Dynamite Entertainment's CEO on 10 Years of Explosive Comics
Nick Barrucci talks about launching the publisher behind "Flash Gordon," "Red Sonja" and "The Devilers," as well as the partnerships and relationships behind running a successful comic book publisher today.
Dynamite Entertainment is having a very good year—which is fitting for a company celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2014. In addition to new projects from creators including James Robinson, Rick Remender and Peter Milligan, the independent publisher has also announced new partnerships with the estates of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Ernest Tidyman, as well as Fox television and authors including Tom Clancy and Patricia Briggs, resulting in a line-up that is diverse in both subject matter and audience appeal. All this despite not having the same kind of mainstream recognition factor as Marvel or DC.
“Our reach is much more extensive than most realize,” CEO and Publisher Nick Barrucci told THR. “If memory serves, we're published in 30 countries and separate territories with foreign licensees and publishing partners as well as exposure from our cross-overs with Marvel, DC and upcoming cross-overs with Dark Horse comics. We also have publishing partnerships with some of the biggest publishers in the world. We co-publish a line of Instructional Books with Random House and Stan Lee [as well as] Game of Thrones with Random House [and] work with Penguin and Tor, part of the MacMillan publishing group.”
Inside the comic book direct market, the publisher has “firmly held the sixth rank for quite some time, and on occasion, we’ve even popped ahead to claim the fifth spot as our own having been ahead of Image, which is no small achievement,” Barrucci pointed out, and the company also has sights set on prose publishing. “We have a growing line of e-books including our Seal Team Six line currently surpassing 130,000 e-books sold with more to come,” he said, adding that plans are afoot for a line of children’s books next year. “We'll take baby steps—cute pun intended—and I think that we'll be successful.”
Not bad for a comic publisher that started as the off-shoot of Barrucci’s collectibles company, Dynamic Forces—and an off-shoot that nobody involved had really planned on. “Publishing was never the original plan, and wasn't for 12 years,” Barrucci admitted. “When Dynamic Forces was founded 22 years ago, the comic book marketplace was undergoing some pretty drastic changes, and during the height, comic books were becoming highly desirable to collectors and there were many fly by night companies who entered into the market looking to make a quick buck and cash out. For many who lived through this, it was a very scary time, as this was a period when Marvel declared bankruptcy, publishers were shuttering, and we didn't know what the next day brought.”
Although Dynamic Forces had good relationships with writers and artists—many of whom had suggested that the company move into publishing new material itself—Barrucci demurred. “Very few new publishers made it, and still do not make it, past the 2 year mark, much less leading up to the 5 year mark,” he explained. “At the time the only publishers that had made it past 5 years of any merit were Dark Horse and Image Comics. It just wasn't prudent to become a publisher. This was the biggest gamble we could undertake, and we weren't willing to do so.”
That the situation changed was thanks to Sam Raimi and the fact that the comic book license for Army of Darkness became available. “We saw potential in taking the quirky horror/action/comedy film and expanding upon the adventures of its reluctant hero Ash Williams in a comic book format,” Barrucci said, calling it an opportunity “ we felt we could not pass up on.”
With Army of Darkness as its first release, Dynamite launched in 2004 and its success led to Dymamite snatching up the comic book rights for sword-and-sorcery series Red Sonja. “We happily signed Mike Carey and Michael Avon-Oeming to write—two very different writers who combined told a fantastic story—and their take on the ‘She-Devil with a Sword’’ set the bar for four-color fantasy,” the publisher remembered. “For a good stretch we were even outselling Conan.”
