Webmaster’s Note: This interview is from 1999.
Bill Black is the Editor and Publisher of AC Comics and the main force behind the creation of the Femforce. Having worked in comics for over a quarter of a century, he has combined a love of the Golden Age of Comics with the sensibilities of a more modern age. A penciler, inker, and storyteller in his own right, he has also provided dozens of comic book professionals with some of their first opportunities to have their work published.
How did you break into the comic book industry and what were some of your early assignments and experiences?
I started drawing amateur comic books for my own pleasure in the 6th grade. The first one was STARTLING COMICS starring THE BLACK COMMANDO, THE BLUE EAGLE and AIR WAVE. Although AIR WAVE was before my time, I had seen the character when reading older kid’s comics. Why AIR WAVE stuck in my mind, I don’t know. At the time I had never owned a copy of DETECTIVE COMICS with that character in it. But he became one of my earliest stars appearing in STARTLING and at least two issues of his own title.
When SHOWCASE No. 4 was published, seeing Barry Allen reading a copy of the Golden-Age FLASH comic jumpstarted my imagination. I remembered ALL STAR COMICS and the Justice Society but none of those comics survived our family’s move from Pennsylvania to Florida. Inspired, I began drawing the adventures of THE FLASH, GREEN LANTERN, DR. MIDNIGHT, etc. just from my memory. My versions were a little off…. GL fired his beam from a belt buckle, not a ring! But I got the costume almost perfect as I would later discover. By the time I was in high school I had graduated into drawing my own characters such as THE SCARLET SCORPION and THE STARMASTERS.
While at FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY I met BILL KILLEEN, editor and publisher of the (soon to be) award winning college humor magazine, THE CHARLATAN. I joined the CHARLATAN staff as a cartoonist and did covers featuring WONDER WARTHOG. The Hog Of Steel was co-created by Gilbert Shelton and Killeen who scripted the first adventure. WWH was featured in early issues of CHARLATAN. My main function was illustrating paid advertising in a humorous and, if possible, vulgar manner as that’s what college kids liked. After a year, I became Associate Editor. I learned how to assemble and publish a magazine on the cheap from Killeen with whom I shared many adventures including hiding out from the cops and filming a movie based on H.P. Lovecraft’s COLOR OUT OF SPACE. I also drew back cover ads for a Tallahassee pizza parlor that featured many comic book based characters… BATMAN, THE HULK and SHEENA.
During summer breaks from FSU, I submitted art to Warren (received a nice, thoughtful and encouraging letter of rejection from Archie Goodwin who gave me some pointers), Archie Comics (I thought Paul Reinman was doing a horrible job on the Archie revival of the MLJ characters so I took it upon myself to do it better. I submitted a 6 page strip, pencilled & inked, to show them how Mr. Justice and Steel Sterling should be done. Never got a response, nor my art back. Hindsight showed me that it is not wise to tell an editor that he is doing a lousy job. At AC Comics when I receive such audacious submissions, I toss them in the circular file which is no doubt what Archie did!), and Marvel Comics. At Marvel during those halcyon days of the mid-sixties, I corresponded with Fabulous Flo Steinberg and Sol Brodsky. Both were incredibly kind and encouraging. Sol actually set it up where I would do a sample page to try out…. and Marvel would pay me for it! Can you believe that? I sent in a page that showed as many different characters as possible. Again I was rejected and again hindsight showed that by switching locations in every panel to get to different characters resulted in very bad story telling. I don’t know why I didn’t pitch them on hiring me just as an inker but I thought that was the end of it. Besides, I had to finish college. Flo sent a check from Marvel and, boy, it was a tough choice…. cash it or save it as a memento!
After graduating from FSU I was drafted into the Army where I continued my film-making and comic-drawing, and began publishing as a side line. I did a 7-page horror story in ink wash and submitted it to Warren. They didn’t use that story but returned the art (it was later published in AC’s GHOUL GALLERY). I was shocked upon opening the package to see that they had cut the big climax panel out of the last page with a razor blade! It turned up in CREEPY or EERIE as a sample of fan art. This submission, however, did lead to my being hired in 1969 by Warren editor BILL PARENTE where I did stories for CREEPY and EERIE. Never got any of my published art back… this was before Neal Adams had changed industry standards… but since Warren paid for it, I didn’t expect to get it back. So, after my fourth attempt, I became a comic book pro! With the exception of having Marty Griem show my work to Archie editor Victor Gorlick in 1984, I never again submitted work to a publisher… tho’ subsequently I’ve worked for dozens of publishers.
