Nick Landau has been revolutionizing the UK comic book industry for decades. Starting out in the '70s as one of the first comic book distributors, Landau went on to found both Forbidden Planet, the UK's largest comic book retail chain, Forbidden Planet, as well as Titan Publishing, one of the UK's largest publishing houses.
This year, Landau is exerting his considerable influence and expanding Titan Publishing to create the Titan Comics Imprint, focusing on developing and promoting creator-owned series from the best up-and-coming creators around the world.
Landau recently spoke with Comic Book Resources about Titan Publishing's push in to the worldwide comic book market with Titan Comics. Landau went over what titles to expect in the imprint's first wave, how they're using digital trends to their advantage, ruminates on his status as a behind-the-scenes comics legend and also exclusively announces new series "It Came!"
CBR News: Nick, what is your role at Titan Comics Imprint?
Nick Landau: I'm the managing director and publisher of Titan Comics and Titan Publishing. Basically, Titan Publishing is part of the Titan Entertainment Group, which is co-owned by Vivian Cheung and myself. Titan Publishing comprises three areas of business: Titan Books, Titan Magazines and Titan Comics.
So now you know who I am!
What is the new Titan Comics Imprint all about? How is it different than Titan's other publishing divisions?
Titan Books is very much in the illustrated market and produces a lot of fiction books. We have a number of authors that we publish regularly, about 300-400 books a year. We have a division called Hard Case Crime, which will be publishing one of the biggest books of the year for us, Stephen King's "Joyland." That's an original piece of work for Hard Case Crime. Titan Books is basically science fiction, horror, crime and fantasy. We're a genre publisher.
Titan Magazines publishes tie-in magazines to films and TV. Magazines like "The Walking Dead" magazine, which we work with Skybound on, and "Star Wars Insider" magazine, which we work with LucasFilm on. We also work with Mark Millar on a magazine called "CLiNT" which is being published in the US and UK. We have a whole history of magazines that include things like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Xena: Warrior Princess," "Farscape" and "CSI." If it's been a TV show, we've probably published it as a magazine.
Titan Comics Imprint is launching at San Diego this year. We have put out a few comics in the US market already like "Lenore" and "Tank Girl" [under the Titan Comics UK banner]. We've been publishing both of those for a while and those are the two series that we're probably known for up to this date.
Titan Comics Imprint is about the best creator talent. There's a lot of tremendous talent in the UK and we thought this was the best time to start publishing them. We looked at the US market, which has gone through ups and downs, but we've seen growth in the last year or so. We thought this would be a good time to come in to the marketplace with a new company. We've got in the region of twenty series in our first wave. Some of which we've revealed in various press releases, but we haven't announced everything yet.
You say 'first wave.' What's the timing on that?
The first wave really starts with Comic-Con International in San Diego. We'll be publishing the first wave through to the end of the year.
There may be some announcements on the second wave prior to San Diego, although we haven't finished announcing the first wave, yet.
Do you think Titan Comics imprint could herald in a second 'British invasion' in the US like the one in the late '80s?
The first wave coming over the top of the trenches, a good portion of it will be British talent. In actual fact, however, there will be creators from all over the world. There'll be American creators, British creators, creators from other European countries, creators from everywhere.
For instance, in the first wave we have Jack Katz' "The First Kingdom," which is a series that was first published back in the '80s. Jack has now completed the series with an additional hundred pages which will be published for the very first time by Titan Comics Imprint in six volumes. Jack is a US golden age creator. So it'll be creators from all over the world, but mostly the UK in the first wave.
Which of the already-announced first wave books are you most excited about?
Well, on a personal and historic level, "The First Kingdom," which I mentioned earlier. I love Jack Katz's work.
"Numbercruncher" is a wonderful series coming from Si Spurrier ("X-Men: Legacy," "Crossed: Wish You Were Here") and PJ Holden ("2000 AD") colored by Jordie Bellaire ("Captain Marvel," "Rocketeer," "The Manhattan Projects").
"Ring of Roses" from Das Petrou and John Watkiss. John is an incredible artist in the grand British tradition, a classic great creator.
