Here at Multiversity, we encourage our staff to go beyond their regular pull lists for reviews so that we can get as close as we can in our coverage to being a “multiverse” of comics. The same goes for our interviews – – we want to spotlight the wide variety of small and independent presses out there, many of whom depend heavily on word of mouth to get the word out about their titles. The beauty of these independent presses is the creative freedom they offer their writers and artists, the desire to tell a story within their own vision without having to worry about meeting boundaries of a larger publishing culture.
Mad Cave Studios is one of those publishers. Founded in 2014 in Miami, Florida, Mad Cave goes into its fifth year with strong momentum behind it from 2018: signing with Diamond Comics for distribution, their first ever talent search, and an increased convention presence. They’re kicking off 2019 with a brand new title, “Honor and Curse,” available this week at your comic shop and in digital formats via Comixology and their own website. I talked with founder Mark London about the history of the publisher, the titles you can find there, and what they have planned for 2019.
First off, tell our readers a little bit more about Mad Cave Studios and the titles that they can expect to find there.
Mark London: Mad Cave Studios is an independent publisher. We’ve been hard at work since 2014. We’re based here in Miami, Florida. The company was called Mad Cave Studios because we like to harness that madness to create uniquely compelling and diverse comic books. We strive hard at the quality of our books, what the reader can expect, so they have a time for their book in terms of we can deliver on great story telling. Some of the books that you guys can expect from Mad Cave Studios are “Battlecats.” That was our launch title last year. Then we came with “Midnight Task Force,” and the current title that we’re working on is “Knights of the Golden Sun.” And a few more are coming your way in the next few months.
I was just looking at “Knights of the Golden Sun” and that’s an interesting title because that’s a retelling of the Old Testament. How did you come up with that for an idea for a comic?
ML: Well, I wrote “Knights of the Golden Sun” for my wife because she’s been very, very keen to that type of subject matter. So one day we were talking and we were like, “Hmm, you know what? There’s actually a gap between the Old Testament and the New Testament which is like 400 years of solitude they’re called, where God did not speak to man. He just went on a sabbatical.” So we went like, “Hmm, imagine if there was a story about like okay, what went on, what was going on in heaven? What was going on with God’s family so the speak when he decides to leave?” So then you have the archangels questioning, “Okay, are we supposed to keep following God’s orders? Are we supposed to take our own lead and just do whatever the hell we want?”
But what’s going on with the fallen? What’s going on with the angels that defied God and they actually fell down to earth? And now they know that the Commander in Chief is not looking so it’s like, “Okay, now is this going to be the opportunity to basically just take heaven?” We call it Providence in the story. And you start seeing different points of view, looking and analyzing what’s going on with the angels and with the fallen.
That’s just one of the variety of dramas in your very growing catalog. So it sounds to me like that one’s been your favorite to create. What was your favorite one to read?
ML: Ooh, to read? I don’t know, every single time I have to look back and read the stuff that I wrote or whatever, I mean I just hate everything, hate. So I couldn’t pinpoint that one exactly that is the favorite. I mean, all of them is like children and people that have children will understand what I’m getting at. I think they’re all different, each one made sense at a time I guess. Maybe I was more keen to the subject matter, the themes that we were tackling at the time. So I don’t know, I look at them as they’re like my kids so I couldn’t pick just one.Continued below
And they’re all unique in their own ways, and that’s what makes it interesting is it sounds like there’s something for everybody here.
ML: That’s something that we tried with Mad Cave. We tried different genres, tried different themes, subject matters. So, as you were saying, so Mad Cave can offer readers the opportunity to pick up a lot of genres in a lot of different settings.
Were you a big comics fan growing up and if so, what stories or characters were your favorites?
ML: I know that a lot of comic book writers, they start out that way, that they were very influenced by comic books, but for me I think that it was more probably movies. So growing up I was just obsessed. I was obsessed with E.T. I was obsessed with Indiana Jones. I was obsessed growing up then when you [also] start getting exposed to video games and then Nintendo came out for the first time. But all of those type of mediums in a sense, they were telling a story. I know that those concepts are very, very childish and they’re probably very simple, but there was storytelling behind it. So I think that I was fascinated with the storytelling aspect of everything that was coming out at that time.
And when I picked up my first comic book, which was a Silver Surfer 40-something I was like, “Oh my God, this is beautiful, the way that sequential art works is you can really develop a story and look at the colors and look at the art.” So I think that if you put all those things into a blender probably that’s where I was really, really hooked and was like, “Hey, one day I really want to tell my own stories, create my own worlds, characters,” and at the end of the day just move people through stories and make everybody just have a good time when they pick up a comic book.
