Talkin’ AfterShock Comics with Mike Marts

AfterShock IS THE REAL DEAL!

I know what you’re thinking.  We’ve seen this all before. A new publisher arrives on the scene, new titles and new creators, promising to take the comics world by storm. They glow bright in the night sky like a shooting star and just the same, quickly vanish. In an industry where it seems like dozens of comic book publishers pop up overnight, what makes this one so special?

The answer is simple… Talent! AfterShock has tapped some of the biggest names in comics and created stories that capture that Indie feel you find at an Image or Oni Press, but has the expert polish that you find on a Marvel or DC book. I was privileged to review four of their initial launch titles and I can honestly say, the results so far have been nothing short of amazing.

INSEXTS by Marguerite Bennett and Ariela Kristantina stands out as my favorite of the upcoming series. Draped in a Victorian era backdrop, INSEXTS is an erotic horror, centered on two female lovers, trapped in their societies oppressive nature. They have the terrifying ability to transform into insects and embark on a killing spree. It combines the sexiness and horror of the movie Species, with the political intrigue and setting of a Dangerous Liaisons and carries with it the same sense of wonder and fascination I had when I first read Brian K. Vaughn’s SAGA.

Then we have DREAMING EAGLES, by comic book legend Garth Ennis and artist, Simon Coleby. Dreaming Eagles, is a father son story, set in the 1960’s during the civil rights movement, as Reggie Atkinson tells his son stories of his time as one of the Tuskegee Airmen. It is poignant, intense, a harsh reminder of where we came from as a society, and judging by the tragedies that permeates the news on an all too regular basis, it is a lesson that needs retelling.

Paul Jenkins and Andy Clarke‘s book, REPLICA, is a black comedy series about a detective, Trevor Carter, who works the beat on an intergalactic space station called, The Transfer. While attempting to create a clone of himself, to ease his work load (who hasn’t wished for that in their life) accidentally creates an army of clones of himself. Funny, dark, and rife with potential, REPLICA kicks off with a bang and has me itching to see where the story goes.

SUPERZERO by the superstar, writing tandem that bring us the cult hit HARLEY QUINN, Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner, and the fantastic art of Rafael de La Torre, tells the story of a nineteen year old girl named Dru, who is obsessed with superheroes, and in the hopes of escaping her normal, boring, suburban life, attempts to trigger her transformation into a superhero by recreating their origin stories. This book is fun, infused with the comedic styles we have come to expect from Palmiotti and Conner, and touches on something deeper that rests in those awkward teenage years where we all believed ourselves to be the center of the universe.

The man behind the curtain of AfterShock, Editor-in-Chief, MIKE MARTS, is the former Marvel and DC executive editor that ran the Batman and X-Book offices. You know… the two most successful comic book titles over the last couple of decades. JOE PRUETT, steps in as Publisher as well, an Eisner award winning editor, publisher, and writer, and whose book, Negative Burn at Caliber Comics, was routinely up for the Harvey and Eisner award.



In sports terms, this is the 1992 Olympic Dream Team of comics, and it is just the tip of the iceberg as more titles are set to launch including, AMERICAN MONSTER by Brian Azzarello and Juan Doe, SECOND SIGHT by David Hine and Alberto Ponticelli, and STRAYER by Justin Jordan and Juan Gedeon.

ComicCrusaders sat down with EIC Mike Marts and talked about life as an editor, Marvel versus DC, and the very bright future of AfterShock Comics.


FM: WHEN DID YOU DECIDE YOU WANTED TO MAKE COMICS AND HOW DID YOU BREAK INTO THE INDUSTRY?

MM: I started reading comics when I was around 10 years old. I was actually introduced to comics by my stepsister and I fell in love with them immediately. I was mainly a Marvel guy growing up. The one exception was Batman, which was the one book from DC that I always read. From an early age I knew I wanted to be involved in comics. I used to write quite a bit as a kid, and my one dream was to write the X-Men. It’s all I really wanted to do.

