Interview with Mike Marts, Editor-in-Chief of AfterShock Comics
Interview by Matt Peterson
I had the privilege of having a conversation with the Editor-in-Chief of AfterShock Comics, Mike Marts, about a number of different comic book topics. AfterShock Comics hit stores in December of 2015 and is continuing to strive to publish top notch, high quality, creator comics.
Matt Peterson: First off, thank you for taking the time, I imagine that this is a very busy time for all of you, so thank you.
Mike Marts: Not a problem, not a problem, happy to be here.
MP: Walk me through the day of an editor-in-chief of a debut comic book line.
MM: Its a different adventure every single day. As a comic book editor, and especially as an editor-in chief, there are many different hats which you put on during any given day. It can range from story editing the latest script that came in, or copy editing the latest lettering manuscript that came in. It can involve talent recruitment when you are looking to sign on that next big writer or artist for the next project. There’s a marketing hat that gets put on when you are conceiving new strategies on how to get these books out to people so that they can learn what they are. Then, just over the past few days I was out at ComicsPro in Oregon talking to retailers. So there is retailer interaction, kind of acting as the face of the company. There’s many different things that go into the editor-in-chief today. I think that’s primarily why its such an exciting job is that its always something different and there’s always new challenges you have to tackle.
MP: I can imagine that right now has to be one of the most exciting times in your career since you debuted in comics. Where does this rank up in terms of most exciting moments?
MM: Its the most exciting, definitely, hands down. Since I joined AfterShock in April its been just build, build, build. We had to build the infrastructure of the company from the ground floor up. Each of us came from different areas and had different levels of experience in different fields, but together we built this company, put the systems in place, recruited the talent, developed the projects, and hooked the artists and writers. I’ve done this on smaller scales at different times at both Marvel and DC when maybe putting a new event together, or a new story line, or a relaunch of number ones. But never in my career had I tackled something of this magnitude where you are starting everything from scratch. The last 10 months have just been thrilling, a nonstop roller coaster of excitement and energy.
MP: My hook into AfterShock was not near as big of commitment as it may have been for you. Mine was $4.00 for a Paul Jenkin’s book, which I didn’t even have to second guess. I imagine it was a pretty large decision for you to jump ship to AfterShock. Was there any one deciding factor that sold you on AfterShock Comics?
MM: You know, there were several different factors in my decision to go. Actually, in hindsight, it wasn’t quite as difficult of decision for me as I think a lot of people may think. For the most part, I needed to meet the team and understand that they were on the same page as my in terms of how I approached making comics and how I approached building creative projects. Right from the start, I realized that this team of guys and girls were people I trusted and spoke my language and were in this for the long haul to make quality comic books. First and foremost of that team was Joe Pruett, a friend of mine I have known for almost 20 years in the industry, whose career I have really respected. Anytime I have worked with Joe in the past it has always been great, but it was usually in just an editor-writer capacity. Now going in and working with him day-to-day is one of the main reasons that I enjoy going to work each day. The idea of building something from the ground floor and constructing a company and building something that will hopefully be around for years and years. The idea of doing that was a huge appeal to me.
MP: Rightfully so, there is something to be said about going out and staking your own claim, especially in the comic industry. We are almost 3 months in now and you have already hit on so many different genres. We have everything from a comedic, sci-fi, police procedural to an erotic, Victorian, monster, era piece. Are there any genres you look forward to exploring with AfterShock?
MM: The nice thing about the different projects that we have been doing and the different creators we have been working with is, we have never gone to any of the creators and said, “Hey, give me a horror book,” or “Give me a sci-fi book”. We have gone to them and said, “Bring us your best ideas,” and “Bring us your best stories.” As a result of that we have received projects which are almost creating their own genres. The way you described Replica or Insexts, they are really something unique. With each thing we do, it doesn’t really fit one genre but maybe crosses over into a second and maybe a third. You look at something like Dreaming Eagles and on the surface people might say, “Oh, war book.” When you crack open the cover you realize this is much more than a war book. This is a statement on the Civil Rights Movement; its an examination of a father-son relationship which needs work. Each of the things that we’ve done, we have been so lucky and fortunate to receive projects that are really almost creating their own genres.
