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APE Puts Two Thumbs Up

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Last month, APE Entertainment celebrated its first anniversary. In 2004, the company published a total of 6 projects and its founding fathers, David Hedgecock, Mike Hall and Brent Erwin are satisfied how each of them turned out.
Broken Frontier chatted with these three fine gentlemen to find out what's in store for APE this year, how the company got formed and what aspiring creators should do if they want to get APE's two thumbs up some day.

BROKEN FRONTIER: December marked APE Entertainment's one-year anniversary. How do you guys look back on how APE did in 2004?

DAVID HEDGECOCK: I can't believe we pulled it off. We did everything we set out to do and had more success than I think any of us expected.  We've been very lucky to have a lot of sincere, caring, and talented people to work with. Filip at Diamond Distribution, Christiane at LampPost Publications, the Wizard magazine staff and convention crew, our webmaster Jeremy, the whole OMNIBUS crew… They've all invested time and effort in us and I hope that we can show them their efforts aren't wasted.

MIKE HALL: I hate it when David goes first…he gets to say all the stuff I was going to say.  He forgot Jessie Garza at Viper Comics, though, who's also been a great help and a staunch ally.

BRENT ERWIN: First I would like to thank the Academy, oh wait a second…wrong speech!   David and Mike pretty much summed it up.  We had a lot of people in our corner that are exceptional at what they do and that helped add to the success of our first year. 

BF: Did you guys go through a lot of growing pains, or did you have all the basics pretty much covered? I take it that Brent's history as a retailer and Diamond employee must have made matters considerably easier?

DAVID: We're still growing through the pain. But, between the three of us, we usually get all the bases covered and the work done. Brent and Mike are invaluable and I'm not even remotely interested in trying to make it in this business without both of them.

MIKE: Growing pains are an ongoing process.  No small publisher ever truly escapes them, but if you ask me, that's what separates the wheat from the chaff:  if you come through the growing pains stronger and with a more refined vision, you will succeed where others have failed.  And Brent's experience has been immensely important to the mix, yes, but so has David.  David and I have diametrically opposed views on a lot of things, but we're both fairly capable debaters; when we make a decision as a company, it's been looked at from every possible perspective.  The three of us are the perfect team.

BRENT: Growing pains are always going to be there; luckily as David and Mike have both mentioned we all have really meshed very well as a team and that has really helped us get over just about any hurdle that we have come across.

BF: Where does the name of the company come from? I'm sure there are bolder animals to name your comics after than an ape. [Laughs]

DAVID: Mark Waid quoted the late, great DC editor Julius Schwartz in an introduction one time (I think it was to a Barry Ween trade). The gist of it was "gorillas on comic book covers sell comics." I couldn't agree more. So we picked a name and a logo that insured every book we create has a primate on the cover. I swear, more than one person has bought OMNIBUS because of the gorilla on the cover and I can't tell you how many people stop at conventions just to say, "Cool logo."

MIKE:  He's a filthy liar.  Brent and David picked the gorilla as a constant insult to me, given that I have the unfortunate lot in life of looking just like one.  In all seriousness, I love our logo…I'm a bit of an animal nerd, and gorillas are my favourites.  For anyone keeping track, reptiles and bears tie for a close second.

BRENT: I looked at the naming of the company in a couple of different ways, I have a sales and marketing background so I wanted something easy to remember, iconic, and most of all marketable.  The name HAD to be something that would lend itself to branding and help get us in the front of the indy section of Previews.

BF: How and why did you guys get together to form the company?

DAVID: I wanted to have total control over my work and I wanted to help my talented friends get their books out into a larger market. Looking around at other companies, I didn't see a lot of options. So, I found the most talented, most dedicated comic geeks I knew and convinced them to start a comic publishing company. Smartest move I ever made. The three of us together are becoming a pretty formidable business.

MIKE: Again, he steals my thoughts.

BRENT: Of all the jobs that I'd had in comics in the fifteen years before Ape, the only thing that I hadn't done was actual honest-to-goodness publishing.  I had stories that I wanted to tell, ideas that I want to set free, and like David I wanted to do it my way. 

BF: From a creative standpoint, what makes APE's publications stand apart from books published by other small press companies out there?

DAVID: It's hard to answer this question without bragging but… quality, quality, quality. If you pick up a copy of OMNIBUS V.2 and compare it to any other anthology on the market, you will see that we're head and shoulders above just about everyone. From production down to the individual creators, it's just pure comics goodness.  Add to that a healthy dose of fun and creativity and you'll understand why we're making it where others have fallen.

