BOOM! Studios is doing some great things in comics these days. I had a great time catching up with their Publishing & Marketing dude Filip Sablik to talk about how BOOM! is pushing comics forward.
Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: Tell me about Push Comics Forward, Filip.
Filip Sablik: Sure, Jason. So Push Comics Forward is ideally something that we thought of that felt like it was happening organically in the industry, but it was important that we actually identified it and as a mainstream, top ten publisher took a position on it. I think typically what happens with this kind of stuff is publishers kind of wait for stuff and let it happen organically and don’t really want to put a label on it.
So at the core of it, Push Comics Forward is, we hope, a movement, a conversation to discuss what the next ten years of comics should look like. In a way hopefully to celebrate what’s happening right now in the industry that’s positive. I think one of the other big things is we’re a company that likes to be positive and aspirational. We just think there’re enough voices that’re cynical and sarcastic and negative in the space. It’s easy to talk about what’s wrong; let’s talk about what’s right. Let’s talk about what we’d like to see more of.
CB: And you certainly have a history of that, pushing comics forward, in a few different ways: really embracing kids comics, really embracing comics that’re very inclusive. The thing I think of the most when I think of BOOM! is just a wide range of books. Is that part of the vision of Pushing Comics Forward?
Sablik: Oh, absolutely. A big part of it I think we always want to call out is part of it’s about accessibility and inclusiveness. And that doesn’t mean at the expense of the fans that’re already in the space. We’re definitely not saying that there shouldn’t be comics for middle-aged white guys like you and me. But there is plenty of that. So it’s like what can we do to make comics more accessible for kids? What can we do to make comics more accessible for women? What can we do to make comics more accessible for people of color and other minorities?
Because I think at the heart of it, the thing I always think about is part of what made comics as a medium resonate for me and drew me in and ultimately made me want to make a career out of it’s that when I read Spiderman, I saw myself reflected in Peter Parker. When I read The X-Men, I saw myself reflected in characters like Nightcrawler, who was an immigrant with a funny accent. So it was that representation that helped me connect. Now, as a guy who’s got two young daughters, I want there to be material that I can share with them that will make them feel like they seem themselves reflected.
CB: So in this way, you’re kind of bringing in the full range of comics. You can have something like HIT and Burning Fields on one side and The BOOM! Box books on the other side and then Teen Dog or something also, the full range. That’s actually something that’s very interring about the company.
Sablik: Yeah. One of the things I think I love to say is that we’re not the company that you’re going to like everything that we publish. I mean, maybe you will, but I think that’s a fairly thin slice of the Venn diagram. My joke is the guy or lady who’s buying Hellraiser is probably not going to be into Peanuts. Maybe, but…
CB: That’s a little part of it, right? We’re all multi-faceted. We all have different things we’re interested in. I don’t just read comics. I read financial books or whatever.
Sablik: Exactly. What I think is really neat is that more than ever right now we talk about this happening organically. It’s something that has been percolating for years. It’s definitely something that indie comic and web comic cartoonists have been pushing forward for many, many years and trying to expand the type of material that you can find. It’s something that over recent years, other publishers in the space have been doing really incredibly well. I look at a company like Image and it has definitely been at the forefront, whether you’re looking at titles like Saga or Chew or long running series. Even if you look at the Walking Dead, it’s such a genre book, but it’s really about characters.
The cast is incredibly diverse. It’s about that human drama. So you have that. You have in the last year I think Marvel and DC making a pretty significant movement towards acknowledging that they need more diversity in their line, which is really exciting. And so the important thing I think is at the end of the day, what we should all want is more people reading comics because ultimately that leads to a healthier industry. I think a lot of the problems people talk about within the industry, whether it’s books not getting enough support or creators not getting high enough page rates or a lack of health insurance- all of these different things ultimately stem from the fact that we’re still a relatively small niche industry. But the pop culture impact of comic books is so huge that there is this massive potential audience.
