Dravn to Succeed: Dave Elliott on A1, DRAVN and the lure of the anthology comic

Dave Elliott has more than 25 years of experience working in every aspect of the comic book industry from writer and artist to editor and publisher, and his latest project, the return of A1, is about to be launched, in partnership with Titan Comics

Dave created Sharky and Maximum Force and has worked on diverse titles such as A1, Deadline, Viz Comic, Heavy Metal magazine, Penthouse Comix, 2000AD, Justice League of America, Transformers, GI Joe and Doctor Who. He recently worked with the band Fall Out Boy, and with NASCAR/MMI to create and brand new intellectual properties which he cites as examples of new media integration for a more immersive entertainment experience.

In 2006, Dave co-founded Radical Studios, and, as both the co-publisher and Editor-In-Chief, was integral to the development and launch of Radical’s premiere comic book titles several of which have now begun development as film properties including Hercules (Starring Dwayne Johnson, directed by Brett Ratner and to be released by MGM), Freedom Formula (New Regency), Schrapnel, Caliber, Hotwire, Last Days of American Crime and Oblivion (starring Tom Cruise, directed by Joe Kosinski and released by Universal).

He’s currently relaunching his company Atomeka, started with his partner Garry Leach, as an imprint of Titan Books. Atomeka’s titles include A1, Weirding Willows, and Monster Massacre, followed by Odyssey.

downthetubes: The return of A1. Why now, after what, how many years?

Dave: I’ve been asked a few times over the years to bring it back but with the rise of creator owned material I really didn’t see the point at the time. When Garry and myself started A1, doing creator owned material was pretty rare.  Most British creators never had the chance or the opportunity to do anything.

Then I did several projects with [US publisher] Image Comics. The approach seemed noble, giving creators all the rights and they’d just take a cut off the top. Seemed reasonable. But I saw many creators who were doing four to six issue mini-series that came out of it in debt. Their trade money already spent in paying back Image their piece of the pie. Creators quite naturally want to get their ideas out there. To seed them and hopefully get the chance to tell their story someday.

So what if you didn’t need to do a six issue series? What if you could do a series of shorter stories where you wouldn’t have to quit your day job? I’m offering some people the chance to do that.  To lay the ground work by seeding their ideas so when they do take the time out to do that four to six issue mini-series, the audience has had a taste for it. The creator has had a chance to get feedback and refine his (or her) ideas.

The upcoming A1 annual

downthetubes: What’s the appeal of the anthology format for you – you seem to get drawn back with it, what with guest editing Heavy Metal and more?

Dave: Anthologies offer the chance for experimentation and exploration.  It’s a tougher discipline as you have to tell a story in three to 12 pages, build a little character and hopefully see if the idea floats for you and the audience to want to see more. Text stories, art galleries, even articles shouldn’t be off the table as well.

downthetubes:The anthology is a tough market, particularly in the United States – despite A1‘s amazing success in the past. Are you a glutton for punishment or one of life’s optimists?

Dave: I think that needs clarification. The big A1 anthology, which will be out in October, will be more Mass Market. (The comic will just be the Direct Sales Market).

Anthologies in the comic book Direct Sales Market don’t do that well. I think it is primarily down to motive for doing one.  is it just to get a bunch of characters that no one really cares much about into print to keep the copyright going?

Now the mass market tends to react the other way. Every magazine available in the mass market is an anthology. TIME, People, Entertainment Weekly, National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, MAD, Heavy Metal and every bloody newspaper on the planet. The Direct Sales market has been programmed to function differently to the mass market.

Can you imagine asking the mass market reader to have all their articles and reviews serialized over weeks or months? Recipes where you only get one or two of the ingredients per magazine? Publishing would die overnight. So why do comics do it?
The big A1 anthology, which will be out in October, will be more Mass Market. (The comic will just be the Direct Sales Market).

downthetubes: Do you have a long term “game plan” for the title beyond the initial stories?

Dave: By now, people will see I am launching A1 in two different formats with different content. First to be released will be the A1 six issue mini-series for Direct Sale. This format is to seed three projects that will be expanded upon next year with a series of graphic novels based off the properties.

This series is so people can take a test drive. I’m considering doing 6 issues a year of this so we can potentially launch two or three series a year.

The second A1, for the m,ass market, is kind of more like the old – self contained volumes, but bigger, more pages and even more experimental. Also I want to bring back some of the fun into comics (even if its only for those putting these books together).

Then there is Monster Massacre, the naughty little brother to A1. I think of it as the bastard step child of Heavy Metal and 2000AD. Very Sci-Fi and Fantasy led, but I don’t want people thinking of it as a boys only comic. I’ve always been a big proponent of tough female characters who don’t need to get raped to be kick-ass.

