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NYCC 2016: Matt Hawkins Interview
Interview conducted by James Ferguson
Matt Hawkins is a busy man. Not only is he writing a ton of comics, complete with impressive and well-researched back matter materials, but he's also the President / COO of Top Cow Productions, an imprint under Image Comics. I had a chance to speak to him about some of the Top Cow titles, including the new Eden's Fall crossover, Witchblade, The Darkness, and more at his table in Artists Alley during New York Comic Con.
James Ferguson: Was the idea for Eden's Fall, the crossover between Postal, Think Tank, and The Tithe, always the intention? Or was that something that came about as you were writing each of the books?
Matt Hawkins: No, it came about organically. It was never planned that way. When I was working on the second volume of The Tithe, I started realizing these people needed some help. Then I thought that with hackers in The Tithe and Think Tank that they might know each other as the hacker community tends to know who they are.
I wrote in the end of the second volume of The Tithe where the bad guy goes to Eden [from Postal] was not really planned either. The original ending was that they killed the guy. When I put David Lauren in The Tithe Volume 2, I thought we should tie them all together. All three take place in the real world. There are no super heroes or supernatural elements. They're regular stories of real people. It just kind of made sense. The Tithe is really about the FBI. Think Tank deals with DARPA, the military, and the CIA. Postal is about the criminals and how they're tied into the FBI. There's sort of a weird connectivity. Eden's Fall was a result of The Tithe: Volume 2. Bryan Hill and I sat down and thought that if we sent this guy to Eden, they're not going to roll over. They're going to try to find him. That became Eden's Fall.
It's all organic. You don't have to read the different books to get it. It's not a Marvel or DC massive crossover where you have to read a hundred books. They all stand on their own. If you read Postal or Think Tank and you like this crossover, maybe you'll try the other book.
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JF: With Witchblade and The Darkness ending, do you miss those characters or intend to revisit them in the future? I know there's Switch and Magdelena coming.
MH: Yeah. We had done it for so long and we did a few reboots to try to get people to try them, but it was so mired in this '90s sensibility. People had this preconceived notion of what it was. We decided to put a pin in it for a couple years. We're bringing back both Witchblade and The Darkness. Both are in development now. Witchblade will be sooner than The Darkness, which is weird because The Darkness finished first. We figured out a way to get into Witchblade faster. We found a team to do it.
There's definitely a lot of Top Cow Universe stuff in development. There's Magdelena, Witchblade, an Aphrodite V series, The Darkness, Tom Judge, and Rebecca Taylor, the character with the Heart Stone, but we don't have a title for it yet. These tend to come out in waves. Right now it's a lot of Eden-verse stuff and some original titles, like Romulus, Mechanism, and Eclipse. Those will run through their arcs, then there will be a wave of Top Cow Universe books.
With Think Tank, I can really only do a volume a year. Rahsan Ekedal is penciling, inking, and coloring, and he doesn't want any other artist doing it, and I don't either. There's a nice continuity to it. Postal and Think Tank have the same creative teams throughout. The Tithe has had different teams. We've tried to keep these things consistent for the most part. I think putting out a volume a year is fine. It's kind of the BBC model.
JF: I think I read somewhere that the trades are selling more than the single issues. Would you ever consider moving to an original graphic novel (OGN) instead?
MH: We do that for the Sunstone-verse. Sunstone, Blood Stain, and the new book that Linda [Sejic] and I are doing called Swing. That's very OGN driven. The reason I don't do that across the board is because the 32-page books still make money. There's still a collectability to these things. There are certain publishers like First Second and Random House that have graphic novel imprints, but I don't think people think of them as comic book companies.
JF: It's more of a book company first that happens to also publish comics.
MH: Right. I don't think we'll ever go 100% OGN. To me, those are different things. I think the Eden-verse could go that route, but the Top Cow Universe could never do it. They would also be 32-page books. What happens a lot of the time is someone meets me at a convention and they like Think Tank, then read volume 1, 2, 3, and 4, then ask for what's next. They don't want to wait six months for the next volume, so they'll find the individual issues. They can buy those on comiXology or track them down wherever. For me, as long as it makes sense, we'll put them out on as many different platforms as possible. We're on like 18 different digital platforms.
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JF: How does digital compare to print in terms of sales?
