The world of comics, film and licensing is full of professionals with years of experience, deep affection for their craft and a practical understanding of the business. To help all my readers and prospective clients, I’m planning an ongoing series of interviews with people I’ve met in the industry to get their perspectives on contracts, career growth and where they see the entertainment world going.
I wanted to start off this series with a friend of mine who has helped shape the current explosion of comic book properties. Mike Marts has worked for both Marvel and DC, successfully guiding flagship properties for both companies. I met Mike back in 2002 when he was the editor for the X-Men line of books. He would go on to edit the Batman line and Guardians of the Galaxy as well. Just before he left for this year’s San Diego Comic Con, I caught up with Mike to talk about his new role as Editor in Chief for Aftershock Comics.
Gamal Hennessy: You’ve worked on the biggest properties at both major publishers, and you’ve also worked for smaller players in the industry. How have you seen the business change in the wake of the film and TV explosion we’re currently seeing? (See Making Comics Isn’t Really About Comics Anymore)
Mike Marts: Comics always had a foothold in movies and TV, but that space was usually reserved for characters like Batman, Superman, Spider-Man and Hulk. Every once in a while you’d see a book like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Men in Black crossover, but no one thought Flash, Constantine, SHIELD, iZombie, and Daredevil would find success on TV at the same time both major companies are planning six year release cycles for films and still leaving room for independent publishers to get movies made. We’ve come a long way from the downsizing of the late 1990’s.
GH: True story. In addition to your expertise in publishing, Aftershock’s executive board brings together professionals from film, TV and Silicon Valley. Did you come together to reap the rewards of the current comic book mystique? Do you plan to create a new cinematic universe along the lines of Marvel, DC, and Valiant? (See What Does the Valiant Deal Mean for Comics, Movies and You?)
MM: In terms of connections, experience, and resources, we’re certainly in a position to translate a property from comics to the screen, but that’s not our focus or our main reason for existence. We see an opportunity to create great and unique stories. That’s our goal. If the timing and opportunity comes up for a show or a movie, we can pursue it. But good stories and quality comics come first.
GH: So what genres of stories will you focus on? Will it be an American type superhero line, or will you explore other genres?
MM: Japanese and French comics have a strong tradition of books from multiple genres and I think there’s space for something similar here. It isn’t our goal to stand out in the superhero genre because the big two have decades of history and thousands of characters, but a lot of other genres are wide open. We’ll probably start with science fiction, crime, fantasy and horror titles because they have a rich history in the medium, but I’d love to see us doing sports, romance and comedy related work too.
GH: Let’s talk about the business side of where Aftershock is going. Are you planning on publishing creator-owned properties, or will it mostly be work for hire on Aftershock created IP? (See Entertainment Contracts 101: Creator Owned vs. Work for Hire)
MM: We’re looking at a creator-owned model in the beginning. We want writers and artists to pitch their best work and grow a strong stable of properties from a lot of different minds.
GH: Talk about your experience of working with writers and artists on contracts. Have you found a tendency for creatives to try and negotiate their deals, or do they come to the table with very few demands? (See David vs. Goliath: Negotiating Power in Creative Contracts)
MM: There’s a tendency for people to see larger publishers as more stable and less prone to business misunderstandings. They think “these guys have been doing it for so long, their system must be locked in.” Artists and writers tend to be more wary of smaller publishers, especially when it comes to creator-owned deals because there’s more at stake and the pedigree of the big boys isn’t there. The negotiations tend to be longer when smaller companies are involved, and a lot of times creatives feel comfortable asking for more.
GH: What’s the best path for an up and coming writer or artist in 2015? (See How to Break Into Comics)
MM: I don’t think there’s any one path. Almost everyone in comics you meet has a strange story of how they broke into the business. The most important thing, no matter how you get in, is showing a consistent body of work. You could be the best artist ever, but no editor or publisher can take a chance on someone who will only finish one book a year or who misses deadlines. Quality production over time is what everyone is looking for.
GH: So how can writers and artists submit their ideas to Aftershock for consideration?
MM: All of our submission guidelines will be available on our website very soon. People can just jump to that page and show me what they’ve got.
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