In this week’s edition of Multiversity Comics Presents, we have Filip Sablik. Filip is the Publisher for Top Cow Productions, one of the leading comic companies in the industry and part of the overall umbrella that is Image Comics. As you’ll be able to tell by reading this interview, Filip is a bit of a comic historian as well (or so it seems), and he also writes and draws as well.
Thanks to Filip for the interview, and if you enjoy it please leave a reply in the comments.
How did you get started in comics, and more specifically, Top Cow Productions?
Filip Sablik: I started in the industry working at Diamond Comic Distributors in 2000 and worked there for six years. I started in the Customer Service department and worked my way up to the Assistant Manager of the Comics Team in their Purchasing department.
That’s how I met Matt Hawkins, who must have liked the work I did because he offered me a job in 2006 to come to Top Cow as VP of Marketing & Sales. When Matt decided he wanted to focus more on new business development and our film and television efforts, he offered me the job of Publisher. I guess he still liked what I was doing.
What exactly does your role as Publisher for Top Cow entail?
FS: The short answer is that everything that has to do with the day to day publishing of comics and trades crosses my desk at one point or another. I manage the Editorial, Production, and Marketing aspects of Top Cow as it pertains to our publishing business. On any given day I might wear that hat of editor, art director, marketing executive, trade show coordinator, talent coordinator, company cheerleader, whatever needs to be done to get the books out. I’m supported by a great, dedicated, but small staff who handle a lot of the dirty work. My right hand guy and Managing Editor is Phil Smith, who basically makes me look good.
What is Marc Silvestri’s current role with Top Cow?
FS: Marc does a lot of stuff behind the scenes that most comic fans don’t see. I think there’s a perception among some fans that the Image Founders are kicking back at the beach with Mai Tais just collecting the fat comic checks, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Marc is constantly developing concepts, stories, and art for a variety of projects. Some like Pilot Season, the average comic fans gets to see. Other things like developing the treatment for the Witchblade film or putting together a new multi-media project that fans might not see the results of for a couple of years.
I also meet with Marc and Matt Hawkins on a weekly basis to go over larger picture publishing plans. Both of them regularly provide feedback on the directions we’re heading and story ideas. Marc still works regularly with our in-studio artists (lovingly referred to as “The Pit”) like Michael Broussard, Nelson Blake II, Sheldon Mitchell and the Basaldua brothers. He advises them on layouts, rendering, and continues their education as artists.
If you were trying to describe Top Cow Productions and their comic line to the average fan, how would you describe it?
FS: I would describe the Top Cow line as being edgy, darker toned projects which hit on genres you are less likely to get from Marvel or DC. We skew towards genres that you see in film, television and video games like horror, supernatural, police procedural, science fiction, and so on. You’re pretty unlikely to get any romance, all ages books or Westerns here at the Cow, but we even have exceptions to that rule (Dragon Prince).
When people ask I usually equate our line to the comic equivalent of the FX channel or one of the premium channels like Showtime.Continued below
FS: Heh. Well I think my opinion on this topic is pretty well documented on the internet, but I appreciate you bringing it up. I don’t subscribe to it at all. Do we produce mature titles (PG-13 to R)? Yep, sure do. In those books there’s occasionally bad language, sex, and violence; but it’s all done in the service of the story. I would never hand one of our comics to a 8 year old kid. What’s funny is I regularly get kids walking up at conventions because they’ve played The Darkness video game interested in the comic. If their parent is with them, I’ll let them know the book is violent, has adult language, and often deals with adult themes; but if they are okay with the kid playing the video game (which was rated “M” and probably more graphic than any of the comics) then they will probably not have a problem with the comics.
Like most preconceptions, the one that Top Cow is a T&A company is based on misinformation and usually supported by folks who haven’t actually read one of our books in years.
At any point in Top Cow’s history was this perception true?
FS: There certainly was a time when Top Cow was part of the “bad girl” trend. Witchblade kicked off during that era and let’s be fair, scantily clad ladies sold a lot of comics back then. There was a number of companies capitalizing on this trend including Crusade with Shi, Harris saw a resurgence with Vampirella and Chaos! Comics with Lady Death, but even Marvel and DC “sexed” up their female heroes to maximize sales at the time.
