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DEVIL'S DUE WEEK: The Top Devil Speaks

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With Devil’s Due Week hitting its midway point today, BF talked to the publisher’s head honcho about DDP’s present and future. What are Josh Blaylock’s thoughts on licensed properties? Where does Drafted fit in among the likes of Sheena, Chucky, and G.I. Joe? And what’s his secret pet project? Find out here!

BROKEN FRONTIER: Over the past couple of months, Devil’s Due has been establishing itself more and more as a go-to publisher for licensed properties, and this Spring/Summer with launches like Chucky and Sheena. Why were you interested in these two properties in particular?

JOSH BLAYLOCK: Chucky was a no-brainer.  Ever since the debut of Hack/Slash, we’ve wanted the series heroes, Cassie and Vlad, to go up against well-known slashers.  First, they tackled Evil Ernie, and Chucky was next, which then paved the way for his own series.  Rogue Pictures is producing the Hack/Slash film, and they hold the rights to Chucky right now, so it was a simple deal.

Sheena was brought to us by screenwriter Steven E. DeSouza, who is good friends with the owner of the Sheena property.  Steven had created an entirely new take on the classic Sheena story, moving it to South America and involving Third World dictators, corporate corruption, mysticism, and a bizarre city where you have poor jungle villagers on one end, and vacationing celebrities getting plastic surgery on the other.  With the 70 year history behind the character (she is the original jungle chick), it was too good to pass up.

BF: What forms your decision to pursue a particular license over another?

JB: Lots of things.  Is it marketable to people in comic shops? How will it sell as a graphic novel?  How much does the owner want for royalties and advances?  And of course, is it cool?

BF: How integral is obtaining those licenses to succeed—or more pejoratively phrased, survive—as an indie publisher in today’s crowded marketplace?

JB: They’re definitely a necessity until you can truly build your own properties.  It’s been almost six years, but we’re closer to doing that than ever before.  Hack/Slash is finally ongoing, and by the time the film hits we will have quite the trade paperback library to exploit, as well as merchandising. 

We’re also forging interesting partnerships with some of our licensors so that, even though they’re not DDP properties, DDP may have a stake in their future.

BF: For some time now, the cornerstones of your line have been the R.A. Salvatore and G.I. Joe books. What factors have led to these titles getting a long lease on life at Devil’s Due?

JB: First, the twenty-five year G.I. Joe fanbase, and the twenty year fervent readership of R.A. Salvatore’s books.  We genuinely have a love of the properties, and the people on the books understand them.  After that, everything works itself out.

BF: As far as publishing licensed properties goes, it’s safe to say that the three main players, at least among independents, are IDW, Dynamite, and Devil’s Due. Is there a stiff competition between the three?

JB: Sure, there’s a friendly rivalry, but we’re all so busy making comics that I don’t think anyone has that much time to sit around and think about it.  We started off publishing Dynamite, who has definitely had success since going solo, so there’s that connection, and since IDW publishes Transformers, another Hasbro property, we cross paths every once in a while.  They’re good guys.

BF: What were some of the licenses you really wanted to land, and you might have been close to, that ultimately ended up elsewhere?

JB: It would have been nice to snag Transformers and He-Man back five years ago, but we were a smaller operation then.  I am a HUGE Battlestar Galactica nerd (for the new TV show), so I would have gone for that one, but I didn’t catch on right away. 

Honestly, the closest thing to a missed opportunity that has been getting under my skin is Avril Lavigne’s Make Five Wishes.  That’s similar to a couple of projects I’ve been working on for about a year now, though, I know that might not be what people expected to read. [Laughs]

BF: When missing out happens, how much does it have to do with the deal you’re presenting as a publisher? Hypothetically, if all of the interested companies present the licensor with a comparable package, how much of it is in the details?

JB: It varies.  Some companies really know their characters, and need to make sure that your art and writing is just right, and others are all about the money.

BF: How does a non-licensed property like Drafted fit into what the company’s doing? And, overall, should Drafted become a hit, will there be a renewed focus on original projects?

JB: Drafted is part of a long term, grass roots effort like Hack/Slash, to develop our own series that can survive for years as a comic, and also be spun off into other media.  The Drafted story is so epic it’ll never fit into a single film, but the elements are there.  We know it may take three years to build, just like Hack/Slash, but we’re prepared to spend the time.

If we’re not developing our own properties, we’re not truly growing.  I admit we DID lose our focus a bit after our superhero line, Aftermath, fizzled out, but during that entire time, Hack/Slash was moving along, and now it’s time for a new addition to the family.

BF: As you mentioned already, the company also has a hit that Hollywood has picked up on now in Hack/Slash. Where do things stand on that front?

JB: The script is in its (hopefully) final version right now – and all of the tweaks they’re making are to ensure it’s even MORE like the comic than it was before.  They’re finally starting to put feelers out to actors here and there, so we’re closer now than ever.  Maybe we’ll be announcing a San Diego Comic-Con panel before you know it?

BF: Aside from Drafted, more Hack/Slash and the big Sheena launch, what else does the company have in store for the second half of 2007?

JB: We’re working on a story called The Nye Incidents, created by extraterrestrial phenomena and sci-fi author Whitley Strieber (Communion) and Craig Spector (Animals), about a serial killer amongst the Alien Abductee community. 

Storm Shadow (from G.I. Joe lore) has his own ongoing solo series now, which I’m loving.  It’s written by Larry Hama, and reads more like a cross between Batman and Oceans 11 than like a typical G.I. Joe book. 

Tim Seeley is shepherding a billion different artists, with the blessing of Lloyd Kaufman, to produce an original graphic novel featuring every Troma horror film character you can think of. 

And slowly but surely, I’m developing a new pet project, Mercy Sparx.

BF: Do you have anything special planned for the big summer conventions? A surprise announcement perhaps?

JB: I don’t know.  We’d prefer to surprise you when you least expect it, like when you’re brushing your teeth in the morning or stumbling to the kitchen in the morning to make coffee.  Please be sure to leave a window unlocked!

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