These days, both Army of Darkness and Red Sonja remain high-profile parts of a portfolio that Barrucci described as “very balanced.” (Army of Darkness No. 1992.1, a special issue featuring creators throughout the series’ run was announced Monday, as was an upcoming event series anchored by Red Sonja). “We have long-standing licenses affiliated with comic books, from the Kings Feature Syndicate’s Flash Gordon to Red Sonja, from Conde Nast’s The Shadow and Doc Savage to the Gold Key line of Solar, Turok, and Magnus,” he listed. “Movies, television, and even gaming are well-represented in titles like Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell, Battlestar Galactica ,Grimm, Army of Darkness, Bob’s Burgers, Pathfinder, and Six Million Dollar Man. Novelists have chosen to expand their worlds with Dynamite, as with Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson and Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files as well as Dean Koontz, Brandon Sanderson and so many other great authors. I can name-drop all day, but my point is that – with so many licenses from such diverse media—we hope to appeal to audiences far and wide, whether comic fans or not.”
Dynamite also owns what it describes as “the third largest active library of characters in comics”—only Marvel and DC’s property libraries are larger, according to the publisher), including properties previously published by Chaos! Comics, Harris Publications and original properties such as Project Superpowers (currently being reworked by Warren Ellis for an upcoming series). “Our library is deeper than most realize as we focus on putting the comics out and not sitting their touting the depth of the library on a regular basis,” Barrucci said. “We'll leave ‘making noise’ with less product to other publishers.”
Beyond those two tracks, Dynamite is also moving deeper into original, creator-driven work with its new “Creators Unleashed” banner, launched by Joshua Hale Fialkov’s The Devilers, with more titles—including Terminal Hero, written by Peter Milligan, Ex-Con by Duane Swierczynski and Andy Diggle’s Control—en route. “That’s what Dynamite’s all about,” Barrucci said. “We aim to always put out the best comics we can, to work with creators we respect, to publish properties we enjoy. And, most importantly of all, to satisfy the customers.”
Keeping with the zeitgeist of most contemporary comic book companies, Dynamite isn’t limiting itself to comic books, with Barrucci mentioning a diverse licensing program spearheaded by David Imhoff, former Senior Executive Vice President, Worldwide Licensing & Merchandising for New Line (Lord of the Rings licensing fell under his oversight, to give you some idea of his work), including debit cards, calendars, costumes and “potentially branding with a large beverage company” (Dynamite last year also announced its own toyline). However, the comics remain primary as the company’s focus.
“We're not in a rush to enter into any agreements which is a nice luxury to have,” Barrucci said, adding that the company would rather choose the right deal than the most lucrative one. “Like Marvel and DC, some of our licensed items far outsell the comics, but we have to keep in mind that it all starts and ends with the comics,” he argued. “It has to be the right product and expansion of the brand, or we won't do it.”
Unsurprisingly, the company has also enjoyed interest from movie studios. “We've been around for 10 years, and we've had Hollywood interested in our properties since day one,” Barrucci said, although he added that—as with licensing—the company has been selective in media deals. “We don't want to be just announcing deals, or announcing that ‘Producer X is developing Y with us,’” he said. “We want to put our titles in the best position to be translated into other media in a way we can be proud of when they're done. We don't want to be disappointed, and we certainly don't want the fans of our comics to be disappointed. The wrong deal just to do a deal would be deadly to a brand. It can kill a brand for years.”
(The publisher’s Hollywood team includes Howard Abramson at Behr & Abramson, manager Ford Gilmore at Illuminati Entertainment and Charlie Ferraro and Joel Begleiter at UTA as agents. “They're all seasoned, respected people and companies, and they're all instrumental in shepherding our comics through Hollywood and beyond,” Barrucci explained. “Very few people in comics are aware of this, and that's more than fine. Comic fans want good comics, not comics that some publishers make to try and make films or TV. That's not the road to go down.”)
This week’s San Diego Comic-Con will continue the publisher’s spate of announcements of new projects and new creators, Barrucci promised, with more coming through October’s New York Comic Con. “The first ten years have been great. Even ‘dynamite,’” he joked. “I expect the next 10 will be even more challenging, and ultimately, more gratifying with new goals being realized. We're Dynamite. We in it for the long haul and we don't want anything we do to be less than explosive.”