Filip Sablik – On The Evolution Of Top Cow Comics
Filip Sablik is the current Publisher of Top Cow Productions, Inc. He is a graduate of the Maryland Institute, College of Art with a BFA in Illustration. He has worked for Diamond Comic Distributors as a Customer Service representative and then moved up to the Diamond Purchasing department, where he worked for over five additional years. In 2006 Filip became VP of Marketing and Sales at Top Cow and quickly accepted the exciting opportunity to move into the publishing arena.
Don’t upset him though, he likes martial arts. So, unlike many comic book fans, he might be able to win a fight.
Nichola Yanes: Since I was in middle school reading Top Cow comics, I thought that Top Cow had some of the most original ideas being published. More recently, a few of your titles went in a new direction that made them more fun to read. As a result, I always try to convince friends to?buy some Top Cow comics and…usual fail. So, what trades do you think I should recommend to get people addicted to Top Cow?
Filip Sablik: You fail? What’s wrong with your sales pitch?
I’m just kidding of course. It’s a hurdle we’re constantly trying to get over here at the Cow. When Top Cow debuted the market was largely art driven and a higher premium was placed on art over writing. As a result if you look at the Top Artist lists these days you’ll find them filled with Top Cow alumni like the late Michael Turner, David Finch, Joe Benitez, Billy Tan, Clayton Crain, Mike Choi, and many others. Along the way the market changed and shifted towards a focus on top notch writing. At Top Cow we did our best to evolve with the market and provide the types of stories and story-telling the fans want these days while maintaining our commitment to fantastic dynamic art.
I usually recommend one of three trades to people looking to jump into Top Cow: Witchblade Volume 1 TPB, The Darkness Accursed Volume 1 TPB, or First Born TPB. Witchblade and The Darkness Accursed are both only $4.99 in comic shops and you get a great ground level 6 issues full color story to whet your appetite for Top Cow’s flagship characters. First Born was our big summer event a couple years back and involves just about everyone in the Top Cow Universe, so it’s also a great introduction. We’ve hooked a ton of new fans with these three trades. And tell your friends that heck, even if they don’t like Witchblade or The Darkness after they read it, they still spent less money on 6 issues than some comics today.
Yanes: I’m currently working on a documentary about women and comic books. I keep coming across the accusations that modern comic books are sexist. Yet, television shows that are popular with women objectify the female body more than comic books ever did (America’s Top Model, Desperate Housewives). Why do you think comic books are so unfairly criticized for the portrayal of women?
Sablik: I suspect it’s because mainstream comics are still regarded as a juvenile form of entertainment, some how less capable of handling mature topics than movies or television. Which is kind of ironic considering the best selling trades and collections are not aimed at kids at all (Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, or in our case, Wanted).
The bottom line is that comics show us idealized versions of people, both men and women, because we want our heroes to be smarter, stronger, and let’s face it better looking than we are.
Yanes: Top Cow has recently announced that its titles will not go above $2.99 and that it will being giving away free comic books. This screams to me that everyone at Top Cow has nothing but faith in their product. But these moves leave me curious about two things. One, how can Top Cow, as a corporate entity, afford this? Two, do you have any suggestions for how comic book fans can express their rage towards Marvel and DC?
Sablik: It’s true. We really do believe in our product and we happen to believe that nothing sells it better than getting a potential fan to read it and judge for themselves. It seems silly to me to raise prices and make it even more difficult for fans to enjoy your product in a time when the world is going through some pretty painful economic situations. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say part of it is counter programming what other publishers are doing. We go left when they go right. There is an element of risk involved, but we’ve been profitable at our current price point for years and we’re banking on more people trying out our books this year because of our stance as a value leader in the industry.
As far as expressing rage, I think buying Top Cow books is a pretty good way to go (laugh).
Yanes: Since the foundation of Top Cow, how do you think the ‘art style’ has changed? Moreover, due to the diversity of artists and writers at Top Cow, is it even accurate to suggest that Top Cow has a distinct style anymore?
