 and there weren't 1% of the resources people have these days. Where do you find artists to work with and how the hell do you produce the books and get them out there?
It was back to conventions. Answers would lie there.
At the restaurant I was working at I met a guy named David Fairley who shared many of the same interests. We decided to partner up to make our own comic and called it Silent Devils. We attended conventions and asked as many questions as we could. Back then it seemed that the medium was more nurturing to new talent.
My brother Adam Beranek, who was also interested comics, and I reconnected in 2000 and we developed a business plan to start an independent company to showcase our work. We named it Silent Devil after David and I's comic. In 2002 we finally released our first books.
A few years in we decided to expand and publish work by other people. We offered fair terms to creators and were able to put out such titles as Runes of Ragnan, Death Comes to Dillinger, The Devil's Panties and many many more. It amazes me how productive we were. We clearly all loved what were we doing but sadly love does not pay the bills.
We were able to do some consulting work and optioned a few properties to help supplement sales. We may have been over ambitious, however, in terms of expansion and over idealistic in terms of how well we would do. We never got into serious trouble, but we were never ever truly ahead.
When we closed up shop in 2008 we were about 70k in debt. I am still working to pay off those last few bills and appreciate the patience people have showed. Not a fun thing to go through but what's right is right.
Despite how it ended I am proud of what we accomplished. Many creators got their first real break with us, including talented folk such as Chris Moreno, James Patrick, Jennie Breeden and on and on.
I think we made a difference in the comic industry in our own small way and had some amazing adventures.Nrama: Is it fair to say that Dracula vs. King Arthur was your breakthrough book? Tell us about that experience.
Beranek: Well I still think I'm looking for that breakthrough book! Haha But Dracula vs. King Arthur did receive a good bit of attention and readers and critics alike responded favorably. It certainly opened up a lot of doors for me in terms of getting other work.
My brother Adam came up with the idea in early 2000 while he was bored at his job. He originally called it "A Vampire in King Arthur's Court" and wrote an outline and then eventually a script.
I have a degree in film with a minor in Medieval Literature so I was very intrigued by the idea. He asked me to come on board and help him write the next draft.
We started a search for the perfect artist. At the infamous 2003 Las Vegas Extrosion convention Chris Moreno brought by his portfolio. He has some striking Batman sequential samples that really won us over.
We commenced work and in 2004 released a poster one year in advance of the scheduled debut of the book. We felt that getting a head start on marketing was key as we were up against so many other titles, particularly those from the Big 2. They were starting to do loads of event comics, choking the shelves and pushing us indies way to the side.
But we were determined to at least make a dent. We cracked the Top 300 on each issue and sold out of the trade and hardcover. Not bad for some upstarts with a dream!
We were the first to do motion comics in the modern digital era. Issue 1 was produced by Comflix Studios using an original soundtrack and top notch voice actors.
Currently Dracula vs. King Arthur is in development as a feature film. We have a solid director on board and a take we like. In addition the book is available for download on iTunes, the Nook, Kindle Fire and other platforms. We're also pushing to get a 10th Anniversary Edition out in print for 2015.
The book never dies, much like Dracula himself!
Nrama: After that you did some projects with different publishers, including some licensed work. How did the Se7en issue come about?Beranek: That was a long hard fought assignment. I was brought on board by Zenescope a few months after they launched to run their marketing. They had a good base already thanks to their Grimm Fairy Tales series and I enjoyed helping build their audience.
They had a in with New Line Cinema and did good work on a Final Destination comic. They gunned for the license for Se7en and got it. From there we all pow wowed on creative dream teams for each issue.
I wanted in as this was a chance at comic book and film history.
I came up with a take for the origin story for John Doe and collaborated with Adam Beranek and Zenescope head honchos Joe Brusha and Ralph Tedesco. We slated it for Issue #4: Lust which was to be the middle chapter of the series.
I won't go into a lot of details, but it was a difficult process. New Line took special interest in this particular chapter and in the end we gave them what they wanted. After #1 it was the highest selling single issue of the series.
I feel honored to be associated with it and appreciate Zenescope and New Line for giving me the opportunity.
Nrama: What's the story behind Willow Creek? Is there more of that to be seen?Beranek: I'd love to finish the series. I know my co-creators Denny Williams and Josh Medors feel the same way.
We had a good thing going back in 2008 when we first started. Issue #1 sold well over 7000 copies. But we had some differences with the publisher Zenescope on how business and marketing should be handled. And then Josh found out he had cancer so obviously our priorities shifted. We had to take a break to give him a chance to battle back and recently he has shown a lot of progress.
The book is free and clear of any commitments so maybe we'll talk to interested parties and see what we can work out.