MH: It's about 10-15% of the print volume, but there's no cost and it's perpetual. When you run out of print of something, you always decide if you want to reprint it. That can be dangerous. There's only a small amount of demand for back-issue material and you print a lot, then you sit on a lot of inventory. In my career, I've destroyed a lot of inventory. Every publisher has. The nice thing about digital is it's available 24/7. It's instantaneous. People tend to be in the “I want it right now” mode with everything. This Artists Alley is very comics-centric with a lot of people selling 32-page books. Many conventions I do, I'll only bring trades. In many cases, those people will come and then buy the issues digitally.
JF: What's one non-Top Cow book that more people should be reading?
MH: You know what book I really like? Mouse Guard. It's a fantastic book. I love it when people anthropomorphize animals and give them human traits. It's why I loved Watership Down as a kid. It was one of my favorite books. I always loved Animal Farm too. It's what I love about science-fiction. Sci-fi writers tackle race-related or sociological issues that other writers won't touch.
JF: What's something that scares you?
MH: Biomimetics. Antibiotic resistant bacteria. Epigentic changes. These things are scary.
JF: I'm assuming that's different from what scared you as a kid. What's something that scared you back then?
JF: Good answer!
MH: [Laughs] I was seven or eight when Jaws came out and I've been terrified of sharks ever since. Snakes never bothered me. I'm not a big fan of spiders. I was bit on the hand by a Brown Recluse when I was a kid. I still have a scar. I'm not a big fan of enclosed spaces or heights either, but it's not like I get freaked out by it. I'm not a bungee jumping guy.
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JF: We talked about this a bit, but what's the plan for the next phase of the Top Cow line?
MH: Since we're a small company and we only do four or five books a month, it doesn't seem like we have four different lines of books, but we do. There's the Sejic stuff like Sunstone, which is the slice of life, erotica fiction. Those tie together and they have a specific fan and those readers don't read any of our other books. There's the Eden-verse, which is a little more Michael Crichton or Tom Clancy. Then there's the Top Cow Universe with Aphrodite and Witchblade and finally, what I call “Other”, which is Mechanism, Eclipse, Romulus and some of the other stuff I write that doesn't kind of fit into anything. They tend to come out in waves.
JF: I was a big fan of Eclipse #1. It was a great read and some solid artwork.
MH: I love breaking new people. That's [writer] Zack Kaplan's first comic. He had never written a comic before.
JF: In the past you've had a Top Cow Talent Hunt to find new, up-and-coming creators. Are there plans to do more things like that?
MH: There are a lot of talented writers out there, but I want people that have a unique voice. We're not looking for someone to do a derivative version of Batman. I'm not a giant fan of super heroes, but I respect people that can write those and write other stuff. We're looking for a different kind of thing. If Marvel is Pepsi and DC is Coke, then we want to be Monster or Rock Star or Red Bull.
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JF: Cyber Force was relaunched with a Kickstarter campaign. Would you consider doing another campaign for other titles?
MH: We have a couple in the works. We're doing one in the first quarter of next year for a hardcover of Postal and Think Tank. I think they would do well in libraries so we're doing a Kickstarter to raise money for hardcovers, but the benefit of it is we'll be giving a bunch of free books to libraries.
There's a book that Bryan Hill and I developed with an artist named Yuki Saki. It's tentatively named Golgotha, but that's a hard one, so we might change the name. It's a sci-fi opus and it will be an OGN. We're probably going to release that next summer as a Kickstarter. OGNs are hard. Sejic had a huge built-in audience for Sunstone, so when we launched that, we knew it would do fairly well. It's really hard to do an OGN model if you don't have the fan base.
JF: Plus if you're doing creator-owned comics, no one's getting paid until the books actually sell.
MH: Well, that's the dirty little secret about OGNs. Let's say you do an 80-page story in a 96-page book with filler pages. You count all those things, but there are actually only 80 pages of story. If you're a writer, you can work for free, but you have to pay the artist, the letterer, and the designer to put it all together. You're talking about $30,000-$40,000 of cost to recoup, compared to individual issues where there's a much lower amount. That's one of the reasons why we do the 32-page issues then the trades as it defrays the creative cost and amortizes across multiple SKUs instead of just one. That's the boring business side of it, but the math makes sense.
HorrorTalk would like to thank Matt Hawkins for taking the time to speak with us at a very busy New York Comic Con. If you haven't read his books just yet, I assure you that there is one for you under the Top Cow umbrella. You can try some for free at the Top Cow site.
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