Damsel in Charge

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Being the Editor In Chief of an upper-tier comic book company hardly ever is an easy job. In case of Renae Geerlings, not only does she have to live up to the standards set by departing Top Cow EIC Jim McLaughlin, she’s got to fight for position in a world dominated by men. With all the comic book smarts she’s collected over the years, though, she’s more than up to the task. Joe Quesada and Dan DiDio… beware!

BROKEN FRONTIER: On March 1st, you were appointed as the new EIC at Top Cow, following in the footsteps of Jim McLaughlin. What have the first couple of months in the new position been like?

RENAE GEERLINGS: Crazy!  The third component of our editorial department (Scott Tucker—ed.) decided to move to MONTANA—Who decides to move to Montana?!—and we changed our office suite all around at the same time, so it has been a wild couple of months.

BF: How does the company look back on Jim’s overall effort?

RG: Jim helped usher in some great projects when he was here; he was tireless in his pursuit of excellence for our company.  So we look back with gratitude and respect.  And a healthy fear of his wiffle bat.

BF: What about the wave of new titles, such as Freshmen, Necromancer, V.I.C.E., that debuted under Jim’s watchful eye? Are you pleased with how they were received by fans?

RG: I’m not pleased with the sales, no.  I have a lot of thoughts on each of them, and what worked and what didn’t.  I’ll be using that knowledge in the future when we do new launches.   Nothing is a failure if you learn from it.  The Freshmen trade sold really well. Apparently all those people who were “waiting for the trade” really were.  So we’re re-launching Freshmen this fall, and I’m excited about that.

BF: Since you were already very much involved with the day-to-day business at the company, the transition to EIC mustn’t have been too hard, or was it?

RG: No, I wouldn’t say the transition has been difficult in terms of learning a new job.  It has added a lot to my plate however, and THAT is the challenge.

BF: What’s new on your plate that wasn’t on there before then?

RG: In terms of the EIC gig, it’s a lot more development, finding artists, and working with writers.  With Scott’s absence it’s a lot more of the minutia, sending of boxes, daily tracking, merchandise sending, etc. 

BF: Especially at the big publishers, you’re the only woman to control a company’s entire line of books. I bet you’re out to teach the likes of Joe Quesada, Dan DiDio and Erik Larsen a lesson on how things are done! [Laughs]

RG: [Smiles] It’s interesting to see how the comic world reacts to a female in a higher position.  The very people who are most excited about a woman getting ahead in the industry are the ones who are afraid to put a picture of said woman out there.  No one ever had a web discussion about Jim’s pictures.  And no one comes down on fans who talk about Michael Turner’s looks.  But if you’re a woman, it’s a whole different ballgame.  I’d like to have a face and a persona that people can relate to Top Cow, but I have to take into account that some people question the motives behind that. It’s mind-boggling. 

In a more direct answer to your question, I’m not out to prove anything but how great this company can be; my loftiest goal is just to put out stories that people will talk about and be affected by.  It simply doesn’t matter one way or the other which chromosome I have. I’d hope that would be an afterthought. Other than that…I guess I’d just like to get invited to that V.I.P. poker game.  [Laughs]

BF: Seriously, all of the three aforementioned guys have been executing specific game plans: Quesada and DiDio are reshuffling the Marvel and DC decks for the next decade, while Larsen is bringing the creator-owned concept back to its core at Image. What is your strategy for Top Cow during your tenure?

RG: We have, in the past, gone a little too fast for ourselves: we get a good idea and solicit it too quickly.  Getting a book out there before it’s been fully gestated doesn’t help.  It simply won’t be ready to launch and will go late by the 3rd issue.  My goal is to give us more lead time to develop and market.  We can’t compete with the Big Two’s quantity, so we have to make sure we’re knocking it out of the park with both story and art.

In a perfect world, I’d love to get the “Top Cow fan” back.  Those people who buy those few books a month that we do.  It’s not that big of a commitment, really.  We just have to re-prove ourselves, and that takes time and consistency.

BF: Who is this Top Cow fan then? What kind of profile fits him or her?

RG: It would be someone who likes great stories that aren’t about your typical superhero. Someone who likes things a little more edgy and dark, but has a more tongue in cheek sense of humor.  Nowadays, it has to be someone who isn’t just into pin-up books.  We’ve expanded our line a bit.

BF: Are there any areas you think the company needs to improve in to climb up the sales charts? And, as a second, are there any titles in particular that need a boost?

RG: I think the goal should always be to improve in all areas.  But more specifically, I think we have to find our niche.   It’s pointless to compete directly with the Big Two, so what can we do that they can’t?   In terms of Witchblade, the story and the art are better and better.  We’ve done away with some of the senseless cheesecake content, and you know what we got?  Nothing but good reviews, and no change in the numbers.  So what’s the answer?  Marketing? Perhaps.  We just need to keep asking the questions, what’s working, and what’s not?

BF: Now that you’ve mentioned cheesecake content, in doing away with that, I’m sure Top Cow is aiming to bring in more female readers, who, in the past, might have been put off by the barely-dressed women showing up all over the place…

RG: Absolutely. 

BF: Speaking of women, Adrianna Melo has replaced Mike Choi as artist on Witchblade, with issue #99 to be precise. Did you have a hand in this creative change?

RG: Jim found Adriana and I worked with Ron and Adriana on the new storyline and designs. As with most things in comic books, it’s been a team effort – a machine that is greater than the sum of its parts. On upcoming books like Freshmen II and Madame Mirage, I’ll have much for of a direct hand in their development, but at the end of the day, I’m working with a team.  And that’s how I like it.

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