What led to your decision to become an independent publisher?
Independence led me to become an independent publisher. My background is somewhat different than most people in the comic book industry. Rather than starting comics after high school, I went to college. Back in the 1960’s there were only 6 publishers and almost no opportunity to get into comics. Mostly it was a closed shop situation. While attending art school at Florida State, I was introduced to fine arts as well as commercial arts. My instructors were fine artists of some reputation who painted for a living. Their work hung in reputable art galleries and some works even appeared in our text books. Working under them I became very excited about painting and developed a philosophy of art. To me the thrill, the high, the personal value of what I was doing was in the CREATION of the art. The ACT OF CREATING was the turn on, not the finished piece. It is a very solitary process and it is accomplished solely by myself. This differs greatly from comic books which, inherently, are the product of an assembly line. Working for a company you were either a writer, penciler, inker, letterer or colorist…. rarely was one artist given the opportunity to create the entire piece of art.
So, professional comic art, after my stint at Warren, was less satisfying to me because I was completing only part of the process. When you have your own publishing company, you can do the whole thing. Of course, it takes much longer. The first 15 years of my Independent publishing, I did it all while working a full time job and therefore was only able to produce around 3 books a year. After I started AC Comics, I had to work the business like everyone else and go to the assembly line method. That was the only way books could come out on a monthly schedule. At one point, we were producing 6 books a month. The good part of Independent publishing is that I have followed my dream and guided my own creations into reality while the downside is that I have little time to actually draw. It’s mostly production. I’m producing books with my creations (which is much better than “work for hire” where I would be working to bring somebody else’s vision to life) but am no longer doing all the creating. This method has worked and I’ve published nearly 500 books and, luckily, have done little “work for hire” for other publishers.
By being an Independent publisher I am able to bring my visions to life which is far more important to me than working on a feature for another publisher. Even working on a high profile, famous character holds no allure for me. I like what I’ve done and enjoy doing that. It’s amazing that I’ve made a living for my family doing what I love doing for so many years. Being well known or reaching high number circulation is not a concern because I’m interested in the creation, not the distribution. I would be just as happy (or possibly much happier) if I just created comics, paintings or films that only I saw. It’s the act of creating that is fun… but naturally the comics must be printed and distributed for me to make a living!
What was the genesis for the Femforce title?
In 1978 when I was working for Marvel Comics, Roy Thomas was my editor. We were doing an issue of WHAT IF which supposed that the Avengers were formed in the 1950’s rather than the 1960’s. This was fun for me because I was dealing with characters that I read when I was a kid… Marvel Boy, Venus, The Yellow Claw and a villain I remember distinctly from CAPTAIN AMERICA’s short run. Guest starring in the book were JANN OF THE JUNGLE and the Sub-Mariner’s girl cousin, NAMORA. After it was over, I suggested to Roy that he might write a story featuring a team-up of the Marvel female heroines from the 1940’s & 1950’s. Though few in number the team could consist of Blonde Phantom, Miss America, Venus, Namora, Jann and Lorna. Roy said “no” emphatically stating that books with female characters “don’t sell.”
Okay, if Marvel wasn’t interested, I’d do it myself with my own characters. I created “THE ALL GIRL SQUAD” subheaded “Femme Force One” and they first appeared in FEMZINE No. 1 (1981). I had used the Golden-Age character, MISS VICTORY, before but this story was the first to explain why she was still young. The story had the villainess Gorgana eliminate all male heroes so it was up to MISS VICTORY, a government agent, to assemble a task force from her files of heroines. SYNN, PHANTOM LADY and TARA had been regularly featured in other Paragon books but BLONDE BOMBER seemingly came out of left field. At that time I had done a story starring her but it has yet to be published. SPYGIRL was set in the past and STORMY TEMPEST was in the future so the team was set with those five.