CB: It’s a little like where TV was maybe fifteen years ago. We had these shows that were showing signals of being the type of TV shows that people had to catch. How TV has evolved in the last few years where now that’s what people talk about. It’s kind of almost a primary art form in America. And it’s the most commercial. People are constantly talking about House of Cards. My office had this buzz about House of Cards two weeks ago, right?: And there’s no reason that can’t be true of comics either. And in a lot of ways it’s now. It seems to be growing. I think that’s the best possible direction because as TV has grown up, it has also grown out. We have many more different things.
Sablik: Yeah. I think Chris Harwood talks about this a lot, which is it’s the niche-ifcation of pop culture. And one of the benefits of a worldwide, highly connected through the Internet culture is that if you were someone who’s into political drama or you were into a book like Dead Letters, which is crime and supernatural meshed to together, theoretically you might be the only person in your comic shop that was interested in that. You didn’t have anybody to connect with.
And now there is this global community that you can interact with online. So I think as producers of entertainment, what’s neat for us is we can see that and go, “Oh, okay.” I feel years ago a book like Lumberjanes or The Woods, we might not have been able to do successfully.
CB: Yeah, and we see that now with Lumberjanes. Batgirl is another great example.
Sablik: Yeah, absolutely.
CB: The buzz builds almost immediately around those books. They really have taken off. It’s the way our culture is now. And that applies also, there is so much potential to have comics grow quickly and in the right way.
Sablik: Yeah, absolutely. But I think the important thing is (just to circle back why we felt we had to step forward and launch Push Comics Forward) we’ve come a long way, but we have a long, long way to go. I think of the last year, we were talking about on our panel here, the last year or two have been terrific for the industry recognizing the disparity with gender representation and sexual identity representation and it taking big steps to correct that. But, for instance, we’re still woefully behind in representing people of color in a way that’s an aspiration and positive and inclusive. I think if you don’t identify, it’s hard to work towards a solution.
CB: What’s your nirvana? How do you imagine BOOM! say five years from now?
Sablik: Well, we always joke that we’re trying to build the company of ten years from now today. What I would hope from BOOM! five years from now is that we can continue to evolve into a place where creators feel like, “Hey, if you have an idea that you’re passionate about that you feel like there is an audience for, no matter what it’s , we can be a potential home for you.”
Honestly one of the things we have continued to evolve with the imprints is trying to create a space for fans of all ages so that you can start reading a BOOM! book when you’re five or six years old and hopefully we can be that publisher that you can continue to grow with into adulthood. So I would love to see that continue. And for fans to feel like this is a place that no matter who I am or what my background is can be a home for me as a fan.
CB: You have to have that honesty and integrity to it. And that’s what I think people really respond to with Lumberjanes. In particular it feels like it comes from these people’s hearts, you know?
Sablik: Oh, absolutely. You know what’s funny, we’re so used to sarcasm in modern culture that I actually had a conversation about a month ago with someone in the industry that asked me, “Why are you guys always so serious and so sincere?” So we’re just bleeding this sincerity. I kind of looked at him and said, “Well, first of all, because this stuff is important.”
I look at that and see our staff is incredibly diverse. I want them to feel proud of what we do. But also the thing I said to this person was, “What’s wrong with being sincere?” It has become out of fashion to say what you mean and to be authentic and sincere. That always strikes me as a little weird, particularly in comics because, again, it’s such a little niche industry.
CB: What’s more sincere than Captain America putting on the shield and representing America?
Sablik: Exactly. And so we talk a lot about we want the comics that we do to be joyful and a celebration of whatever we’re passionate about. I think when you look at things like Lumberjanes, it’s right there on the page. And then even series like Burning Fields, which is tackling some horrific subject manner, but it’s coming from a very sincere, straightforward place and a place of passion.
CB: Which doesn’t mean it can’t be artful or complex or kind of embrace the modern way of viewing the world in a multi-facet manner; it just means that the approach that you take is very non-cynical.
CB: So much of Hollywood, for example, seems to be driven by marketing or a need to fill in a certain niche as opposed to having something grow from the creators themselves.