Launching a new publisher is never an easy task. It always appears to be a balancing act of engaging readers, engaging stores, and actually making quality, consistent comics. With a market that’s already producing more comics than most can keep up with, it’s tough to grab attention with a new publisher. The guys at Vault Comics are looking to make a big splash, though.
First announced at San Diego Comic Con, Vault Comics is a new science fiction and fantasy focused published. It’s something of a family affair, with brothers Adrian and Damian Wassel and their cousin Nathan Gooden taking on roles as editor in chief, publisher, and art director, respectively. At SDCC they previewed their first five titles, which showcased a mix of established and new talent, with books from the likes of Tim Daniel and FJ Desanto.
Read on as we chat with Adrian and Damian about launching a new publisher, a little more about their first five titles, engaging readers, and more. If interested, head on over to the Vault website to learn more about the publisher and their books.
Vault is a new publisher making its big debut at SDCC. What can y’all tell us about it? How did it get started?
Adrian Wassel: Vault is a science fiction and fantasy focused published. We’re bringing what we think of as the best content possible in the sci fi and fantasy genres. It really got started by way of Damian and I assessing where we were and what we wanted to accomplish in the comic industry and making a plan to put that into action. Our cousin Nathan Gooden is the art director, Damian is the publisher, I am the editor in chief. That started there and it involved a lot of networking and meeting a lot of creators and building from that. WE had previously published books through a family publisher called CME and we decided that we wanted to take things to a new level and refocus and build a very strong vision for a publisher. It seemed like now was the time and we were ready and the market was ready. So far, and Damian can speak to this, our traction has far exceeded our hopes. We can only just hope that keeps going and that keeps moving forward. It’s been really exciting and I”m proud to be working with such incredible talent and getting to be a part of that.
Damian Wassel: So far we’ve been pretty floored with the reception at the early stages, especially given that we haven’t actually published under the Vault label yet. So we’re really excited to start getting some of the content out. Vault came together after we spent some time trying to publish some pretty good books in some pretty silly ways and I think we learned a lot from the ways we had done things previously. I think there was a lot of learning by failure. I think we’re in a position now to take what we’ve learned and really succeed. We’re exciting to see how things move forward.
AW: I think that’s sort of the way it is for a lot of people – trial by error – until you figure it out and meet the right people and learn. I think that’s the thing, that we learned and listened and spent time interacting with great people and built up the infrastructure to make this possible. Once that was in place, I think things started moving forward faster than we had anticipated. We ended up, as I said, getting a lot of traction. I can’t wait to see these first books on shelves. It’ll be pretty phenomenal.
DW: In some respects, the momentum has been a struggle to keep up with a little bit. It’s a lot of Adrian and I learning new tricks every day.
You have both touched on meeting and talking to people. How did you get these launch titles together? Are they folks that you reached out to, people that reached out to you? A combination of the two?Continued below
AW: Definitely a combination of the two. My role is primarily handling acquisitions and editing content and really focusing on the creative end of things. It was meeting some people that have been in the industry for a long time who know other creators, meeting creators and having them see our work and find confidence in the books we were able to put together previously, and just getting to know them. Then a lot of friends of friends, and I think that’s the comic world. It’s why a lot of creators have a hard time breaking in because there’s a sort of wall a lot of creators have to erect because they meet friends and work with them, but it takes time. I met one creator, Tony Gregori, who I know personally and before long we had a book from Ricardo come across our desk because Tony was working with him on another project. It sort of builds from there. A lot of references from people, people reaching out, people being referred to us, us being referred to people. That’s sort of the name of the game with comis. One of the things we’re most excited about at Vault is getting a balance working with established pros in the industry and rising talent. ONe of the things we really want to focus on is marrying new talent with established talent. Obviously we’re always happy to break in new talent. People that might not be huge names, but have a fantastic books. We love that. Another thing we like to do is pair up creators. It’s a great way to have the creators find confidence and help them get into that network and meet other creators and build relationships.
DW: One thing you learn very early in the business, and I’ll say this at the risk of rustling feathers, there are a lot of unpleasant, strong arm tactics in the way publishers do business with creators. From the ground up, we’re trying to build a company where we treat creators with the respect they deserve. We wouldn’t have books if it weren’t for them. I’ve been astonished at the level of mutual respect and the connections we’ve made just by treating people decently. Even people who we couldn’t do a book with have done things to benefit us simply because we’ve tried to come to every deal with the understanding that it’s not a good deal unless it’s good for everybody.
