Arcana Comes To Life

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Summer is the time when many people take a vacation after a full year of hard work. Not so if your name is Sean O’Reilly and you spearhead a company that is currently experiencing a breakthrough in the comic book industry.

Although Arcana Studio has been around for over a year and a half, things have gone a bit better recently than they did last year. What exactly has the company been doing differently than in its first year of operations? “We've been taking a lot more time to release a project, doing more 'behind the scenes' work,” O’Reilly told Broken Frontier.

“It's been 11 months since we released our last new series (100 Girls) and I believe the preparation time we’ve had is really going to make a difference.  The other major thing is the time it takes for retailers and readers to gain trust in you.  We completed every single arc we started in 2004… I am very proud of publishing 5 titles in our first year.  It wasn't easy to complete them all, but it was very important to me that we never disappointed or hurt a reader and cancelled a series because we weren't in the top 250 comics.  Finishing all stories hopefully earned some of the trust and respect that will help us structure projects in the future.”

Even though O’Reilly admits that the progress the company has made as a whole is in part due to some amazing strokes of luck while making it through its first year, the good times are a direct result of the efforts of everyone involved with the Studio: “Ultimately, it's Mario Gully that poured his heart into Ant, Todd Demong and Adam Gallardo who created a sensational critically acclaimed story with 100 Girls, Dave Rodriguez’ storytelling that brought Starkweather to a cult-like status and the incredible art teams that I've worked with to bring Kade and Ezra to life.”

Another factor that is at play when it comes to explaining its success, O’Reilly thinks, is the fact that Arcana looks after its creators beyond publishing, providing them with everything from booths to advertising beyond Previews, even legal counsel. “We provide the infrastructure to really allow someone to get the full benefits of their projects,” he explains. “We try to 'take care' of our people as much as possible.  That is why I never want more than about 4 or 5 titles out at any one time.  I believe we'd start to lose that touch we have with our creators.”

If taking care of its creators is so important to the studio, then why did Mario Gully slip through Arcana’s fingers when he took Ant to Image? According to Gully, it was he himself that decided to leave the company and move over to the Big I, on whose door he had been knocking for years. O’Reilly is glad BF asked him how he, and the rest of the studio, felt when Gully announced his departure: “I'm glad someone finally [did],” he admits. “This has created more controversy than anything that's happened at our studio. Mario's was applying for Image long before he met me, and finally, after proving himself in the 'indie circuit', they gave him a shot.  I openly and willingly have worked with Mario to make sure that the transition to Image is as smooth as possible, and I've even met with Erik Larsen and Clay Moore to make sure Mario hits his mark. 

On top of that the head-honcho is quick to add that Gully isn’t done with Arcana just yet: “Mario is still involved with Arcana, as is Ant, and we are actually working on a project together right now.  There have been confusions onto roles and relationships, but we've been tight through it all and Mario and Arcana are actually trying to finalise something REALLY big with Ant right now.”

Big things are not in store for Ant alone, though. This summer, Arcana is putting out no less than 7 new titles with The Assassin, Fuzzy Bunnies From Hell, Criss Cross, El Arsenal, Sundown: Arizona, Deadmen Tell No Tales and Shadow Magic. Where did this sudden influx come from?

“This has been a patient marker for us. Like I said, it's been 11 months since our newest series release as we've been busy finishing up what we started,” O’Reilly points out. “I felt we've lost some of our 'buzz' since there wasn't anything 'new'.  But we struggled through that and are now ready to present Arcana's 'next wave'. The Assassin is a one-shot that we are now planning on making another book for, Fuzzy Bunnies is an OGN, Criss Cross is another one-shot (unfortunately due to the passing away of Doug Miers), and Shadow Magic is a brand new manga book.  Our new series are officially El Arsenal, Sundown: Arizona, Dead Men Tell No Tales and Paradox.  There are some other books we're working on, but they are quite far down the pipeline, so we don't have a release date. [To clarify] again, we're doing all the work 'behind the scenes' now to ensure stress-free deadlines will be met.”

The titles O’Reilly mentioned are all either one-shots or mini series. “The Assassin we were going to wait until we found out what audiences thought,” he admits. “Although it's a bit pre-mature, the initial order came in solid enough that we're starting the next issue which will actually conclude the series.  Fuzzy Bunnies and Shadow Magic are graphic novels that we would do again if the creative teams want another stab at a book.”

