We have the honor and privilege of having Ross Richie, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of BOOM! Studios answer a few questions about himself and his Eisner and Harvey “Best Publisher” award-winning comic publishing company. Taken from BOOM!’s web site:
[quote]Founded by Ross Richie, 2009 and 2010’s “Best Publisher” BOOM! Studios generates a constellation of Eisner and Harvey Award-winning, bestselling comic books and graphic novels with the industry’s top talent, including Mark Waid’s Irredeemable, new Hellraiser comics written by Clive Barker, Planet of the Ape, 28 Days Later, and Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. BOOM!’s all ages imprint KaBOOM! publishes Charles Schulz’ Peanuts, Roger Langridge’s Snarked, Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time, and Garfield. BOOM!’s lit comix-focused imprint, BOOM! Town, recently won the Eisner Award for its first book, Shannon Wheeler’s I Thought You Would Be Funnier.[/quote]
Ross was born in San Antonio, Texas graduated from Alamo Heights High School and The University of Texas at Austin. He has made a name for himself in an industry that is full of names, and best of all he has remained the same great guy he has always been. Let’s get to the questions!
Cape: Ross, I gave a really quick Bio about you, could you tell us a little about your family?
Ross Richie: My mom and dad were born and raised in San Antonio and met at Breckenridge High School back in the day. They were high school sweethearts. On my dad’s side, he can actually trace his lineage back to the Alamo. I’ve got one sibling, an older brother.
Looking you up on the internet, I can see you’ve paid your dues in comics. Could you tell explain some of your past jobs to our readers?
I’ve done the gamut. I was a production assistant on a TV show — read “gofer” — and worked as a script reader. One of my funniest jobs years ago was to read screenplays for Trimark Pictures, the fine folks that brought you the Leprechaun movies. My job was to read the submitted scripts in the slush pile and tell them what was good and what wasn’t.
But I imagine you’re actually asking about my experience at Malibu Comics, which was pretty terrific. I worked in the marketing department there, it was an amazing experience and Malibu’s line-up of creators was staggering; Walter Simonson, Howard Chaykin, Jim Starlin, Barry Windsor-Smith, Gil Kane, James Robinson, (I’m leaving out scores of great creator names in the interest of brevity) it was a murderer’s row of the best of the best. Very cool time period to be working in the business. I handled half the retailers in the country and did all the conventions, eventually building Malibu’s San Diego Comic Con booth myself.
Of those past jobs, which one do you think had the biggest impact on you and why?
Without question it’s the Malibu Comics job. It’s there that I learned the business from a marketing and publishing perspective. I never did anything in editorial, so all of that I made up on the fly when I founded BOOM!.
You went from a Texas High School football player to the founder of an award winning comic book publisher. Did you ever think that this is what you’d end up doing?
Not even a little bit. Even three months before the company started I didn’t think I’d be doing it. Me and my friends all joked in our social circle that anyone starting a comic book publishing business had a suicidal streak, the failure rate was so high. We had seen so many friends and colleagues lose their savings (or their house) on ventures like this.
I am nothing short of amazed that BOOM! has worked. It was originally something to do for fun on the side and just grew from there.
In your climb to the top was there ever someone who mentored you? If so, what was the best advice they ever gave you?
I’ve got to credit my friend Keith Giffen who encouraged me and basically said to me, “Publish comic books, stupid.” I argued and told him it couldn’t be done. He insisted that I do it and, boy, was he right.
I owe him my career, put simply. I would never have done it without his insistence.
Why the name BOOM! Studios?
It was a name that I had in my back pocket since I graduated from college. It’s simple, phonetic, and impactful. I knew I’d use it somewhere at some time. When the idea of publishing comics came up, it seemed like a natural.
What has been the most challenging property for BOOM! to take on?
Getting fans to try new ideas. Retailers don’t like to stock new ideas and fans don’t like to stray from their favorites and spend hard-earned money on new series that might not be to their liking. It’s very gratifying seeing this year how retailers and fans are embracing new BOOM! series.
You have met some of the greats in the industry. Could you give us a few highlights?
Do you have the next two hours free? That has been the ultimate thrill for me, meeting my heroes. I could tell story after story after story, but instead I’ll tell you just one.
We worked with Stan Lee and I asked him to come over to the offices and meet some of the assistants one year before Christmas. I ambushed him with an old copy of Menace, a science fiction and horror anthology that Marvel‘s predecessor, Atlas Comics, published. Stan edited the series and wrote every story. The story was a sci-fi piece featuring a detective in the future hunting rogue androids who could pass as humans. In the end, he learns he himself is one of the androids he’s hunting… Stan looked at me, gobsmacked, and said, “That sounds like Blade Runner!” I looked back at Stan and said, “I thought so, too!” It was published in 1954.
I retold that story in my Harvey Awards Keynote address last year, it was a good example to me of the tremendous creativity comic book publishing has.
Who in the industry has surprised you the most?
The joy is always seeing where new talent goes. I gave Rafael Albuquerque his first break on our book The Savage Brothers and was just blown away every day that I got new pages. He has gone on to wow the business and I am completely unsurprised. The man is a massive talent.