The first wave of titles was announced at San Diego Comic Con. What can you tell us about those titles?
AW: Those five titles, I think, pretty well establish what we’re hoping to accomplish and be in the industry. The five titles that we have are “Colossi” by Ricardo Mo and Alberto Muriel, colored by Jon Adams and lettered by HdE. That book is a gem. It’s one of my favorite books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. It’s humorous and it’s this throwback to the promised future from old sci fi flicks from the 50s and 60s. It’s great, I love it.
The next book we have is “Failsafe” with FJ Desanto, Todd Farmer, Federico Dallocchio and that book is completely different. It’s way more action packed, sci fi based about these sleeper agents that are enhanced with nanotechnology by a super soldier program, but they’re unaware of this technology, so when it gets activated they go from being regular people to being thrust into this network of not so regular people. It follows a character who once terminated the prior version of this super soldier program.
We also have “Fissure”, which is with Tim Daniel and Patricio Delpeche. That book is a gorgeous, gorgeous book. Patricio is new on the scene, but he does everything.
DW: He’s an Argentinian designer and artist and you can see the level of formal education this guy has in his work. He’s extremely painterly. His compositions are masterful. He also creates this really fun, engaging style. He’s a lot of fun to read.
AW: Both Tim and Patricio are sort of virtuosos. They can do it all.Continued below
DW: I think Tim is rapidly establishing himself as a master of horror in comics. I think we’re getting another extraordinary horror book out of Tim Daniel.
AW: The thing I love about his books is that they all have an undercurrent of social commentary, or commentary on relationships, family structure, power structures, social identity, and it’s never overwritten. It’s never phoned it. If you pay attention to it, it really elevates the story. In the case of “Fissure”, it’s about a border town in Texas that sits right near the Mexico border and it’s set in a not so distant future where a barrier wall has been erected. Then this massive, mysterious crack opens up down the length of the main street of that town and acts as a quite literal divide between the sort of born and raised Texans and the Mexicans who have immigrated and lived on the other side of the street. It’s a brilliant work and haunting and visually stunning.
DW: “Karma Police” is a book from Chris Lewis and Adrian’s buddy Tony Gregori. Chris had a big success with his book “Drones” through IDW. He’s got one of the more bizarre imaginations I’ve encountered in this medium. “Karma Police” pits warrior Buddhist monks against demonic luchador creatures and it’s as fantastical as a tale can get, but at the same time it’s darkly funny and intensely humane. It’s brought to life by this great art from Tony and colors from Jason Smith. It’s one of these series that’s so alien the first time you read it that you have to go back and read it again right away. It’s pretty easy to get hooked on it.
“Powerless” is the last book in our release schedule, but actually the first book we ever signed. From first a first time creator, a guy named David Booher, who we met out in Los Angeles. It turns the standard superhero genre on its head. He’s imagined a world in which everyone has superpowers and there’s a virus gradually taking them away from individuals. Our protagonist, Billy Bannister, he works for Quarantine, the agency in charge of keeping the virus at bay, only to find that his brother, the only family he has in the whole world, has the virus. It explores family connections, what it means to be human, what it means to be empowered. It’s a pretty extraordinary piece, actually.
AW: David has paired up with Nathan, who is our art director. Nathan’s previous works include “Killbox”, which is actually still coming out from American Gothic Press, and “The Gifted” Volumes 1-3, and volume 1-2 actually won 2014’s Indie Foreword Press Indie Fab gold award for Graphic Novel of the year. He’s just about as phenomenal and unique an artist as you can find. His brushwork is unbelievable. His linework is incredible. He’s paired up with Mike Spicer on “Powerless” and they are a great tag team. The book evokes classic superhero style and figures, with a completely different take. It’s feels as those gravity has just been turned up. I feel like you can get lost in those panels for hours looking at them between Nathan’s work and Spicer’s colors.
DW: Nathan is a great devotee of Will Eisner and you can really see it come through in his linework and page composition. The preview is beautiful, but as beautiful as it is, you compare it to what Nathan has coming down the pipe and he gets better with every page.
