Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Return Of Blastosaurus And The Fall Of American Original

Above: The new Blastosaurus series by Richard Fairgray & Terry Jones. Copyright Richard Fairgray 2011.

Back in 2008, local comics creator Richard Fairgray talked his way into the deal of a lifetime: one of his ideas for a comic-book series was to be picked up for American publication by rising media mogul/movie producer Jeff Katz.

Above: Richard Fairgray, with his Blastosaurus comics.

Katz and Fairgray met by chance through a mutual friend during the filming of X-Men Origins: Wolverine in Sydney, which Katz was over-seeing as a production executive for Twentieth Century Fox. Sharing a 'gift for the gab' they immediately hit it off, and Katz was impressed enough by Richard's diverse output of comics to offer him a development deal with his soon to be announced media company, the ironically titled American Original.

Above: Jeff Katz, head of American Original.

Katz had left his position at Fox to capitalise on what he saw as an opportunity to licence new characters and properties across a range of multi-media platforms: including comics, movies, animation and games. Fairgray's Blastosaurus - a high concept of a gun-toting mutant dinosaur, was a perfect fit for this business plan, with the promise of potential Ninja Turtles level licencing deals down the line. No stranger to marketing hype, Katz also had an angle on how to sell Fairgray's personal story too (referring to his legal blindness - Richard has 5% vision in one eye). As Katz told The NZ Herald in September 2008: 

"Once people get to know Richard, his talent and his back-story - and that's an incredible human interest story - they'll find out just how unique he is. I'm just thrilled to hear he's getting some recognition. I've got plans for him, I'm going to take his work and grow them across a wide spectrum of media. You know, I told him a month ago that my goal was to make him into a local New Zealand hero, that'll really be fun to watch."

That same year at San Diego Comic Con, Katz made his presence known, announcing a comics publishing partnership with Marc Silvestri's Top Cow Comics (ever the calculating deal-maker, this was no doubt a payback for Katz securing Silvestri an executive producer credit on Fox's A-Team movie). While a raft of upcoming comics and film deals were announced at that convention for American Original's production slate, a year later product had yet to materialised. For his part however, Fairgray had never stopped producing. While Katz's other hollywood partners dragged their feet on producing their promised comics, Fairgray was grinding out Blastosaurus monthly in New Zealand for over two years, while also prepping the promised American comic edition. 

Above: The American Original logo.

Back in 2009 I gave my own impression of how I saw the American Original deal playing out (you can read the full report HERE). Given Richard's indie approach and all-ages tone, I felt Blastosaurus would be an ill-fit at Top Cow, a company built primarily on comics featuring large breasted woman. Ultimately this was Katz's business plan, and Richard appeared to accommodate these strange bed-fellows as best he could: turning down a potentially lucrative first issue cover by Silvestri in favour of a more appropriate one by Transmetropolitan artist Darick Robertson (who Richard recruited himself). As for Katz, I made the following observation: '...I don't foresee him having the patience to nurture a comics line for the years it takes to successfully gather a loyal readership to create the 'pre-awareness' he values without giving into the temptation to develop the properties straight out the gate. I expect the recession and the continuing market shrinkage will cop the blame for the company's failure (to produce)..'.

Sure enough, in a video interview with Comic Book Resources from last September's Comic Con, Katz admits that the recession has temporarily delayed his publishing plans: 

"..the economics of the business (has changed) entirely. I am not made of money ultimately, fundamentally. I've got a pretty finite amount that I can spend, and so you have to be able to pivot at a point in time to where I could go and spend all my money and publish, and let's be very honest, based on the economics..not get any of it back, and be out of business in a year.." He goes on to say: "At the end of the day, if you can spend the same amount of money on a four issue comic or a Facebook App game that has downloadable content, one is all 'out money', (and) one is money that you get back..". 

You can view the full interview HERE, where Katz's talks about the delays of the American Original comics and Blastosaurus around the 7 minute mark. Blastosaurus finally made it's American debut at that same convention, but was ham-strung but printing issues, with the books arriving late to the convention and in limited quantities.

One year later, Richard has continued to produce seasonal Blastosaurus specials in New Zealand, while American Original's publishing progress continues to languish in 'development hell'. Speculation about the future of the American Blastosaurus material and rights was finally resolved this week, with Richard making the following announcement: 

'The version of Blastosaurus released in New Zealand was never intended as a final version for worldwide release, the first issue was produced at ridiculous speed in order to secure copyright and ownership of key story elements just in case anything went wrong for me in the future.
Unfortunately what I didn't count on was that people would actually like the issue (most people felt the same way I did about it but some did really latch onto the underlying concept, I'm grateful for this because I think it is a strong concept despite the end result), forcing me to quickly rush out follow up issues that were not to the standard of writing or art that I would aspire had I had more than 6 days to complete each issue.
This new version is the version that was intended for release at SDCC last year. While the launch did sort of take place it was hamstrung by printing problems and delays beyond my personal control. While it's taken me a while to get things back in order I think the time has done the comic good and I think this version shows exactly what I always intended the story to look and feel like. While I'd still like to see the comic find a home in print (because printed comics are what I love, despite what the market is doing) I am more interested in having people read and (I hope) enjoy it.
My parting with American Original was not ideal but by no means was it nasty. Jeff and I have different approaches and I think both work for different reasons and I think we will hear more from him both in terms of comics and other works.'

You can visit the newly minted website HERE. I've had an advance look at the revised material, now in full-colour provided by Tara Black, and if you were a fan of Laird and Eastman's original TMNT stories, I think you'll get a kick out of this. Obviously if you're a fan of the original Blastosaurus, this will be well worth the wait. Here's a video preview:

Richard may have been offered the opportunity of a lifetime, but it's his perseverance and dedication to his work which has allowed him to make a living from comics, rather than gambling on the ultimately empty promises of American dreams. They may not be making him rich, but at least they exist to be read and enjoyed. After all, isn't that the point of creating comics?

Something for Jeff Katz and his hollywood friends to think about while they broker movie deals and celebrity endorsements for comics they have still yet to create, or making a single dime from.


1 comment:

  1. "... comics featuring large breasted women"? Are there any other kind in the lamestream American industry right now? Yeah, I'm still to be convinced that the DC relaunch isn't based on product placement for the breast implant industry.