Matt Hawkins has plenty of irons in the fire. In addition to acting as President and Chief Operating Officer of Top Cow Productions, he also finds time to write his own comics like "Think Tank" for the Cow's Minotaur Press imprint. As if the day-to-day work that goes into keeping a comic company moving along smoothly wasn't enough, Top Cow recently did something pretty drastic in the pages of their core titles "Witchblade," "The Darkness," and "Artifacts" -- they gave them a reboot, dubbing the whole thing Top Cow Rebirth.
During the Ron Marz-written conclusion to the mini-turned-ongoing "Artifacts," pillars of the Top Cow community Sara Pezzini (bearer of the Witchblade) and Jackie Estacado (wielder of the Darkness) were left with a choice: allow their child, Hope, to live and cause the death of the universe, or end her life and save everything. Sara backed down and left Jackie to make the very difficult choice to sacrifice his child. But, it wasn't completely selfless. In the process of saving the universe, it turned out Jackie was able to recreate it exactly as he wanted. This set up a series of twists, turns and changes that few in this reborn world recognize except Tom Judge, star of the Marz' "Artifacts" ongoing.
As any comic book reader knowns, restarting a continuity can be confusing and anyone on the editorial side can tell you it's tricky to pull off, but Top Cow seems to have a good handle on things thanks to their lean and mean publishing plan. In addition to Marz on "Artifacts," David Hine took over writing "The Darkness" and "Hack/Slash" creator Tim Seeley is helming "Witchblade." With so much going on, it seemed like the perfect time for CBR to speak with Hawkins and get his take on fan reaction to all these changes, how they plan to fill departing Publisher Filip Sablik's shoes and where the future of "The Darkness" movie lies.
CBR News: Top Cow took a pretty huge risk with "Artifacts" ending and restarting your universe with Top Cow Rebirth. What has the reaction been? Have you been able to hold on to longtime fans and bring in new ones?
Matt Hawkins: The reaction has been for the most part positive. It's always an ongoing learning process and we listen to the fans when they talk to us. The goal was to make the Universe more accessible to new readers and I think we achieved that.
Post-"Artifacts" there appears to be a shift in focus from Witchblade being the center of the Top Cow Universe to it now being Darkness. Was that something you guys set out to do or just a product of the kinds of stories the writers wanted to tell?
I think that's story driven and not completely intentional. Jackie made the decision to change the universe this way so he is at the center of the story. We knew with the "Darkness 2" video game coming out that we wanted to ramp up Jackie's involvement in the books but this is more organic with the overall story.
From your point of view, what made Tim Seeley and David Hine the people to take over writing "Witchblade" and "The Darkness," respectively?
Tim was an [Image Comics Publisher] Eric Stephenson suggestion and I was a fan of Tim's "Hack/Slash" books. We didn't want to find someone who would just do an identical continuation of Marz' run [which ran from "Witchblade" #80-150]. Tim has a zany sensibility that makes it fun. I think fun is something that book hasn't had much of. David Hine did the "Four Horsemen" "Darkness" miniseries and I absolutely loved it; thought he gave Jackie a cool, edgy voice and when Phil Hester said he was done [as "The Darkness" writer] we only called David. Totally digging the current "Darkness" run.
In addition to new creative teams and a new universe, it sounds like hitting a different tone with the Rebirth titles was also important. Was that the case?
Less a tone but more an understandable, accessible, contained storyline universe of just a few titles.
Did Jackie leave room for groups like Cyberforce and Hunter/Killer in the new universe? Will they play into the growing story?
That is a very good question.
It seems like even though the larger, overarching story of "Artifacts" is over as an event, there's still a build-up to something. Can you say when these things will come to a head or is it a little open ended?
Oh we're definitely building to a very specific set of events. We've had some long discussions and I think readers will be surprised by what we're doing. It's all very story driven. We're not adding tons of extra one -shots or spinoff miniseries to try to beef up the event, we're simply doing it as the three books all working on their own but occasionally crossing back and forth.