Sablik: I think there’s an argument to be made that we never had a house style of art. Certainly the artists who have studied under Marc have started with a heavy influence from him. But I think if you actually put guys like Turner, Finch, and Benitez side by side it’s hard to argue they all draw the same. Or compare Mike Choi against Tyler Kirkham against Eric Basaldua. Certainly these days comparing Stjepan Sejic against Kenneth Rocafort against Michael Broussard is like comparing apples and oranges, right?
The only art style we gravitate towards is “great” art.
Yanes: Top Cow has been the launching pad for some of the industries most popular artists (Michael Turner, David Finch, among many) and it was the company that got J. Michael Stracznyski to return to comics. What is it about Top Cow that makes it a breeding ground for talent?
Sablik: Actually I’d like to think we’re the company that helped launch J. Michael Straczynski in comics as a creative force.
What makes us a breeding ground for talent is our founder, Marc Silvestri. Marc has an undeniable eye for talent and cultivating that talent. I confess, I saw copies of Michael Turner’s original submission pages and as a credit to Marc, I don’t think I would have looked at them and seen a guy who would one day be one of comics top artists.
With writers we tend not to break new writers, but find talented writers and give them the freedom to tell THEIR story. You see a lot of the writer in the work that writers like Straczynski, Millar, Marz, Hester, Jenkins, and Waid have done for Top Cow.
Yanes: The Witchblade television series was a fun show. Given the advances in special effects for television shows (Farscape, Battlestar Galactica), and that television audiences can handle and enjoy serialized shows (Lost, Heroes, and, again, Battlestar Galactica), how much longer do I have to wait for another Top Cow TV show? And with that in mind, Marvel and DC had some of the highest grossing movies of the past few years; do fans have to beg for a Darkness or Witchblade movie?
Sablik: No need to beg, we’re hard at work on all of those fronts. Both film and television, as well as video games and animation, are things that Top Cow is regularly and constantly pursuing. All of those things also take a long time to develop and set up. The Witchblade Anime that Gonzo produced and was released by FUNimation in the US took almost a decade to come to fruition. Add on to that Marc Silvestri and Matt Hawkins mantra of “we’d rather have no movie than a crappy movie” and you can see why it can take a while to bring a Witchblade or The Darkness movie to fans.
The Witchblade movie is currently in active development with Arclight Films and Platinum Studios and as soon as we have something concrete to announce for The Darkness, the fans will be the first to hear about it.
Yanes: On that note, it seems that Fathom has been in development for some time. Can you comment on its progress?
Sablik: Yup it seems like Fathom is moving along nicely and we’re very happy for our friends at Aspen. Megan Fox is a great fit for the part.
Yanes: Comic books are appearing in colleges across the country. Even, Harvard has begun to dedicate a portion of its library to comic books and other texts dealing with popular culture. Does Top Cow have plans to get their books into college classes?
Sablik: It’s not something we’re actively pursuing (only so many hours in the day), but we’d certainly be flattered if some college professor wanted to study Rising Stars or Wanted or Midnight Nation!
Yanes: The 2007 – 2008 Writers Strike is a distant memory for some, but I couldn’t help think about its issues in contrast with the comic book industry. Looking past the politics for and against unionization, can you explain to me why there isn’t a comic book union? I know a few?have tried in the past, but what is unique about the industry that makes it union proof?
Sablik: I don’t know that I can explain that to you. You’d probably have to ask a creator. There have been in the past both creator and retailer trade organizations and I’m sure there will be again in the future.
Yanes: Overall, the comic book industry is losing readership. Even factoring in the economy, sales are down from where they were a year ago, a decade, and further back. Do you think the industry – in particular, Top Cow – is doing enough to get new readers? For instance, do you think the industry should do more to appeal to children and women?