"Thrud the Barbarian" by Carl Critchlow ("2000 AD," "Magic: The Gathering"), which is a superb piece of work and extraordinarily funny but, at the same time, some amazing artwork, which is an unusual combination. Usually you see humor with a cartoony-style, but Carl does not have a cartoony style, his artwork is detailed and gorgeous.
"Chronos Commandos" by Stuart Jennett, who has worked with Marvel UK. That's a great World War II/time-travel/dinosaur-crunching story that is both violent and funny, but mostly an extraordinary painted pulp-action series.
Also, we're working with Dave Elliott on "A1." Titan Comics has a very, very good distribution system as well as sales and marketing. Dave is basically tapping into that system to get his imprint out. It's basically Atomeka and Titan Comics working together. Dave is packaging his own books and selling them through Titan Comics.
You also have a new series coming from Titan Comics imprint to announce today, correct?
Yes, we have another strip called "It Came!" -- a four-issue, 1950s B-movie-style miniseries by Dan Boultwood, hitting comic stores on Aug 7. Dan worked on the Eagle Award nominated "Hope Falls." He has a wonderful animation-cel style. The conceit of "It Came!" is that it's a low-budget movie from the archives of a fictional British movie studio.
In this, the first movie rescued from the archives, Dr. Boy Brett, a space scientist, and his lovely lady assistant Doris Night become entangled in both bunting and the machinations of a giant robot from space when they take a drive in the country. From there, it's non-stop escalation as the army get involved as the robot strides towards London.
It's like a '50s British science fiction film 'beautifully portrayed' with a tongue-in-check approach. Our logline is "They stuck on the kettle and they cowered in terror when... 'It Came!'"
You've been an instrumental member of the UK comics scene for decades. How did you get your start in the comics industry?
I'll give you a slightly long story. Back in the early '70s, I started a fan magazine in the UK called "Comic Media." We ran a lot of UK comic strips and also Will Eisner's "The Spirit." We also did a lot of interviews with comic creators. That was effectively my first publishing venture while I was at school. I was looking for a US distributor for the magazine and came across two guys, Phil Seuling and Bud Plant. Bud Plant used to be the biggest distributor of indie comics on the West Coast and Phil Seuling was the biggest distributor on the East Coast. This was before the birth of the direct market. I got to know both of them and Phil said, "I'm thinking of approaching Marvel and DC and setting up some sort of direct market campaign with them to buy comic books." Bud and I used to go, "that sounds like a great idea, Phil, let's see how that transpires." Long and short of it, that was the birth of the direct market. The one that you and I are now well entrenched in. I became Phil's first international distributor. So I was actually a comic book publisher and distributor in the UK prior to the birth of the direct market in the United States.
After that, I went to college and became the editor of a comic in the UK called "2000 AD." It featured a character called Judge Dredd. It was a weekly comic published by IPC Magazines and I think the first issue sold about 400,000 copies on the newsstands. I was at IPC for several years; I was the second full-time editor. I was working very closely with people like Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons, Kevin O'Neill, Ian Gibson and Mick McMahon. On the writing side, that included John Wagner and Pat Mills.
"2000 AD" was sort of the rebirth of the British comics industry. It became a magnet for British comics talent. I stayed for a few years and then left to start Titan Publishing. That was 1981 and Titan Books, Comics and Magazines all grew out of that. Today, we're effectively launching Titan Comics on to the US side and that will be happening in July.
When you first started Titan Publishing, what types of material were you releasing?
When we first started Titan, we were actually doing reprints from the UK market, so we did a lot of "2000 AD" reprints. I think we published around 120 collections of "2000 AD." The very first collection we did was a Judge Dredd one of Brian Bolland's work. We laid it out on [Bolland's] kitchen table in 1981.
Also, even from day one, we were distributing Titan Books in the US direct market through Phil Seuling and Bud Plant, which we discussed before.
How long did it take for Titan Publishing to start publishing original work?
Back in the '80s we were doing a lot of original books: fiction, non-fiction and art books. In terms of original comics though, probably the very first work we ever did was written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Dave McKean. It was called "Violent Cases" and that was their first team-up. We also published work by James Robinson. He used to work at Titan and we did his first collection, which was called "London's Dark." We've been publishing collections since 1981. We've been doing original work since the mid-'80s.
