While in recent years publishing periodical comics has been a risky prospect for new publishers, Barry Levine isn't taking no for answer with Radical Comics. Levine has a long, eclectic career, including a stint as an acclaimed rock photographer which led to gigs as a music supervisor and movie producer (Detroit Rock City). A lifelong interest in comics eventually led him to a first look deal at Dark Horse where he helped get Rex Mundi optioned with Johnny Depp's production company. With Radical he's jumping into the publishing pool at the deep end, with plans to launch a full fledged publishing company including five imprints and an entertainment division. His partners include Jesse Berger on the movie side and Dave Elliott on the publishing side, and they've got such famed creators as Bill Sienkiewicz, John Bolton and Jim Steranko on board.
Radical's publishing plans have been in the works for two years, but the periodical comics line just debuted this month with two titles, Hercules, an adaptation of the classic myth by Steve Moore, and Admira Wijaya and Caliber, a retelling of the King Arthur story set in the Old West, by Sam Sarkar and Garrie Gastonny. Both are planned as mini-series which will eventually be collected into deluxe hardcover books and then trade paperbacks. In keeping with Hollywood's current fascination with all things comics, both properties already have movie studio interest.
Future Radical projects include a retelling of Aladdin; a new book by Steve Niles (30 Days of Night); and an American edition of Mateki: The Magic Flute, an illustrated version of Mozart's opera by international superstar Yoshitaka Amano. The Amano book comes out in June and the acclaimed artist will be a featured guest at Radical's booth at this year's San Diego Comic-Con.
While for now they are publishing one title a month, by next year Radical hopes to publish two titles a month. As for graphic novels, 2008 publishing plans call for hard covers and trades of Hercules and Calibre, in addition to the Amano book, but Levine has already greenlit a second Hercules series, so next year will see an increased output. "Next year we'll have three new books: Oblivion by Joe Kosinki, director of Tron 2.0, a collected Aladdin and City of Dust by Steve Niles," said Levine.
Levine hopes to make Radical a full fledged publishing company with five imprints, Radical Comics, Radical Art for art books, Radical Books for graphic novels and hybrid books, Radical Kids and Radical Manga. In addition, Radical Pictures is the entertainment division but "it's a separate division," says Levine. "I want people that have an imagination to come to us and be able to apply that and be able to say you have a great imagination. We'll take a great novelist and a great painter and we'll put you together." Overall Radical has been looking for stories with a larger than life iconic component; several of them, including Hercules and the upcoming Aladdin are based on mythological concepts.
A key component of Radical's plan is their partnership with Imaginary Friends Studios, a group of artists from Singapore. Many had been art directors working in advertising or TV, but by forming their own studio they can work on a wider range of material. The studio is illustrating most of Radical's books and is key to a planned manga line. "They wanted to predicate it on great art and not have the same look, but incorporating their sense of design," says Levine. "Their sensibility is very street; their approach to high concepts are irreverent."
Success in launching new comics periodical companies has been an uphill battle in recent years (see The Class of 2005: A Tough Year for Comics Start-Ups.) While acknowledging the challenge of publishing periodical comics, Levine feels that by setting himself up as a full scale publishing house rather than just a magazine publisher, the risks are lessened. He's backing this up with an ambitious marketing slate. Radical already participated in Free Comic Book Day this year, and has an introductory cover price of $1 on its books. Other efforts included a pull out poster in Previews, and an internet banner ad campaign. Levine reports they also did direct outreach to the 4000 direct market outlets, and are doing more innovative marketing efforts as well, including podcasts.
In recent years, comics have become irresistible to Hollywood, and Radical has already taken advantage of that. Famed Chinese director John Woo is attached to Calibre, with further announcements planned for Cannes, and Hercules is in development at Universal/ Spyglass with Peter Berg (The Kingdom and Dune) attached to produce. While he doesn't deny that developing Radical properties as films is an important part of their business plan, Levine maintains a separate company Radical Pictures for that aspect of his business, and he remains committed to the publishing end of things. "I want to be a full publishing entity and do graphic novels. The most important thing I always tell everybody we work with is that the book has to have a life of its own first, whether it becomes a film, a video game or anything else. If I can elevate the kind of product we do and make great films out of great books, we're more desirable and our brand is more desirable."