Stephen Christy: Archaia Comics and their Beautiful Books

A comics interview article by: Jason Sacks


Archaia Comics publish some of the most interesting, thoughtful and high quality comics on the stands today. As you'll see in this interview with their editor-in-chief, Stephen Christy, Archaia publishes a wide range of very intriguing and very fun books, ranging from books based on the creations of Jim Henson to the story of a philosophical hitman. Archaia offers a little bit for every reader, and this interview really gives you a feeling for the tremendous range of content they offer.

Jason Sacks: Let's talk about one of the most interesting titles coming out from Archaia later this year: A Tale of Sand

Stephen Christy: This is an amazing project for us. Basically it's the first new title out of our partnership with Henson. We've brought back Fraggle Rock and we're also bringing back Dark Crystal as well. But this is the first new book in that it's an original idea. And not only is it an original idea, it's an idea that was actually written as a screenplay by Jim Henson himself, which is really incredible. It's a lost Jim Henson screenplay. 

In the mid-'60s to early-'70s, Jim was working on this project to do as a feature film. For various reasons, he never got the opportunity to make it happen. Then he got busy with the Muppets, which of course was what he was really famous for. This screenplay went into the Henson vaults, and it's been sitting there ever since. 

We were lucky enough to find the screenplay and talk with Lisa Henson, his daughter, to be able to bring it to live and make it happen.

Sacks: What's the story about?

Christy: I can't say too much about the story. If you can picture 127 Hours meets Alice in Wonderland by way of Jim Henson, that's what it is. It's basically about a guy who's lost in the desert and is trying to outrun someone who's chasing him. As his supplies and his water start to dwindle, his grasp on reality becomes more and more tenuous. He ends up coming into a world of very Hensonesque creatures. Things happen and affect him – it's like the inner demons of his mind become alive almost.

Sacks: How to make sure that you stay true to the story and that will make the family happy, but still make sure it works as comics?

Christy: It's difficult, but what we're doing is basically drawing the screenplay. We're doing it because we want to be very truthful to what Jim did. We want to be very authentic to Jim's original vision for what he wanted to make as a movie. We're trying to show people on the page what this movie might have looked like, visually, if Jim had made it.

Sacks: That's a great responsibility, but it also has to be very exciting too.

Christy: It's a huge challenge. No pressure, no pressure (laughs). It's really exciting, though, and a huge honor to get to work on the project.

Sacks: How did you choose the staff to work on it?

Christy: Well, Ramon Perez is the guy who's illustrating it. We auditioned a number of illustrators, and Ramon – as you can see from the poster – he just blew everybody away. It was really amazing. He blew Lisa away. He just nailed the look and feel. There's a very cinematic way to the way he draws. We're very excited about that.

Sacks: How are the Hensons to work with? 

Christy: The Hensons have been great to work with. Lisa Henson has really been a champion for this project. She really believes in it. And she's been a champion for Archaia, too. I feel really lucky that we have such a close relationship.

Sacks: Talk about Immortals, tied to the upcoming movie.

Christy: It's funny, because we're partnered up with Relativity on this. Immortals is a feature film that's coming out in November, in 3-D. It's directed by Tarsem Singh. He directed The FallThe CellThe Fall is one of the most visually beautiful movies of the decade, really. 

The really cool thing about this is that the whole reason we wanted to do this in the way that we're doing it is that when Hollywood comes into comics, you get – for want of a better word – bullshit adaptations. You get bad adaptations of Hollywood material or tie-ins or stuff like that. What we really want to do is, we really want to be able to use this as a model to show people that you can make an amazing comic that ties into your movie and helps everything out while at the same time being something that can help advertise your product.

Sacks: It gives more depth to the movie – background…

Christy: And what Immortals is, is that it's not an adaptation. It's stories from the world. It's stuff that's tied in. We want to bring the readers themselves into the world to let them experience things on their own. It's great because you can read the book and not see the movie. You don't need to see the movie to get the book. And you can see the movie without having read the book. But if you see both of them together, it creates a broader and more interactive experience. 

Sacks: And you have a stellar staff working on it, too.

Christy: It's amazing! It's crazy. We have Jock. We have Jim McCann and Janet Lee, who did Dapper Menfor us. Francesco Francavilla, who has been doing Batman. We have Ron Marz, who's been doing a bunch of the Top Cow books for a long time. The list just goes on and on. We have Ben Templesmith working on it. It's really kind of incredible. I'm shocked that we somehow suckered so many creative people as we did to work on the book. 

Sacks: And not people who have done work for you before.

Christy: It's a lot of new people that have never done work for Archaia before. So this is really important to us, to welcome these people into the Archaia family. 

Sacks: Does it open up the possibility of them doing more work for you in the future? You've had your own niche of titles.

Christy: I certainly hope so. I hope that it can open up things to a broader audience.

Sacks: I think one of my favorite posters I see in your book is the poster for Rust

Christy: Yes, Rust is awesome. 

Rust is another all-ages book that is very much in the tradition of our all-ages titles like Dapper Men and Mouse Guard. It's something that a kid can read and love, but an adult can read and love it too. It's kind of something for everyone.

It's an amazing science fiction story. It's set in the future, after a very big World War type event. Society has kind of pulled back and there's a lot less technology. It's a lot like it was at the beginning of the 20th century or the end of the 19th century. The story is set on a farm, with this family who are running this family farm. Everything is going great for them until one day a kid with a jet pack literally flies and crashes into their barn – and changes their world forever.

Sacks: A little bit like Kal-El crashing into a field in Kansas.

Christy: A little but, except this kid is named Jet Jones, and he brings with him some 40 foot tall war robots, basically. Robots made for war. It's kind of a commentary on that – and it's just a great sci-fi adventure.