What are the major differences between publishing for the UK and the US markets?
The first major difference is that the UK market is a mass market, which is a newsstand market. The US market is predominantly a direct market of specialist stores. The mass market in the UK sells to newsagents. Titan Comics UK is the largest publisher of boys' comics in the UK. We do a lot of licensed magazines, which sell on the newsstands.
In the US, our first Titan Comics imprint wave is very much a creator-owned wave in the sense that we're working with what we consider to be the very, very best up and coming writers and artists in the business. These are titles like "Chronos Commandos," "Numbercruncher" and "Ring of Roses." Working with names that you may not yet be familiar with, but in the same way years ago people weren't familiar with Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons or any of those guys. They all came out of the UK market. We're working with the creators who we believe will be the biggest names of the future. That's why I think it's very important for the fans to look at what's coming out of Titan Comics, because they'll see the waves of great talent that will be coming out of the marketplace in years to come.
You are also the founder and owner of the UK's largest retail comic chain, Forbidden Planet. How will you utilize Forbidden Planet for Titan Comics Imprint?
Vivian and I do also own Forbidden Planet. Forbidden Planet, as you probably know, is the number one entertainment retail chain in the UK selling comics, DVDs and sci-fi merchandise. I think there are two elements related to this that are important.
One is that because we have a chain of stores, we're very, very close to the consumer. We have a very good idea of what the fans actually want on a day-to-day basis.
Also, in terms of creators, it enables us to run signings and to promote the comics that Titan will be publishing directly to the consumers. We can work very closely with creators at a retail level, as well as working closely with them at a publishing level.
Where do you see Titan Comics in five or ten years' time? Do you think it can become the number one comic publisher in the UK? In the US?
Well, the UK market is divided in to three markets: boys, girls and pre-school. We are the largest boys' comic publisher already in the UK. I'm afraid we've reached that crown already!
In regards to the US, our initial goal is to just publish great comics out of a great love of comics. Some of us have had a great love of comics since seemingly the beginning of time, others far more recently.
Where do we want to be in five years time? We'd love to still be publishing great comics. It's really dependent on how well received Titan Comics and also the entire industry is then. Nobody quite knows where the industry is going. How many -- and I hate this term -- but how many floppies will still be published in five or ten years' time? Will we be publishing digital first and then collecting it? Whichever way it is, Titan Comics will be a big part of that, but we just don't know in what form yet. We're a pretty technological savvy business. We're keeping very much abreast of trends and we're ahead of a lot of them. Wherever comics go, Titan Comics will be there.
On a personal note, you've been involved with the British comics scene for decades. You had an instrumental hand in the early stages of "2000 AD," you founded both Forbidden Planet and Titan Publishing, and you discovered and nurtured a great many creators who made up the first 'British comics invasion.' In many ways, you've personally transformed the comic book scene both in the UK and abroad. Taking this all into account, what are some of your most poignant observations from your storied experiences in the comic book world?
That's a very big question that demands a very big answer. I think we might save the big answer for another day, but I think that one of the things that's pleased me a lot is the fact that when we started in this business all those years ago, it was a very small business. We started before the direct market came around; we had maybe four or five stores in the UK. There were a lot more in the US, but there weren't that many, maybe a hundred or so.
I think that what has excited me most, without trying to sound too egotistical here, is how the rest of the world has finally caught up to us as an industry. How obviously in Hollywood all the top movies are now comics related. The rise of the computer game. With all these things, I feel like we were a bit of a lone voice back in the day and now I find it very funny when I meet with people and in order to be cool they try to pretend to be very geeky. To know all the stuff about comics. All the sort of things we've had as a passion for the last 40 years. It's been a complete switch-around from being the minority to being the rest of the world. I'm just so pleased that our group of companies has been able to grow and surf the big wave we all know and love that is getting bigger and bigger all the time.
Titan Comics Imprint featuring "Numbercruncher," "Ring of Roses," "Thrud the Barbarian" and more launches this July from Titan Publishing. "It Came!" by Dan Boultwood hits store shelves August 7.