The following year I started AC Comics forming the company in August. I decided to do mainstream superheroes instead of “girl art” to broaden the reader base. When the Direct Market collapsed in 1984, it was no longer possible to continue to pay established rates for new art. I began digging thru unpublished strips and unearthed several stories that were planned to be published in FEMFANTASTIQUE but which had been shelved when we started AC. I decided to bridge several girl art stories and make a book length feature that would be entitled FEMFORCE SPECIAL No. 1. This FEMFORCE team would be comprised of the characters in existing inventory stories.
Both Mark Heike and I had been doing commisioned drawings of Fiction House’s Senorita Rio for the same customer. These were a series of single illustrations that went together to tell a story. I reconfigured these illos into panels forming comic book pages and constructed a Senorita Rio story out of Mark’s art.
I had been commissioned to draw a Golden-Age Black Cat story for Jim Chadwick’s ALTERNATE EXISTANCE (sic) magazine. Chadwick said he had the rights to Black Cat but he did not. He also said he would pay me which he did not. I then took that story and reworked it into a new character and SHE-CAT was born.
In pre-AC days I was using PHANTOM LADY, the Fox Features version, as a leading heroine. With the coming of AC, PL was re-vamped as NIGHTVEIL complete with new costume. Mark and I had completed a PL story for FEMZINE No. 2 and I plugged that into the FF SPECIAL by renaming the character THE BLUE BULLETEER. So for adventures taking place from the period of WWII up to 1960, Laura Wright would henceforth be known as THE BLUE BULLETEER.
If you look at FEMZINE No. 1 and read the SPYGIRL story, you will note that SPYGIRL ends her cliffhanger story in the exact situation that begins the MISS VICTORY story in FF SPECIAL. That chapter , or at least the 4 pages of it, was originally drawn in pencil as SPYGIRL chapter 6, “High Altitude Horror.” Therefore the first AC FEMFORCE team, set in WWII, was comprised of MISS VICTORY, BLUE BULLETEER, RIO RITA and SHE-CAT.
We used this old art with new bridging art to allow AC to keep publishing and were surprised at how well the title sold. Immediately we planned a new series which would become the salvation of the company. Since we got in the sales figures from the distributors before we went to press, we were able to plan for this by including a full page ad for FEMFORCE No. 1 in that special. FEMFORCE No. 1 was set in the present and used the established Paragon character, Tara Fremont as the plot device to introduce new readers to this group of characters. Tara was involved in the story but was not a member… not at first. As she learns about MS. V, NIGHTVEIL, etc., so do the readers.
How did you decide which heroines would be in the Femforce?
After appearing in AMERICOMICS, BOLT and SHADE, Tara didn’t have a home. Since she was a favorite of mine, I put her in Femforce as the only non-powered member. She would provide contrast to the super gals. I really liked what I did with SHE-CAT in the SPECIAL. She had an edge to her that set her apart from other dogooders. Since she first appeared in a 1940’s story and reappeared looking just as youthful in FF No. 1, I thought this ageless quality would add to her mystique. MS. VICTORY had appeared in a Special of her own but AC didn’t have the resources to continue her in her own title. Besides, the MS. V SPECIAL was so far afield from what I wanted to do with the character (both in terms of art and story), I felt I must regain control. FEMFORCE became her book obstensively. Though we delve into the lives of many different characters, it is MS. V that is the back bone…. the structure for Femforce. As she developed, so did the team. Joan was more than just team leader…. without MS. V there is no FEMFORCE. NIGHTVEIL became the only AC character to appear in 3 titles simultaneously. By the time her title and SENTINELS OF JUSTICE folded, Laura Wright was firmly ensconced in the FEMFORCE. Eventually, FEMFORCE became the backbone of the AC Universe so as books were cancled, the characters (even male characters) moved into the FEMFORCE book. Thus, STARDUST, DRAGONFLY and COLT became members and all interacted with PARAGON, SCARLET SCORPION, THE SHADE and COMMANDO D.
Naturally, it didn’t take too long before I introduced SYNN (my most favorite chatacter of all time) into the world of AC. She was the only PARAGON character missing from the AC line up. It didn’t take long for her to become a fan favorite as well. Since Colt and Dragonfly were not my creations, they slid into the background. Finally I had a great core team that I really loved — MS. V, NIGHTVEIL, SHE-CAT, SYNN, TARA and STARDUST.