There’s definitely a cinematic feel to the titles that you have, anda very ’80s cinematic feel at that.
How did you end up breaking into the comics industry?
ML: Well, for us it was first we start making it and you know that this is a very difficult industry to break into. Sometimes nobody’s gonna read your script. If you want people to read your script, you need an artist attached to your script. And a lot of people are not gonna give you the time of day if you haven’t put your stuff out there. So for us it was more like, “Hey, you know what? We love this medium right now. I think that we have something to say. I think that we can bring this love of storytelling out to the masses so why don’t we just do it ourselves?” So we decided to create Mad Cave Studios.
I’m writing most of the titles that are coming out, but we’re getting more people involved so we can have more writers, so we can have other voices help deliver the level of entertaining and fun stories that we want. For us it was more like, “Look, if we don’t do it ourselves, if we don’t give it a shot ourselves with the passion and love that we have for the medium, if we’re just gonna be knocking on people’s door our life is just gonna go by and we will never gonna be releasing anything.” So it’s more like a one day we just woke up and be like, “The time is now just to do our own thing.”
The whole idea of, “if not now, when?”
I can see how much you’re building a pipeline of talent. You had a talent search last year, where you ended up bringing in five writers and four artists, to help build that pipeline. What did these folks bring to the table that caught your eye the most? Either specific people that you chose as winners, or we can talk about the cohort as a whole.
ML: Without going too much into detail, every single writer or artist that we chose brought something new to the table. I think that overall was how well they understood the material that was presented for them so they can work on, how they would see the world as you wanted. I don’t know if that makes any sense.Continued below
Mad Cave for us has a very ’80s feel to like exploit those type of stories that when you were growing up you were moved, and that’s what we wanted. So I guess that all the writers and artists that won on this first talent search that we did last year was through Mad Cave, I think that they share that.
I told you that we’ve been around since 2014 and you would be like, “Okay, four years and you only have four titles out there.” It was because it was difficult. It was difficult at first trying to get the right people on the bus that would see the world like us, as you see it right now for the company, for the type of story that you want to put out there. So I think that these people, they understood exactly what we wanted, how they were very, very professional in the delivery, which is always super, super important. They met the deadlines. You would just see quality. You would see that they really wanted it, that they were hungry, that these are people that they’d been writing stuff here and there but they have so much passion, again, that unfortunately they don’t get published, nobody is gonna give them the time of day, because it’s so hard right now. So that was something that Mad Cave wanted to actually give them the opportunity because we saw the hunger. We saw that they really, really wanted to make a good story for us.
I think that it was that at first what really, really wanted was that passion, that passion that I really want to work in this industry, I really want to work in comic books. So that’s probably the first thing. And then, every one of them is different. At the end of the day it’s chemistry. If you feel comfortable with their telling you how they see the world.
It sounds like this was extremely successful to build the publisher. Are you going to do this again next year, and if so, when is it going to kick off?
We are. We want to establish this as a talent search every year. I don’t know if it’s just gonna be for writers again or if it’s gonna be for artists. Maybe this year we’ll go do it for colorists. Maybe we will do it for letterers. We want to get everybody involved in this industry are people that really want to work in this industry a shot. And so I don’t know if it’s just going to be five or six writers or four artists, but definitely we’re gonna come back with a talent search this year so we can give more people the opportunity to get published and to shine and get their name out there, so definitely. Definitely, as long as we can keep doing it,we’re really gonna support the underdogs.
This year is your fifth year in business. But last year you all just took off. You had a couple new titles, you had the talent search. You signed with Diamond Comics to help with distribution, and you were at quite a few conventions. Is there anything in particular last year that you did that really sort of helped Mad Cave take off?
ML: Well, I think that the Diamond Distribution really, really is the way to go. I think that’s a very big part of a publisher because if people can’t find your book, you’re gonna have very limited exposure. And unfortunately, even if you’re with Diamond there’s no guarantee that a lot of people are gonna get your books because at the end of the day what you really want is for the retailers to be ordering your book. But retailers are faced with a problem, that is like, “Okay, look. I have my budget every month, this is the amount of books I order,” and sometimes they prefer the big two, well, of course, because they drive in more sales. So giving then these a chance, it’s sometimes hard because of the budget that they have.
