While many have proclaimed the "death of the pamphlet" where periodical comic books are concerned, a few companies have been able to prove that it still has a lot of life left in it. Five-year-old Dynamite Entertainment is one of the success stories in recent years with a mix of licensed and creator-owned titles. They recently had hits with adaptations such as Sherlock Holmes, The Lone Ranger and Red Sonja and original books The Boys and Project Superpowers.
2010 will see a big push for the Green Hornet ; the classic pulp character is coming back at the end of 2010 with a new movie starring Seth Rogen and directed by Michel Gondry. Although Dynamite will have comics that tie in with the movie (prequels, sequels) down the line, their initial Green Hornet plans call for Kevin Smith writing a mini-series based on his unproduced Green Hornet screenplay. Following that will be a Green Hornet: Year One title written by Matt Wagner, with a follow-up series by Brett Matthews.
Dynamite started five year ago with a modest output of precisely one comic—Army of Darkness, a spin-off of the popular Evil Dead movie series. The first two years saw them adding only a handful of titles—Red Sonja and and Xena—before building up to their current slate of 14-20 comic books and 2-10 collections a month. Dynamite publisher/owner Nick Barrucci says that he knew slow and steady was the way to go. "The comics industry is littered with people who jumped in too fast and started publishing too many books. We were more methodical and stayed focused."
Barrucci pinpoints Dynamite's Long Ranger adaptation as a watershed for the company. "Literally everybody had told us not to do it," he says of picking up the license. But the book — written by Brett Matthews with art by Dean White and Sergio Carello and covers by John Cassaday—got a lot of good reviews and proved to many that publishing licensed books made sense when the quality stayed high.
The next big title for the house was The Boys, a scabrous but hilarious superhero parody by Garth Ennis and Darrick Robertson. Initially published by DC's Wildstorm imprint, it was cancelled due to content problems but DC allowed the creators to take it elsewhere. After a bidding war among other publishers, Dynamite won, and the book has been a success ever since—consistently in the top three best selling creator owned titles—with a recent spin-off mini-series Herogasm, and collections in a variety of formats.
Although Dynamite's focus has been largely on licensed properties, they do publish a few more creator-participation books, such as Project Superpowers , a heroic universe populated by obscure characters from the 40s updated by superstar Alex Ross and writer Jim Krueger which has spun-off into several mini-series such as Black Terror . Though the characters were not new, their existing audeince was tiny, so it was essentially the same as launching a new universe. Although Barrucci acknowledges that finding an audience for new properties is a challenge, "It's a slow burn. We had a good package, and did a $1 introductory book and showed retailers we were committed to the book. Obviously, a big part of the success is having Jim and Alex involved, but we still needed to have a loss leader for the title."
But licensed books are also a risk, he points out. "There's no guarantee. Dark Horse tried to publish GI Joe comics in 1998 and they didn't do well. In 1999 Devil's Due succeeded. You don't know." Avoiding over-saturation is a key. "You don't want to dilute your brand. 2009 has been a challenging year in publishing, and some projects have been scaled back. We put some titles on hold or announced them as mini-series to keep the audience fresh."
Dynamite's graphic novel program has also had a slow build. The company started with reprints of some well known material, including a much delayed but impressive collection of Howard Chaykin's American Flagg! and material by proven creators like Jim Starlin and Jae Lee. Reprints of Marvel's Red Sonja books were an early success. But here again, market forces need to be constantly monitored. "Initially, we knew that collections were a growth business," says Barrucci. "It was like the DVD business in 1999. But now DVD sales have flat lined. As far as reprints go, there's a lot of product coming out, and we're careful not to compete against ourselves."
Barrucci says the best thing about publishing is being able to work with so many talented friends, and developing relationships with newer creators, such as the writing team of John Reppion and Leah Moore, who are writing the Sherlock Holmes series for Dynamite. "I never set out to be a publisher," says Barrucci, whose other business, Dynamic Forces, sells autographed comics, statues and other collectibles. "I was always wary of breaking into publishing when so many have tried and failed. But those failures taught us a lot. We have a great team, and we've managed to stay focused."