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Man with a Vision

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Visionary Comics Studio is set to make its first splash this month, starting with a big presence at the Baltimore Comic-Con on Saturday and Sunday, and followed by previews of the company’s debut titles, SoulStar: The Dreaming and In The Demon’s Path, to be published in Markosia’s Smoke and Mirror #1 and Eon Project #3, respectively.

With the first seeds of the studio finally coming to fruition, Broken Frontier caught up with VCS Creative Director C. Edward Sellner for a look at how the company ticks and how everything has come together since the company’s launch this Spring.

BROKEN FRONTIER: Visionary debuted in early April. How do you look back on the road travelled since then?

C. EDWARD SELLNER: Well, it’s been a fun ride, that's for sure. We've had a TON of folks expressing interest in joining us, a lot of talented folks as well, and have been very busy laying the groundwork with publishers and studios for both projects and freelancers. We hit every con we could to sort of build a momentum and that made for both an exciting and tiring summer.

Overall, we've done well. We got our first set publishing deal, at Markosia, with several more in negotiation, and have also nailed several freelance assignments for our folks. And gotten a lot of positive buzz out in the market, so, I'm happy.

BF: Will Visionary be used as a brand name when your freelancers do work elsewhere, like Desperado, Runemaster and 12Gauge Studios, for example do with Image?

CS: Yes and no. Our main concern is helping our talent get paying work as freelance jobs, so, we're pretty flexible with publishers. Obviously, if the door is open to promote VCS as being involved as a studio, great. But if it would be a deal breaker, I'd rather my people work.

VCS will also, whenever possible be helping to promote those creators in their outside jobs, making sure people know to support it from our end.

BF: What led you to take on this kind of business model? Most new companies would want to get their name out there as much as possible to build a solid base, yet, you say that's not strictly necessary...

CS: We are getting our name out, and yes, it’s a priority, but to me, it’s also an equally high priority that our creators are first and foremost with us. I can't justify turning down an opportunity for a hard-working artist with us to lose his dream of doing comics for pay, because we were sore losers on our logo being plastered.

Plus, if we do well by the clients we serve, I think most will be open to letting us promote ourselves as well, even if it’s on our own end, giving them free PR... Why wouldn't they?

BF: Indeed. So, ever since you opened the submission process, what has the response been like? You've already mentioned in last week's announcement that you've had to work through a lot of portfolios and pitches.

CS: A ton, it’s been crazy. When we kicked off, I thought I would be lucky to get a dozen talented folks, but we've got over 30 people in our studio who at least show enough talent to get work in the industry, and with the contest, we've gotten at least another couple dozen very qualified submissions from talented creators of all stripes.

The tougher part of course is figuring out of all those talented people, who are the ones really ready for this.

BF: How do you figure that out then? Also, is there anyone assisting you in the decision-making process, although, as the head of the studio, the final call rests on your shoulders?

CS: Well, there is really only one way to figure that out, and it’s to get those talented folks actually working on producing comics, so, when someone comes in, we really want them to be active on a creator-owned project so we can see: A. Do they take editorial direction well? B. Do they produce material with any kind of regularity? C. Can they actually work to make good comics? As I've shared elsewhere, we've had about a 50% attrition rate of people making the cut on talent, but not being able to cut it afterward on discipline.

As for making the call, we now have Paul Ridgon and Chris McCay who are our submissions editors. They make the talent call in terms of qualifying someone. Once they're approved, we get them working; I oversee the actual work produced. I then weed some out at that level. But by and large, we've had a very positive response to the process.

BF: Shifting focus to the titles you're putting out, the previews of SoulStar and In the Demon's Path are the first to be included in Markosia's offerings this month. How did the deal with Markosia come about?

CS: Chuck Satterlee and I started talking when he first went to Markosia, actually first about me doing some color work for them, and then we started talking about projects. Chuck was considering a couple of our books, but Markosia has a solid business plan that includes measured growth, so the timing was not there right now to do a full book, so, we talked about a way to get Visionary out there and Markosia helping. They have been very supportive, believe in our vision, and have actually both referred some folks to us, and now have some of our folks working for them.

So, this is what has materialized for now, a way to get our name and properties out there to start building a fan base, and increasing our value to take to other publishers.

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BF: How did SoulStar come to position itself as the studio's flagship title? It's not like with Marvel or Dark Horse, where Spider-Man and Hellboy came to assume the 'flagship' mantle over the years, this was a conscious decision...

