Top Cow Publisher Filip Sablik surprised the comics industry last week with his announcement that he was leaving the company as of Friday, June 29. For many in the industry, Sablik is known as one of the driving forces behind the Image Comics partner studio, actively involved in changing the perception of the company as just one that publishes sexy characters to a place which attracts top creative talent and develops comics where story is as important as the art.
Sablik got his start in comics working at Diamond Comics Distributors in 2003. In August of 2006, he joined Top Cow as VP of Marketing & Sales before eventually being promoted to Publisher in early 2008. Starting today, Sablik steps up to his new role as VP Publishing and Marketing at BOOM! Studios, just across town from Top Cow's Los Angeles offices.
CBR News spoke exclusively one-on-one with Sablik to discuss the reasons for his latest career move and what his plans are now that he's joined BOOM!
CBR News: Let's start out with an easy question -- why are you leaving your position as Top Cow's Publisher?
Filip Sablik: Honestly, it was just the right opportunity at the right time. About a year and a half ago, Top Cow started to consolidate its operations with Image Comics and Image has become much more active and supportive in their role. So, it's a combination of that and the fact that Ross and I have been buddies since he started BOOM! seven years ago. I was his rep at Diamond Comics Distributors and I was literally the first guy that picked up the phone when he called Diamond to tell them about his first company, Atomeka. We've been good friends since then, and when I moved to Los Angeles, that friendship grew. We've always been looking for an opportunity to work together and it so happened that that opportunity was now. It was pretty unexpected.
I know you also have a close, personal relationship with Top Cow founder Marc Silvestri and its president Matt Hawkins. This can not have been an easy decision for you to make.
No. It was a really tough decision and one I struggled with quite a bit. I've got nothing but respect, love and affection for both of those guys. They gave me a really great opportunity, a lot of responsibility and autonomy. I feel like the one great things Top Cow does is, they give anyone who works for them -- and that includes creators -- this sense of autonomy and ownership, even though most of the properties are company-owned. So, I have that sense of attachment on an emotional level to "Witchblade," "Darkness," "Artifacts" and all the creators and people who work there. So, no, not easy at all.
When you started working for Top Cow, you certainly knew the comics market, but you had not edited before and I don't know that you were ever really involved in story development. What have you learned on the job about those things during your time with them?
I've been really lucky in the sense that I've had some great mentors. I have an art background, but when you're working with Marc Silvestri and listen to him give a critique or some pointers for five minutes, it's like hours worth of art school. I feel like I've picked up an awful lot from just watching him and Matt and everyone else at Top Cow. Ultimately, it all comes down to just trying to get the best out of people and making sure that you're not just pushing your vision, but that you're keying in to whatever the vision of the creator is and help them achieve whatever the best version of that is. Hopefully I've done that.
What can you tell us about your new position with BOOM!, your new responsibilities and what the picture looks like over at BOOM! with you a part of it?
My official title is VP of Marketing & Publishing. It's a new position over there, working directly under Publisher Ross Richie and working with Editor-in-Chief Matt Gagnon, Director of Finance Phil Barbero and VP of Licensing and Merchandising Lance Kreiter, who handles all their foreign licensing. It's going to be a cool dream team of guys all really good at what they do, really excited about what they do. I think it'll key in to what are my strong suits in marketing and sales, from my Diamond background and working in the book market, but it will also allow me to work on the fun part of the editorial side of the job by collaborating on creative direction, spitballing ideas, etc., but I won't miss having to chase my friends down for pages or scripts. Matt gets that distinct pleasure!
Do you think you were a good editor?
I think I was. I think I started off as an inexperienced editor with really good intentions. I think I am a good editor now, but I wish I was as strong an editor in 2008 as I am in 2012. It was a learn-on-the-job kind of experience. A lot of preconceived notions I had were not true as far as how the job should be done and the best ways to reach goals were. What I feel really good about is the two things an editor can rest his laurels on is are the books good and are the books shipping on time. In the first case, I feel like if you read the "Rebirth" titles, they're as strong as Top Cow Universe titles have ever been. I think upcoming titles like "Sunset," "Think Tank," the Pilot Season minis that will be announced, those all have incredibly strong story and art.
In the second case, in 2012, it's the first time since I got to the company that we shipped "Darkness," "Artifacts" and "Witchblade" monthly. I feel pretty good about that and I feel like I'm leaving on a high note.
When you look forward to your job at BOOM!, while you'll participate in editorial, your job will now focus on marketing, business relationships and development. Do you have a set of goals laid out already or is this something where you feel like you need to get in the job first before you start making too many operational decisions?
The interesting thing about BOOM! is that despite the fact they've been around for seven years, I still feel like there's an opportunity to grow the company brand, whereas Top Cow had very early on established a strong brand identity. I think some of the things I worked on with Top Cow was trying to reframe what the company was for fans, retailers and press, whereas here I think there's a very strong foundation between what BOOM! Founder & CEO Ross Richie did early on, what former Marketing Director Chip Mosher did while he was here, but there's still room to move the company forward and expand.