So I would say that getting the ball rolling through Diamond and getting the distribution that we wanted was the first big step. And also now that you’re in Diamond, when you go to conventions a lot of people will ask you, “hey, hey, okay, I see that you have number one and number two here. Where can I pick up number three?” “Oh, you can go to your local retailer and ask them to get you number three.”Continued below
So I think that that has helped a lot to get the Mad Cave word out and get the books into people’s hands. But I remember the first years when we started and we were going to conventions a lot of people, that was the first question that would ask you, like, “Hey, are you in Diamond? Where can I get my books? When is the next issue going to be released?” So those are the things that we had been working for the past two or three years, like, okay, let’s try to get all this stuff made so we can deliver on the promises that we’re making to the people and the fans, when they’re asking for a Mad Cave issue. And hopefully this year we’re getting more and more exposure and we’re getting more people asking about Mad Cave and it’s the little building blocks that they will eventually, hopefully, add to I guess the success that we expect.
You’re in Comixology as well. Has the digital sales helped with exposure? I know you also have your own digital copies on your website, but the first place I go to look, especially with indie publishers, is Comixology. How has digital helped the business?
ML: Digital is a big part of the business, but the thing is that for the comic medium or the comic industry, still we are a retailer driven industry. A lot of the retailers depend on us to give them product. That’s really how they make a living. So, at heart I see that the comic books are . . . I wouldn’t say like nostalgia attached to it but people still prefer printed issues. They really want the smell of paper. They really want to keep on buying the products physical.
So digital right now, it’s a small part of everything that you see. The sales I would probably say that the digital sales right now are probably 20% of the whole pie. Almost 50% is physical distribution. So digital sales have helped a lot. Everything is moving towards that, which is why you have to be there. But really, the heart of it all is probably physical distribution.
I’ve seen on your social media feeds that you visit a lot of comic shops. You’re always on the road. So that’s proof that the local connections matter.
Now let’s look forward to this year. So, your first series for 2019 is “Honor and Curse,” which is a supernatural tale in feudal Japan. Tell us a little bit about that title.
ML: “Honor and Curse” takes place in feudal Japan. And this story, your main character, his name is Genshi Sakagura, and he’s an orphan. He was adopted by the Iga clan after witnessing the murder of his parents. So it’s a little bit of mystery at first, you don’t know what’s going on. But then, as Genshi starts getting older he’s now a promising young shenobi, and he is in love with the lord of the Iga clan’s daughter. So it’s kind of like a forbidden love then and there, so you see him struggling. But also, the caveat is that Genshi has a demon side, a demon side that starts to taunt him and his abilities just start growing and he can’t control the demon and you throw everything through that and through a feudal Japan setting and it just gets crazy. That’s”Honor and Curse” in a nutshell.
You have the supernatural side and you have a little bit of a romance side too, so that’s definitely good. Incorporating different genres broadens your reader base and that’s great. Outside of “Honor and Curse,” what other new series are coming this year?
ML: After “Honor and Curse” we’re going back to our flagship title, which was the title that basically started Mad Cave Studios, and that’s “Battlecats.” Battlecats was, I would say how this company got started. So after “Honor and Curse,” we’re continuing “Battlecats” with Volume 2.
And how about the other title?
ML: The other title is “Legends of Woven Heart,” that is coming at the end of the year and we are also going to be seeing the first series by the talent search winner, which is called “Chosen.” But I can’t tell you a lot about that yet. But you’re gonna see a lot of titles from Mad Cave Studios this year, hopefully, fingers crossed. So we have “Knights of the Golden Sun,” we have “Honor and Curse,” and we have “Battlecats” Volume 2, we have one by the talent search winners and we have “Legends of Woven Heart” at the end of the year. And on top of that we have another couple of titles that we will be announcing soon.Continued below
Convention season is starting. What conventions can we find Mad Cave hanging out at this year?
ML: Okay, we’re going to be starting with Emerald City. That’s always a popular show. Of course, we will be returning to New York [Comic Con], as we do every year, and we really love New York. And this year we’ve been eyeing Baltimore[Comic-con], we’ve been eyeing Denver [Pop Culture Con] , we’ll be attending probably Supercon here in Miami.
And where, outside of comiXology and local comic shops, where else can fans find the comics?
ML: Oh, there’s always Amazon, and there’s another site that handles digital comic books, which is called DriveThru Comics, so that’s where you can get your Mad Cave fix.
“Honor and Curse” #1 will be available digitally and at your local comic shop on Wednesday, February 27th. To view the rest of Mad Cave Studio’s catalogue, visit https://madcavestudios.com, and follow them on Twitter at @MadCaveStudios.