When I got into college, I started studying journalism and editing, and my interest kind of swayed a little bit from writing to editing. Even so, I was still sending in one story proposal per week to Marvel in the hopes that I could break in as a writer. Eventually, a friend who was a professional in the industry, started hand delivering some of my proposals to editors at Marvel, and I was getting actual feedback. Somehow that led to the idea of doing an editorial internship at Marvel Comics. I did that in my junior year of college, and really I never left and never looked back. I did two internships there and then was offered an assistant editor spot, which I immediately took. That’s kind of how I began my career.

FM: YOU WERE THE EXECUTIVE EDITOR ON THE BATMAN BOOKS AT DC AND ON THE X-MEN BOOKS AT MARVEL. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES YOU’VE EXPERIENCED WORKING FOR THE TWO COMPANIES AND WHAT ARE SOME OF THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE MARVEL AND DC?

MM: There’s a lot of stuff similar about the two companies. They both have a huge arsenal of great characters, they publish around the same books each month, and while the game plans might be a tad different, or how they approach certain strategies, all and all the companies operate pretty much in a similar fashion. The differences really just boil down to the characters that you’re working with, and the different people on staff, but it’s such a small industry that a lot of people end up working for both companies at one point or another in their careers.

With challenges, I think a lot of people believe that the mainstream publishers have it easy and that anyone will buy their books. While they certainly do benefit by having extremely popular characters, there’s still a lot of pressure to create books that are going to reach an audience and succeed and are going to sell.

That’s always a challenge at both companies, trying to come up with those magic combinations that would lead to a successful series. Certain characters, like Batman or Superman, or the X-Men, can benefit from being, long-term, popular characters. How do you succeed with those smaller titles, like Exiles or Red Tornado, or Talon, or Batgirl? That’s where those real challenges come into play.


FM: WHAT QUALITIES MAKE A GOOD EDITOR?

MM: An editor has to have a lot of different qualities to get ahead. You need thick skin, the ability to act quickly on your feet and to be able to come up with solutions to unique problems very quickly. You have to be a good story editor and a good manuscript editor. Those are two different things. You have to be a good art director, you have to be a good talent recruiter, and you have to know how to market certain types of artists on certain books, because sometimes an artist might be great, but they might not be the right fit for a certain character or title. You have to be organized, you have to be the friend of a creator, but at the same time, occasionally be hard with them in order to get materials to come in on time. You have to be able to adapt to the new trends of the industry.

If you work for Marvel and DC, then you have to be able to be the caretakers of characters that have been around for a long, long, time. There are a lot of different things that go into being a good editor. Some people have a few of those qualities; very few have all those qualities. The ones that do… they’re the best editors in the business.

FM: A LARGE POPULATION OF OUR READERSHIP IS COMIC CREATORS, LOOKING TO BREAK INTO THE BUSINESS WITH WORK FOR HIRE OPPORTUNITIES. ONE OF THE THINGS THAT HAS PROVEN TO BE DIFFICULT IS GRABBING THE ATTENTION OF AN EDITOR AT MARVEL OR DC. IN YOUR EXPERIENCE, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE WAYS, UP AND COMING TALENT CAN GET THEMSELVES NOTICED AT THE BIG TWO?

MM: I get that question a lot. There’s really no set formula. If there were, it’d be much easier to break into the industry. The same thing I said before about an editor, a creator has to have thick skin. You have to be able to hear the word no, and be able to jump back up, dust the dirt off your shoulder and get on the horse again. You have to get things published so that they can get you noticed. You have to have a loud voice so that everyone hears you, but make sure that the voice is professional enough that you don’t piss people off. Most important, you have to never quit. You can’t ever quit.

FM: THAT LINE BETWEEN BEING PERSISTENT AND ANNOYING IS A HARD ONE TO NAVIGATE, RIGHT?

MM: It’s an extremely hard one to navigate. It gets easier over time, but again, that’s something that not everyone has.

FM: I’VE READ COMICS FOR THIRTY PLUS YEARS AND I’VE DRIFTED IN AND OUT OF A NUMBER OF TITLES, WITH THE EXCEPTION OF THE X-MEN. THAT HAS BEEN THE ONE BOOK I CONSISTENTLY PICK UP EACH MONTH. WHAT DO YOU THINK IT IS ABOUT THE X-MEN THAT MADE THEM SUCH A HUGE SUCCESS IN COMICS OVER THE LAST FORTY PLUS YEARS?

