AfterShock Comics is a relatively-new startup comic book company that has made some big waves early. Using veteran comic talent coupled with an Editor-in-Chief, Mike Marts, who has worked on some of the biggest titles in the Marvel and DC lineup, the company has hit the comic shelves by storm and is garnering excellent early buzz. NerdBastards recently had a chance to bend Marts’ ear for a few minutes, and the result of our conversation is presented heretowith!
NERDBASTARDS (NB): Give us your best “dating-profile” introduction of yourself, please.
MIKE MARTS (MM): Let’s see… I’m a Capricorn, and I don’t smoke… A lot of people would probably know me from my stints at both Marvel and DC. I’ve been working in the industry for a little over 20 years, and roughly half the time I was at Marvel and half the time I was at DC, with the few other stops here and there at other companies. I think most people know me as the Group Editor on the Batman title of books, when I was working with people like Grant Morrison, Scott Snyder, Paul Dini, Andy Kubert and Tony Daniel – a bunch of other great people. I had two different times at Marvel where I was the Group Editor and and an Executive Editor on the X-Men titles, then later on the Guardians of the Galaxy family; again, I got to work with great people there, like the aforementioned Grant Morrison, Joss Whedon, Paul Jenkins and a lot of other fantastic people. About a year ago, I made the decision to “jump ship” from the mainstream side of things and help to start up my own company, which I helped form with a great team of other guys, and that’s called AfterShock comics. That’s been one of the bleeding, sweating, and crying about for the past year!
NB: Just like any good comic, we’re always interested in an “origin story” – in helping to create AfterShock, was it simply the desire to do something on your own, or was there something bigger behind the decision?
MM: It was combination of wanting to do something on my own and then just subscribing to the vision and dreams and plans that the other team members of AfterShock had in place before I got there. I’ve been given some great opportunities over the years, at both Marvel and DC, working on fantastic books and fantastic projects and that always kept me very happy, but at the same time I was very driven to want to build my own thing; to start something from the ground floor, and to create new projects of my own. So that was always in the back of my head – this itch that I wanted to scratch.
[AfterShock Creative Editor] Joe Pruett reached out to me and told me that they were basically just looking for the last piece of the puzzle to make the company complete. I got to talking with them, and it really quickly became just a fantastic marriage; I saw that these were people that I wanted to be in business with for a long time, and I knew that they not only wanted me for my experience and talent but really wanted to listen to my ideas about building a company and building projects. It was a much simpler decision then a lot of people might think; I get asked the question a lot of “how could you leave Marvel or DC and go to a startup?” It’s a lot more common sense when you boil it down to the ingredients that got me to go over there.
NB: It’s important to note that, even though AfterShock is a “startup,” you have a lot of established talent already on-board to create your new titles.
MM: Yeah, it’s really fantastic that we got such a good mix of talent working, and it’s established veteran writers who are still at the top of their game. People like Garth Ennis, Paul Jenkins, Brian Azzarello… I mean, these guys are fixtures in the comic book industry, and they continue to draw huge crowds. There’s Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti… and then there are people who are equally exciting and experienced as writers but are at the beginning of their comics career, like Marguerite Bennett and Ray Fawkes and Justin Jordan… it’s a such a good mix of talent, and really that’s just the writing side of things! The artists that we have working our titles are just as exciting.
NB: Reading through the initial slate of AfterShock offerings, one of the things that becomes apparent is that the stories told in your books are not just the “average” superhero tales.
MM: Yeah! Everything that we acquire at Aftershock, and all the products that we develop – we really start with the simple foundation of “story first.” So, it’s got to be a great, engaging story; it’s got to be unique; it’s got to be something that everyone will want to read. For example, that was part of our criteria when talking to Marguerite Bennett about doing a project with us. She sent us three ideas and, honestly, each one was a good as the other one. We could have easily done all three series at once if we wanted to, but being a new company, we had to pick just one. She never thought in a million years it would be Insexts! She was surprised that we went with it because it was the most daring, the most bold, the craziest, and the riskiest! But I said, “Marguerite… that that’s exactly why we picked it.” We want to take risks; we want to take chances. Insexts provided us with that type of book, and the story that backed it up was was just phenomenal.
NB: What advice might you give to new creators who are trying to break into the industry?
MM: You know, it’s very tricky. I get this question a lot; the people who work in this industry know that there’s no “magic formula” to to get in. Everyone has a unique “origin story,” like you mentioned earlier. It’s a very competitive business, and it’s a very small business, but there a lot of people wanting to get in. So, the important thing for anyone in this industry – whether you’re a writer or an artist – is to make noise, to get yourself seen and heard. Whether that is self-publishing your own book and putting it online, or through posting on deviantART, or just the basic social media like Twitter and Facebook – there are artists who have made noise and have gotten noticed through those waves. You’d be surprised how many editors check deviantART several times a week for new artists – certainly, people who worked on my staff at both Marvel and DC did that and continue to do that.
But the important thing is to get yourself seen and heard. If you are a great artist and you’re drawing alone in the corner somewhere and just doing it for yourself, you’re never going to get out there. You’ve got to grow thick skin, you’ve got to be extroverted, and you’ve got to put yourself out there . You also have to know how to balance being aggressive but not being pushy, because in this industry you can turn people off really quickly if you don’t handle things the right way. So, it’ really a combination of all those things.
NB: About the future of the industry: there is obviously a big push to digital right now. Do you see things moving expressly away from print, or the genre “tipping” one way over the other?
MM: No, I don’t necessarily see it that way; I think if something like that were to happen, it would have happened already. I think we have a unique industry, in that it’s an art form, a collectible business, and content -heavy business all at the same time. Because of that that unique mix, I don’t think you can never predict how this industry is really going to pan out. I can remember back to when I was working at Acclaim Comics in 1997 and 1998, and I had a friend who worked there who was convinced – convinced, convinced – that print comics were going to be dead within 3 years and we would all be out of jobs. That was almost 20 years ago and here we are, very strong as an industry – we have seen big growth over the past 15 years in overall sales, and we continue to see properties being made into TV shows and movies, and that’s all great stuff for the industry.
I feel we’re really in a “comics Renaissance” right now, where we are definitely going up – I just don’t know how far we’re going up. It’s difficult to predict how things are going to level out or how they’re going to develop. I think we will continue to see digital grow, as it’s an easy way for people to get content, on their iPads or their phones; at the same time, the fact that there is an art form and collectible aspect to our business, I don’t believe that we will ever see print die. It’s my opinion that we will see both digital and print continue to grow side by side and hopefully find ways where the two can interact with one another and and grow alongside one another.