Friday, September 19, 2008

Chris Folino Interview - The 2nd Time Around

Gwen's review column will be back next week, but her schedule is keeping her off the blog for a little while,

Chris was kind enough to subjected himself to a second round of interview questions. I have to tell you that I think Chris is one of the stand up guys in this business and I'm a huge fan of what he and JM Ringuet have created with Sparks. Also I can't wait to see what Chris and Bill Katt do with Greatest American Hero and Mythlogy Wars, two very different books.

Sparks is a golden age super hero done with a film noir feeling. It is one of the best books on the stands and it is a crying shame the sales do not reflect it. I tell you what anyone who buys this book and doesn't like it e-mail me and then if you mail the book to me I'll send you a check for the price you paid for it (so keep the receipt). One to a customer and I will only do that for the first 25 people who take me up on the offer, but I don't have to worry because I know you'll like the book.

JIM: Chris you are heading down the home stretch with Sparks as the series has turned into a six issue mini-series. Why the change from an eight issue to six issue mini-series and do you feel anything was lost by shortening the story?

CHRIS: I had Bill's blessings to go eight issues, however, it wasn't needed. I took out one small storyline that was a cool idea about Sparks trying to make the relationship with Dawn work and having Sparks go out one more time in costume and he comes across a retirement home for heroes where some old villains have come in and started killing off the good guys. The point was that Sparks finally witnesses that even if he does right by the world, in the end it's not always a happy one. I spoke with Derek McCaw about the story and he told me there was another comic book that had a similar idea. And I just didn't want to go there and after looking at the storyline for about a month, I really do think Sparks has been through enough hell and didn't need one more thing to bring him to the brink of insanity.

Also, I was feeling guilty about costs, it's not cheap to release a comic book, after you pay for printing and the artist. And I don't want to take down Catastrophic Comics before it gets a running start. It's an honor to have this opportunity and I don't want to mistreat it. And honestly, I just finished book 6 and it came out to like 34 pages. I'm proud of it, it's been a 14 month journey of writing and it's been a dream come true to tell a very dark noir super hero story and not pull back any punches.

So, I can say without a doubt the complete story of Sparks has been told and nothing was cut out.

JIM: I’m dying to know how it all works out, but I’ll be patient. Catastrophic Comics is a new imprint, what would you count as the toughest challenges in helping to launch a new company and get the word out about a new book?

CHRIS: I promise you’ll be the first person to see Book 5 and Book 6 once JM finishes the captions and artwork. I think with the opportunity you and your site gave us with reviewing Sparks first, it really pumped everyone up, so we put in those extra late night hours every month to make it the best we can. It’s more than a comic book to me and I do know JM feels the same way. You’re reputation is on the line and when you have "no reputation” or past work to show for in the comic world, it’s your one shot. How do you want to be remembered? That’s the question you have to keep asking yourself when you do anything personal.

I’d die if I got paid to work on adapting new stories of “The Facts of Life” to the comic book world. I’d f**king kick myself in the nuts to see if they could grow back for selling out. I learned with doing the movie Gamers, it’s better to have people love your work or hate it passionately. Anything in between is failure. Because, you didn’t evoke any emotion then from the audience and you failed. And the second you try and make something in the middle to please everyone, you might as well call yourself The Wayans Brothers and retire.

Sure they have made millions and they’re popular and Gamers is still unheard of and in the red and I’m doing Sparks for free, but, at the end of the day, I haven’t f**king sold out.I’ve gotten to do two projects the exact way my f**ked up mind wanted at the time. Sure, it has costs me personally and professionally. But, life is f**king short and when my kids grow up and I’m long gone and they pull out Sparks or Gamers I hope to God they go, “f**k sure he was an idiot, but, the idiot believed in doing his own thing.” And maybe they will be able to piece together that missing puzzle of how do you make money doing the one thing you love?

For me Bruce Springsteen is the only older artist I know who still after all these years still hasn’t licensed his music to car commercials and I appreciate that so much. Because, I can’t listen to the f**king “WHO” any more because they whore themselves to TV shows and commercials and the same goes for Bob Seger, John Mellencamp. I have no idea why that means so much to me, I grew up poor, you’d think I’d be smarter? But, it does. And maybe I missed the boat, on Sparks is just a comic book, but it’s not! It’s personal.

