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2006 in Review: Top Cow

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2006 was an eventful year for Top Cow, and its flagship character in particular, as Witchblade hit its 100th issue over the summer. With the Witchblade Anime, the reintroduction of Cyberforce, the release of Darkness videogame, and putting artists Tyler Kirkham and Mike Choi on some Marvel titles, the publisher has many things to look back on over the past year… and much to look forward to in 2007.

BF turned to Top Cow’s marketing wizard, Filip Sablik for a Year-Ender interview.

BROKEN FRONTIER: In September, you were appointed as the new Vice President of Marketing & Sales of the company. What’s the experience been like over the past four months? A healthy mix of stress and joy?

FILIP SABLIK: Well, I think any new job comes with a healthy mix of stress and joy, don’t you? I’m happy to say though that it’s a higher ratio of joy to stress though. The greatest thing about Top Cow is that it’s a smaller publishing company with a great set of properties. In the past, Top Cow has either had some solid marketing and promotion, but less than ideal content or quality content, but no attention from marketing.

In our recent history, it’s been the latter – we’re putting out great books like Marz and Choi on Witchblade or Waid and Silvestri on Hunter-Killer, but not enough folks know about it. Which is a great place to come in as a marketing guy. It’s like someone’s made a four star dinner and told you to find someone who’s interested in sitting down and eating it.

BF: What are some of the notable things you’ve accomplished while in charge of the company’s marketing calendar?

FS: Hopefully, I’ll have a much longer list for you at the end of 2007, but I think we’re off to a good start. When I arrived at Top Cow, we had a couple of problems which needed immediate attention. First, we had very little press coverage on the major online sites. With the internet being such an integral part of viral marketing these days, it was imperative that we started getting press releases, interviews, and previews out to the comic community. Our website was out of date and hadn’t been updated since the summer con season. In places it was a bit embarrassing to be honest. We also didn’t have much of a presence on any of the newer online media like podcasting, video casting, webcomics, and our weekly e-newsletter was less than compelling.

I’m proud to say we’ve had some major turnarounds in these online viral marketing arenas. If you’re a frequent visitor in the comic internet community you’ll notice we’ve been releasing weekly preview pages, press releases, our website is up to date, we are in the process of starting regular podcasts, our first official trailer for the Witchblade Manga is up on YouTube (and kicking butt I might add), we’re on DrunkDuck with free comics, and the Moosletter has some really cool exclusive tidbits and news in it every week. The next step is re-establishing more firmly Top Cow as a brand which can be easily and widely recognized. That means a cohesive marketing campaign for 2007 and lots of mainstream coverage. With any luck, I’m just getting warmed up.

BF: Arguably the top event for the company was the release of Witchblade #100. How do you feel it has been handled? Did it resonate well with fans?
FS:
Witchblade #100 was definitely a landmark for Top Cow. Not only was it a huge accomplishment for any publisher to hit one hundred consecutive issues, but Ron Marz and Mike Choi had been taking the title to new heights with the quality of story and art. Issue #100 finally revealed the true origin of the Witchblade to fans and opened Sara’s story up to a whole new era. Marz has so many cool new ideas and the addition of Adriana Melo on art is going to make Witchblade a title to watch in 2007. A little thing we’ve got coming up called “First Born” isn’t going to hurt either. The fans have been so responsive and supportive of the new directions. They really are our best cheerleaders.

BF: Aside from cementing the series’ status, has it given the title a big boost (in terms of sales, etc.)?

FS: Oh, definitely. Issue #100 was our best selling issue in years and we’re still seeing positive effects from that sales boost. There’s still room to grow, but we’re very happy with the results.

BF: Among other things, 2006 has seen the release of Wolverine/Darkness, Hulk/Darkness, Tyler Kirkham on Amazing Spider-Man and Mike Choi on X-23: Target X. How is the Marvel deal working out for Top Cow?

FS: The folks over at Marvel have been awesome to work with. Our creators are having a great time working on characters that they themselves are fans of and in the meantime, we’re enjoying the opportunity to tell some new stories with our characters. We think exposing Marvel’s to Kirkham’s and Choi’s beautiful art and story-telling abilities is a great thing and hopefully some of them will come back and read some Top Cow titles in 2007.

BF: On the convention circuit, the prevailing message heard at Matt Hawkins’ panels was that Top Cow was going to invest more time in cross-media projects, without abandoning comics themselves. We’ve already seen some of that with the Darkness video game and the Witchblade anime. Are there any other moves on the horizon that fit this new focus?

FS: Well, the Darkness video game and Witchblade anime & manga are definitely a big focus for us in 2007. That includes merchandise for these two properties, like statues, toys, apparel, and other cool stuff. There is such an opportunity here to introduce new readers to our two flagship characters, it’s tremendous. We have a number of movies in development which we should have more news on in 2007 including Wanted and The Darkness. We’re working with a Korean animation studio to bring Aphrodite IX to an animated film. And one or two more things I’m going to keep under my hat for now. But trust me, 2007 is will be an awesome year for us.