“As for developing an ongoing monthly series, Arcana has no plans to attempt this yet; it is tough go to do ongoing monthly series and I don't think we're going to pursue this at the moment. [However], Todd and Adam are debating it with 100 Girls, even though the arc ends with issue #7, and Kade does have over 20 books lined up, but they are broken up into 3-5 issue arcs.”

When taking a closer look at the company’s summer line-up, one will notice that several creators have Hispanic roots—the creators of The Assassin and El Arsenal to be more precise. O’Reilly points out that this is due to the efforts of Stefani Renee, Arcana’s Brazilian-based editor: “Stefani has definitely drawn some wonderful attention, especially after being nominated for a Harvey Award. We know that Stefani and Arcana are new names on the block and we really appreciate the recognition we've received from this nomination and the Shuster Award which we won earlier.  I definitely think people are seeing Arcana as someplace special and it's the extra attention we give that has people wanting to be published under the Arcana umbrella.”

Yet, the international flavor is not something the publisher is actively looking to incorporate in its line. To the Studio, a great project is a great project, regardless of where it’s from. It’s as simple as that. O’Reilly points to Blacksad for clarification:  Even though 'non-American', [the book] is a fantastic project that weaves a compelling story and incredible art.  I know that El Arsenal and the Assassin do the same and that is the reason they were picked up.

Of course, next to the influx of new titles, Arcana is still working on its first wave of titles— including Ezra, Kade, Starkweather and 100 Girls—as O’Reilly pointed out already. In fact, the second series of Ezra has just started production and will have a new art team the Studio is extremely happy with. Although he did not disclose the name of the artists, O’Reilly did offer a tease with regard to Ezra, saying that the character is teaming up with a 'heavy weight' in the comic industry: “It's going to amazing to see these two iconic characters together.”

As for the other first wave titles, O’Reilly had the following to say: “Starkweather is wrapping up his first arc and the trade will be out in August. This is a fantastic series that was really under-rated and we are hoping that when people get the trade they'll really get into it. Starkweather also has his first team-up coming soon.  100 Girls is wrapping up in September with issue #7 (the sneak peek below is from 100 Girls #5 - ed.) and Adam and Todd will retool from there with the adventures of Sylvia.  Kade is moving ahead (chronologically even) as the next arc, Kade: Sun of Perdition, will be coming out in 2005.  Kade now has five series planned, a video game we've been working on developing with Radical Entertainment and even a screenplay that is currently being reviewed by a major picture studio. So, as you can see, we've been busy and we haven't forgotten our originals. 

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Next to all that, Arcana has even more brand-new projects down the pipeline. On the Studio’s website, Khan, Hero House, Zoo and Dragon’s Lair are four books that are listed as ‘coming soon’. When asked when he figures these titles to reach stores, O’Reilly responded: “Dragon's Lair #4 has been complete for a while and #5 is just finishing up the script.  It's been tough trying to get the team back together, but we're hoping to have issue #6 complete by July, meaning we'll have a release set for the first quarter of 2006.  Khan is a project two years in the making and is being colored and released in the fourth quarter [of this year].  Zoo is also being wrapped up for a release at that point.  The reason for [taking our time] is because we don't want to be late or stressed with soliciting books that we haven't completed.  It's important to us to deliver quality books on time and if we solicit too early, it works against those two commitments.”

“I've mentioned Paradox, which is written by Chris Gage and the cover is by Steve Cummings.  This is the first time they've worked together since DC's Deadshot.  We are really looking forward to this project; because of Chris' experience in screenwriting (The Breed) and professional comic writing, we know this is going to be incredible.  We are also working on Steve Uy's Jovah's Harvest.  Steve has an incredible eye and his art is always just beautiful to stare at.  We are very excited to be working with him.  The last book that's just being announced here is Blue Fire and I'll guarantee you, this will knock people's socks off.”

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With so many projects in the works, one has to wonder whether if Arcana continues to expand, the publisher should drop the ‘Studio’ moniker. For a company that is releasing over a dozen different titles and more to come, it seems Arcana has outgrown the rather small scope a ‘studio’ might imply. O’Reilly says he has always thought of the publisher as a studio and adds that he has every intention to keep the moniker attached to Arcana: “We will always be releasing comics, but in 2005 you'll hopefully see the first reason why we really want to be called a studio.  We have a project coming out that will be based on a comic, but definitely not in a comic book format.” 

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For more on Arcana Studio, go to www.arcanastudio.com, and stop by the Arcana booth at conventions all over the country this summer, where they will have some convention exclusives available.

- Frederik Hautain

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