For years, the discussion of "How do comics reach a wider audience?" has been heard everywhere, from industry parties to comic shop chit chat,with the conversations often coming back to the comment "If only we could get comics into Wal-Mart." Well, yesterday, a new player broke through that retail giant's barrier as film producer Jason Netter announced Kickstart Comics, the publishing division of his Kickstart Entertainment shingle which will see at least 24 titles shipped to Wal-Mart and other major retailer outlets nationwide starting with seven books this November.
Coming along for the sure to be closely watched launch will be comics industry mainstays Jimmy Palmiotti and Larry Young. Each man has had business dealings with Netter in the past – Palmiotti though the various "Painkiller Jane" TV spinoffs brought about by the producer as well as other comics-to-film projects like the Image series "Back To Brooklyn" and Young via film options and even a filmed pilot for his AiT-Planet Lar title "Nobody" – and the pair both agreed to talk about their involvement with this new venture with CBR from what their specific role is, what the mainstream focus of Kickstart looks to be and when fans can find Kickstart Comics in regular comic shops as well as Wal-Mart.
CBR News: Gentlemen, to start, I know that a lot of what this company is at inception and will be comes from Jason. I know each of you has worked to bring some of your comics stuff to film through his company in the past. Could you tell me a bit about when each of you first met him and what your relationship was like to lead you into a working position in Kickstart Comics?
Jimmy Palmiotti: Jason, Samantha [Olsson] and I have worked together for years...getting the "Painkiller Jane" two-hour movie together, then landing the series, shopping a ton of properties including "The Pro" and then creating books like "Back to Brooklyn" and "Random Acts of Violence." His group at Kickstart always believed in my ideas, and he understood the other skills I had like editorial skills and how to work with talent. This deal came along, and they asked if I would freelance edit some of the titles, and I thought it would be fun...and it has been. These titles are wonderful stand-alone graphic novels for the whole family that cover all kinds of genres and the kind of books I enjoy myself. There hasn't been a time in my life in the past 10 years that I haven't spoken to them at least once a week. I like them, and more importantly, I trust them.
Larry Young: I sort of don't remember first meeting Jason, because he's always been around my professional comics life. I know it was through Ken Levin, who at the suggestion of Lisa Morales, I think, at John Wells at the time, was repping us on "Astronauts In Trouble" in the early days. Honestly, I can't remember, because we've been through so much for so long with Jason and everyone at Kickstart, they've always felt like part of the family. And I hope we have felt that way for them, as well. But Jason and Samantha Olsson and everyone else have just been aces. When our son was born three years ago, Kickstart troubleshooter Heather Puttock had her mom knit him a sweater and blanket. I mean, come on. "Part of the family" doesn't even seem to really cut it. So when they said they were gearing up to start their own publishing house, I asked, "How can I help?"
That said, each of you have been mentioned in the initial announcement story as having some kind of editorial role for Kickstart. What can you say about what your official titles are, what your responsibilities look like in terms of recruiting talent, putting together final books, etc?
Palmiotti: The interesting thing about their approach was that they were not chasing name talent, rather, [they were] chasing interesting concepts and unique talent on the drawing board as well. A lot of artists out there don't fit the superhero mold, and that is just fine...as long as they are excellent storytellers. What I liked is that they trusted me to get talent that matched the property and let me do my thing. What we ended up with are some really interesting concepts by some fresh artists that we will be seeing a lot of. As far as official title? [Laughs] Editor on some of the books, I guess. I took on only what I had the right amount of time to oversee. Without Samantha's help, I would have had to do much less...but she has been just amazing.
Young: Me, I'm just helping out in an editorial role for a couple projects – giving notes here and there and offering my opinion on what it's like to dip your toe in the publishing waters. I can't speak for Jimmy, of course, but I know I feel like the Kickstart folks are the main cast of a "Mission: Impossible" episode, and I'm a guest-star they need to help them solve some early issues in their tale. And I'm here and ready to serve however and whenever they need me.
In general, we know these companies are often started up entirely for the purpose of getting movies made. While that seems a piece of what Kickstart will be focusing on, I get the feeling from Jason's comments in "Variety," the involvement of you fine gentlemen and the wider distribution deals (more on that in a minute) that actually getting these books into consumers' hands will be a goal in and of itself. Can you tell me about what the company's expectations are for comics as their own stand-alone medium?
Young: That seems to me more like a question for Jason, but I will say that I'm pretty sure the reason I'm on the team is because of my commercial instincts. [My wife] Mimi and I started our publishing company in 1999 with "Astronauts In Trouble" which Warren Ellis famously called "a summer action tent pole movie with a brain," and I'm pretty sure that's Kickstart's sensibility as well. Get great creators telling awesome stories outside of corporate comics' strictures with an eye towards entertaining regular folks. If you put out good stories in comic book form, well, they're good stories, right? And movies and video games and websites all need good stories, so it's more of an expansion of the comic book story, and not some sort of crass money grab. I've never heard "Let's make this because it'll make a good movie" from Jason or anyone else at Kickstart. I always hear, "Let's make this because it's a good story." I have a feeling if someone came up with a good idea that needed to be published sequentially on the side of a pane of postage stamps, Jason would go for it if the story resonated with him.