And honestly, if you guys hated book 1, it may never have seen the light of day, because, book 5 and book 6 weren’t written yet and Sparks was a big gamble. The early reviews pumped everyone up to continue to the series. I remember talking to Bill and we had real concerns on how dark Sparks was. And the game plan was always to release Mythology Wars first, it’s dark, but a bit more commercial than Sparks. I promise you though Myth get a bit f**king dark. Bill is a sick man and I appreciate that about him.
However, the thought was at the end of the day Let’s release Sparks, it won’t embarrass Bill or Catastrophic, it may get some loyal readers and a little press that can perhaps carry over to “Mythology Wars or Greatest American Hero” and we will promise whoever read Sparks that both those books will not f**king suck.

To answer part two of your question, the toughest challenges in helping to launch a new company is how do you stay in business long enough to gain an audience? Because truth be told, after you pay Diamond 60 percent of sales of $2.99 and then pay the artist and the printer you ask yourself how do people make money to even pay for these books to be published? Especially, an independent comic book company, unless you strike a cord with an audience real quick, selling 1,500 copies a month is going to put you under and you got to be able to know when to kill your baby and move on to the next book for the good of the company. I think if you release monthly you better do only four books and I’d never print in America, Canada is the way to go. I don’t know why our country is so expensive to print comic books, it’s a f**king joke. And don’t advertise in Diamond after your first issue. Because, it’s too expensive to place an ad for a company that should be your partner after they take 60 percent of your profit.

That whole Previews book is a f**king cash cow and it’s not doing the industry any good. You want better comics? Then lower your price for independent comic books to advertise and then maybe you’ll get another kid living in Ohio who will bring you the next “Goon” and then you’ll make your more cash back and you will have helped a new artist out instead of continuing to feed the beast that is Marvel and DC.
Lastly, I’d go back and offer the artist a percentage of the book and never pay for more than $170 for art, ink and color per page as an independent book. Otherwise you’ll never get out of the red. And there are so many great new artists that you can team up with. And lastly, don’t release a book until you got some at least three issues in completed in the can.

JIM: Well I’m a big fan of the book and I think it is one of those projects that may go under the radar for awhile and then get noticed by a larger crowd. I also think that a large portion of the comic reading public is almost scared to branch out and try something different. Even when some books get some press from the bigger sites, the columns hardly have any comments on them and retailers won’t order because they are afraid they will not sell. It is a catch-22 world the direct market has built that goes against growth in the industry.

I know that you and Bill attended the San Diego Comic Con. Personally I’m burnt out from just seeing all the stories that came out of San Diego, but noticed the small press again got over looked. Do you think the SDCC is worth it for small press books?

CHRIS: SDCC is the hub for people with attention deficit disorder, there is so much to see. And honestly, comic books, especially small press books get lost. We sat next to Eric Powell from the Goon and his booth wasn't as crowded as I thought it would be. For Christ sake, it's the F**king Goon! That dude is amazing and successful. I don’t know if it’s the economy, or the price of admission is too high, but, people after paying for hotels, meals, parking and to get inside, they want some free shit! And if you’re small press, you’re kind of f**ked, because, at the end of the day, you’re that asshole paying for your dream. And I mean that both literarily and figuratively.

Now, I had it my head that Sparks would sell well and we would sell the hell out Hero posters and ashcans. I am a f**king idiot. Serious, when you get Bob Culp, William Katt, and Connie Sellecca together to talk about The Greatest American Hero comic book for the first time in 25 years, you should change your f**king booth name from Catastrophic Comics to The Greatest American Hero and second, people want to buy merchandise from the franchise they know, so the old pictures of the two together was what folks wanted.