BF: At his panels, Matt also mentioned we might see some Aphrodite IX in the future, in comics I mean. Is that on the slate for next year?

FS: Aphrodite IX will definitely be making a pretty significant appearance in the Top Cow Universe in the Fall of 2007. And as readers saw in the latest Cyberforce series, she’ll be making appearances in books other than her own as well.

BF: One of the other new endeavors Top Cow has recently embarked upon is a partnership with Platinum Studios, where, coincidentally, Jim McLauchlin is now EiC of their print department. In what areas does Top Cow lend a helping hand when it comes to publishing Platinum’s books?

FS: We coordinate with them on solicitations, assist them with marketing efforts, and assist them with the printer. But by and large, Platinum has their own staff of competent and talented folks that can handle what comes there way. We’re glad to lend a hand as needed. And the addition of a great editor like Jim certainly doesn’t hurt.

    

BF: Top Cow has been one of the first publishers to offer visually appealing digital readers online. As you’ve already pointed to earlier, the first issues of Witchblade, Darkness and Freshmen have recently been added to DrunkDuck.com. Is this a signal on Top Cow’s end that online comics are a big part of the medium’s future?

FS: In a way, yes. We’ve recognized for some time that we need to provide our product to our fans in whatever form they like it. That means developing animation, movies, video games, novelizations, and yes, content for the web. Ultimately our core product is periodical comics and graphic novels. That’s not going away. But we recognize that some fans prefer to read things instantly online or simply don’t have access to a comic shop or book stores. We’ve provided free online preview pages and critical older issues on our website for some time.

The new relationship with DrunkDuck has allowed us to expose a new set of fans to our properties too. Ultimately we’d like to provide a wide range of material, both new and old online, but we’re working on developing a system that will provide our fanbase with the content while remaining fair to our retailer community.

BF: One of the properties Top Cow has gone to great length pushing is Freshmen II. When I interviewed Renae Geerlings in March, she mentioned that Freshmen I didn’t do that well in issue sales, but was a hit in trade form. What steps have been taken to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself?

FS: We’re pushing hard on the second series, doing our best to give new readers every opportunity to try it out. Hugh Sterbakov and Seth Green, the co-creators, are tireless in promoting the series and have been very gracious about working with us to set up interviews, promotions, and signings. We put our best foot forward and letting everyone know what we knew when we signed Hugh and Seth for the series, it’s top notch quality work. We’re committed to the series and if it takes until the trade to find its full audience we’ll push on.

Click to enlargeClick to enlargeBF: Are there any plans for Seth and Hugh to do a continuing string of mini series?

FS: It’s certainly a possibility. Our focus right now is on the second mini-series and once we’re wrapping it up we’ll make a decision from there.

BF: In our interview with him released earlier this week, Ron Marz mentioned that he’s penning Top Cow’s summer crossover First Born, about Sara’s baby. How is that event going to affect the Top Cow universe in general?

FS: The event is going to have massive, lasting effects in the Top Cow Universe. We’ve worked hard to create a meaningful, powerful story that will set the stage for the coming year in the Top Cow Universe, but will still be a relatively self-contained three-issue story. New readers and faithful fans alike should be able to pick up the three issues of First Born and enjoy it equally.

BF: 2007 also marks the 10th and 15th anniversaries of Darkness and Cyberforce respectively. Aside from the new collections and the Level books, is there anything else coming up on the Darkness front to give more spark to the festivities?

FS: You mean other than the MAJOR video game release from 2K and developed by the guys over at the cutting-edge studio Starbreeze? It’ll be out in April and will be dual platform (for X-Box 360 & PS3). We’re releasing “The Ultimate Darkness Collection” to coincide with the video game and give news fans a chance to sample the very best of Jackie’s stories in one volume for $19.99. It will contain bonus video game material along with “Coming of Age” by Garth Ennis & Marc Silvestri and “Resurrection” by Paul Jenkins & Dale Keown. Jackie will also play a pivotal role in “First Born” along with Sara Pezzini and have a new ongoing series that will spin out of the summer event.

BF: What about Cyberforce? What are the celebration plans there?

FS: We’ll definitely have lots of cool product for Cyberforce’s 15th Anniversary in the fall similar to The Darkness 10th Anniversary celebration that began this December. The Cyberforce celebration will be anchored on a new series following up on this year’s successful relaunch and a Compendium of all the classic Cyberforce material.

BF: Anything else about what's coming up in 2007 you wish to highlight?

FS: Of course, a ton of things. I am the marketing guy after all. But I’ll focus on leaving Broken Frontier’s readers with one more key project from the Cow in 2007. And that is something I’m personally very excited about, a Paul Dini created series called Madame Mirage. This new original character is going to appeal to fans of Paul’s work on Batman Adventures. Plus, it’s going to feature killer art by Kenneth Rocafort, a new talent we’ve most recently been spotlighting in Hunter-Killer.

All in all, tons of killer comic story-telling, video games, animation, manga, new series, classic properties revitalized, and lots more. 2007 is going to be a very exciting year for us.

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