“Who says you have to pay $2.95 for a cool comic?”

The above is the working motto of a new independent comic publisher called Just A Buck Comics that intends to carve its mark onto the industry by releasing the best new titles you never thought to ask for, and only charging you a single buck to experience them. The upcoming Dragon Con is planned as the staging point for this new venture, so I tracked down twenty-five year industry veteran Ron Fortier, who’s serving as managing editor for Just a Buck Comics, to find out why the industry is ready and waiting for dollar comics. The highlights are reprinted below, along with preview art from their first offering, which introduces artistic find Johnny Atomic to the world of comics.

Brandon Thomas: Please introduce yourself and your company. When and how did you get started as a professional writer?

Ron Fortier: Okay, I think I can do that. Let me look in the mirror a second…aha. Yup, it’s me all right, Ron Fortier, 57 year old comic book writer who’s been at this game for almost thirty years now. In that time I’ve done some 300 titles, which includes licensed icons RAMBO, POPEYE, HULK, TERMINATOR, and THE GREEN HORNET. Plus some of my own stuff, MR. JIGSAW, STREET-FIGHTER and THE BOSTON BOMBERS. And most recently DAYS OF THE DRAGON and THE MASK OF THE GARGOYLE.

JUST A BUCK COMICS is the name of our company. JABC for short. We are about doing brand new, quality comics for one single dollar. Period. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.

Thomas: How did this company get started, and at what point in their development did you come onboard?

Fortier: Just A Buck Comics was the brainbust of Tracy Duty, the head honcho of Atomic Pop Studio, a one-stop graphic shop that he started on the net last year. I joined the studio shortly after its start up, and was impressed by the caliber of people on board. Tracy is an idea man of the old school, always willing to try new things and see how they float.

When he started ranting about a new line of comics that would sell for a buck, I was on board immediately and began churning out 16 page scripts as fast as I could find artists to join me on them. Obviously, my enthusiasm didn’t go unnoticed and Tracy called one night asking if I’d like to be the number one guy for JABC. Atomic Pop is a full-time job, and he was content to remain our publisher, while I get to play Stan Lee. Now that’s an offer I just couldn’t pass up.

Thomas: What tells you this is the right time to hit the industry with this idea?

Fortier: The state of the industry and the average price of comics today. First, I believe the average comic is too expensive and secondly, there are lots of talented newcomers out there looking for a place to showcase their talent. It seemed the best time to go for it.

Thomas: Your first title marks the company’s official debut at Dragon Con next weekend. Will you be self-distributing this line, or going through the more typical Diamond channels?

Fortier: Our plans are to launch and sell online through various sources. We are also reaching out to individual comic shops to explain our pricing advantage to them. This is step one. As we get more titles into production, we fully expect to sell through the normal distributions as well.

Thomas: What’s the first title, and why is it the right project to launch Just A Buck Comics?

Fortier: TEMPLE & NASH – THE COCKROACH CONSPIRACY is a gritty crime thriller set against the backdrop of Tampa, Florida. Someone is killing prostitutes and veteran detective Vincent Nash has to team up with rookie officer, Nora Temple to catch the killer before someone else dies.

As to part two of your query, T & N is our first JABC because it was the first done. We’ve had six JABC books in development these past few months and the plan was always to let the first across the finish be our debut. T & N won out thanks to the artistic devotion of the fantastic Johnny Atomic.

Thomas: What sets Temple & Nash apart from the typical crime story?

Fortier: Aside from being an urban fable, it is a real mystery, with what I’d like to believe is a nice, original twist ending. Several reviewers who have seen advanced copies gave it a major thumbs up.

Thomas: What’s the length and release schedule for this initial storyline? How many bucks will readers have to spend to read the whole story?

Fortier: Only one, kind sir. Please understand, for the most part every single issue of Just A Buck Comics will feature one complete, total and self-contained story. For one dollar, the reader is getting the whole package, with a start, middle and finish. Period.

TEMPLE & NASH – THE COCKROACH CONSPIRACY is a stand alone story, which the majority of our titles will be as we kick off. That is what, as an editor, I am looking for in submissions. Now, that is not to say that somewhere down the line, we won’t do a multi-part story. Or for that matter, bring back popular characters. Flexibility will always be a hallmark of JABC. We want to keep the fans guessing with each new title.

Thomas: After Temple & Nash, what other stories and creative teams are JABC bringing to the table?

Fortier: I’m glad you asked. Although I can’t tell you in what order they will appear, our future line-up includes another MASK OF THE GARGOYLE story, illustrated by Dark Horse & DC artist, Dario Carrasco. Dario has done several ashcan adventures of this hero in the past two years for Free Comic Book Day and now is launching him into a full size comic with JABC. The art is amazing!

SHADOW ONE is by writer Bobby Nash and assorted artists. This is actually a text story with spot-illustrations, much like the old pulp formats, and is intended as a terrific preview for forthcoming, regular comic series. Nash just had his first novel published and is a gifted storyteller. As for the concept of SHADOW ONE…think G.I. Joe meets Star Wars, dynamite wall-to-wall action with great characters.

And just around the corner is a really fun book called ROBOT GUY – X3, wherein I wrote a 4 page script in the vein of the old Golden Age comics and three different artists are all drawing the exact same story. Ergo, fans will open the book, read the actual script as I wrote it, then get to see how three different comic book artists interpreted the tale in their art. It’s both a fun idea, and an instructive tutorial for comic fans.

