AfterShock Comics has big plans, with a stated goal of launching its 100th title within the next 24 months and a score of other initiatives, ranging from publishing European-style graphic novels to building a network of advocates within comic book stores nationwide.
The company recently reached out to The Beat, and we were able to have a conversation with Lee Kramer (AfterShock president and co-founder), Mike Marts (editor-in-chief and co-founder), Steve Rotterdam (senior vice president of sales and marketing), and Christina Harrington (managing editor). What emerged was a picture of a young publisher born out of a mixture of long-time comics experience and executives with another foot inside film and TV. AfterShock is also, perhaps, an interesting embodiment of the state of direct market comics right now: a publisher that emphasizes both wide-spanning traditional creator-owned comic books (by established pros and rising stars) while also keeping an eye on/providing guidance for more profitable adaptations in film, television, and gaming.
Check out our conversation below…
THE BEAT: First things first, can you tell me a little bit about the genesis of the company, and what it was that motivated you to launch AfterShock Comics back in 2015?
LEE KRAMER: As a young child I learned to become a good reader through comic books. My first obsession was Spider-Man. I was influenced by my godfather who owned a comic store in Greenwich Village in New York City. I realized during my time at Mandalay Pictures that comics, which were creator owned, and not superhero oriented, should (and would) become highly-priced intellectual properties that any studio or network would, in my mind, be crazy not to look at and invest in. The creators untaxed by major studio influence could tell stories that are not only unique, but would also be able to put their own unique spin on stories we may have even heard before. I knew in the studio system ideas like these were rarely originated. I met Joe Pruett, now one of my partners in AfterShock Comics, sometime in late 2007 during a general meeting at a talent agency, at that time called William Morris Agency (now William Morris Endeavor). We hit it off very quickly as we were both avid comic fans. I discovered Joe had not only worked for Marvel but also was an independent publisher for Caliber and Desperado, and a successful award-wining creator.
Understanding that there has been plenty of animosity between Hollywood and the creators themselves (until recently creators have typically been treated unfairly by studios, networks and producers and not given the credit or financial benefits deserved), I thought through a partnership with Joe, and later with Mike Marts and Jon Kramer, we could not only create a safe haven for artists alike, but push the comic medium further — by taking creative risks other publishers may or may not be willing to try.
The comic book industry has done an outstanding job of creating original stories. We believe AfterShock can be an innovator to help continue the momentum. The company has been set up to think outside the box. AfterShock not only has the comic expertise of Joe and Mike, but also film/tv experience from Jon and myself. I am involved in the creative selection and development of the comics which gives me a deeper understanding of what the creator was thinking. That gives us an advantage when converting the comic book to film or TV. Jon also brings the management skills to run a creative business with experience in production and distribution worldwide. We have a very unique skill set within our team. But most importantly, we all share the basic notion that story comes first. So for us the comic business is our top priority and the mission is to tell good, intelligent stories. We believe we have a pretty good sense on how to fully utilize a comic’s full potential in other mediums within the constraints of the Hollywood studio system. Additionally, unlike other creator-owned companies, we provide creators with first rate assistance in development, editorial, publishing, marketing and branding; as well as fair page rates, alleviating some of the financial burden that other companies are not willing to relieve. We also offer the guidance to bring their project to tv, film or gaming.
THE BEAT: If you had to narrow it down, what would you say the overarching mission statement is that guides you as a publisher?
CHRISTINA HARRINGTON: We want to publish stories that surprise us. We want to work with creators that are risk takers, that have big, daring stories to tell. DARK ARK, BABYTEETH, ANIMOSITY — these are all stories that take chances with their settings, characters and conflicts, and that risk really pays off for unique worlds that readers connect to.
THE BEAT: There’s so many great original ideas coming out in comics these days, many of them put out by publishers like yourself that didn’t exist five years ago. Where do you see AfterShock fitting into the current comics market?
MIKE MARTS: We tell the stories that others are afraid to tell. After super-heroes, we’re the answer to everything else. We provide stories from all genres, from all types of creators.
