[Editorial comments in boldface text.]
Why did you switch publishers from Fantagraphics Books to Mirage Publishing?
(Sequential Tart Interview, Feb 2001 FIXME Broken link) Usagi first appeared in Albedo #2 in 1984. This was about the time that the first issue of the Ninja Turtles was published. This was before the black and white boom and there was a prejudice against non-color comics so naturally we kind of gravitated to each other. I remember we could not give away our comics at that San Diego Con. They were going for hundreds of dollars for a first printing the very next year.
Anyway, it was at a SD Con that Peter Laird and I were sitting and talking and he just said, "Would you like a toy?" That's how Usagi became part of the TMNT merchandising. That action figure sold 2.2 million units the first year. Usagi also appeared in two episodes of the cartoon series as well as cross overs in the comics. Mirage later became my publisher until they shut down their publications division.. I still have a very good relation with the folks at Mirage. I saw Peter and a couple of the other guys at SPX
in September and didn't realize until then how much I missed working with them.
[Small Press Expo]
(Silver Bullet Comics Interview, November 2000) I had and still maintain a good relationship with all my publishers -- Thoughts & Images, Fantagraphics, Mirage and Dark Horse. When I left Fantagraphics for Mirage, it was because Usagi no longer fit into their line of books. Critters, Captain Jack and their other all ages titles had been cancelled. I enjoy their mature audience titles such as Love and Rockets, Hate and Joe Sacco's works but, like I said, Usagi felt out of place. Meanwhile, I was doing more work for Mirage and it was a natural transition. The first story under the Mirage banner was a crossover with the Turtles. We had done a few others before (hey, Usagi was even in their TV series and toy line) but this was the longest story featuring Usagi with the Turtles.
When Mirage stopped publishing due to a number of reasons, including the marketplace and some storm damage that destroyed their computer system, I went over to Dark Horse.
(Comic Culture Vol 2 #2 Interview, Dec 1994 FIXME Broken link) Basically Usagi did not seem to fit into the Fantagraphics line. I love the Fantagraphics books, in fact I read more Fantagraphics stuff than any other publisher. But Usagi just didn't seem to fit well with Love and Rockets or Hate or the other more mature books. Because of that Fantagraphics tends to lean more of its advertising to a more mature audience, and Usagi is more of an all readers type of book. So Usagi seemed to fit in well with Mirage's line. In fact the Turtles and Usagi have crossed over many times, it just seemed logical to move over to Mirage. I still have a great relationship with the people over at Fantagraphics, and the people over at Mirage are terrific, too.
Exactly, and actually Mirage seems to be pushing the Usagi book in the right direction. I think they just put an ad in, I forget what magazine, Family Life or something like that. Where if you write in they'll send you a free comic book, a free issue of Usagi. That's the kind of audience I was trying to get, trying to get the book into the mainstream rather than stick to the traditional comic book market. That's why Fantagraphics is great with trade paperbacks because they're always keeping them in print, in fact the first book just went through its fourth printing last year. They're always keeping them out in the bookstores, which I really appreciate, not just comic book stores. In fact the trade paperbacks are in some libraries, I know they're in Hawaii and there's a few in the California State Library system. I do a bunch of presentations a year for schools and libraries, in fact I just did one for the Little Tokyo Library here in L.A. Right after the presentation there was a fundraiser for the friends of the library, and in half an hour they sold all the books and comic books that they had ordered. This was, I think, sixty trade paperbacks and two hundred comic books, basically to a non-comic book reading audience. So I've been trying to, not necessarily get just my stuff out there to the general reading public, but also comic books in general, too.
One of the awards I received was a Parent's Choice award, so again that's more mainstream. That's kind of the direction that I wanted to aim Usagi for, that kind of readership, not just the comic book market.
(UY Vol 1, #37) No, I'm not discontinuing the series, but rather switching publishers, to Mirage.
Let me assure you that this change in no way reflects any dissatisfaction with Kim Thompson or any of the other good people at Fantagraphics. Kim has been a terrific editor and a good friend. It was through Kim's efforts that Usagi is where it is today. Critters was his brainchild, and he invited me to contribute to the very first issue after seeing a couple of my stories in Steve Gallacci's Albedo (now from Antarctic Press). The Summer Special was his idea, as was the first color special ("Stan, I've got this seven-page "Gnuff" story colored by Mike Kazaleh and nowhere to run it. Do you want to build a 48-page book around it?")
If I don't have any disputes with Fantagraphics why, then, am I leaving? A lot of it had to do with Usagi's just seeming out of place in the Fantagraphics line of books, moreso since the demise of Critters. Don't get me wrong. I like Hate, Love & Rockets, Eightball, and many of their other titles and highly recommend them. However, Usagi sticks out like a sore thumb, being a "general readers" book among "mature readers" titles.
My association with Fantagraphics will not completely end. They will continue the trade paperback collections, as well as handling T-shirts and other goodies.
