Celebrating its 10th Anniversary with a panel starring director Quentin Tarantino in front of a packed house at the San Diego Comic-Con, it was hard to remember that when Dynamite Entertainment launched 10 years ago, no one was sure what to expect. Publisher Nick Barrucci was best known for his other company, Dynamic Forces, which produced limited edition signed comics and statues. But after a decade, Dynamite has established itself as a consistent Top Ten publisher, last year ranking as the #6 publisher of comics and graphic novels according to Diamond Distribution.
Barrucci has done it with a mix of licensed titles, titles from other publishers that were lying fallow, and, increasingly new creator-owned books from the likes of writers Peter Milligan and James Robinson. Dynamite’s news has often been unexpected, including picking up the Gold Key license after Dark Horse had a go at it, and an unauthorized line of comics based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate that has suddenly become authorized. And at San Diego they unveiled some more surprises, including an appearance by director Quentin Tarantino on the Dynamite 10th Anniversary panel, where he talked about plotting an unlikely team up of his own creation, avenging former slave Django, and classic pulp character Zorro. The sequel, scripted by Matt Wagner, will pick up with Django years later, separated by Brunhilda, but teaming up with the masked Zorro.
It was just the capper to what has already been a busy 2014 for Dynamite, with new launches, including the aforementioned Gold Key revamp. Dynamite has also picked up some comics that gained prominence from publishers now vanished: the venerable sexy bloodsucker Vampirella, once published by Harris, and Evil Ernie and Purgatory, formerly published by now defunct Chaos Comics.
But for many the biggest surprise so far has been the array of writers that Dynamite is working with. Later this year Warren Ellis will reimagine the Project Superheros line, which is based on public domain superheroes— The American Spirit, Green Lama, Black Terror—that were originally developed for Dynamite by art superstar Alex Ross. Bill Willingham (Fables) wrote a Steampunk version of various Dynamite characters earlier this year. And more writers are on the way, Barrucci promises, with the Creators Unleashed line which includes Duane Swierczynski’s Ex-Con, Peter Milligan’s Terminal Hero, Andy Diggle’s Control and James Robinson’s Grand Passion.
In its 10 year history there have been landmarks, Barrucci told PW in an interview conducted before Comic-Con. One was adding The Boys by writer Garth Ennis and artist Darrick Robertson, a scabrous take on the superhero genre from a writer known for such often shocking titles as Preacher. The book originated at DC’s Windstorm imprint but when it proved too hot to handle, Dynamite picked up the publishing rights; it was their best selling title for years.
Another milestone that Barrucci points to is not as well known: an adaptation of The Lone Ranger that had covers by superstar John Cassiday and writing by Brett Matthews. It’s a book that surprised many observers with the solid writing. “At first people only noticed the great covers by Cassiday, but Brett’s take got more fans and he was eventually nominated for an Eisner. It was a book that planted the flag for his career and became a staple for us.”
Adding the likes of Ellis and Tarantino may have surprised a lot of people, but Barrucci says he’s worked hard to make Dynamite a writer-friendly place. For instance, take this year’s 20th anniversary edition of The Last Temptation by Neil Gaiman, Alice Copper and Michael Zulli. “Neil could have taken it anywhere, but we’re very fortunate that he did it with us.” The project left the door open for another unlikely book: an Alice Cooper ongoing series written by Joe Harris (Great Pacific.)
Graphic novels make up about 25% of Dynamites sales, with digital about 12% and the rest periodicals. Dynamite’s digital program includes more than just comics, however. They also publish a line of e-books, mostly military-themed, and one, Seal Team Six, has solder over 100,000 e-books. “It’s not on a lot of comics readers radar, but it’s a nice extra for us. We’re a publisher and we get to do a lot of cool things, not just comics.” Other ventures include a co-publishing deal with Random House for how-to books on comics, including one by Stan Lee.
Another Dynamite program has involved comics adaptations of well known fantasy novels, led by George R. R Martin’s Game of Thrones. To no one’s surprise, the books are often found on bestseller lists. Another solid success has been a line of books based on Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files; and they’ve also worked Patricia Briggs, Dean Koontz and Charlaine Harris.
Dynamite also produces monthly comics and hardcover graphic novel collections based on Paizo Publishing’s popular Pathfinder Role Playing Game, including Pathfinder Goblins, a humorous line of comics based the RPG’s notorious goblin characters. Pathfinder oversees and approves the storylines, Dynamites produces the comics and book collections are distributed to the trade by Diamond Book.
While 2014 has included a move to all ages material with Doodle Jump and Bob’s Burgers, the biggest push has been for the Creators Unleashed line. Although it’s often an uphill battle for new material in every market now, in comics it’s more accepted than it was just two years ago, Barrucci contends. “There’s something in the air, and fans are noticing the passion that creators bring to the table.
Plus, sales are generally way stronger than they were two years ago. As an industry veteran, he sees three elements that have led to expansion. “#1, I think the books became more exiting and less predictable. #2, when DC’s outreach [for the New 52 which launched in 2011[ really helped expand the market. And #3, digital has complimented the market immensely.
“Both Marvel and DC have done a lot of outreach in recent years and they definitely brought in new readers,” he says. “Towards the end of 2011 I think something was missing in comics—no one did bad comics, but there was some excitement missing. The New 52 raised the game again. The Walking Dead coming out every month has also helped keep fans coming back. But now, everyone is putting out better comics. And that’s one reason why we’re putting a big focus on relaunching titles, and bringing in new creators. Everybody raised the bar.”
In 10 years Dynamite has seen a lot of change in the industry—in 2004, the year Dynamite launched, publishers who finished with a larger market share that are no longer in business include Tokyopop, Devils Due, Dreamwave, ADV, Gemstone and Crossgen. “When we started we weren’t sure if we’d here in four years or 10 years,” says Barrucci. Part of survival has been being a willingness to change. “We’ve seen the audience change and we’re continued to grow with different genres. It looks planned and orchestrated but it’s not always. Sometimes things just fall into place. We’re working harder than ever to put out the best comics possible. And we’ll continues to surprise people.”