Above: The 'American Original' logo.
Earlier this month, Jeff Katz, ex-20th Century Fox studio executive and occasional US comics writer, made his first announcement at
If you're unfamiliar with 'Blastosaurus', the comic follows the adventures of a mutated triceratops cop who has traveled through a time portal to the present day to do battle with a street gang of mutated Raptors to save the future of Freak Out City. Oh, and he has a really big gun. If this sounds a little outlandish, it's intentional; it's influenced by the high concept cartoons of the 90's (think 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' meets 'The Thunder-Lizards' (from 'Ekk the Cat).
Written and illustrated by 24 year old Auckland cartoonist Richard Fairgray, it will be published monthly through the new imprint in partnership with Top Cow Productions. Jeff Katz met Fairgray through a mutual friend on the set of 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine', which Katz was overseeing a an executive for Fox.
Katz recently shared his plans for 'Blastosaurus' during an interview for Comic Book Resources:
"[Richard and I] met and hit it off instantly. He gave me two or three properties, all of which I picked up immediately, but the one I fell in love with was a very simple thing. It was a dinosaur cop who's mutated and brought into the future to fight crime against velociraptor street gangs in the big city in the tone of the old school, early Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles stuff. It plays with it edgier – not necessarily as a kid thing but in a kid's context. I look at this, and I went, 'Christ! Kids like dinosaurs. Kids like crimefighting. This is as natural a kids property with some teeth to it as there is.' What we're going to be doing is reprinting his New Zealand run of 'Blastosaurus' as a set for the American version which will come out soon after."
Katz also had a lot of praise for Richard in the same interview:
"One of the things I wanted to put across from the line is that a great big idea can come from anywhere. The reality is that in the next ten years, distribution is going to be democratized in a pretty massive way in a lot of forms of entertainment, comics included. So now, 'the big idea' suddenly doesn't have to come from a guy who's exclusive to DC. It can come from a kid in New Zealand who just happens to have a good idea...And Richard's a kid who, I'll be frank, I'm going to lose to the big two. It's inevitable. But I just think that this is one of those things that's very unique from anything else in the marketplace. But beyond that, he's come up with a thing that's a very natural, franchisable concept. We're going to be a place that takes chances on new voices because on some level, I'd argue there's a dearth of young talent getting to rise up. I think showing what this guy can do in what is ostensibly a superhero context without it at all being superheroes and what is ostensibly a kids context while at the same time being all ages, I think is a unique thing. I think this guy is going to a real voice and someone we'll be hearing about for a long time."
The other really interesting thing that sets Richard apart from other comic creators is the fact that he is legally blind, with only five percent vision in one eye. Katz was not aware of this until he was interviewed for a article on Richard for the NZ Hearld last year. I understand Phil Jemenez (The Invisibles, New X-Men) was lined up to draw the US edition of the comic, but it's since been decided that Richard will continue as both writer and artist on the book due to his unique condition.
Katz touched on this during his second announcement interview over at Newsarama:
With his genre-mashing credibility established moved to 20th Century Fox as Vice President of Production. During his tenure at Fox he dabbled in comics, writing the mini-series 'Freddy VS Jason VS Ash' for Wildstorm/Dynamite, before teaming up with Geoff Johns to co-write a 'Booster Gold' ongoing series for DC Comics.
With some success under his belt in both mediums (and the release of the 'X-men Origins: Wolverine' movie on the horizon), he shocked the Hollywood press last September by announcing his resignation from Fox to setup his own multi-media company that would become 'American Original'.
In a May press release for the launch of 'American Original', it was described as "a new entertainment company that will provide content across multiple platforms geared to the growing genre consumer base as well as provide services to genre creators themselves".
Now the idea of creating a banner company for multi-media genre publishing and producing is hardly an original one, but Katz's plan to profit share with the creators is a new development. From what I understand he plans to use a business model more in keeping with the movie industry than the comics business, by giving the comic creators the gross profits of their properties after the company's production costs are covered.
In theory this is a much better (and fairer) profit sharing deal than any of the other comic companies have to offer; especially when you factor in movie, video-games and any other media platform development deals (which Katz is counting for).
This all sounds very promising on paper, but this isn't the first time a company has created a publishing line for multi-media development. In the last 10 years, 'CrossGen Comics', 'Platinum Studios' and most recently 'Virgin Comics' to name only a few, have all collapsed while chasing the all-mighty development dollar instead of focusing on creating quality comic-books.
To me this appears to be a chicken and egg race.
While Katz was working as a producer he learned about the importance of 'pre-awareness' marketing. It's basically about selling consumers products based on properties they are already aware of and enjoy. If they like a specific property, the theory is they will probably consume it across a variety of media including films, comics and video-games. For example, franchises like 'Star Trek' and 'Spider-man' both bring in billions of dollars in branded merchandising every year. It's not hard to see why this would be a fairly solid business plan to follow. Marvel Comics recently rolled the dice by bankrolling it's own big-budget movies to huge success, making Iron Man (previously a B-Grade character with little name recognition) into a house-hold name.
Here's where the chicken and egg come into it: if you launch a comic-book and then sign a movie deal at the same time, will the comic audience read the book and then watch the film? Or will the movie audience watch the movie and then buy the comic? Or will both flop because they don't have 30 years of pre-awareness to be the next 'Wolverine'? Will anyone really care about these new properties?
This kind of fishing for instant success is understandable, but VERY rarely achievable, especially in the comics business.
In the last 20 years the most successful independent comics company launch would have to be Image Comics. Todd McFarlane's 'Spawn' was an instant success as a comic and merchandising property, but drew heavily on McFarlane's profile and fan-base that he had spent years building up at Marvel (proving he was the brand, not the characters). It also didn't hurt that he tapped into the grunge zeitgeist of the early 90s, and gave his fans exactly what they wanted. That kind of success has more to do with the right timing than marketing, and can't really be artificially created.
The 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' also had a fast track to success, and the potential for 'Blastosaurus' to follow in it's merchandising footsteps clearly appealed to Katz's business sense. Genre roots aside, 'Blastosaurus' may be the most original offering from 'American Original' (I'm sure the irony of this association isn't lost on anyone).
The other announce titles on offer are: '