The business itself carries surprises everyday — from seeing projects you thought were a slam dunk fail all the way to the little engines that could that surprise everyone and change the business. Nobody knows anything for sure and that’s the fun of it.
What are some up-and-coming comics that our readers should look out for?
My friend Max Bemis, lead singer of the band Say Anything, just launched a new BOOM! series called Polarity with art by Jorge Coelho. It’s really taken the business by storm and I think taken a lot of people by surprise. Gorgeous art, heartfelt characters with wit and charm.
My friend Clive Barker is launching his first original comic book series at BOOM! called Next testament and it’s an amazing, controversial book that explores, “What if the God of the Old Testament, the one that killed Egyptian babies in their cribs during Passover and turned people into pillars of salt showed up today and looked around and started interacting with our modern world?” Suffice it to say, things get interesting quick!
My friend Mike Carey is launching a new series with BOOM! called Suicide Risk. Mike writes layered, sophisticated tales with great characters and astonishing complexity and Suicide Risk will be no different. The first issue is incredible, but big twists will keep coming all the way through the first year of publishing.
Then our biggest event this year is my buddy Steven Grant — I worked with Steven 20 years ago at Malibu — is having his BOOM! comic book 2 Guns turned into a feature film from Universal starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg. It opens August 2nd.
What makes BOOM! so different from other studios?
We’re believers in classic voices — guys like Keith Giffen, Steven Grant, who’ve been in the business for a long time (we think for a reason). We believe licensed comic books can have heart and soul and don’t have to be a cold cash-in. We believe that a company can have a positive, cooperative relationship with the talent that we partner with. We’re a more diverse, more modern, forward-thinking group that’s working every day to build the company of tomorrow.
What is one comic book property you wish BOOM! could have gotten hold of and why?
My Little Pony. It would have been an excellent compliment to Adventure Time.
Adventure Time is a big deal right now, could you tell us a little about how that license came about and what is like publishing the comic?
It’s pure joy publishing it, from seeing the adulation fans have for it to seeing the creators get excited and do bold, creative work on the property. The license was proposed by a guy who’s not even on staff any more and I immediately said, “Let’s do it!“
Adventure Time is all love and joy as an animated series, it’s a real honor to publish it. And we’re grateful to Penn Ward and Cartoon Network for supporting our more unorthodox approach to it, which is to stray from the design style of the cartoon and get a bit more “off-model” with some of our covers and back-ups.
As a publisher, in your opinion, what makes a good comic?
Great storytelling. If you have a great writer, he can be butchered and lost by an artist who can’t convey the ideas in the script. Conversely, great art is empty without a story to tell. Great comics work together art and story seamlessly.
What is the geekiest thing about you (other than comics)?
Everything. I am an endless repository of unimportant information. I’m the guy that will say to you, “Did you know that…” so be prepared to be annoyed! When not reading comics, you can find me burning up an XBox or lost in a History Channel special about anything obscure.
What is your all time favorite comic and why?
The X-Men. The original Byrne/Claremont run has such tremendous emotional impact on me — I’m imprinted on it. And the metaphor of a bunch of outsiders banding together to take on the world, empowered by what makes them weird, resonates strongly for me. I might of played football, but the jocks would never embrace me. I might have been in some advanced classes in school, but the brains always thought I was a jock. And I scared the art school kids. I never fit in.
If you were made into a comic book super hero, what would your powers be?
I’d be the Puzzle Master, because I’m pretty good at putting pieces together. With 2 Guns, it was fun to choose Steven Grant to work with, to choose that particular story, and then I sold the property to Universal choosing them over some of the other studios, choosing to work with Marc Platt and Adam Siegel who did an excellent job guiding the adaptation — they’re the producers of Wanted and Drive.
With my regular workaday team at the office, it’s been a process of choosing the right people like Matt Gagnon, our Editor-in-Chief, and Filip Sablik, our VP of publishing and marketing, and empowering them to get their work done.
I’m not good at keeping my office clean. But I’m pretty good at picking the right pieces and the right people that usually come together well and create a strong overall picture.
What did it feel like when you held the first book your company ever published?
Terrifying. I’m actually not a very extroverted person, so the idea that people were looking at it, I felt like they could see me in my underwear and that there was a big error or mistake in it that was just waiting to be exposed…
Ross, you are much more than just the owner of BOOM! Studios. When it is all said and done, what do you want people to remember you for?
A loving husband and father.
What can we expect in the future from Ross Richie and BOOM! Studios?
The best comic books have yet to be published. It’s the guiding principle of BOOM! and why we roll out of bed in the morning: to find the next horizon, to climb the next mountain.
I want to personally thank Ross for his time. As a side note, when I was in kindergarten, Ross was my 5th grade reading buddy. I remember very little about those reading sessions, but what I do remember was that in the ensuing years he always made time to say hello to me and took the time to see how things were going for me as I grew up. Even as an accomplished football player, he took the time to speak with and interact with that “little kid” who he read to when he was in 5th grade. That type of mentorship is something that has stuck with me for my entire life. Ross has no clue how much his acknowledgement and friendship meant to me growing up. The best thing is that I don’t think Ross knows the impact he has had on my life or those around him, because to him it wasn’t anything special, it is just the kind of person he always has been. To Ross, I can only say: RESPECT!