I've always had a great relationship with Mirage Publishing, having done occasional projects with them, including this past summer's Space Usagi mini-series. We're targeted to the same readership and their advertising and promotions reflect this.
My agreement with Mirage is similar to that of Fantagraphics in that I retain creative freedom in my stories and art. The format will also be the same: a 20-page Usagi story followed by an 8-page back-up, except I'll be doing the majority of the back-ups myself rather than with guest creators.
One major change is that the book will now be in color. I know, I've always been an advocate of black-and-white, but those books just aren't selling as they used to. And with three color specials, Tom Luth has shown me the merits of Usagi in color. Tom will, of course, remain the colorist. Hey, maybe we'll come out with an annual black-and-white special!
Another change is that, thanks to Deb Toffoli and her production schedule, the books should be out on time -- bi-monthly beginning in March, a month after the last Fantagraphics issue.
(The Comics Journal #192 Interview, December 1996 FIXME Broken link.) I really enjoyed my tenure at Mirage. The only criticism I had is that I was the only freelancer that was not physically at the Mirage studios, because all the other contributors were either in or around Mirage. So I would hear everything second-hand or third-hand -- such as, it was Tom Stazer who actually told me that Mirage was closing down the publications. I said, "No, that can't be, because they would let me know!" And sure enough...also, my first publishing director, or editor, or whatever they called the guy there -- I had no idea that my editor had left until after the fact, and when I called to wish her luck and to tell her it was great working with her, she had already been gone for about a week. That was the only drawback about working with Mirage. But, other than that, it was a great experience. I especially liked it when I'd fly back east and they'd let me run rampant through the Ninja Turtle merchandising room.
Why did you switch publishers from Mirage Publishing to Dark Horse Comics?
(The Comics Journal #192 Interview, December 1996 FIXME Broken link) Well, Mirage closing down was due to, I think, three factors. First, the decline of the Ninja Turtle merchandising; it had gone on for about ten years at that point, which is incredible for a kid's licensing line. Because of that, they were downsizing the entire Mirage studio. Second, the state of the comic book industry at that time made doing the on-going full-color book unfeasible. And third, they did suffer a lot of damage during the spring thaw of 1994. A lot of their computers basically were destroyed when a leak on the roof went undetected: the entire computer system was flooded out, and they lost a lot of books on their computers. The entire Construct mini-series completely done, completely colored, and that was lost. I think Construct is now being published by Caliber, in black and white.
Anyway, Mirage was great in that they gave me about eight months' notice before they actually closed down, so I had a lot of time to go shopping around for a new company for Usagi. And Dark Horse replied immediately, saying they'd be willing to pick up Usagi as soon as the last Mirage issue came out, so I went with Dark Horse. I'd sent out maybe a dozen letters and gotten, oh, eight responses from publishers saying they'd be more than happy to take on Usagi. I thought that was great. Even DC -- I just wrote to them just for a lark, and I got a call from them saying they'd love to publish Usagi but they had no space for it. Stan Lee encouraged me to approach Marvel but at that time -- well, even now -- I figured Marvel would not be interested so I didn't pursue that line. But that was nice of Stan, to think of me.
There was almost no change in sales from Usagi's switch from black and white to color, and back to black and white again; there was some drop during the run at Mirage, but again, a lot of the drop in sales I attributed to the decline of the industry at that time, when almost everything across the board was going down in sales.
Well, actually, when I first went over to Mirage, there was a rumor going around that I was going over to Image. In fact, Martin Wagner called and said, "You're going to Image?" I said, "No, I'm going to Mirage". "Oh, okay." But later, Image was actually one of the publishers that I approached after Mirage. All of the Image creators that I talked to wanted it; however, they wouldn't hold their board meeting for another couple of months and I kind of wanted an answer right away, which Dark Horse gave me. At that time, Image had Groo the Wanderer, and Bone had just gone over, so I thought it was a perfect time, a perfect place to go...but again, just because they could not give me an immediate answer...and now I'm kind of glad they didn't. (laughter)
You're pretty fortunate that you've worked for all of the big publishers of the 1980s that crashed and burned, yet you came away relatively unscathed.
(The Comics Journal #192 Interview, December 1996 FIXME Broken link) Yeah - Eclipse, Comico, I got paid by all of them. In fact, I didn't even know First was having financial problems at the time. I'd gotten paid a week after I sent in my artwork -- a "Munden's Bar" story -- and about a week later I told someone, "Oh, yeah, First is terrific to work with..." and they said, "What? They owe me a couple thousand dollars!"
I don't know. It's like the world is made up of two kinds of people, Laurels and Hardys. Laurel goes through the world not knowing anything but nothing really bad happens to him, while Hardy, no matter how hard he works or how hard he tries, nothing ever works out for him. I'm kind of like Laurel: I have no idea what I'm doing, but decent things seem to happen.