Jason Hughes wants to tell you about the Future of comic books.
Settling into his new position as Sales & Marketing Manager for the Florida-based publisher created by industry veterans Bob Layton, David Michelinie, and Dick Giordano, the former SBC senior editor/columnist (Rolling With The Punches) was kind enough to stop by and answer several questions about his new position. In this first of two installments, the man also known as “j.hues” comments on his resignation from SBC, and what Future Comics has to offer the industry at large.
Brandon Thomas: Who from Future Comics contacted you about the position, and what were your first thoughts after that initial contact?
Jason Hughes: Well, I’d been talking to them pretty regularly since I first mentioned them in my own column… back in the day. Since that time I developed a good rapport with Mike Savage, my predecessor and Bob Layton. It was Bob that contacted me about it, so getting the call from the head of the company and an industry name like Bob Layton was pretty flattering indeed. He liked my tone, approach and attitude as seen in my column and believed that I had the right ideas about the needed direction for the industry and faith that I could excel in this position.
Stuff like that just makes you feel all good and squishy inside–okay, maybe not squishy. Did I just say squishy in an interview; I really am new at this!
Thomas: Was there any hesitation in leaving your spot as columnist/senior editor at SBC?
Hughes: To be honest there actually was. Even though the SBC position was more of a hobby (non-paying) I enjoyed the weekly forum and interaction with the various companies. Not to mention the fact that I felt terribly about having to leave All The Rage after having just signed on board! But the opportunity to get on the publishing side and see how it works from the inside and do so with industry legends—and get paid, well it was all just too much to ignore.
Thomas: How’d you prepare for this job? What was the first order of business?
Hughes: First I had to change my focus (and my address book) from being a part of the press to speaking with the press. The biggest part of the job is assimilating all of the information. Since we also distribute our own books, I have listings of our retail partners that I need to call and introduce myself to, press contacts that I need to re-establish and establish (both inside and outside the comics medium), various deals in development to coordinate, press releases, coming up with ad copy, and developing a good relationship on the various message boards out there that are talking about us.
I think all of that was my first order of business, so there really wasn’t an ‘easing in’ period.
Thomas: Is there anything you’ve encountered that was surprising about the position?
Hughes: How much is actually involved in doing this. You look at the guys like Mike Doran and Bill Rosemann and we see their press releases and phone conferences and whatnot, but there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes to set those things up. It’s literally like stepping across a wall because it gives you a whole new perspective of the industry, from the fan to the insider, and how those two sides interact.
Thomas: For a few weeks, there was a lot of rumor and speculation being fired back and forth about Future (financial status, firings). Does part of your job mean ‘damage control’ and getting the truth out there to the people that should be ordering these books?
Hughes: Oh absolutely. I am essentially the ‘Voice of Future Comics.’ If an issue comes up that we feel needs to be addressed then I go out there and address it. And believe me, I don’t do spin control. I just lay it out there like it is.
I’ve done a bit of this already at various message boards on the ‘net, and the honesty and thoroughness of those responses has garnered some very favorable responses from both fans and those who had issues with us. I believe that integrity and forthrightness in fan relations goes a long way toward building trust and respect. And besides, we all know that comic fans are just too smart to fall for propaganda, so why bother making stuff up?
The fans are really happy to see that we’re so proactive and involved in the internet community and that’s important for a smaller company building brand recognition and a name for themselves.
Thomas: What does the name Future Comics mean?
>>At this point, Future Comics co-founder Bob Layton takes the opportunity to shed light on just what the name means>>
Bob Layton: It means that we, as a creative entity, have turned our eyes towards the future of the comics industry. Ironically, we believe that the path to the future takes us thru our past–returning to the type of characters and storytelling that were the building blocks of our industry. With the direct market continually shrinking, we feel the future of comics lies in our approach of creating entertainment that can be enjoyed by the mass market, as well as the direct. And, returnability will have to make a comeback, if our retailing partners are to survive. Without publishers sharing the responsibility for the sales of their titles, there will be no future for most comic shops.
Future Comics has boldly embraced a 100% returns policy, the first publisher in modern times to re-institute that system. So you could say that we have learned our lessons from the past, applied them to the present and look optimistically towards the future.
Thomas: How would you describe your line thus far? Superhero? Science fiction? A blend of different flavors?
Hughes: I would define our line as a grounded superhero universe. These characters and situations are being built from existing technologies and reasonable speculation of advances therein. We have hints of supernatural elements as well, but it’s not really like a classical superhero universe with your Supermans and capes and spandex and all of that. It’s more driven by the characters and their individual situations.
Plus there will be developments and changes forthcoming across the line as the world at large begins to respond to the presence of these enhanced individuals.
Thomas: Are superheroes really the way to go when talking about the comics of the future? Will you be delivering a truly progressive take on the familiar concept to live up to the company name?
Hughes: The problem is that when people think of superheroes, they envision what DC does and what Marvel does and I can’t really pigeonhole our line into that mold. And though it would be nice to consider ourselves more science fiction-oriented, as it really is, when you do science-fiction in comics it’s still considered superhero.