CS: Yeah. First, we have our creator-owned line of titles, then the studio titles, the Visionary Universe. SoulStar as our flagship for the studio books really was our belief in the potential of the character. First, we believe market-wise, he has some of the highest appeal on many fronts, is the most unique and interesting character, and plays to the largest comic demographics.

But it was also partly based on the role SoulStar has in the broader Visionary Universe, which is a very pivotal role to say the least, so, it seemed a kind of given thing.

BF: What role is that? Will he be connected to the rest of the characters in a big way?

CS: Yep, most definitively, on varying levels. Some will be obvious very quickly, but some won't come out for some time, but I think when they do, it will make a lot of sense to the hard core fans we intend to have by then.

BF: What's the nature of the Visionary Universe? Is it superhero-oriented, or are the characters connected by the same 'source', like CrossGen tried with its sigil-based powers?

CS: The VU will actually be a cross-section of comic based universes with other fictional 'universes' if you will. For example, we're not super-hero dominated, though we have super-heroes. VU stories will be set in different periods of time, from ancient past, to recent past, current, near and far future, as well as some set on other worlds, etc.

Instead of having a ton of books, all set today in Manhattan, we will explore the history and 'future history' of the VU. As such, we have classic fantasy, sci-fi, action, super-hero and horror titles in the wings.

We also intend to show the VU as a living, changing place, where things happen and have lasting repercussions. For example, our characters’ lives will be mapped out, with definite beginnings and endings. Major events will cause major changes in society, and we will see in some stories where those changes lead to. There is a consistent internal history of the VU and we hope this is what will make it unique.

BF: Is In The Demon's Path part of the universe, or is it a creator-owned tale?

CS: It’s creator-owned. Vinnie Tartamella, a talented man he is, wrote, drew and colored it.

BF: What about the creator-owned titles in general? Will they be branded and marketed differently, such as Vertigo, Wildstorm, Icon, and the like?

CS: Yes, but I think it’s more that the VU books will be branded differently, if that makes any sense. Every book we do will be a Visionary Comics Studio book, branded and promoted by us, in our forums, on our site, PR etc. The VU books will carry the VU brand in addition to the standard, and be grouped accordingly on the site, etc.

It’s not quite the same, as those other imprints were publisher imprints. This is more a studio imprint, so we could have books from various publishers, some creator-owned, others VU titles, and so on. The difference will lie in how we group them.

BF: So, the long-term goal for Visionary is to get to stand firmly on its own two feet as an independent publisher that invites other studios to work under their umbrella?

CS: As we are today...no. Meaning, the projected path we have for ourselves is to operate as a studio, and only a studio. Part of our mission, helping break in new talent, providing freelance services, etc. would hit major difficulties if we were to become a publisher.

So, our business plan and growth plan does not include publishing in the direct market, which doesn’t imply if at some time outside resources or connections were to present an opportunity we might not shift gears, but no, that is not our 'intended' direction.

BF: What did you mean then when you said ‘we could have books from other publishers'?

CS: I meant that all our books will be lined up with different publishers. Some day, our plan would have over a half-dozen publishers putting out Visionary books. For both our creator-owned titles and our VU titles, we will look at a variety of publishers and seek to line projects up with the best publisher for any given property.

BF: In terms of creators, the best-known names on the list to today's readership are obviously A. David Lewis and Brian Augustyn. What are they contributing to the studio?

CS: A. David Lewis has created a property called Gangland Avalon which is a Camelot meets Mafia story. It’s very cool, very clever, very A. David Lewis. We have a short story almost done to preview it very soon.

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Brian has a couple creator-owned projects in the pipeline, but early in development right now, so we can't really say much about them, but he is also our head honcho on the creative end, our guru of wisdom, so his role is much more behind the scenes right now.

And don’t forget Lou Manna though, he's an artist with tons of experience in the industry, from DC's All Star Squadron, through Soulcatcher with Jason Henderson.

BF: This weekend, you're playing on your home turf in Baltimore. What can people expect from Visionary at the convention?

CS: Great stuff! We've got about a dozen of our crew coming out, we'll have our convention exclusive preview book, as well as prints from all of our first wave titles, ashcans, t-shirts and buttons from our first and second wave series, and we'll be making some exclusive announcements at our panel on Sunday, from 11-12pm, where folks can learn more about us and find out the first things about our plans for 2007.

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