The Comic Pimp: Issue #35

Fri, May 14th, 2004 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
James Sime, Columnist

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LIVING IN THE SECOND ATOMEKA AGE

If you're a connoissuer of great comic books who regularly dreams of indulging in amazing art and brilliant writing you're going to enjoy what The Comic Pimp is serving up this week. If you are a sequential art epicurean and names like Alan Moore, Steve Dillon, Ted McKeever, Steve Pugh, Glen Fabry, Steve Parkhouse, and Dave Johnson are your cup of tea… this column is for you.

There has been a low rumble buzz building about a certain indy comic publisher recently, one that was until very recently thought to be long dead and buried. But one look at the most recent solicitations and it's pretty apparent… Atomeka is anything but dead.

"A1 Big Issue Zero" and "The Dave Johnson Sketchbook" seemed to come out of nowhere and were magically transported onto the pages of the most recent Diamond Previews, with a collection of creators that read like a comic fan's wish-list and a retailer's wet dream.

Clocking in at 48 pages, "A1 Big Issue Zero" might have a slightly silly sounding name, but what Atomeka is printing on those pages is anything but inconsequential. Featuring a superheroic examination of demi-godness by Dave Gibbons and Ted McKeever, and a submersive adventure drawn by the amazing Steve Pugh and authored by the script writer for the first (and best) Alien movie Ronald Shusett. If that isn't enough to whet your appetite, the new "A1" features the resurrection of the long-lost Alan Moore Steve Parkhouse classic "The Bo Jefferies Saga," an everyday tale of everyday freaks in and everyday house, nearly completely re-drawn by the pen of Parkhouse himself. All for $4.99? Sounds almost too good to be true…


(Three different "A1 Big Issue Zero" covers to choose from)

Also sounding unfathomably good is "The Dave Johnson Sketchbook." Cracking the safe on Johnson's Eisner-award winning art vault, "The Dave Johnson Sketchbook" features 56 pages of behind-the-scenes goodness with Johnson's sketchbook art, never before seen designs, and unpublished works for only $6.99. Anyone who appreciates great comic covers will know Johnson's name from his cutting-edge covers on books like "100 Bullets" "Captain America" and "NYC Mech," not to mention Johnson's stunning interior work on the sales juggernaut "Superman Red Son" and the ever-missed "Superpatriot."

Cover to "The Dave Johnson Sketchbook"
But wait. Who is this Atomeka Press? How the hell do they get creators of this caliber? Where did these books come from?

According to comic legend Atomeka was spawned in an English pub when two intoxicated creators went bar stool to bar stool asking the comic creators who were there downing pints to make something for their anthology. I'm not certain if the legend is true or not, but sometime during the late 1980s Garry Leach and Dave Elliott decided to make their own comic anthology. Be it from personal connections, shrewd business strategies, a creator friendly approach, or free pint refills hugely popular comic creators flocked to the project and soon the duo had enough the first issue of their anthology "A1," which came out in 1989.

The title "A1" was meant to say nothing about the genre (and therefore make any genre a perfect fit), but to tell anyone all that they would ever need to know about the creative roster. A1, the top of the line, the cream of the crop. While it lasted, "A1" certainly lived up to its promise and the anthology was showered with accolades and awards. Atomeka published unique, individualistic creations from comic industry heavyweights like Neil Gaimen, Alan Moore, Simon Bisley, Jamie Hewlett, Martin Emond, Phillip Bond, Eddie Campbell, John Bolton, Warren Ellis, Alan Davis, Doug Braithwaite, Bob Burden, Glenn Fabry, Kelley Jones, Dave McKean, James Robinson, Michael T. Gilbert, Brian Bolland, Peter Milligan, Moebius and many, many more.

Now "A1" and Atomeka are back. And they're strutting their stuff with the same kind of superstar creators in tow as before. And they've got a bright-eyed new public face in the form of a third Atomeka partner. The retailer and curious comic fan in me had to find out more about this re-vitalized comic publishing juggernaut, so I got in touch with the man responsible for putting the "new" in the new Atomeka, MAGE movie producer and Atomeka publisher, Ross Richie.

(And I figured while I was at it I'd score myself and my readers some exclusive sneak peeks at the new "A1" and the upcoming "Dave Johnson Sketchbook" which I've generously distributed throughout this very article!)

James Sime: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me about all the exciting stuff Atomeka's got up its sleeve. What's your vision for the new Atomeka?