Palmiotti: Look, it's a business, but with the model they are using, there can be a way to make these books work and create more based on sales alone. The added bonus and what Kickstart does mainly for a living is to sell these as films, but that's not my problem...and honestly, I learned a long time ago, when they make films of your comics in Hollywood, they, at times, choose to ignore the source material, so my job simply is to make sure the book is a fantastic comic book. And that's it. After that, it's not my problem.
Like I said, the idea that distribution will go through Wal-Mart is a big one for many people who have worked in comics a long time. First of all, can you mention any of the other outlets you hope to have the titles on sale at and (since I'm sure content will be your focus more than sales and distro) what that potential audience means for you guys in terms of outlook, kinds of stories and presentation of the titles in the final products themselves?
Young: I know that Kickstart wants to make their stuff available to the widest audience possible, and the comic book specialty shops will be a key part of that strategy. Kickstart postponed the initial release to make sure that these launched at Wal-Mart and in Diamond the same day. They wanted to make sure they respected and acknowledged the traditional comic audiences. And the goal is to make good comics, first. Kickstart loves comics and loves comic creators and wanted to provide another publishing opportunity as well as introduce these comics to a new audience. They postponed their release to assure they launched through Diamond at the same time. The bigger the audience the better.
Palmiotti: All I really care about and was happy to hear was that the books launched at Wal-Mart and comic stores on the same day. The gang at Kickstart understands how important this is for the comic book audience and I respect that decision. I think it's a smart move.
Young: I know Kickstart wants to tell the most entertaining stories to the most people they can. There's what? 3,000 comic book specialty retail stores in the country? Maybe half a million comics fans in America. And yet everyone knows who Iron Man is, now. Wouldn't it be cool if your mom could buy a graphic novel for you at Wal-Mart? And Kickstart wants to help your mom do that.
Okay! Business talk is done. Let's talk comics! There seems to be a bunch of titles already in the bank (you guys have been working on this a while I gather) from a variety of creators. To ease into the nitty gritty of what each series will be about, what kind of storytelling format are we looking at here?
Young: The books I was adding my two cents to were 88-page color stand-alone graphic novels.
Palmiotti: Big fat juicy 88 page stories between the covers. The future of all comics, in my eyes, and the best format to tell a complete story in. There are no "Part Twos" of anything we are doing. The books have a beginning, middle and a fun end. This is the way to get a mainstream audience interested in comics. Don't leave them hanging.
Like I said, a ton of books seem ready to launch from some names fans may recognize, as well as some new faces. Can each of you tell me about one project which you felt you helped bring into Kickstart and what that particular series offers in terms of a new kind of story that will connect with a mainstream audience?
Young: I didn't bring this project to them, but I helped out on "Heavy Water" by Jonathan W.C. Mills. When I was a kid, I loved "What if the Nazis won World War II?" stories, because of the challenges and sacrifices of my grandfathers and great-uncles and their stories of good-versus-evil. I absolutely loved "The Proteus Operation" by James P. Hogan (who just died yesterday, believe it or not) as well as "SS-GB" by spymaster Len Deighton. So when I heard somebody was doing an OGN about Knut Haukelid and the heavy water experiments, I knew I wanted to help out. In real life, it's an action-adventure story when you read Wikipedia; add in the what-if aspect, and it crackles.
Palmiotti: I have been overseeing seven titles and I like them each for different reasons. It's like asking my mom which of her sons is her favorite. That said, I think they each have something unique to them...so I will do the right thing and send you to this site. My good friend Heather at Kickstart put together this website for the company where you can browse the books and see for yourself how great they all look.
I know that working closely with creators and making sure they are taken care of has always been a high priority for both of you in your own careers. What can you say at this stage about IP ownership and participation as it will be seen through Kickstart Comics?
Palmiotti: I am not working at all on that end of the business, just editing the books. My past experience with them has been great, so I can speak for myself. The deals we had on "Back to Brooklyn" and "Random Acts" were exactly what I wanted.
Young: That's totally a Jason question.
Finally, we're obviously at the start of what will hope to be a long lifetime for Kickstart Comics. What are your immediate goals for the line as a whole and your "pie in the sky" hopes for what this company and these comics will evolve into?
Palmiotti: In a perfect world, all I care about is that people give the books a chance, enjoy the read and come back for more. As far as the future, I personally hope this format is a successful one for everyone. It's the right step to take for comics as a whole and another way of getting new people into the fantastic world of graphic storytelling and realizing its potential.
Young: I just want to help my pals put out good comics. I want to make comics better, whether I'm publishing, editing or writing 'em.
Kickstart Comics will debut in comic shops and Wal-Mart nationwide this November. For more info on the company and its books, visit KickstartComics.com