One of the things I've mentioned to Ross and the guys over there is that I don't want to be the guy who comes in and tries to tell them how to fix their business. Their business doesn't need fixing, they've had solid growth for the last seven years. Ross started BOOM! with Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis' "Hero Squared," and now they publish a dozen titles a month, have 2% market share, three distinct imprints -- there's a lot there to work with. It's exciting to walk in to a place where everyone is motivated, excited about what they're doing and always pushing on to the next project.
It seems like BOOM!'s identity has changed numerous times since its inception. Is it important to establish a clear BOOM! identity?
I think up until this point BOOM!'s view, even internally, has been that we're the young, scrappy upstart company and we're the cool band that the hipsters listen to and the rest might not know about it. On that level, I feel the marketing has been very effective because the message has been very much, "Hey, you're in the know." Take the "Mark Waid Is Evil" campaign -- it allowed readers to be the cool comic reader to get into "Ireedeemable" before anyone else knows that Mark is capable of that kind of story.
The brand is there, and I think the next phase is showing off that the brand is mainstream genre stories that are appealing to people who like comic book movies and summer blockbusters, but aren't reading comics. I think that brand is there, it's just a matter of now evolving the marketing to a point where we show that we produce consistently great books with really exciting creators you know, but aren't necessarily going to be the Millars & Bendises of the world. I think one of BOOM!'s secret weapons is Matt Gagnon's eye for talent. They've been working on series with Sam Humphries before everyone figured out that he's the next hot thing. They have these great insights in to new talent like Rafael Albequerque, but they've also shown they can get great talent like Dave Johnson and John Cassaday to work with them. It's about refining that message and taking it to the next level.
The entire industry is showing a bit of an upswing in sales lately, including BOOM! First issues are launching, in some cases by just small percentages while others are showing greater strength, but launching with sales at a higher number across the board. I believe BOOM!'s own "Higher Earth" #1 launched at 15k+, which is pretty good for a book that's created by very capable, but not widely known talent. Do you feel that BOOM! is performing at its potential or is it underperforming?
When I first started talking with Ross, I admit that on some level my perception of BOOM! was a bit dated. When you look at the history of 2012, you've got "Adventure Time" selling in the neighborhood of 25,000 copies every issue, books like "Planet of the Apes" are being very well received by critics and performing quite well, and then with "Higher Earth" launching at 20,000 and "Fanboys Vs. Zombies" with the $1 issue launching at 32,000, well, I think they're already hitting their marks. But what I think is really exciting is what I can do to help push the company up the hill faster. That's my attitude. I feel like I'm getting in on the final ground floor of BOOM! and I can help take it to the next level.
I should repeat, I enjoyed the hell out of my time at Top Cow and it's been a career defining experience. I'm incredibly proud of some of the announcements that will be coming out in the lead up to Comic-Con and during Comic-Con that are really revolutionary. Being a part of that and to have helped fashion how that stuff will be rolled out and the bones and skeleton of it, I feel like I'm leaving Top Cow at a really good place, I'm leaving my mark on the company at a time where they're celebrating their 20th anniversary and are about to make a big splash. Inherently, I'm a person who loves a challenge. I get bored if I'm doing the same thing for too long, so now I feel like Top Cow's in a good place and it's OK for me to move on.
I want to finish by having you reflect over your six years with Top Cow and share with us a personal moment you really cherish.
That's easy. I'm a comic kid of the early '90s. I started reading comics when Jim Lee and Marc Silvestri were on X-Men. I was the kid who had his Mom drive him to the comics shop to pick up all the Image #1s. I began working at Diamond in 2000 and in 2006 I get the call from Matt Hawkins about the job at Top Cow. I knew Matt, but we weren't friends then. Matt hired me, I had never met Marc and I had been working for the company I'd say about two and a half months when I was doing my first show down in Texas, Wizard World Arlington. I was down there with some of the creators, we're hanging out at this shitty sports bar in the hotel and we are the only people in this bar, maybe 8 of us. We're having the hardest time getting the attention of anyone, even to just get a pitcher of beer. So, I get a text from Marc and he tells me he just got to the room and wanted to know what everybody was up to. I told him I was down at the bar with some of the guys having a drink and he said he'd be right down. In he walks, all 6' 7, the long hair, the sun glasses, the awesome LA style and all of a sudden, five waitresses I didn't even know were there pour out of the back and were all, "Oh, hi, can we help you?" They had no idea who he was, but that's the kind of reaction he gets.
Later on that night, he leans over, tells me he's really glad I'm with the company and asks me what I thought Top Cow could do better. For about 30 seconds, for the first time in the six years I had been working in comics, I was 12 year old me and all I could think was, "Why the hell does Marc Silvestri care what I think?" Just being able to tap in to that original excitement and thrill to work with one of my heroes is great. Marc is one of the nicest guys in the world, cool, funny and most importantly very responsive to people's ideas.
EDITORS NOTE: An earlier version of this story referred to Sablik as BOOM!'s new VP Marketing and Sales. Sablik's actual position is VP Publishing and Marketing.