Ross Richie: Garry Leach, Dave Elliott, and myself want to build a creator-friendly boutique known for its quality. We don't have a massive publishing roll-out that we're launching; we're not setting our sights on crushing Marvel overnight and ramming eight titles a month out into the marketplace. We plan to do great material from great creators as each project presents itself. Small and steady.

Comic Pimp exclusive image from "The Dave Johnson Sketchbook"
The flavor of the company should be a mainstream independent - while that seems like a contradiction, we want to create stuff that would be very accessible to a fan of a Marvel, DC, Image, or Dark Horse book, but is looking for something new, off-beat, and innovative. Other companies do cool indie books better than we ever could - who wants to compete with juggernauts like Fantagraphics, Slave Labor, Top Shelf, Oni, or Sirius? They publish great material and they'd run us into the ground. Instead, we're staking out turf that lies in between the big boys and the indie scene. Very much in the vein of the 1980s independent "overground" publishers like Comico, First, Pacific… or the original Atomeka!

A1 started in 1989 by Garry and Dave going through a pub, creator by creator, and asking them, "What do you want to do? Cool! Why don't you do it?" A1's original success was fueled by the enthusiasm of that creative community and they ended up creating an outpouring of intelligent, sharp, eye-popping comics from the best of the best: Alan Moore, Steve Parkhouse, Glenn Fabry, Steve Dillon, Simon Bisley, Ted McKeever, Eddie Campbell, Dave Dorman, Brian Bolland, Barry Windsor-Smith, Peter Milligan, David Lloyd, John Bolton, Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean, etc. And they were all creator-owned, creator-driven comics.

We want to build off that foundation and create a company that's not driven by licensed books and not driven by company-owned shared-universe comics, or spandex. We want to build off the flavor of the original A1 series and let each series and each project stand on its own two legs, powered by the quality of the story and art, and honed by the vision of the creator who birthed it.

Comic Pimp exclusive image from "The Dave Johnson Sketchbook"
Atomeka's line-up will on one hand be top-flight comic book creators that fans may recognize from their work for DC, Marvel, Image, or Dark Horse, that are taking a break to do something more personal, or more edgy, than they get a chance to do on their typical super-hero or licensed comic book. They may even be stories from artists who feel they are ready to start writing their own material and need somewhere to experiment. Then on the other hand it maybe a lesser-known or complete unknown that we think is ready for prime time.

James Sime: Why did you decide to resurrect the company? Where do you see Atomeka's place in the industry and why now?

Ross Richie: The time was right. As I talked to different retailers across the country, I was surprised and happy to learn that most of them remembered Atomeka. There was a real brand recognition, and Garry and Dave had struggled long and hard to build a reputation for publishing quality books.

Garry and Dave wanted to re-publish the original A1 series as graphic novels, with lots of new stuff mixed in, and approached me about the possibilities, as Dave and I had worked on various ventures together throughout the years. I couldn't believe that other companies weren't snapping the project up. The more that I looked around, the more it was impressed upon me that this was a niche in the market that no one was addressing. Marvel and DC do super hero books. Dark Horse is a licensing juggernaut. Image was an eclectic blend of newcomers and the company founders. But no one was really doing what Atomeka wanted to do. I'm a child of the 80s - I skipped out on buying the latest issue of "Iron Man" or the "Avengers" to blow my cash on "American Flagg!," "Mage," "Grendel," "The Elementals," and the original series of "A1" graphic novels. Here was a chance to re-launch a company and bring high profile, quality creator-driven projects to the market again.

Comic Pimp exclusive image from "The Dave Johnson Sketchbook"
James Sime: How the hell does Atomeka continually get such great work from such big name creators?

Ross Richie: It's the exceedingly low page rate!

But seriously, I think creators are drawn to Atomeka because of the track record the company has had with the books Garry and Dave have published previously - Dave and Garry have always been concerned with quality production values and creating a good-looking comic, once a great creative team has handed it to them. And they've always been sensitive to affording the creative team as much freedom as possible.

James Sime: How much involvement do original publishers Dave Elliott and Gary Leach have in the new Atomeka?

Ross Richie: Here's another reason I think Atomeka is different to everyone else. It's Dave and Garry and me, all of us working together. We make every decision together. When I assumed certain duties that are traditionally the role of publisher, I think it freed Dave up from some of the more uninteresting technical and logistical aspects of the business so he can focus on editorial. Dave's quite a writer himself - he created the well-received "Sharky" comic for Image a while back - so don't be surprised if you see him writing a bit more with the new Atomeka.