Sablik: Actually, from what I’ve seen, until the last year Comic and Graphic Novel sales have been on the rise for 5+ years. If memory serves, comic sales were up 5-10% each year and graphic novels saw double digit growth. For several years, graphic novel sales were one of the major growth areas for the book market as well. Manga in particular brought in a whole new generation of young female readers through the book market.
I think much of the decline we’ve see recently is due to a large economic downturn and the comic industry certainly seems to be weathering it better than many other areas of the economy.
Now I don’t want to sound like a Pollyanna here, we certainly have plenty of room to grow. Our audience is (in general) aging and we do need to look for the next generation of readers. As an industry I’d like to see us push variety in content more. We have it in terms of what is being published, but not necessarily what is being stocked on the shelves. We also need to continue to branch out to more mainstream retail opportunities. Comic shops are a destination store, great once you have a fan hooked, but not as effective in hooking casual readers. Continuing to look for opportunities to capture new readers is a mission I think every publisher takes seriously. Top Cow works with all of our partners in film, video games, and animation to try and include comics or advertising for comics in those ancillary products.
Yanes: As a fan of Top Cow, what are the big events that I should be looking forward to?
Sablik: There are two things you need to put on your “must read” list for 2009. The first is Berserker (http://www.topcow.com/store/product.php?productid=1433), which is a brutal new series brought to us and co-produced by DiVide Pictures which is co-owned by Heroes Milo Ventimiglia. It’s written and created by Friday Night Lights writer Rick Loverd and drawn by Jeremy Haun. The easiest way to explain it is imagine if when you got angry you gained incredible powers of strength, immunity to pain, and fierce fighting skills, but you could not control it and you could not distinguish friend from foe. It’s going to appeal massively to fans of Wanted. People will literally be torn in half. In the midst of this, two young men have to struggle with this power and curse and will be torn between allying themselves with two mysterious organizations who seek to use their newfound abilities.
The second series is Cyberforce/Hunter-Killer by Mark Waid and Kenneth Rocafort. This is our big summer event series, a 5 issue all out crossover bonanza. You’ll get some great classic crossover moments when the two teams meet, but we’re putting a Top Cow twist on it. These two teams won’t just meet, scuffle and then hug and make up at the end. There will be real blood drawn and real wounds created. The question will ultimately be who is manipulating these two teams against each other and to what purpose? This series is going to re-eastblish these two teams in the Top Cow Universe in a BIG way and you will not want to miss it.
Yanes: Finally and just for fun, if you wanted your fans to add false information to one Wikipedia entry, what entry and what information would you want added or changed?
Sablik: Well, I don’t have a Wikipedia page yet. Make it happen fans!
- To learn more about Filip Sablik, visit his blog at http://filipsablik.blogspot.com
- Witchblade: First Born can be purchased at http://www.amazon.com/Witchblade-5-First-Ron-Marz/dp/1582408998
- Witchblade vol. 1 TPB for $4.99 can be bought at http://www.topcow.com/store/product.php?productid=1292
- The Darkness Accursed TPB can be purchased at: http://www.topcow.com/store/product.php?productid=1434
- For more information about Fathom, go to Aspen Comics homepage at: http://www.aspencomics.com
- For more information about Berserker go to: http://www.topcow.com/store/product.php?productid=1433
- To learn more about Top Cow and their other titles, check out their homepage: http://www.topcow.com/Site/index.html
Nicholas Yanes is a comic book academic who has written two theses focused on graphic literature: “X-Men as a Reflection of Civil Rights in America” and “Graphic Imagery – Jewish American Comic Book Creators’ Depictions of Class, Race, and Patriotism.” Additionally, he was privileged enough to create and teach “American Comic Book History”; a junior level course in the American Studies Program at Florida State University. His first publication is an essay in “Captain America and the Struggle of the Superhero: Critical Essays.” He is currently, in addition to other projects, putting together a collection of essays that look at Obama in Popular Culture: http://call-for-papers.sas.upenn.edu/node/32305