Writer and movie producer Jeff Katz and his newly minted American Original company have had a busy week. After announcing his new comic book publishing, movie creating venture in May, Katz spent the last week unveiling American Original's logo before heading to Wizard World Philly where he let word drop on the first four comic books he'll be releasing in conjunction with Top Cow Entertainment.
"We're playing in really eclectic genres," Katz told CBR of his vision for the launch. "What I'm hoping for is that unlike any other publishing line, there's not going to be an American Original art style. In each book you're going to see a mix from genre revenge to action to sci-fi kids stuff to comedy. The only thing you're not going to see me do is superhero stuff because I don't see a point in me competing with people who have 70 years of built in history."
Katz explained that his new logo helped to embody the spirit he's putting forth with his first releases in capturing the style of mid century genre film logos. "More than anything else, I wanted something kind of like the old R.K.O. or Republic or A.I.P. logos. I wanted something kind of reminiscent of a '50s or '60s exploitation movie logo. That was what I was after – crossed with the Hulk Hogan-era world heavyweight championship era," Katz said adding "It's an easy logo that I can put at the bottom of the spine of a trade."
Starting near the end of the year, American Original's first comic series will begin to hit shops across America, and while Katz teased involvement on covers from marquee comic names, his first concern was lining up talent to deliver a mix of original stories that he found compelling. So it should come as no surprise that he'll be writing the first title himself – a supernatural crime drama titled "Vengeance Is Mine."
"What I realized based on time demands, realistically I'm going to have rare chances to get to write on these books. So I'd just assume get one done up front when I know I'm going to have time to set it apart," he said of his project. "It's a project I've been wanting to do forever. What we're doing is looking at a lot of old Mike Hodges British revenge movies like 'Get Carter' or 'Point Blank' with Lee Marvin and doing one of those revenge movies in a 'Night Breed' world. It's the idea of British revenge but not of going into a criminal underworld but of the actual underworld."
Teaming with Katz on the first "Vengeance Is Mine" mini series will be German artist Thomas Nachlik, who the writer was introduced to through Top Cow publisher Filip Sablik. "This guy is not even a Top Cow classic artist. He does noir. His guys are – you know the how George Reeves' Superman had kind of a stockier build and was of that era with more of a barreled chest? That's what he does. When he does superheroes, their costumes wrinkle and fit like real clothes. And so he does very noir, dark shadowy stuff."
Another comic with a bit of Hollywood cache planned by American Original is "Daybreak" – a prison-centric action story from "Book of Eli" and "Akira" screenwriter Gary Whitta and "Angel: After the Fall" scribe Brian Lynch. "I'm of the belief that all comics talent should be looking to become multi-hyphenate talent. I think that's where the future is. If you look at Ed Brubaker doing 'Angel of Death' and things like that, these are the right moves," Katz explained of involving writers who can straddle both the movie and comics worlds.
"Gary brought us a concept called 'Daybreak' that he'll be doing with Brian Lynch who really gets what we're going for here, which is basically a love letter to 1980s John Carpenter/Kurt Russell movies. Take a seven-time loser who's a bright guy but makes ballsy moves and gets caught making the one dumb mistake. He gets sent off to prison and very quickly realizes that he's been routed not to the prison he's supposed to go to but to a prison that's not at all what it appears to be. Come the end of the first issue, it will flip to where you'll quickly realize that this ultimate '80s style anti-hero is in way over his head. It's one versus 1,000, and those 1,000 have a twist that makes the stakes even bigger.
"Brian, who comes from the Whedonverse and comics, gets that style and tone immediately, and it's something Gary and I have a real soft spot for. Basically, it's a big love-letter to swaggering '80s man's man action movies. I miss Jack Burton. I miss Ash. We want to create a new one of those guys, and this is our way of doing it. This is a bit more over the top. Where the other book was more noir and dark, in this case we have artist Marco Castiello doing all this stuff big, bright, splashy and colorful."
Not to be seen as a producer and publisher only interested in comics inspired by movies, Katz also explained his plans to bring a unique indie title into the mainstream in the form of New Zealand self-published sci-fi series "Blastosaurus." Written and drawn by 23-year-old Richard Fairgray (whom Katz met through a mutual friend working on the "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" set), the story draws inspiration from the Saturday morning cartoons of the '80s and '90s with a more D.I.Y. indie comics edge. "[Richard and I] met and hit it off instantly. He gave me two or three properties, all of which I picked up immediately, but the one I fell in love with was a very simple thing. It was a dinosaur cop who's mutated and brought into the future to fight crime against velociraptor street gangs in the big city in the tone of the old school, early Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles stuff. It plays with it edgier – not necessarily as a kid thing but in a kid's context.
"I look at this, and I went, 'Christ! Kids like dinosaurs. Kids like crimefighting. This is as natural a kids property with some teeth to it as there is.' What we're going to be doing is reprinting his New Zealand run of 'Blastosaurus' as a set for the American version which will come out soon after."
Katz pressed that Fairgray won't be the first relative unknown whose comics he has an interest in representing. "One of the things I wanted to put across from the line is that a great big idea can come from anywhere. The reality is that in the next ten years, distribution is going to be democratized in a pretty massive way in a lot of forms of entertainment, comics included. So now, 'the big idea' suddenly doesn't have to come from a guy who's exclusive to DC. It can come from a kid in New Zealand who just happens to have a good idea...And Richard's a kid who, I'll be frank, I'm going to lose to the big two. It's inevitable. But I just think that this is one of those things that's very unique from anything else in the marketplace. But beyond that, he's come up with a thing that's a very natural, franchisable concept. We're going to be a place that takes chances on new voices because on some level, I'd argue there's a dearth of young talent getting to rise up. I think showing what this guy can do in what is ostensibly a superhero context without it at all being superheroes and what is ostensibly a kids context while at the same time being all ages, I think is a unique thing. I think this guy is going to a real voice and someone we'll be hearing about for a long time."
Finally, the fourth book of American Original's initial launch will be "The Comedy Death Ray Anthology" – an ongoing series of humor comics written by big name comedians and brought together by former "Mr. Show" writer and "Comedy Death Ray" mastermind Scott Aukerman. "This is one of the great underserved areas in comics," Katz said. "Scott is one of the best regarded and most respected guys in comedy. My mantra at the end of the day, which comes from my New Line training – New Line's mantra was always to hit them where they ain't. Go where other people aren't servicing niches. That's why I don't do superhero stuff because there's already so much of that in the marketplace.
"Comedy is a gigantic hole in the marketplace. Scott is going to oversee an anthology of three to four stories told by major comedy performers each issue. We'll have at least one top line, big name [comedian] in their each issue and then rising guys you've heard of. In a way, I view it as a chance to be what 'National Lampoon' was in its heyday, using the format and the medium that speaks to that today. I'm so excited to do this. No one else has done it, and you're going to see multiple volumes of that anthology. I think this has got a chance to be something that's wholesale different."
Overall, Katz said that it’s his commitment to new kinds of comics and film properties that he hopes will make American Original standout and become a long terms success. "In all of these things, I'm very happy to fail for any other reason than spending stupidly and being totally unoriginal. I'm going to go and do redundant stuff. I want to go and do stuff that I think isn't in the marketplace currently. I think win or lose, at the end of the day what I'm doing is a boutique imprint. I'm not making volume plays. That's not my business model. As long as the stories are original and authentic and cool, the rest of it takes care of itself. For me it's about who is not being served, what's not being done and 'Where can I go play?'"