What led to the creation of Tara, the Jungle Girl?
If memory serves, TARA was my SECOND female creation? I believe SYNN was first tho’ TARA might have appeared in my amateur comics as early as 1958, like SCARLET SCORPION. I really loved the jungle girl comics drawn by JAY SCOTT PIKE at Atlas, JANN OF THE JUNGLE and LORNA, JUNGLE QUEEN. Jay drew really beautiful women, the most beautiful in comics. His femmes were slender, tho, in keeping with Comics Code restrictions. As a kid I never saw the pre-code version of LORNA drawn by Werner Roth which featured a truly full figured gal, bustier than SHEENA.
Around 1963-64, IW Super comics reprinted a RULAH book from late 1940’s Fox Comics which did not adhere to the Comics Code. RULAH was very built and wore a skimpy bikini made of giraffe hide. My first version of TARA had a similar outfit except it was black with light colored spots. TARA first appeared in PARAGON PRESENTS No. 2 DARK CONTINENT dated 1970. On the cover she wore the “Rulah” type bikini. Inside the outfit was different with two strips of material running from the neck to the waist to cover her breasts. I remember that I drew the story with the cover costume then changed it as an afterthought…. but I can’t remember why! By this time I had discovered Werner Roth’s LORNA and “borrowed” several poses from that series. The entire TARA story was drawn & inked on 8 1/2 X 11″ paper. I sold the art in the late 1970’s only to have it retrieved by Captain Joel Kilmer who gave it back to me in the early 1990’s!
Also in that issue, in the CAPTAIN PARAGON story, Rurian scientist MARA appears as MISS MARVEL (pre-dating the Marvel Comics Ms. Marvel). Later, of course, she became STARDUST. As somewhat of an homage to JAY SCOTT PIKE (who is still around and who apparently spent his career drawing beautiful women), I’m doing a short TARA story based on an old JANN adventure for FEMFORCE 113. It features Dr. and Roxanne Rivits who first appeared in TARA No. 1 and 2 respectively. I enjoyed doing TARA because it gave me an excuse to draw a babe running around in next to nothing and also spoke to environmental problems which was a concern.
How were you able to give new life to so many Golden Age characters, like Miss Victory and Yankee Girl, from now defunct companies?
I can’t remember how I discovered the Golden-Age MISS VICTORY… probably from a really ratty, coverless copy of CAPTAIN AERO. As drawn by Charles Quinlan, MISS VICTORY was no great shakes but she certainly had potential. Later, I learned that she pre-dated WONDER WOMAN. Her first Paragon appearance was in BIZARRE THRILLS No. 1 which was as different from the Quinlan version as you could get! I was intrigued that her alter ego was JOAN WAYNE… so close to JOHN Wayne…. but again MISS V actually pre-dated Wayne’s patriotic war movies! Just a coincidence.
CAPTAIN AERO was published by Holyoke which went out of business in the 1940’s. YANKEE GIRL is a similar situation. Published by Chesler, she appeared in DYNAMIC COMICS which went out of business in the 1940’s. I first learned of her from the IW Super Comics reprints of the 1960’s. Those books were not even copyrighted. Both characters had no personality in the Golden Age so we molded them to our needs. Mark Heike particularly liked to write YANKEE GIRL. Her costume is just like it was in the 1940’s but her figure is more… ah, filled out.
Can you provide a sense of the problems surrounding your early use of the Fox Phantom Lady character that ultimately led to the creation of the Blue Bulleteer and subsequently, Nightveil?
As explained earlier in this interview, NIGHTVEIL came first. When circumstance dictated that I use an unpublished “Phantom Lady” story, I retro-fit NIGHTVEIL’S WWII persona as BLUE BULLETEER. I first saw the Fox version of PHANTOM LADY in the 1954 Ajax Comics revival. Then (again!) IW Super Comics reprinted some of the Matt Baker and Jack Kamen PL stories in 1964. When I saw that, I fell in love with the character. As I said the IW Super Comics were not copyrighted. Back in the 1940’s-1960’s, books could be copyrighted for a period of 14 years with a renewal of an additional 14 years. Most of these companies did not last 14 years so they were not renewed (if they were ever copyrighted in the first place. Many were NEVER COPYRIGHTED at all!). My plan was to wait until copyrights expired and then revive old characters.