MM:    Marvel traditionally was a company of underdog characters and of all those characters; the X-Men will still be the ultimate underdogs. Sure, Spider-Man has his problems and the Hulk was misunderstood, but even within the superheroes community, the X-Men were still the outcasts. To me that was appealing. It is also the fact that the X-Men are a wide mix of characters with different powers, from different countries and backgrounds.

When I was growing up, and I was first reading the X-Men, not a lot of people knew who they were, even though it was a big selling title. I saw that subscription there for the X-Men running down at the bottom of the page, and I was like, “Who are those guys? I have to know who those guys are.”

Then, once you get to know them and you read the stories and you understand how they’re operating out of a position of persecution and not being misunderstood, not being accepted, I think that speaks to everyone. All of us, whether you’re comic fan or not, we all know what that feels like.

FM: WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE X-MEN CHARACTER?

MM: I’ve bounced around a bit over the years. I think when I was a kid I enjoyed Nightcrawler the best, and as I grew older I liked Wolverine a little bit more, but honestly, I would have to say Cyclops is my favorite X-Men character. I’m not exactly sure why, they’ve all been through a lot, but he’s been through a lot… a lot. I think throughout all the years, all the stories, he’s definitely been a constant. Maybe I identify with him as well.


FM: TELL ME ABOUT AfterShock. I READ THE FOUR BOOKS YOU SENT OVER AND THEY ALL WERE AWESOME. WHAT IS IT YOU WANT THE FANS TO KNOW THAT SETS AfterShock APART FROM THE OTHER COMPANIES OUT THERE?

MM: What we set out to do is establish AfterShock as a brand that is synonymous with quality. You just said you picked up our four books and you thought each of them was awesome. That’s how we want all readers to feel about every issue that we put out. The AfterShock brand is going to mean something, it’s going to mean that there’s a certain level of quality going into each and every comic book. We did heavy recruiting and brought in huge industry titans, like Garth Ennis, Brian Azzarello, Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, and Paul Jenkins. We’re mixing that with the talent of tomorrow; the talent that’s been breaking through the last few years, like Marguerite Bennett.

We’ve got this great roster of talent now who are invested in these stories. They are the creators of the stories; we are just helping them put these projects out and I think these writers and artists, you’re getting the best story from them. That’s something that we are focusing on as well, not just the quality, but also the story, it has to really mean something. It’s got to be different, it’s got to be engaging, and it’s got to be captivating.

FM:    WILL THESE BE LIMITED SERIES OR ONGOING TITLES?

MM: It’s a mix of both. Certain titles are intended to be limited series, like Garth Ennis’ Screaming Eagles is a six issue series. The majority of the books that we have coming out, we plan on them being regular titles.

FM: WHAT ARE SOME OF THE WAYS THAT YOU GO ABOUT SCOUTING THE UP AND COMING TALENT IN COMICS?

MM: Well, one part of that is the past experience that both Joe Pruett and I have in publishing comic books. We’ve had the opportunity to meet and deal with dozens and dozens of writers and artists. Sometimes, that one artist that I met 5 years ago at a convention might not be ready, but then 5 years later he or she is ready to jump into a book. That’s happened to me a bunch of times in my career. You meet these people at conventions or places like the Kubert School. It’s just a constant search for those stars of tomorrow.

FM: YOU’RE STRANDED ON A DESERT ISLAND AND YOU CAN HAVE ONLY ONE MUSIC ALBUM, ONE MUSIC/TV SHOW, AND ONE NOVEL. WHAT WOULD THEY BE?

MM: Television show would be Breaking Bad, movie would be Empire Strikes Back, music album is 9 Inch Nails, the Downward Spiral and book would be Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises.



FM: ARE THERE ANY CONVENTIONS OR SPECIAL EVENTS THAT AfterShock OR YOURSELF WILL BE ATTENDING THAT YOU WOULD LIKE OUR READERSHIP TO BE AWARE OF?

MM:    Nothing I can comment on right at this moment. We are planning to attend a few of the swing shows, we’ll have details soon on our website. I can say for certain we’ll be at San Diego Comic Con in June and of course New York Comic Con both later in October. We’ll have announcements about other shows coming up soon.

You can follow AfterShock COMICS at http://AfterShock.world and on twitter @AfterShockComix




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