MP: I wholeheartedly agree. Just with Dreaming Eagles, you are right. Its a Civil Rights piece, its a human drama piece, and its a lot of things. I mean, if you just list off some of these creators that have already been announced: Pruett, Waid, Ennis, Jenkins, Bunn, Bennett, Starlin, Connor, Cooke, and that’s just a handful. The list of creators, both writers and artists, just makes my jaw drop. Do you have the same reaction? I assume after 20 years in the industry its a little less exiting. For me as a reader, I see that list and I say, “Holy crap, those are going to be some good books.”
MM: That’s what we say too. A lot of these people are creators that have worked with either Joe or me, or both of us, for many years. Other people we are working with for the very first time. But the level of talent that is there and looking at that level and how it represents a one-hundred percent of our line, I don’t think you can look at any other company and say that one hundred percent of that company’s line is made up of such a high level of creative talent. I have to step back sometimes and look at those ads we put together where we have all the names that are working with us and its incredible. Not only contributions like bring projects to us, like Garth, Marguerite, or like Jimmy and Amanda have, but looking at other contributors, people who show up and say, “Hey, how can I get involved? Let me do some cool covers.” People like Dave Johnson and Darwyn Cooke and John Cassaday, Declan Shalvey. These are people who are just brilliant artists and they have come to us and said, “How can I get involved? What can I do?”
MP: When someone comes to you and says that, with so many titles hitting the shelves week after week, how do you respond to them as a publisher and decide whats missing from the shelves. How do you give them an idea of what they can bring to you with just a populated comic book shelf each week?
MM: Yeah, that’s always a tricky puzzle and I think that’s part of the fun of it. We have a long creative meeting each week where the entire executive team gets together and talks about our creative needs, who we have coming to the table, and how we can get everyone involved. So far we have been able to do it and we haven’t excluded anyone from the party, or the family, we are putting together. That’s just been a real fun challenge and a great part to the sob.
MP: I know you can’t play favorites, is Vorgas from Replica your favorite character?
MM: Ha-ha, he’s one of them, but it changes from issue to issue. With Paul’s brilliant writing on Replica, at first you think, “Trevor, the number one clone, this is the guy that I love.” Then each issue deals with a different one of the clones stories and you learn all the different personalities of these guys. Each one becomes my new favorite with each subsequent issue.
MP: Exactly. I read that there may be some planned crossovers or sharing a universe in the AfterShock line. I know you can’t really give anything away, but have we been introduced to any of those comics that will share, or will crossover with an upcoming title?
MM: If we have I certainly can’t say anything about it. I will say that something like that will be a fun day to get to where we start talking about expanding into that area. For now we are having fun and devoting all of our energy to the creator owned side of things and the creator friendly side of things. I think that is keeping us very busy. Getting to other things later will be a lot of fun.
MP: I’m sure you’ve had this question asked a lot, but I’m curious. What was YOUR comic moment? Was there any one comic or story that made you say, “I want to be involved with this process.”
MM: You know, it wasn’t the first comic I read, but it was definitely the first comic that got me to become a collector. It was Uncanny X-men #169, Chris Claremont and Paul Smith, both at the top of their game. People that have followed my career know that X-Men was my thing growing up and I was lucky enough to be the X-Men Group Editor twice in my life. Those characters are extremely dear to me, but, that one single issue, I think with the level of story telling and writing and art, made me want to do the same thing with those characters and made me want to be a story teller. I’ve got that issue to thank for everything.
MP: If not comics, what would you be doing?
MM: I’m such a TV fan, and with all the great TV that has come out within the last decade, I could never get enough of it. I think the creation of T.V. story lines is so similar to comic book story lines that at some point I would love to get involved with something like that either in a writing or producing capacity. I look at things like Breaking Bad, House of Cards, and all these amazing shows out there, that is certainly something I would love to try.
MP: Do you have a favorite show. I mean I could list off 5 off the top of my head, but do you have one you hold most dear?