I started publishing PHANTOM LADY in 1970, over 20 years after the Fox series folded and 16 years after the Ajax series. Later on, someone at DC who was reviving Golden Age characters and needed more females, revived the Quality Comics version of PHANTOM LADY. DC assumed they owned that character as they had purchased the Quality characters in the mid-1950’s. However, PL was being published by Ajax at that time. Check it out in the price guide. Back in the early 1940’s, Quality Comics hired outside studios to provide art for their comics. Shortly thereafter, Quality publisher Busy Arnold lured Will Eisner with a deal he could not refuse (THE SPIRIT) and Eisner then headed the newly formed Quality Comics stable of artists. At that time, the use of the outside studio was terminated and properties such as WONDER BOY and PHANTOM LADY were dropped from the Quality books and stayed with the outside studio. That studio later founded Ajax Comics and revived PL and Wonder Boy among other properties.
I had been publishing PL for 13 years when DC editor Dick Giordano called me and told me to “cease and desist.” He said DC owned that character and I had no rights to it. I explained the aforementioned situation and asked him to send me proof of ownership. At the time I had a great deal of respect for Dick and believed him to be honorable. I agreed to stop using Phantom Lady and awaited the “proof” which was never forthcoming because it never existed. It was a case of the big guy bulldogging the little guy and I couldn’t buck DC. Besides I had a schedule to keep so a resolution had to be found immediately. I came up with the name “NIGHTFALL” and she appeared under that name just once. Then I got a letter from the Pini’s lawyer (Warp Graphics) stating that they had a character named “Nightfall” and I should cease and desist. Within 30 seconds “NIGHTVEIL” was born. Although it was a pain in the ass at the time, it all worked out for the best. Honestly, Phantom Lady was a two dimensional character and cannot compare to NIGHTVEIL which has become a long running favorite. So Giordano did me a favor! The only way a publisher can “own” a name is to register it as a trademark. DC has never registered PHANTOM LADY and they never will. For that matter, Warp never registered NIGHTFALL either. NIGHTVEIL, on the other hand IS registered and is the best name of them all. ALL FF characters are registered trademarks of AC Comics.
How did you come up with the idea to have the “Golden Age” Blue Bulleteer become the immortal Nightveil so that her continuing youth could be explained?
It was sort of the reverse of the question. Another case of retro-continuity. Remember, NIGHTVEIL started off as the Phantom Lady and in the Paragon books we had stories of her in World War II. By the 1970’s when she was featured in modern-day Paragon stories, she would be too old to be crime-fighting. I made her a sorceress using her magical powers to stay young. When we moved from Paragon to AC we had to drop the Phantom Lady name. I came up with a new name and costume for Nightveil. Everyone missed the old costume, the WWII costume, so I came up with stories set in the 1940’s so the costume could be used (FEMFORCE SPECIAL No. 1). The Mythos was established so that Ms. Victory, She-Cat and Laura Wright fought in the 1940’s but stayed forever young. My Phantom Lady had used guns whereas the Fox version did not. To retro-fit her with a fitting Golden Age name, I came up with THE BLUE BULLETEER.
Now in AC continuity, Laura Wright was The Blue Bulleteer until around 1960. She can’t be as effective as she was when she was younger so it looks like killers will do her in. Then AZAGOTH enters from another dimension to save her. He takes her to a world in another dimension to become a sorceress. Laura realizes she would have been dead if Azagoth had not saved her so she agrees. So then Laura lived on Dark Dhagor for a span of time say from 1960 until she appears in the 1970’s in the Paragon books teamed up with Synn. Now she is immortal.
She-Cat is your take on Harvey’s Black Cat. What led to the use of the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet to provide She-Cat’s origin?
As a kid I loved the Harvey’ BLACK CAT. She was beautiful. Today reading the stories, the art by Lee Elias is great but the stories are not so hot. She was a cat in name only. I wanted my cat character to have the nature and attitude of a cat. She was the character with an edge to her. Her origin was a mystery for several years. One writer came up with an Egyptian origin that was nothing unique. Later, I wrote the true origin which, like everything I come up with, is very complicated and convoluted. I made the character tied inexorably to the feral cat goddess, Sekhmet. It took a lot of effort to make Jessica a sympathetic heroine even though she commits violent murders. It has taken literally decades for Jess to control the Beast and she couldn’t have done it without the help of Femforce. So she is tied inexorably to Femforce, too. She is a savage loner but it became her destiny to be a team player.