Sacks: It just sounds really fun!

Christy: Yeah, it's a lot of fun too.

Sacks: Dark Crystal is coming out this year, too. That's a book we haven't seen from you.

Christy: Yes, we're doing Dark Crystal for our Free Comic Book Day book, actually. We're doing a Dark Crystal/Mouse Guard flipbook. It will have Mouse Guard on one side, Dark Crystal on the other. The really exciting thing about Dark Crystal is that we're partnering with Brian Froud, who was the original concept designer for the film. He built the world with Jim Henson. So this is literally the closest we can get to having Jim himself on the book, almost. 

He's going to be doing the plot, art direction, covers, and character design. He's really heavily involved. 

Sacks: You don't just have a writer who loves the world covering it in the comic. You actually have the guy who built the world.

Christy: We're trying to do that with all our books. We actually just announced that we're doing a graphic novel of The Storyteller, which is based on the show that Jim did on HBO in the late '80s. That's being edited by Nate Cosby, who's a former Marvel editor. That is really cool, because what we're doing with that is bringing in – like Immortals - a huge group of amazing talent. But we're also adapting a lost teleplay by Anthony Minghella, who won the Oscar for The English Patient and was also the original showrunner on The Storyteller

There are scripts that he wrote for The Storyteller that never got made that have been sitting in the Henson vault. We're going back into the vault and making it happen. 

Sacks: This is a rich area for your company to explore.

Christy: It's a very rich area. It's exciting. It's great to be working with a company that has such a good name, such a good track record and history. That's what we're really excited about.

Sacks: Dapper Men has been a smash hit. I gotta tell you – I have a staff of about 40 writers for our site, and the book that people have asked for the most was Dapper Men. I was inundated with requests for copies of that book.

Christy: We're very happy to have another home-grown hit aside from Mouse Guard. And it's also great to take a risk on something, andDapper Men was a really big risk for us. It's unlike any other book – no other publisher would have done it. No one else would have published that book. It was a big risk for us. But we took it because we really, truly believed not only in the book itself, but in the creators. 

Jim and Janet are amazing. Jim is an incredibly talented writer and Janet is an unbelievable artist. To be able to kind of break them into comics was an honor. It was a true honor.

Sacks: I was talking to their editor, Tai, and she told a great story about how they ended up doing the comic.

Christy: They pitched it to Jim at Marvel. I actually interned with Jim at Marvel years ago, and he's also friends with our founder and publisher, Mark Smylie. Jim actually came to us on the floor at San Diego, two years ago, and said "I have this idea. I don't know if you're going to like it or not…

He sold us the idea and he basically showed us some of the artwork. Mark and I basically greenlit it on the floor, right there. We knew immediately. We could see the book in our heads. We knew immediately that it would be something incredible.

Sacks: I love the story about how McCann came to write this book.

Christy: Basically the way that this came to be is that Jim saw a piece of art that Janet had done, and that piece of art inspired him to create this entire world. Everything came out from there. It was a very interesting collaboration. 

Sacks: She does all the art on wood.

Christy: She does them all on wood. 

Sacks: My favorite book is The Killer. It's a very interesting book. I like how the character is changing and evolving but he won't admit that he's changing. 

Christy: He does not want to be a hitman anymore. It's a very interesting character arc. That's one of my favorite titles that we do. It's a great comic. And it's a very good gateway comic for people with Archaia because they really – that book is getting more and more well know. It's a perennial for us. It sells very well. 

Sacks: It deserves it. The book is so well done. The main character is totally fascinating. The locations are great. I love how it takes me to places like Caracas.

Christy: It's like a James Bond movie in that way. It's a true worldwide movie. I hope someone makes a movie out of it. 

Sacks: Cyclops is the next book by that team.

Christy: Cyclops is their next book. It's very different – that's much more of a straight-up science fiction story. It's really special. That first hardcover just came out in May , so fans will be able to read it and check it out.

We should talk about Feeding Ground. It's the first English and Spanish book done at the same time.

Sacks: That was interesting, to read as a flipbook. I don't think I've ever seen that before.

Christy: We wanted to try something different, because we felt the material deserved. It's hard to advertise something like that in single issue format, because there's just no for market for single issues anymore, which is why we do only hardcovers. I thought the flipbook was really special.

Sacks: Interesting series, too. It seems very cinematic.

Christy: Archaia pretty much just publishes floppies and hardcovers.

We're actually not even doing floppies that much anymore, after this year. We do that because – we're going to be doing softcovers soon, but hardcovers are really the thing that sets us apart from everyone else. It's the the thing that makes us special. And honestly, I think it's the best way to deliver content. It's great to get really well-made, beautiful-looking books.

Sacks: They're very substantial. They feel like they have real quality. Does it help in the book trade?

Christy: The book trade is our biggest market, basically. That's where want to be as a company. We want to be in the book trade. We don't want to be like – the comic market is important to us, but the comic market is pretty much just a super-hero market, and has been for a long time. We're never going to do a super-hero book – unless it's like a crazy, amazing super-hero title that you would never see at Marvel or DC, we're not going to do it.

Sacks: The only Archaia book I read recently that was even slightly like a Marvel of DC book was The Engineer. It was a great book!

Christy: They brought the book to us. It's such a fun book. It's definitely very good for fans of The Goon orHellboy or stuff like that. We just thought it was a lot of fun. We thought it was a great adventure. The art is beautiful, the story – it's a very different book. Again, it's something that you probably wouldn't see at Marvel or DC, even though it has that flavor. I hope they do another one. I would love to have another book in that series.

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