And as a huge fan of the show, that’s what I’d to buy instead of a new poster based on the comic book or try a comic book presented by William Katt. Serious, why did I bring so many f**king copies of Sparks to that f**king convention? Because, it’s the same overly optimist little f**king voice in your mind that tells you “Gamers is going to make into “The Sundance Film Festival” or the voice for most guys when any girl walks by you and says “Hi” for some reason that voice immediately says “she wants me” (Editor's note - Are you saying she doesn't?)
For PR sake, meeting retailers and making connections SDCC is good., However, to sell anything, like a poster or book you’re f**ked and it costs a lot of money to get a booth, at SDCC, like 2K, and then to stay in a hotel for like five days and eat. Then on top of it, you made thousands of ashcans and posters for the event, you’re out a lot of money. And then the whole f**king irony of it all is that your selling an individual book that’s $2.99 a book. Good luck doing the math on that, you’re better getting a part time job at the Starbucks inside the convention with the tip jar, you’d make more money. God, am I coming across as a negative dick or what?
JIM: What is the co-branded project coming out from Catatrophic and Arcana and how did that all come about?

CHRIS: The project is Stephen J. Cannell’s The Greatest American Hero comic book which is being co-produced by Arcana and Catastrophic. Honestly, the reason for that is simple, Sean beat us to the punch by like three weeks and secured the license for The Greatest American Hero. I remember sitting in Starbucks years ago with Bill and said “You know what boss, you should call Cannell up and ask about the license and making it into a comic book.” He remembers that meeting as “Hey Chris you know what, you should call up Cannell and ask.” And you know what, I ended up being the one calling and they were kind of laughing at me in a nice way “Oh, you just missed it, we just signed a deal a few weeks ago. Sorry.” And that was that, for like almost nine months, then Derek McCaw our Director of Marketing for Catastrophic was at Wondercon in San Fran and ran into Sean and he set up a meeting between Bill and myself and a few weeks later, we’re partners with Arcana on GAH.

JIM: How far are you into GAH at this point?

CHRIS: It’s going okay, We’ve been really focused on The Greatest American Hero 25th Anniversary Retrospective which we got the original cast and crew back together for an evening to talk about the show. Huge icons and as a fan this is a historic event! We are taping the show and that has been my focus since Sparks. However, regarding the comic book, we have an ace in the whole that will keep us on track. Once we get the details worked out, you’ll be the first to know as well.

JIM: Is the group writing effort a lot different then solo and who coordinates things with the artist?

CHRIS: The group writing is much different, you get instant feedback, rather if you want it or not. However, when you deal with license product you got to understand it’s not your baby. You’re just the lucky guy who gets to baby sit it for a bit and you got to make sure you don’t drop the baby.
Bill and I will coordinate with the artist, we have similar taste and expectations.
JIM: Getting back to Sparks, are Bill and you shopping it all to try and get a producer interested in making it into a movie?

CHRIS: Not really, I think we are kind of like, let’s wait until issue six is done and the series is complete and then we can shop it around, so a studio or agent will have the entire story.

JIM: Hindsight is always 20/20, anything you would do differently in trying to generate an audience for Sparks?

CHRIS: Man, I think I would try and get ads online on Newsarama and CBR instead of paying all that money to advertise in Diamond. However, as we just learned from a huge mistake Diamond did by not including book 5 of Sparks in Previews, we got f**ked with orders. They’re re-running it another issue of Previews, however, it made me stop and say “well look! That money sucking whore of a publication does serve a purpose after all.” However, online advertising hits more folks and I got to believe you’re reaching the fans more.

JIM: Are you working on Mythology Wars with Bill and are you guys on track for a 2009 release?

CHRIS: Yeah, Mythology Wars is in better shape right now than The Greatest American Hero. It’s a beautiful looking book, Jeff Jumper, the artist is f**king tearing it up. It’s just awesome seeing the book take form, it’s going to be very cool and epic. And of course dark.

JIM: Finally, I’m a big fan of Sparks and thing you and JM have really hit a home run and this story could grow over the years into more and more of a hit. All of this is leading – will you be doing a collected version of this book?

CHRIS: We would love too, I do think the book would be better as a graphic novel, I don’t think other than GAH that Catastrophic should release an individual book. It’s a pain in the ass to go monthly for such low sales.

Thanks again to Chris for being so giving of his time. What I love about Chris is the honesty in his answers and that he tells it like it really is. Calvin and Hobbes is my favorite comic strip of all time and Bill Watterson had the same passion about his work and he never sold out by allowing his creations to be mass marketed on everything. I think that type of integrity counts for alot and Chris has it in spades.

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