Synn is one of your earliest creations. What gave you the idea?
Ever since I Iearned that we use only about one-tenth of our brain power, I have been fascinated by theories of what would happen if a man (or woman) learned to use 100%. I’ve always been drawn to science fiction stories where this happens. My favorite is A.E. Van Vogt’s NULL A series, based on an entire scientific philosophy of using the brain to its ultimate advantage. In the 1960’s, I made several films with plots where the protagonist is psyonic. Later, I read the book, THE ENDLESS SEA- LSD, and was fascinated by the mind expanding potential of that drug. By 1964, I was working for the college humor magazine, THE CHARLATAN. The editor, Bill Killeen had co-created WONDER WART HOG with Gilbert Shelton and reprinted early hog epics from the Texas Ranger (campus mag at U of T). Eventually he ran out so I thought I’d try my hand at a new concept and came up with THE GIRL FROM L.S.D. Unfortunately, Killeen gave up the magazine before I had a chance to submit it. I did the first story in 1967 (?) just before I was drafted. In 1969, after I was released from active duty, I created PARAGON ILLUSTRATED. SYNN (her full name was SYNESTHESIA, a psychedelic drug term explained in the before mentioned book and used effectively by Roger Corman in his 1967 film, THE TRIP) began her adventures in PARAGON ILLUSTRATED No. 2 with the story intended for THE CHARLATAN.
You’ve written the overwhelming majority of the stories AC has published. How do you go about the process of setting out the story in a way that the penciler can follow your vision?
My scripts are pretty descriptive. Since I am an artist myself, I know what you need to include in the script to direct the artist. Believe me I’ve worked with plenty of “professional” scripts that didn’t. Still you’ll find artists that refuse to follow the scripts. Those are the ones you don’t use twice. Some artists follow it bang on. Others improve upon it. For Femforce, we have to come up with a synopsis for the distributor’s catalog months before the comic is done. When it’s time to write the script, I use the synopsis as a springboard. I usually don’t have anything worked out ahead of time but the muses have ALWAYS whispered in my ear and the scripts flow very easily. With characters like the FF, the scripts write themselves. To me writing scripts is the easiest thing in the world to do. Wonder if I could make any money at it?
AC’s published a lot of comics and stories representing many different genres. Westerns, Space Adventures, Horror, Superheroes. What creators most influenced you growing up and why?
Jack Kirby influenced me most of all. I grew up in the 1950’s when there were few super heroes. The ones that were, SUPERMAN, BATMAN, WONDER WOMAN, were really dull compared to anything Kirby came up with. So, when I saw CAPTAIN 3-D in 1953, I thought it was the greatest book ever printed. Earlier, I was in on the tail end of the JUSTICE SOCIETY in ALL STAR COMICS and greatly lamented their passing. When I was 12 yrs old I began drawing and what I drew was from memory. Inspired by SHOWCASE No. 4, wherein Barry Allen reads a copy of the Golden Age Flash comics, I drew JSA characters from memory. But my favorites of that era were the Simon/Kirby FIGHTING AMERICAN, STUNTMAN (reprints), SKY MASTERS and CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN.
Later when Jack teamed up with Stan Lee to create Marvel Comics, I was in heaven. I also loved Dick Ayers on GHOST RIDER and THE AVENGER, Gil Kane on JOHNNY THUNDER, TRIGGER TWINS & NIGHTHAWK, Carmine Infantino, Joe Kubert (TOR, VIKING PRINCE) and Alex Toth. In the Westerns, I loved Frank Bolle (REDMASK), Joe Maneely (TEXAS KID), Syd Shores (BLACK RIDER) and John Severin. I couldn’t draw like any of these guys but sure wished I could. Kirby remains my greatest influence for his action and his humor. All these artists I named, I bought everything I could find by them (except I did not buy war or horror books). Also loved John Romita (Capt. AMERICA, WESTERN KID) and Bill Everett (MARVEL BOY, VENUS and SUB-MARINER).
