Leave it to an Image Comics co-founder to continue breaking new ground when it comes to comic book production. Last summer, Marc Silvestri and Top Cow announced plans that got the industry talking: a Kickstarter campaign to fund an all new volume of "Cyber Force" that would then be offered to readers for free through comic book stores and digital download. The fundraising aspect turned out to be a success and, after launching the new series in October, the first arc wraps up with issue #5 in June.
Written by Silvestri and Top Cow Chief Operating Officer Matt Hawkins with art by Khoi Pham, the new volume of "Cyber Force" found familiar heroes like Stryker, Velocity and Rip Claw in an all-new situation fighting against mega-corporation CDI, which essentially runs Millennium City in the future.
CBR News spoke with Silvestri about bringing the techno-heroes back to the masses through modern means, creating an all-new, yet familiar, version of Cyber Force and possible plans for the future of the series.
CBR News: Now that the first arc of "Cyber Force" is close to wrapping up, what has your experience been like with this new means of publishing and distribution?
Marc Silvestri: It's been exciting and really, really interesting. The wildcard was the "free" aspect of the whole thing, so going in, we had no idea what the reaction to the Kickstarter/free comic paradigm was going to be. Either people were gonna get it or they weren't, but we had nothing to base it on. In keeping with the Top Cow M.O., we said, "Of course we'll do it!"
I think the prevailing attitude at Top Cow was, "Lets just hope for curiosity from the community and go with that." As long as we deliver the goods, we'll be fine. From the feedback we're getting, we delivered the goods so that's -- um -- good. Ultimately, it worked, so we're very thankful for the support we got from the fans and participating retailers.
From a business perspective, what major changes did this new method of production and distribution bring about?
Fortunately, nothing popped up that we couldn't handle, but it did require a lot of extra hours of thought and diligent maintenance from Matt Hawkins and the rest of the Top Cow crew. Again, this was uncharted territory and we really could have used one or two people extra to focus on just this. Communicating what we wanted to do with the retail community alone would have required a full time staffer. Lots of good lessons learned though.
Were there any surprises that came about from the Kickstarter campaign or this whole process in general?
The easy part was the fans, because let's face it, who doesn't want free comics? Our biggest concerns were making sure the retail community would be serviced and that our long-term goals for the project were clear. Most people don't know that retailers still need to pay a certain amount for a comic -- even on free comic days. We had a lot of great retail support, but looking back there are things we could have done better. Again, good lessons.
"Cyber Force" was definitely an experiment in production, but did it require any new approaches on the creative side?
Creatively, "Cyber Force" was a little tricky because refreshing any IP that has a history to acknowledge needs lots of finessing. The first thing I wanted to do was make the book feel new while still tipping a hat to the original. There were a lot of things l liked in the original run, but many more things that I didn't. As strange as it may sound, I read absolutely zero past issues of the title. It was funny because I remember asking some people around the office what Velocity's real name was! Personally, I think it was the right way to go because the characters and themes feel very contemporary and not burdened by nostalgia.
Was there ever any worry about trying to fit in concepts like "Cyber Force" or "Aphrodite IX" into the more Artifacts-based Top Cow Universe post-Rebirth?
That was never really a concern because by design, the Top Cow Universe is very elastic and adaptable. We have the supernatural, the natural and the world of fantasy/sci-fi all coexisting comfortably so (the new) "Cyber Force" fits right in. "Cyber Force" is primarily sci-fi, but also character-based and very topical, which makes it easy for us if we decide to place them in a story with one of our other titles.
What can you tease for the events coming up in "Cyber Force" #5?
I can't tell you too much, because as people reading the book have noticed, I like to tease and surprise! I've always been a fan of non-linear storytelling and playing with time -- as long as the teasing drives the story, makes sense and (eventually) answers all the questions that are posed.
What I can tell you, however, is that the world the characters live in will become very clear and that this first arc is truly the origin of how Cyber Force as a team is formed. By the end of issue #5, Cyber Force's ongoing mission will be evident. But, with that said, I love a good mystery, so expect more teasing!
What are your long term plans for the book beyond that point?
The world of Cyber Force is both epic and at the same time personal by design. Stryker and crew will continue to make very human decisions that have very big ramifications/consequences. Because of this, character actions will be the driving force in making the story feel epic in size. Humans and the future we continue to create is what I find to be the most interesting backdrop to the series. Expect that to lead to some heavy dollops of crazy.
By taking your old characters and completely reinventing them, in a way you've re-established what made Image and the creator-owned movement so special in the first place. What has the experience been like returning to these characters who helped you launch Top Cow?
I've always loved the characters and having the chance to reinvent and update them is a real gift. The fact that I can do this reinvention 20 years later and nobody can tell me that I can't is pretty cool. Plus, it's nice to feel just a wee touch of personal nostalgia without being hamstrung to it.
By going the Kickstarter route and even allowing all four issues to be downloaded, you're really breaking new ground in the industry. Do you have plans for more unorthodox production methods in the near future?
Image was built on the idea of busting up the status quo, so I'd say that unorthodox is a given. I can't yet say what's next, but it's a brave new world, so anything is possible.
"Cyber Force" #5 written by Marc Silvestri and Matt Hawkins with art by Khoi Pham will be available for free in June.