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April 27, 2010

Beyond the Pages with Dynamite President Nick Barrucci

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How did Dynamite Entertainment begin?
You know the old saying “One door closes and another opens”? Well, it was very much so in this case. I did not have the desire to be a publisher. I had been in the business long enough (with Dynamic Forces, Inc.—our parent company) that if you look at the bodies along the comics road, you can see that there were many more failures than successes in our business. The only real way it should work is by many smaller publishers consolidating, and we didn’t see that happening. But we were thrown in the middle of the Atlantic, so to speak, and told to guess which direction to go in to swim back home. So, when we started publishing, the first thing I started hearing from long-time friends was, “I thought you would never publish” or “I guess ‘never’ is as good as death in comics,” etc.

How difficult was it to build a brand like Dynamite’s? What did it take to make it a success?
Hard work. A belief in ourselves. A belief in the licenses we were picking. You have to keep in mind that before Dynamite came along, most companies had said no to licensed comics as they didn’t see it work for the last few years at the time. Possibly because of the market changing. I could be wrong, but I do feel that our success at licensing is what encouraged other companies to get into licensed comics.
 
You guys do have an interesting role in the industry, considering your licensed content. What are the goals in what you publish?
It’s threefold. We wish to publish the licenses we enjoy but are also commercially successful. There are some titles that are driven more by the artists and the writers that we work with than by us, and we have faith in the creators we work with. There are also a few titles that we enjoy that are labors of love even if they do not make any money. Lone Ranger is an example. It’s one of the best books out there in our opinion. Westerns are a little tough; we don’t make money on the title but we continue to publish it because it’s one of the smartest, crispest titles we have and what Brett Matthews has done has put it over the top.
 
What are your bestselling projects at this point?
Three mainstays currently: Green Hornet has done very well, The Boys has done very well, and the Superpowers universe does very well. At any given point, that can change, as we are growing and slotting in more titles and our goal is to always make each series we are doing as successful as possible. We give it our best and keep moving it forward.
 
What are the biggest obstacles you see in your way, from a business standpoint?
There are obstacles everywhere. The biggest obstacle, if you can call it that, is that the graphic-novel medium matured and while bookstore sales are still very important, bookstores have more titles to contend with as the libraries get bigger and therefore it gets slightly harder to put new titles out there. Other challenges are that as an industry we’ve ushered in—with the exception of DC, and my hat’s off to them to be able to keep so many titles at $2.99—most titles being at $3.99 and on so many levels the fans and retailers have accepted it, publishers have definitely accepted it, and unit sales are down while dollars are up. Like any other industry, you prefer unit sales to be up and dollars to at least stay the same or increase, but the fact that we’ve had to leap from $2.99 to $3.99, if I were a consumer I wouldn’t enjoy that at all. But it is a challenge and it’s one that we’ve created for ourselves.
 
In regards to the trade paperback, comic retailers have the same issue. Now that it’s a mature market, they have many more trade paperback options than they’ve ever had before and we’re not only competing with every other publisher, we’re competing with ourselves. But that is the nature of the beast, and I don’t see it going away at this point.
 
With so many new readers, both adult and teen, coming to comics, how do you see the industry changing?
With so many new readers, both adult and teens coming in, I actually don’t see as many as I would like to see. I think the marketplace is changing and that the industry, just like any other industry, is getting more and more challenging. It would be fantastic if our industry had an image program like “Got milk?” People have talked about it for years. I think in the last 10 years, everyone stopped talking about it and I think we should start talking today. I think the biggest change in the industry today is the characters are better known than the comics. Iron Man sells X, but the movie did Y—a huge, huge, huge number, and I wish that this would translate into comics. But what it does, and it’s great for Marvel, is it translates into Iron Man T-shirts and Iron Man bedspreads and Iron Man action figures. If the source material could get out there more, that would be great. I know everybody mentions “look for the comic” or “from the comic,” but most people just want to enjoy the experience at hand. As an industry, we need to figure out a way to reach more readers.
 
What are the trends you see going on in the industry right now?
The trends are still the crossovers, the big events, and that hasn’t changed and probably won’t change any time in the near future. As long as Marvel and DC can have greater success with that than without that. Look at Siege, look at Blackest Night—they are still the gangbuster hits. It’s where the market is.
 