I believe the company has evolved since then, the stories and art have matured and evolved to meet the needs of the readership. I think the point that speaks to that is that Top Cow is still around when many of these other publishers have fallen to the wayside. The core concepts are incredibly strong and the company evolved to meet the needs of the market.
What are you doing as a company to combat that opinion, however untrue it may be?
FS: I’ve made an effort to speak out about it. We’ve run promotions to let potential fans try the books for themselves. In the time I’ve been at Top Cow, which is about 3 years, I think we’ve given away over hundreds of thousands of comics and that’s probably a conservative estimate. I believe the product speaks for itself, and it never fails, when we do a promotion which gets the books in the hands of readers who have a misconception of the product, they come back and tell us how surprised they were at the quality and maturity of the titles.
FS: The Image philosophy of crossovers is that you can take those characters and utilize what you’d like and discard what you don’t. The Image Founders have always enjoyed playing with each others characters but they’ve never been slaves to continuity. I suspect we’ll take some elements from Image United and incorporate them into Witchblade, The Darkness, and the upcoming Cyberforce series.
While looking through your main titles, it seems that the art generally exhibits an Asian influence. What draws Top Cow to that style of art?
FS: That’s an interesting observation. I suspect that probably has more to do with the influence of manga and popular Asian art on American audiences and artists in general. Running down some of our key books right now – Witchblade is digitally painted by Stjepan Sejic in a style that I would describe as being influenced by classic European painters, video games, and Michael Turner; The Darkness is drawn by Michael Broussard, whose strongest influences are Marc Silvestri and Mike Mignola; Cyberforce/Hunter-Killer is drawn by Kenneth Rocafort, whose influences include Silvestri, European artists, and I suspect some Hong Kong artists. Other artists we are currently working with like Jeremy Haun, Francis Tsai, Jorge Lucas and Matt Timson have a pretty wide range of influences and styles.Continued below
In the past, Top Cow developed creator specific imprints for J. Michael Straczynski with Joe’s House and Michael Turner’s Aspen Comics. Does Top Cow have current plans to revisit that idea?
FS: We’ve had two main “creator specific” imprints that I can recall – Joe’s Comics for J. Michael Straczynski and Minotaur Press for some of the more avant-garde projects like Obergeist with Dan Jolley and Tony Harris and Felon by Greg Rucka. Aspen was always Michael Turner’s separate company and while we did publish Fathom for a time, Top Cow was never associated with Aspen (accept in that we share a similar fanbase).
We don’t currently have plans for creator specific lines, but we’ll continue to do original creator generated projects like Freshmen, Madame Mirage, and the annual Pilot Season initiative.
If you had your choice of a writer and artist to work on one Top Cow title, who would it be and what title?
FS: Wow, that could be a long list. I’d love to have a Ryan Sook drawn Magdalena series or original graphic novel. I think Geoff Johns could write a pretty fantastic Cyberforce series. Or a Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely Tom Judge series would be fairly amazing.
Why exactly is it Top Cow? What’s the specific meaning behind it?
FS: You mean why is the company called Top Cow? Let’s just say it’s what happens when you brainstorm names for your company at the bar and something thrown out as a joke sticks…
Do you see yourself getting into writing and drawing comics again? What’s next for you?
FS: Absolutely. I’m hoping 2010 is the year I get some more writing and possibly some more drawing out into public. I’ve been developing some ideas with Matt and Marc and hopefully one or more of them will see print in 2010. They’ve also expressed they’d like me to do some stuff in the Top Cow Universe so I’m hoping to get to that as well. I love that creative outlet, but the Publisher position is a pretty time consuming job, so it’s hard to set aside time for those creative pursuits. Still, fingers crossed…
If you enjoyed this interview, please check out Top Cow titles and support them. They are one of the good guys and are working hard on creating a reputation as a company who stands by the quality of their comics.
Make sure to check out their free Witchblade trade offer, which really is exceptional.