For girl art, Jay Scott Pike (JANN and LORNA) was tops. I missed SHEENA (too young) but thrived on LORNA and JANN. Wallace Wood, in his MAD COMICS parodies, was the very best. What BABES! In 1958-59, Ross Andru did a fabulous job on WONDER WOMAN but editorial policy made him stop. I’ll never forgive Robt. Khaniger for that. Russ Heath and Bob Powell also did yummy women. And Frazetta… there was a DAN BRAND story in a DURANGO KID that was just too hot!
AC/Paragon published the early work of many of today’s highly considered artists. Tell us a little about the many artists who have contributed to AC’s titles.
AC/Paragon, or “Stepping Stone Comics,” has employed Jerry Ordway, Mike Machlan, John Beatty, John Dell, Jim Sanders III, Paul Ryan, Tom Lyle, Steve Lightle, Tom Grindberg, Michael Bair, Erik Larsen, Tim Townsend, John Nadeau, Jordie Ensign, Rik Levins, Bill Marimon, June Brigman, Roy Richardson, Steve Vance, Don Newton, Mark Propst, Mark Hempel, Dan Reed… all of whom went on to have successful professional comic book careers of varying degrees. Some of them are still in the business.
You’re developing a new print-on-demand system for many of your titles. Tell us a little about why you’re going in that direction and why comic bookfans should support the effort.
POD or “Print On Demand” is nothing new in limited book publishing but it is new to AC Comics. The time has come to give it a try because now there is only one comic book distributor and it cannot distribute enough copies of a title containing new material to make it cost effective. With this low circulation our printing costs are covered but we do not make enough money to pay artists for artwork. Going thru the comic book distribution, the publisher has to give up 60-70% of the cover price plus another 5-10% on the shipping costs. This only works if the distributor can sell thousands of units. With POD we sell via Internet & mail order directly to the customer. This eliminates the middle man and AC gets 100% of the cover price.
Of course we’ll sell even fewer copies doing this but we don’t have to sell as many to make the same money as with the old system. There are about 1000 different comic book titles issued each month. No store could carry all of them. In fact most stores have shifted from comics to selling another product that is more lucrative. Most big stores would carry only the top 100 best selling titles which leaves 900 titles not getting any shelf space. Often we hear from old readers who are startled to see that FEMFORCE is still around. They hadn’t seen a copy since No. 60 or so. That’s because for over 5 years FEMFORCE has been pretty much only available thru store subscription. If a reader does not read Diamond Previews, he does not know that FEMFORCE (or any AC Comic) exists.
Since neither the comics stores nor the comics distributors fill the purpose for which they were intended, it is up to the smaller publisher to seek other venues. To me, the Internet is the answer. That is why AC Comics is changing the way it does business. We will have a commercial site (accomics.com) up and running by August, 2000 where you should be able to see covers of nearly 500 books available for immediate mailing. Thanks to the enormous success of ebay, people are used to buying comics on the internet. For newcomers to learn more about AC Comics, FEMFORCE, MEN OF MYSTERY, BEST OF THE WEST and our other titles, they can find tons of info on the Femfans and other fan supported sites. An editorial in the POD edition of FEMFORCE No. 113 addresses this very situation. AC has published POD editions of WESTERN MOVIE HERO, FEMFORCE, ROCKY LANE and BEST OF THE WEST. In the coming months, we will release new titles such as FUN COMICS and FEMZINE and FEMFORCE No. 114.
In addition, using the POD system, books once out of print can be born again. We could even assemble “customized editions” if readers feel that there is a demand. This way a fan could literally own a “one of a kind” book. As an example, FEMFORCE 113 exists in regular POD edition and as a special, custom fitted signed and numbered “Femfans” edition. This Femfans edition was limited to only 55 copies and has a centerfold and color photo insert (plus several other differences) that the regular POD edition does not have. We will still do book store titles but we are very excited about the new POD titles as they will have an editorial policy that is very reader friendly. Readers of the POD FEMFORCE should feel like one of the AC family.
It’s a closeness you can’t get with a mass market product. AC has always been proud of its reader loyalty so we’re putting extra effort into the POD titles to make the reader feel at home.