MM: Well, most dear? I think Breaking Bad is the best thing that has ever been on television. Past favorites of mine include Lost and Buffy. These days, things that are currently on the air? I’ve mentioned House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, a lot of the Netflix shows, Master of None is a great show, Marco Polo. There is a lot of amazing stuff out there, Better Call Saul. I’m always trying to tackle my TiVo and I never quite win.
MP: As an editor-in-chief, outside of the AfterShock titles, do you still maintain a regular comic habit? Its something I’ve always been curious about the people in the upper rankings of the comic book industry. Do you still read comics on a regular basis outside of your job.
MM: I do, not as much as I would to and definitely not as much as when I was a collector and a reader. It is a little more important for me to be aware of trends and aware of talent placement and who’s working on what and what projects they have coming up and when they are cycling out. If its a new writer or artist? Then sure. I am always trying to sample their new work. But, my gears kind of shift into the mode where I am thinking about who’s working on what and what type of value a certain creator can bring to the table. If I’m lucky at the end of the day I might have some time lefter over to read their books and enjoy them.
MP: I really appreciated the interview between you and Marguerite Bennett that has been running in the back of the AfterShock issues over the last month. One question I found interesting and wanted to ask you was, “What would the comic book about you be called?
MM: It would be called “The Build”.
MP: That sounds fitting.
MM: Either that or “Conquering the World.” The Build might make for a better logo.
MP: So you had ComicsPro this previous weekend. I’m sure for a debut comic book line was huge, I imagine you were swamped. Any big announcements following ComicsPro?
MM: ComicsPro was such a good show for us. In a lot of ways more important to us as a new publisher than maybe attending a regular consumer show. The retailers out there are all wonderful people. They are passionate about their business and all striving to be successful, which at some times can be very difficult. The reception we received from them was phenomenal. Almost everyone we met was carrying our products and were looking for ways to push our product more. Many of them were citing increasing orders and going back to re-order things because the demand of customers coming into their stores was impressive and growing week by week. We received a lot of great feedback from them, advice and tips on how to better manage the relationship between then and a new publisher. It was a great way to kick off this new year by meeting with all of them. Just really impressed with the support they are giving us so far.
MP: I gotta ask, does Lisa Wu sleep? Because I have got to tell you, she does a bang up job as your social media kind-of front runner.
MM: She is amazing and in the just 3 months she’s been with us she has increased traffic to Facebook, to Twitter, and gotten a lot of people interested in our titles. She has been an amazing asset and a great addition to our team. To answer your question, she does not sleep. In fact, one of the prerequisites, of all the team members of Aftershock, you have to be part vampire.
MP: Seems fitting.
MM: Quick note for anyone looking to join us, you may have to be part vampire.
MP: I’m a comic book reader, everything I do is because its a passion of mine. I don’t see the numbers, I’m not a retailer. But from my perspective, AfterShock seems to already be a huge success just within the first 3 months. I don’t recall any other line since I’ve been reading comics making such a splash. The lineup here just seems to be such high quality. I want to tell you, as a reader, that seems like you all are doing a great job and I appreciate it.
MM: Well I appreciate that compliment. That’s exactly the impact we want to have and the impression we need to make. Having done this for so long, both myself and Joe Pruett, we knew coming out the gate we had to make a statement and that we couldn’t come out half-ass and that we needed the best lineup possible. That’s really the mission statement of the company is top level talent doing the best stories and get them out to the readers. Creator driven, creator friendly.
MP: One last question for you, do you like barbecue?
MP: Why is Kansas City the best barbecue in the world?
MM: That seems like a trick question.
MP: Well, I think we have the best BBQ in the world. Its interesting, because, well, we do. Any upcoming cons or shows coming up that you will make an appearance at? I’m sure AfterShock will make an appearance where they can. Will you be at any?
MM: We are in the process of firming up our convention schedule. Some of us will be at San Diego of course. Looks like we will be attending C2E2 in some capacity, possibly Awesome Con, we will most definitely be at HeroesCon. So, that’s a few coming up and of course New York later this year. We were at Baltimore Con last year and I’m sure we will make an appearance there as well.
Make sure you’re checking out what’s coming from Aftershock Comics now and in the future over on their web site.