MIKE:  We also publish only those things that we enjoy…we're not just looking for "the next big thing" and hoping to market it to Hollywood like half the industry seems to be doing these days.  We're fans of comics as well as publishers of comics, and we owe it to our fellow fans to produce only books that we think are legitimately good.

BRENT: Creative concepts, great writing, amazing art, sensational colors, dedication, perseverance, adaptability and tons of other things I can't begin to list. 

BF: Where did you guys scoop up the creative talent on APE's roster?

DAVID: We are the talent on a lot of the projects we've done so far. Everyone else we've found through our anthology title OMNIBUS (Chad Lambert of POINT PLEASANT and James West of PAN-GEA to name two) or they've come to us on the convention circuit with a good proposal and a ton of talent (Drew Rausch and Jocelyn Gajeway of SULLENGREY come immediately to mind).

BRENT: Conventions are a great place, and message boards as well. I'm an avid reader of message boards, so I'm always on the lookout for new talent or interesting concepts.  When I find them, I fire off an e-mail to Mike and Dave telling them to check out this or that.   

BF: When you guys go out looking for creative talent, what are some of the features you're looking for in a creator's work?

DAVID: Talented people with interesting things to say in the comic medium. Someone who is good-natured, hard working, and can put up with me during contract negotiations.

MIKE: In my mind, style is irrelevant. Any style has a potential audience, and Brent will see to it that we find that audience.  What I look for is genuine "craftsmanship."  You know, skill with the medium…I want the writing and the art to work in synchronicity, neither taking a back seat to the other.  Of course, I'm also looking for people with the professionalism to review our submissions guidelines and have their act together when they bring me a project.  I really don't care if you are a professional, but if you act like one I'll take you seriously.

BRENT: It's different with everyone… I'm an art guy myself.  When I look for an artist, I want someone that treats the story like a movie with an unlimited special effects budget.  I want art that makes my jaw drop open, you know, the kind that makes you giddy with excitement when you see it.  I look for attention to detail, dedication, and a distinctive style that sets the person apart from others. 

BF: Your mission statement says that aside from publishing high-quality books, you are also looking to produce role-playing games and illustrated fiction. When will the public get to see the first results of those endeavors?

DAVID: The Atomic Age Treasury of Pulp Action was our first product and is a true pulp novel, mostly prose with a few loving illustrations tipped in. I love it. Mike ? When will we see that game?

MIKE: Action Unlimited will be out in late Spring or early Summer.  It's a two-fisted tribute to the pulps and serials of the 1930s, and it's a blast to play.  The "'30s adventure" genre has been tackled in the RPG market before, but I can guarantee you it's never been handled this well…ever.  The best thing, though, is that there are already supplements being developed, and they'll all be FREE, distributed solely via our website.  There are a ton of games on the market that demand a high investment from their players, and I'm as sick of that crap as I think the gaming public is.  Once Action Unlimited has made its presence in the gaming community known, I've got two more games waiting in the wings to make debuts of their own, but I'm keeping those on the down-low for now.

BRENT: I currently have Vol. II of The Atomic Age Treasury of Pulp Action in the works for a late 2005 release, so keep your eyes peeled for it.

BF: Out of the six books APE published during its first year, which is the one you guys are satisfied about the most?

DAVID: I think we are all pretty proud of the work we are most directly involved with. For me it's A DIFFERENT PACE. I wrote the stories, I created the characters. It's the first graphic novel we've done of this size and the first that focuses on one set of characters. I can't wait for people to be able to get their hands on it in February.
That being said, I'm damn proud of every book we've done. Each one has been more successful than the one before it in very measurable ways.

MIKE:  Cripes, that's like asking me which one of my kids is my favourite.  I can't answer that.

BRENT: I have no kids so I'll answer it:  for me, it's The Atomic Age Treasury of Pulp Action.  It was my first book.  It was the realization of a dream and the first project that I was able to guide through all the way through from concept to completion.  It makes me feel very proud.

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BF: What can fans look forward to from APE in 2005?

DAVID: We're covering all the bases this year. We've got the sci-fi adventures of Lily and her crew of rag-tag space pirates in A DIFFERENT PACE, the all-ages, super heroic exploits of GO-GO GORILLA and the JUNGLE CREW, the sultry, sword swinging fantasy of PAN-GEA, and the gothic, zombie-loving object of comic art that is SULLENGREY. And that only gets us through the summer!

MIKE:He did it again.  I'm going to kill him.

BRENT: Monkeys with sticks.  No, make those really, really big sticks. 

- Frederik Hautain

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