Later down the line, we’ve got a new Steve Bennett and Howard Simpson comedy that reads like a red-neck version of Princess of Mars, called the WORLD OF KING COLBY. Steve is a reviewer for CBG and a veteran of the old Malibu comics, whereas Howard Simpson was one of the biggest stars of the old Valiant Comics under Jim Shooter.

And all this is just the tip of the iceberg. We’ve lots of good stuff coming.

Thomas: You’ve mentioned artistic find Johnny Atomic in the same breath as Alex Ross. What makes Atomic the next big thing?

Fortier: Only because I wrote the very first comic script Alex Ross ever did as a comic book artist. At the time, I recognized his genius and made lots of noise about it back then. Sadly, nobody listened to me at the time, and it wasn’t until several years later when he hooked up with Kurt Busiek, did his star begin to rise.

Well, that same instinct about true artistic genius is still working and I haven’t had the same feeling until now. Johnny Atomic has the same talent, if not more so, than Alex and is going to be a star. He is a master of negative space drawing, much in the vein of such people as Jim Steranko, Paul Gulacy and Mike Mignola. I’ve no doubts in the next couple of years he’ll be just as popular as Ross is today.

Thomas: You said earlier that your company is very open to submissions from hopefuls. What puts something over the top in your eyes? How do you know you’re looking at a talent that you can develop?

Fortier: Hmm, good, good question. I guess my answer to that is, I’m depending on my years of experience in this business to be able to identify what is good and what is not, beyond my own personal taste. Look, I’d go nuts trying to count how many comics I’ve actually read in my time on terra firma. What I am looking for is well written stories with interesting characters. I want to have fun reading comics, no matter the genre.

Art wise, again, I know what’s competent and what is amateurish. Show me a level of professionalism, no matter how raw or crude, and I’ll give them a shot. JABC is about discovering talent.

Thomas: Have you found that certain stories or genres are better suited for the 16 page format?

Fortier: Hell no. Format has nothing to do with quality in both writing and artwork. Personally, I am sick and tired of over priced books that take two to three issues to tell a simple story. Most of the time it’s padding. If a writer can’t tell a good story in 16 pages, then they should start looking for a new line of work.

And now’s a good time to mention we are NOT limiting our submissions to single issue stories as well. If somebody comes to me with a dynamite story that requires 32 pages to tell, then we’ll give them two JABCs to do it in. Just A Buck Comics is not going to be pigeon-holed. I want westerns, horror, sci-fi, romance and sure, superhero…but only if the quality is at a professional level. That’s the only rule we at JABC will adhere to.

Thomas: Comic prices seem to have stabilized around three bucks a pop, and usually, the cost of paper and production is blamed for the continued increases. How are you keeping the price down, without sacrificing the overall appearance on the books?

Fortier: Again, quality has no format. We are giving readers, and retailers, a high quality comic book. We keep prices down by keeping it black and white and at 16 pages. Now, when you consider the average color book is only 24 pgs. and filled throughout with those annoying ads, we’re a really solid bargain on all fronts.

Thomas: And the goal is not to necessarily compete with the larger publishers, but to complement them, right?

Fortier: Exactly. The idea being, our black and white $1 books are the perfect team up with the $3 color titles. We don’t want fans to stop buying Marvel and DC, we want them to simply add JABC to their list of quality comics to buy.

Thomas: What are you anticipating to be your biggest hurdle in getting these books into people’s hands?

Fortier: Retailers not understanding our purpose. Most black and white independents have come into the market competing head on with the $3 color books, and they’ve usually failed. Hmm, I wonder why? Look, the average number of any black & white independent any retailer will gamble on is 5 copies.

Now, in the case of JABC, our pricing is what sets us apart. We do not want to compete with the color books. We want to work with them. Any kid coming into a comic shop with five dollars in his pocket can only buy one comic. Think about that for a second. That totally sucks, for both the kid and the retailer. Now, what if the same shop had quality comics the reader could purchase with his left over two dollars in change? Imagine that!

Not only does the average customer get more bang for his bucks, but the retailer now maximizes his own profits in the process. But to work to the max, the retailers have to get that concept, and order 10 or more JABCs.

That’s the prejudice we are up against.

Thomas: So, a retailer or a fan catches wind of JABC and wants to get their hands on your comics. How do they make that happen, and is there a major initiative planned for getting the word out?

Fortier: But of course. We have a temporary website, which is already getting a lot of attention. I’d recommend all interested parties start there. It has information on how to order individual copies, previews of our forthcoming titles, and an e-mail address on how to contact yours truly should they have either questions or submissions.

Eventually, when our permanent site is up and running, we will have high-res flyers that fans can actually download, print and bring to their comic shops. Retailers visiting the site and wanting to place advance orders can contact me directly.

Thomas: Final thought time, Mr. Fortier. Sell anyone else that’s on the fence about this. Why will JABC still be here one year from now?

Fortier: I guess the one thought I’d like to leave folks with is, we are serious about fun.

How’s that for an oxymoron? Really, friends and fellow comic book lovers, we want to bring you fun comics. We want to give you more bang for your comic bucks than you’ve had in a long, long time. The folks behind JABC are real comic fanatics and we think the idea for a $1 comic is now. With your help, we can prove it. And by this time next year, we’ll be celebrating a whopping big anniversary bash.

It’s too good an idea to die. Thanks a million for the soapbox, keep dreaming, and go out and read a comic book. It’s good for your brain.

Thomas: Thanks to Ron Fortier for stopping by this week, and be on the lookout as Just A Buck Comics makes its official debut at this weekend’s Dragon Con, and begins its guerrilla style assault on the industry.

Back here in seven.


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