You talked a little about the release schedule. So you’re doing debut at SDCC, and when do you plan on releasing the actual books? How will that rollout work?
DW: We’re debuting at SDCC and then we actually won’t be releasing through Diamond until February 2017. We’ll use the intervening months to drive sales and run marketing campaigns. Once we start releasing, we’ll have a release a week for the rest of the year.
AW: Plenty of content in 2017. These are our first titles, but we’ll have a season of five more titles coming out shortly behind them in July of 2017. We’ve got a lot in store for retailers and our audience.Continued below
You talk about retailers. I think that’s probably one of the more difficult thing for new publishers and creators to do – convince a store to stock their book. How do you plan on getting them behind you?
DW: That’s part and parcel of why we’re making this announcement in July and not releasing until February. We produced these previews so we can get them in the hand of retailers. We’re going to be doing an aggressive campaign of reaching out to retailers. We’re going to take a customer centric approach, recognizing that retailers our are first tier of customers. Beyond that, we’ve got a number of creators who have had success marketing their own material, so I’m sure they’ll take up the torch to an extent on their own. This is part of why we embraced the idea of being a genre focused publisher. It enables us to communicate a clear brand identity to retailers. That’s something they have a hard time with when dealing with indie publishers. They don’t know what kind of books to expect from them or what release schedule they’ll have. We’re committed to producing to excellent scifi and fantasy books so the retailers can answer customer’s questions simply. IT’s also why we’re committed to holding a steady one release per week through 2017, so retailers can know that we’ll have content there for them each week. They know we’re not going to disappoint their customers because we’re not going to disappoint their customers.
You’ve already mentioned how the retailers are your first line of customers. How do you want to it to the readers? How are you hoping to get them excited? I know you guys have been doing pretty good on Twitter.
AW: One of the things we’re going to try to communicate to the readers immediately is just accessibility. I hope that’s being communicated already. We want readers to interact with all of the creators and more proudly with Vault as a publisher. We’re always here. It really is Damian and I handling most of this stuff. You’re going to know our names and you’re going to know who we are. You can reach out to us and talk to us. I think that accessibility is the first step. We have a lot of other ideas in the works, but the most important areas are that we get readers excited by the content and that we don’t hide behind a logo and no one gets to know what’s going on behind the doors. We want to be accessible because a lot of these fans are going to become the next wave of creators. Some of them are already on the way to doing that. Some of them might just love and read comics right now, but in five or ten years they might write the next Eisner winning comics. I really believe having that accessibility is going to make readers feel enthusiastic about supporting Vault because they feel like they’re being supported by Vault. That we appreciate their readership beyond just a sales perspective. We want to know what they’re excited about in comics and have that dialogue all the time. It’s paramount to us.
DW: Of course, we’re going to hit all the notes and classic marketing stuff. There will be ads and campaigns. We’ll strive to reach out to journalists like you, but I think that the biggest thing that we’re trying to do to engage our readers is deliver them a quality of book with consistency that they’re not accustomed to from other publishers. Yes, we’d love to see killer sales in our first month, but we’re not in this for a tiny uptick at the beginning. We’re trying to build a stable market that comes to us for the things they want. That’s our long term plan – to win our readers over with quality, transparency, accessibility, and the classic notes of the usual marketing chords.
AW: The final footnote to that, part of the accessibility to that is including everyone. This is a big topic of conversation among creators and fans and publishers. It’s the conversation that the comic industry needs to be having. Breaking down old, problematic stereotypes. I think, to be totally candid, Damian and I are young and part of the new wave. That’s something that we don’t ever want to shy away from. We’re right there bumping elbows with all of the fans, we’re fans too. I think that’s really important. I don’t ever want a reader to think that there’s some big distance between us on basis of everything. Being accessible and including everyone in that. If you love comics, you’re part of the comic community. It’s pretty much that simple.
Anything else you’d like to add?
DW: I can say I’m just really excited to see these books coming together. We’re working with a great printer. The proofs I’ve seen so far are jaw droppingly good. I can’t wait to get this in people’s hands. Previously we had spent our time publishing stand alone OGNs. I stand by some of these books we published with our previous company, but it’s really exciting to me to be getting in the business of publishing monthly comics. They were such an important part of my formative experiences and the culture around comics is really welcoming or becoming a really welcoming, really opening place. I’m excited to help improve its quality and diversity.