So Atomeka's very much a three-way hand-in-hand collaboration between Garry, Dave, and myself. While Dave's been very visible in the freelancer community and to fandom before, Garry's a bit of a secret weapon - not only is he a brilliant, ground-breaking comic book artist (the Survivor cover for "A1 Big Issue Zero" is all his) with an impressive resume that includes stuff like "Marvel/MiracleMan" and "Warpsmith," he's a top-flight designer and co-controls the editorial content on "A1" with Dave. Whenever we approach a new creative team for A1, Dave and Garry are the ones that approve the choices. It's their book, equal measure, so Garry's an editor as well as being a designer…

First three pages of "Sharkman" by Ron Shusett who wrote "Alien" and "Total Recall" and artist Steve Pugh "Generation X" and "Animal Man" from "A1 Big Issue Zero"

James Sime: You're coming out the gate like gangbusters and making a huge splash with the new line. Tell me where the future of the company lies.

Ross Richie: We've got some great material lined up.

In the immediate future, we've got a one-shot 32 page comic from Glenn Fabry, the brilliant cover artist for "Preacher," who's recently returned to penciling the interior of comics with "The Authority: Kev" and "Thor: Vikings." Then we have a fantastic 48 page color one-shot of what has to be the biggest, eye-poppin' "Mister Monester" story ever. We're all huge fans of George Freeman's from way back to the days of "Captain Canuck" and that great "Batman Annual" #11 he did with Alan Moore, as well as his old "Jack of Hearts" mini for Marvel. The chance to run a full story drawn and colored by him and written by Michael Gilbert that features Martians, giant insects, and of course Hitler's brain was just too much to pass on!

We're publishing "The BoJeffries Tome of Terror" with material from Alan Moore and Steve Parkhouse, Neil Gaiman and Michael Zulli, legendary painter John Bolton, horror novelist Ramsey Campbell, Dave Lloyd of "V for Vendetta" fame, Steve Pugh writing and drawing his own strip, and a whole whackload of other impressive creators. Something we have managed to put together for the 'Tome' is a tribute to "Mister Monster" and "Flaming Carrot," as they are celebrating their respective (20th and 25th) anniversaries this year. So we're doing a two-part crossover with these two characters. Michael Gilbert will be handling Mr. Monster's dialogue and Bob Burden will script the Carrot's.

I'm especially excited about a new creative team in the form of Andrew Cosby and Troy Nixey creating a new character called WitchHunter that will preview in the Terror Tomes. Andrew is a screenwriter who put together a TV show called "Haunted" that used to follow "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" on UPN. Troy's a brilliant artist who's worked on everything from the "Matrix" TPB to "Grendel: Black White and Red" to the "Simpsons Treehouse of Horror."

Moving past that, we've got all sorts of stuff cooked up. Screenwriter John Rogers - he wrote "Rush Hour 2" and just turned in a draft of "Rush Hour 3," he's adapting the comic book "Global Frequency" for television - will be doing a series for us. And my old troublemaking pal Keith Giffen's going to turn up, but in a very surprising way…

Comic Pimp exclusive image from "The Dave Johnson Sketchbook"

James Sime: Wow, you've certainly got your work cut out for you! I'm really looking forward to getting to put these books in my people's hands. This is going to be a damn good couple years for Atomeka!

Ross Richie: You bet it is!

I'm sure I've only ignited your curiosity, so for more information on "A1 Big Issue Zero," "The Dave Johnson Sketchbook" and everything else Atomeka check out page 231 of the May Previews and visit the Atomeka website at: http://www.atomekapress.com

A tip of the Comic Pimp scotch glass out to Mister Richie for taking the time to give us his insight into the relaunch of the Atomeka line, and also for all the terrific preview images. I'd wish you guys good luck, but frankly, I don't think you're going to need it!

And I'd certainly be remiss in my duties if I didn't remind you to be sure to place your pre-orders for these books with your local comic retailer!

And before I sign off this week I'd like to make a small correction to last week's column. The "Supernatural Law" silent tale "Words Can't Do IT Justice" was Harvey-nominated, but didn't quite get to take home the gold. My bad!

And while we're talking about "Supernatural Law" I'd like to point you to the Exhibit A Web site where Batton Lash and Jackie Estrada are showcasing their photos from WonderCon and the Isotope's Wonder-Kon-Tiki event where we threw the "Supernatural Law" 10 year anniversary bash. They've got some great photos over there, including one that shows off a pair of my favorite Marco Viccis…

http://www.exhibitapress.com/pages/gallery-WC04.html

Until next week, pontificate on industry issues, preach the gospel of the great comic books or discuss this article on the Comic Pimp Forum.

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