I’m working on a fantasy love story at the moment with Dave Wilkins. He may not quite think of it in those terms but that’s where its core is going to be. Think about Lady Hawke with a twist.

So the game plan is to keep A1 and Monster Massacre going as ongoing series, each building up to hopefully a critical mass where the creators involved can see a respectable trickle of royalties coming in if they stick with it.

I am planning a third anthology that will be aimed at a more general audience that I hope to launch either late 2014 or early 2015.

downthetubes: You’re writing some of these new stories, has it been good to get back to that side of the comics business after being “editor in chief” on several projects?

Dave: Hell, yes! Garry and myself started A1 so we could both do our own creator owned work and after the first issue we both had to take a back seat as the publishing stuff got in the way.  This time I am very much in the mix creatively and I hope to get Garry back in the mix when he gets a break. Wearing both hats certainly makes me a lot happier.

downthetubes: You’re also working on DRAVN for Heavy Metal Magazine. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

Dave: Heavy Metal Issue 262 is on sale now and serves as a great intro into the world of DRAVN. It’s a big, rich, and complex story that will take at least three big graphic novels to tell.  It’s sci-fi, fantasy, action/adventure, thriller, drama, all wrapped up in one big concept.  The creator is Jesse Negron, who is no stranger to working on big concepts (Google him on IMDB). What I bring to the table is partly my editor’s hat and partly my writer hat. I love developing characters and their motivations. Jesse has this amazing story and I’m like the junction master on a train line, making sure the train stays on track and that the track is solid.

As it will be such a big undertaking I’ve agreed to co-write the graphic novels with Jesse.  We’ll be working on these for the next few years.

downthetubes: From reading online interviews you seem to be pitching that as a concept that could reach a much wider audience than those who read, say HM or 2000AD?

Dave: I’d say both those audiences are perfect for DRAVN but it would also be perfect for readers of Harry Potter and the Hunger Games. I liken it to Star Wars in many respects: it ‘s a huge universe and timeline that we’re going to be entering. The best way to do that is chose one character and come in through their point of view and expand out naturally, discovering the world with them.

downthetubes: Do you think that publishers are doing enough to try and secure the next generation of comic readers?

Dave: I think they’re trying as best they know how. While some people may not like licensed books, doing TV and Film tie-ins bring a new audience in.  As long as the quality can be kept high I think this is good for the market.

I forget how spoilt I was growing up. I had artists like Frank Bellamy, Ron Embleton, Jesus Belasco, Mike Noble, Brian Lewis, John M. Burns, drawing comics for me to read. Syd Jordan on Jeff Hawke, Horak on James Bond, Jim Holdaway on Modesty Blaise. But I always have to remind myself, this is a different time with different tastes.

I think we are all guilty of pissing in our own bathwater and not doing enough to bring in a younger audience.  I’d love to do another VIZ kids comic again. The special I did while I was at John Brown Publishing did really well.  We need some more books like that.

downthetubes: Are you working with Titan on comics with a wider audience, too?

Dave: That’s the main reason I’m doing this. Titan have great reach beyond just comic book stores and the books I am doing are focused on as wide a market as possible. I want to get comics back in the hands of lapsed readers, new readers, in an accessible form.  People who like multiple genres. That’s a lot of people and we plan on tracking them down.

downthetubes: What one piece of advice do you most offer aspiring comic creators?

Dave: Don’t do it.

I’m serious! This can be a shitty industry to work in. Hollywood’s mentality is spreading into comics. Chewing creators up and spitting them out once they’ve lost their flavor.

But if you’re stupid enough to ignore that advice, then I’d suggest focusing on your own stuff. Work on your own stuff and get it right.  If you’re an artist learn to draw everything!  Google will get you an image of it quick enough but you have to make it convincing.

Start a DeviantART account!!! The community is wonderful for giving you feedback.  Post your own stories everywhere. DeviantART, Facebook, set your own website with your own comic on it and post your own stories. Tweet and Facebook links as often as you can.  Find some friendly creators that will retweet to their fans.

Be persistent.

• Dave is easily accessible on both Facebook and DeviantART or follow him on Twiter via: DeevElliott or ATOMEKA_Press

• Titan Comics is at: http://titan-comics.com

Categories: Comic Creator Interviews

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1 reply

  1. Brilliant interview! I love anthologies immeasurably, for offering multiple treats to their viable use as a tool for sharpening new talent. Toss in Dave’s clear passion for creator rights and you get what the industry vitally needs today. Great work, John!

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