How do you ensure you reach your readership base in this marketplace? How do you keep on top of marketing in the right channels?
You go up to bat every day. There is no guarantee anything you do will penetrate the market. You keep trying the best you can, from viral marketing to grass-roots marketing to full on blast marketing. There is no little thing that does not matter or does not help. I think a lot of people think that the iPad will bring in new readers, and I would love to think nothing else. One thing I can’t wrap my head around is the apps that the iPad will have and consumers going for the apps that they like. I mean, I don’t know any consumers that really use more than three to seven apps. Most of them use baseball, football, basketball or whatever hobbies they have. I don’t know that the iPad will bring in new readers on its own. We have to find a way as an industry to get people to try out comics. How you do that when you’re still asking them to spend money on a format that they don’t recognize, I just don’t know. It’s a challenge that we have to overcome. While I may not have agreed with much of Bill Jemas at the turn of the century, the one thing that you cannot disagree with is that he made comics exciting, sales went up and some new readers did come in.
 
How did you and Kevin Smith get started working together on Green Hornet?
That’s interesting. It’s been something that, as far as I’m concerned, I would have liked to have happened sooner, but it happened at the right place at the right time. I’ve known Kevin for 12 years, maybe longer, since he launched Marvel Knights with Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti. He’s always been a gentlemen and a scholar. He is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I’m not just saying this because I work with him; I’m saying this because it’s true. When we got the Green Hornet license, he absolutely was the first person we approached because I remembered reading that he had a passion for the character and there was an unpublished movie script.
 
The one thing I can say is that in all the time I’ve known Kevin, I really haven’t “bothered” him about anything that I didn’t think he’d be interested in. Honestly I’m sure there are people that call him all the time about projects. I guess to a degree I picked my shots and I’m glad I did so. It’s an interesting situation. Kevin was really polite and took a meeting with me fairly early. He was on the West Coast and coming to the East Coast within a month or so of our communication and he suggested that we meet face to face. I met him at his location shooting Cop Out with Bruce Willis and Tracey Morgan, and he was really cool to deal with. We showed him the art from Alex Ross and the concept art and he was really excited. He helped get a plug in Entertainment Weekly and honestly I guess it came down to I asked and he said yes.
 
What are your plans for the Green Hornet?
We’re in the beginning of the releases. We’ve shipped every issue on time or early. Kevin Smith’s Green Hornet #2 and #3 have shipped early. By the time this interview goes up, Green Hornet: Year One and Two will have shipped three weeks early. We have several spin-off titles as well, including Kevin Smith’s Kato, Kato Origins, and The Green Hornet Strikes!, as well as a movie prequel called Green Hornet: Parallel Lives. All these titles will be shipping monthly, with collections hitting later this year in preparation for the film’s release.
 
You have huge names on your upcoming list: Alex Ross, Garth Ennis, Dean Koontz. What is Dynamite’s approach in getting this talent?
First and foremost, put out good product. Good product will attract good talent. Second, good product is not enough. What you really need to do is lobby for this talent. There are tons of intangibles that go into it and well as tangibles including but not limited to: How busy is the talent? Do you have the right project for them? Are you fitting a space, a need creatively? But I guess the most important thing is just to ask them. I don’t know if it’s really that simple, but it’s worked for us.
 
Tell us a little bit about what you have in the works with Dean Koontz. What will Fear Nothing entail in comics form?
Fear Nothing will be an original graphic novel (never before serialized) based on Koontz’s novel Fear Nothing, which has sold over two and a half million copies since its initial release. It will be published in two volumes, the first of which is scheduled to ship in July. We’ve got a solid creative team (Derek Ruiz and Grant Alter adapting, with Robert Gill on the art). This book has a great story, some cool characters, lots of action and intrigue, and I think a broad appeal. We’re hoping we can get a fair amount of Koontz’s prose fans to check it out.
 
What can you tell us about Alex Ross’s Project Superpowers and Meet the Bad Guys?
We’re at the halfway point of the initial story, and from there, things are really going to get interesting. We do have a world that if you have not been reading from the beginning or are unwilling to go back and buy all the trade paperbacks and back issues, it may not be as easy to be a part of this world, but what I will say is that right after chapter three, we will be breaking new ground and it will be exciting.
 
What do you see as Dynamite’s business strategy in 2010?
Well, for us, 2010 is two-thirds over. We’re soliciting August product with September next. What I will say is we have a few projects and a few creators that will surprise people that we were able to get. These are creators that have long been sought after and we’re going to make some more noise, and next year will be even more exciting.
 
What are some of your personal favorites of the books you publish?
In no particular order, everything. In no particular order after that, Green Hornet, Project Superpowers, The Boys, and Buck Rogers. Buck unfortunately has not been doing as well as we had hoped. We’re going to put him on hiatus for a little bit and hopefully bring him back guns ablazing!
 
Who are some other authors you are working with, or plan to work with?
Now that would be telling. At the very least, some of the authors we work with now include Dean Koontz, Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs, George RR Martin, Charlaine Harris, LA Banks, and others. Those that we would like to work with, well, we don’t want to give our competition a leg up.