CHRISTINA HARRINGTON: It’s such an amazing time to be making comics. I mean, it’s an amazing time to be a comic book reader, too! There are so many options right now, in terms of the kinds of stories that are being told and the creative teams on those books. AfterShock is in the unique place of working with established creators and up-and-coming talent, which naturally creates a wide variety of high quality stories. We have something for everyone.
THE BEAT: To my mind there’s definitely a certain type of AFTERSHOCK comic that’s coming into focus, and an intangible quality that the disparate books in the line all seem to share. Editorially, what are some of the qualities you look for in new comic ideas?
MIKE MARTS: It always starts with the story. Is it a story we’d like to see told, a story we’d like to read? Can we connect to it—is it relatable on multiple levels? Does it move us? How much does it engage us? These are all questions we ask at the start of each project before we move on to additional levels of evaluation such as sales potential and creator contribution.
CHRISTINA HARRINGTON: We definitely want stories that go big, that take risks and aim high in terms of concept. Something else that defines an AfterShock book is our protagonists — they might be put in incredible situations, but they’re also incredibly relatable.
THE BEAT: Let’s talk about sales a little bit, you made what seemed like almost a declaration of purpose at a retailers summit earlier this year. How are things like the street reps and store visits program a key part of AfterShock’s future?
STEVE ROTTERDAM: If there’s one thing the comics business teaches marketers, it’s that one size does not fit all. Grand, overarching brand-building initiatives just don’t work unless you have an effective ground game in place, one that leverages what makes a store unique on a store-by-store basis. That’s what informed the creation of the AfterShock Army initiative. While one or two of us can’t be everywhere we feel we need to be as often and consistently as we want to be, 30 of us can. After a rigorous recruitment and vetting process – one that will continue in perpetuity – we’re about to announce our first seven ambassadors and introduce them to the stores to which they’ve been matched. The program is all about communication and addressing real retailer needs. Our future is riding on it.
THE BEAT: Between you, there is experience with basically every major publisher within comics…what are some of the ways that working within long-tenured industry giants have informed AfterShock?
MIKE MARTS: Personally I owe a lot of what I learned at both Marvel and DC to the building and formation of AfterShock. Years of universe building, of working with various levels of creators, honing budget skills, managing a staff of editors, character management, etc. Every single project or comic I worked on was a stepping stone I needed in order to build the structure that is AfterShock Comics today.
STEVE ROTTERDAM: Each of us being familiar in one way or another with the concept of red tape, I think we’re collectively determined to find faster ways to get to yes – be it considering a new pitch or executing against a strategic marketing plan.
THE BEAT: Some of my favorite AfterShock work this year has been the graphic novels—things like WITCH HAMMER, THE REPLACER, and OUT OF THE BLUE—how has the response to those been (both in terms of story and format) from fans and retailers? Are you finding a demand outside of the usual monthly floppy followed by collected trade sequence?
STEVE ROTTERDAM: Those are some of our favorites, as well. During our ongoing discussions with some of our more prolific creators, they would sometimes present ideas for stories that you could tell from the outset would be best told in a continuous narrative – a departure from the episodic nature of, as you called it, “the usual sequence.” At the same time, the increasing demand in the marketplace for content that can be binge-read presented an opportunity for just these kind of stories – often enhanced by the larger canvas afforded by the “European style” format. It’s an approach to storytelling that we’re continuing to explore and experiment with.
THE BEAT: Finally, for someone who’s unfamiliar with you as a publisher, can you suggest some starting points for getting into AfterShock Comics?
MIKE MARTS: We have several long running titles like ANIMOSITY, DARK ARK, ROUGH RIDERS or BLACK-EYED KIDS…I always feel those series best exemplify what our company is all about and serve as perfect gateways to the brand of AfterShock. They’re all unique in their core concepts, easily accessible and contain artwork that is anything but cookie-cutter.
CHRISTINA HARRINGTON: Are you into old fashioned noir with a sandwich twist? Pick up HOT LUNCH SPECIAL. Do you like 1970s assassin-tales? Check out KILLER GROOVE. Are you a horror fan? I highly recommend DARK RED, A WALK THROUGH HELL, MARY SHELLEY MONSTER HUNTER, and the upcoming YOU ARE OBSOLETE.