I mean we have a paraplegic who inhabits an android body which unleashes the full potential of his mind. Great concept, and if it were a novel it would be sci-fi, but sell it to the comics community and he’s a superhero. The same thing goes with Metallix where we have four individuals sharing a fantastically advanced suit of armor. Science fiction in movies but superhero in comics. Makes this a tough question to answer I think.
And as for the company name, as Bob detailed, we believe that the keys to the future lie in the past, both in storytelling approach as well as behind-the-scenes workings.
Comics have become too inbred and insular, tailoring to the hardcore and almost alienating the casual.
Thomas: Is there a particular modern storytelling approach that Future is particularly dissatisfied with in comics today? What are some of the problems you see?
Hughes: It’s hard to say and I’m not really interested in criticizing what other companies are doing. As a fan I am enjoying tremendously the recent output from a great many of our competitors. The key thing that seems to have been forgotten is that comics have a universal appeal and that these worlds and stories should be easily embraced and understood by both hardcore fans and people who’ve never read a comic in their life. The biggest thing that this industry is suffering from right now is diversity in content. And it’s a hard thing to break from what is selling (superheroes) but in order to expand our market and our businesses we all need to find a way to push into other genres.
Tokyopop is proving that there is a tremendous amount of interest in the comics format, just perhaps not as much in the spandex superheroes among the public at large. That’s why we’re committed to creating comics with a more universal appeal. We have supernatural stories and science fiction stories and we hope this provides a much broader range of appeal.
Of course there’s a lot more to why the industry has shrunk as it has and I won’t even pretend to have any of the answers. All we can do is continue to create the best books we can while constantly reaching beyond the Direct Market to find new readers to go with our faithful comics fans.
Thomas: Does this mean that Future will eventually expand into other genres to diversify their own publishing goals?
Hughes: For now we are focusing on our core four titles: Freemind, Metallix, Deathmask, and Peacekeeper. We have no specific plans to expand beyond these four titles at this time for the ‘Future Universe’ as it were.
We believe that we have enough exciting stories in development here that we’re in no hurry to expand our line and flood the market with our hottest characters. This also allows our fans to easily collect the entire line and know that they’re not missing out on anything. Of course, I can’t talk about further down the road, or even the consideration of our publishing books outside of the ‘Future Universe’ because there are always possibilities and opportunities to consider. I would say that we have enough on our plates to make this foundation as strong and entertaining and as far reaching as it can be and we’ll just let the future take care of itself.
Next: Hughes’ plans to help the future along and dispelling misperceptions about the company and its books…
The New Hotness-
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen #5 (Alan Moore/Kevin O’Neill)
Damn. I’ve had this one since last week, and it becomes even more disturbing upon repeat viewings. In the hands of an ordinary scribe, the shocking developments that mark this installment could appear contrived or counterfeit; a startling, but ultimately hollow play for attention, but this is Alan Moore here. The be-all end all. So after becoming legitimately horrified by what he’s done, you’ll realize that thanks to his expert characterization, not only does it make perfect sense, but perhaps we should have seen it coming all along. O’Neill renders the violence with a subtlety that proves that allowing the worst to remain unseen can elicit a chilling effect that full gratuity can’t provide.
The mini-series of the year continues to move the bar.
Gotham Central #7 (Greg Rucka/Michael Lark)
Greg Rucka and Renee Montoya belong together. The writer’s affection for the character remains apparent as Half A Life gains even more ground in its second chapter. The secret is out, and instead of sensationalizing the results, Rucka chooses to focus the anger and potential embarrassment that could result from an unplanned “announcement” of this kind, forcing it upon Montoya so that we, the ones existing on the misery heaped upon our fictional characters, can watch as she squirms beneath the writer’s script. Not only is her deepest secret now public, but Internal Affairs is hovering, and an old enemy is gunning for her.
Michael Lark delivers his usual stellar performance, providing the atmosphere that allows Rucka to bring his best, including an impressive scene between Montoya and her younger brother that turns into a heated argument, punctuated by the fact that halfway through, they begin yelling at each other in their native Spanish. It’s something very small of course, but this attention to detail and the insistence on biting realism makes Rucka one of our modern greats, and Gotham Central a must read.
Black Panther #59 (Priest/Patrick Zircher/Norm Rapmund)
One would think that a title four months from cancellation has little to offer a potential new reader. One would think. On the heels of Priest’s latest announcement that the soon-to-be released series The Crew would be a continuation of sorts from Black Panther, is this friendly little storyline called Ascension. The last several months have seen Kasper Cole more confidently slip into the role of the Panther, but he still hasn’t learned the most basic of tenants…it’s not about the suit. In his relentless pursuit at bringing down the dirty cops that led to a friend’s murder, Cole slowly begins to understand what makes an average man a hero, and finally realizes what is necessary to become one. Priest offers a strong bit of characterization for the Falcon, and casts him in the role of temporary mentor, providing the final lesson that sets this new Panther on his true path. The Crew begins here.