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'Watchmen,' 'Walking Dead' and '30 Days of Night' Creators Help Launch Black Mask Comics (Exclusive)

Stories from Alan Moore, Art Spiegelman, David Lloyd, Darick Robertson and RZA are on the agenda for the upstart company.

Ballistic Cover Issue 1 - P 2013
Charlie Adlard for Occupy Comics #1
"Ballistic"

Black Mask Studios -- the recently formed transmedia publishing company founded by comic book writer Steve Niles, entrepreneur and transmedia production shingle Halo-8's Matt Pizzolo and Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz -- has recruited some of comics' biggest guns to help create its first wave of comic book titles.

Among the luminaries participating are Watchmen co-creator Alan Moore, V for Vendetta artist David Lloyd, Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus creator Art Spiegelman, The Walking Dead artist Charlie Adlard, Mike Allred (Madman), Ben Templesmith (30 Days of Night), J.M. DeMatteis (Justice League, Spider-Man), Molly Crabapple (Shell Game) and Wu-Tang Clan's RZA and Ghostface Killah.

And there's not a superhero in sight.

“The way we put together the slate is with wanting to push the boundaries of what can be done in comics,” said Pizzolo, who notes that Black Mask will operate under the mottos “to create you must destroy” and “Inspire, never meddle.”

“One of the chief goals is to expand the audience of comics," he said. "We are trying to do that by bringing in different sensibilities, like Wu-Tang, like hard sci-fi and futurism, and with madcap energy. Remember books like Transmetropolitan? You don’t see much of that today.”

Part of the slate has an activist and political component, with proceeds going to certain causes. The company wants to bring back activism to the comics field, to create something more meaningful than just having an artist sign a petition. And one of Niles' gripes of today’s comic industry landscape is that he believes a work like Vendetta would not be published due to fear of being too political.

The first book, hitting stores May 1, will be Occupy Comics Anthology, a politically themed, three-issue miniseries whose first issue reunites Moore with Lloyd for the first time since the two created the anarchistic V for Vendetta in the 1980s. A portion of its revenue will go to Occupy-related initiatives.

12 Reasons to Die hails from RZA and Ghostface Killah and, showing off Black Mask’s transmedia leanings, will have a storyline that is told partly in comic form and partly in music form, as it's timed to be released with the new Ghostface Killah album. Described as “a brutal tale of gangsters, betrayal and one vengeful soul hunting the 12 most powerful crime lords in the world,” it'll be drawn by rotating artists (including Bedlam's Riley Rossmo and Hack/Slash's Tim Seeley) and hits shelves May 29.

June 19 will see the release of Liberator, from writer and real-life dog rescuer Matt Miner and artist Joel Gomez (Detective Comics), a vigilante series about two young heroes who avenge the torture of animals. Thirty percent of the book’s profits from the four-issue miniseries will go animal-rescue efforts.

Finally, Transmetropolitan and The Boys co-creator Darick Robertson and indie filmmaker Adam Egypt Mortimer will release Ballistic -- a psychedelic and bizarre buddy adventure about an air conditioner repairman with master-criminal dreams and his best friend, a drug-addicted, genetically modified, foul-mouthed firearm -- on June 26.

Even though Niles has Hollywood experience -- his comic 30 Days of Night was turned into a Sam Raimi-produced studio picture, while Pizzolo has lots of indie film cred with Halo 8 -- they say they are in not the business of hoarding IP or parsing it out while stiffing creators, which has happened in the past.

“We are not looking at these things as treatments for movies, but we do want to engage in transmedia-world building,” said Pizzolo.

The company is convinced that there is an audience beyond the loyal core of superhero readers that dominates the marketplace, and Pizzolo points to such books as The Walking Dead and Niles’ 30 Days franchise, which have had sales numbers rivaling the comics of Marvel and DC.

“Comics has a long history of doing all sorts of genres,” he said, "and we want to expand into new territories and into genres that haven’t gotten the attention we think they deserve."

 Interior page from 12 Reasons to Die by Breno Tamura (Pigs)

Occupy Wall Street by Charlie Adlard (The Walking Dead) from Occupy Comics #1