When I talked to Ron Marz after the first 13 issues of "Artifacts," he said you were instrumental in coming up with the idea of making it a 13-issue series and bringing in all the Artifacts. Was that an idea that had been on your mind for a while?
Yes, Marc and I have been talking with various people about it for well over a decade. Paul Jenkins' "Universe" book was supposed to be more of an all-Artifact type book but it did not work out that way. Wasn't his fault, he did some great stuff for us on that.
How important would you say Ron Marz has been since he started writing "Witchblade?" He seems to have turned into your go-to guy for big, universe-spanning and altering stories.
Ron has been phenomenal and he has a genuine love and understanding for these characters. He's always concerned about character at the heart of these big stories and I agree with that. One thing I think is lacking in a lot of giant cross-overs or big movies is the characters at the heart of the story.
Speaking of important Top Cow personnel, Filip Sablik just announced he's leaving the company.
It's an amicable departure and we wish him well.
Can you talk at all about how you plan on filling his shoes as Publisher of Top Cow?
We are bumping up both [Social Marketing Coordinator] Jessi Reid and [Assistant to the Publisher] Bryan Roundtree to take most of his duties; Jessi on the marketing side and Bryan on the editorial.
I know Top Cow prides itself on keeping things lean and mean on the publishing side of things, do you have plans for any expansion coming up or are you good where you're at now?
Has there been any talk about doing web or digital-exclusive stories to expand the Top Cow U without necessarily adding physical comics to the publishing plan?
Yeah, we've had a lot of discussions about this and have one specific plan upcoming that we'll be announcing at Comic-Con, but for the most part the major issue with doing things like this is quality. A lot of "digital" exclusives are amateur looking books done by people you've never heard of. We don't want to do that.
Do you think that's because there's a stigma to digital-only comics or a difficulty in figuring out how to monetize them? Are there other difficulties with digital comics that fans might not be aware of?
I think it's a function of the old system continuing to chug along and companies are leery to forgo revenue streams they already know and can project. That and the digital sales on these are growing but they're still not enough to cover creative costs on these books on their own. That may change very soon as it is a growing sector. To date, the majority of the digital books that are exclusively offered as digital are not done by top tier creators.
You mentioned "The Darkness 2" video game earlier, which sold well and got great reviews. Do you have plans to any of the other Top Cow books into video games at the moment?
We've had a lot of conversations with video game companies about Witchblade; would make a great game but nothing to announce at this point.
Do you think there's a demonstrable difference between comic book fans and gamers?
Well, playing a video game doesn't require the ability to read. [Laughs] I think our demographic is probably closer to the video game demo than some other companies. We do a lot of edgy action-y type things that translate well for the video game audience.
When I talked to Marc Silvestri a few months back he said there was a "Darkness" movie set up at Mandeville Films. Has there been any movement on that project that you can talk about?
They're a production company that we work with to develop takes and sell them to the studios. There will be a big announcement regarding all this very soon.
In addition to your own book "Think Tank," what do you have planned for Minotaur Press this year and into next?
I have another science based thriller called "The Clock" that I'm writing that I'm looking for an artist for. I'd like to continue "Think Tank" as a possible series of graphic novels or as an ongoing series if I could find a long term artist to commit. We've been talking to ["Echoes" writer] Josh Fialkov about doing another project. Bottom line with Minotaur is we're looking to do roughly one project at a time.
How did the Christos Gage and Jorge Lucas graphic novel "Sunset" come about?
This was a project that Christos pitched me almost five years ago. We've been working on it for a long time. It was originally intended to be a miniseries followed by the traditional collected edition model. We decided to try something different with it given the changing marketplace. We had the whole book done so we had that luxury.
Do you think Top Cow's role in the comic book landscape has changed in recent years?
Not in the last five years, no. We're in our 20th year and there have been a lot of ups and downs for the company. We're lucky to have had a couple feature films we produced, a couple TV shows and now two video games. Pretty good for an indie.
To see how this indie is doing check out "Artifacts" #19 this week, "The Darkness" #105 on July 18th, "Witchblade" #160 August 8th and Hawkins' own "Think Tank" #1 on August 1st.