Nrama: You've done a couple of stories for Outlaw Territory. What are your feelings on the anthology format? Is that a neglected area in comics today?
Beranek: I am a huge fan of the format and was thrilled to be a part of Outlaw Territory. Editor Michael Woods did a terrific job putting that project together and is a fantastic writer in his own right.
I sadly don't think anthologies get the attention they deserve. Kudos to Image for taking chances on them. They're a great way to showcase up coming talent alongside industry pros. I'd like to see the big names promote their appearances in these books more, however. The American comic fanbase (at least in print) seems to driven by which creators they enjoy reading. Maybe if they knew some of their favorites were in these volumes they'd pick them up.Nrama: Tell us about LeadPipe and The Webcomic Factory.
Beranek: Lead Pipe Entertainment is my own production company. It's home for all of my creator-owned projects and film/tv work. I also do travel logues and short films with director/editor Ben Meares via our YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/leadpipeent.
The Webcomic Factory is a site I co-founded with Tony DiGerolamo in 2010. We deliver a new comic every day of the week including Saturday and Sunday. I used to be involved more in the day to day aspects of the site but had to take a step back to focus on my own writing. Tony D continues to do a wonderful job. He's one of the most professional people I've ever worked with.
We've gathered together quite a few talented artists at The Factory, including Tom Kurzanski, Dave Windett, Alfa Robbi, Fernando Sosa, Nicholas Raimo, Greg Eales and many others. With this roster a huge volume of work has been compiled. When you're doing a page a day it adds up fast.
Our future plans include putting together compilations of storylines and expanding opportunities for the sponsors who help keep the site running.
Webcomics are an amazing avenue for independent creators. I also recommend that the bigger companies beef up their presence there, as well. I've consulted and helped launch a few of them and am more than happy to work with interested parties to help them achieve their web and digital goals.
Nrama: How did you get involved with Contropussy?Beranek: Emma Caulfield and Camilla Rantsen came into my office at Disney and pitched some ideas. They had a short animatic for Contropussy and I could clearly see it was a smart, edgy and funny premise. Kinda like a female version of Fritz the Cat. But I could also tell it was not right for the Mouse House.
I suggested they speak with Christian Meesey, the lead artist on David Fairley and I's comic 20% (about a restaurant in Hell.) Meesimo (as we call him) was totally into it and we started production right away.
The ladies thankfully kept me on board as editor/production manager and we have a deal set to print the collected edition of the series sometime next year.
The entire Contropussy creative team has reunited for a new webcomic called Ripped. I'm not involved in that one but am happily reading each new page as it debuts.
Nrama: With Raven Gregory, you did an animated graphic novel that accompanied the Max Payne film. Describe how that project got going.
Beranek: The guys at Comflix contacted me to write a motion comic prequel for the movie Babylon A.D. Dennis Calero provided killer art on that and it was a great creative experience. It ended up on the Blu Ray edition of the DVD.
A few months later when the offer to do a motion comic prequel for Max Payne came along I wanted to bring Raven Gregory in as a co-writer. He not only is a huge fan of the game but also writes down n' gritty cop and thriller stuff very well.
I love it when I get a chance to collaborate with Raven because he loves the creative process so much. I mean, we can be on the phone for hours just discussing how our favorite comics are paced. He truly loves the medium and has reverence for all of the greats. He's probably the purest comic book writer I know.
We worked together again on the motion comic Dropper and did a series outline and a script of the first issue of a horror project I'd like to revisit down the road.Nrama: Kingdom Comics. People are still curious about what happened there. What can you tell us?
Beranek: Where to begin.
That was such a crazy ride. I moved out to Los Angeles in 2005 with a few boxes of comics, a few hundred bucks and dream. Three years later I'm sitting in a corner office on the Disney Lot with a view of the Seven Dwarfs in the near distance.
Kingdom Comics was never meant to be a comic book company. We were a film division of Disney and our job was to mine the vaults and turn our ideas into graphic novels that may eventually been turned into movies. It was a producer deal. After Silent Devil I had no interest in publishing. Disney's book arm would handle all of that.
It was supposed to be a synergistic entity that brought many wings of the company together to reinvigorate or maybe even launch new franchises.
We had a good thing going and had a few properties in the pipeline. Then two things happened: Disney bought Marvel and there was a difference in opinion on operational procedures. I'm not going to go into the gritty details. I was bought out of my contract and retained my producer credit on two titles. One of those has actually been completed as a full length full color graphic novel and we'll see what happens next.
I do wish Ahmet Zappa and his staff the best. Ahmet is a very charismatic person who grew up in Hollywood and pretty much knows everyone. I am grateful for many of the contacts I made and there were some amazing times. We may have different philosophies but I'm happy we were able to get the original deal done. I don't think one like it will ever happen again.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!