A Look at the Heads of Visionary Comics
Kari Ann Morgan
In April's issue, we introduced you to Visionary Comics, a comic book company that produces a range of high-quality comics, mentors up-and-coming artists, and builds relationships with partners in the comics industry. Additionally, Visionary has expressed an avid interest in collaborating with microfilmmakers. I recently had a chance to sit down with C. Edward Sellner and Brian Augustyn, the Creative Director and Managing Editor (respectively), to discuss more of what Visionary is about.
KM:What is your background in the comics industry?
CES: I should go first here since my answer will be MUCH shorter. I've basically been around about three years active. I tried several times to break into the industry off and on through my younger years, starting with the first horrible art portfolio I sent to Marvel and DC while in high school, then around 2001-2002 I worked a lot behind the scenes with one studio that ended in me almost being disillusioned enough to quit comics before I really got started. But then I got the opportunity to develop two books as a writer for a neophyte publisher that re-inspired me. I became very active, doing columns on comics, speaking on behalf of the company, etc. only to have the publisher close its doors before my books made it out…sniff sniff. As a result, I think it's safe to say I've earned the title of most famous guy in comics to NOT be published. Yes, thank you. Okay, now for some real history…take it Brian….
BA: Go ahead, make me feel like a museum piece… I started reading comics in 1963, so I guess I have been around for a long time. I dabbled in fandom through the seventies, and in the eighties I started dabbling more seriously in professional comics; creating series proposals and submitting them to DC, Marvel and others. In 1984 one of those proposals got noticed by Mike Gold, who was then with First Comics in my hometown of Chicago. He didn't buy the proposal but he saw something he liked and I worked briefly as an editorial intern of sorts at First. Shortly thereafter I helped start an independent comics publisher known as TRU Studios. We published a black and white independent comic called Trollords, a gentle fantasy/soap opera series about three fantastical creatures out to save humankind, literally, from death personified. This was during the so-called “independent comics boom,” which lasted from about 1985 through 1987, or so. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the biggest success of the movement, but there was a time when we ran a close second or third. It was a great, creative and educational time. In 1987, and on the strength of my work with the Trolls, I was brought to New York by DC to become an editor. Mike Gold had gone from First to DC and essentially brought me along. I spent close to ten years there editing about a thousand or so comics, from Flash, Justice League and Wonder Woman, to Plastic Man, The Phantom, Bugs Bunny and The Shadow-and lots more in between.
While at DC, I started writing comics in earnest. My biggest success was in writing the first of what later would multiply and become known as Elseworlds; graphic novels that told essential truths about great characters by relocating them to different places and times in history. That first was known as Gotham By Gaslight, which placed Batman in a Victorian-era Gotham City and pitted him against Jack the Ripper. Since then (1989), I've written tons of comics, including Flash, Justice League, Batman, Robin, Black Condor, Firebrand, for DC. I've created, developed and written books for many publishers; Marvel, Dark Horse, Wildstorm, Chaos, Speakeasy, Event and DreamWave. I co-created and wrote Crimson and Out There for Wildstorm (with artist Humberto Ramos). I've also written children's books, young reader books, activity books, young adult novels, computer game scenarios, TV and film development, ads, and so on and so on.
KM:What inspired you to start Visionary Comics?
CES: Two main things, mostly my own experiences in comics with other companies made it very clear to me that quite a few people in comics really don't know what they're doing and other people often end up getting the short end of the stick because of it, and a lot of talented people who want to break into comics don't have a solid avenue to do just that. A lot of the larger publishers want you to have published work out before they consider you. In order to do that, you either do a lot of work, often unpaid, a high percentage of which then never ends up seeing the light of day anyway or you invest in publishing it yourself, spending thousands of dollars to get a half rate product most of the time. Or, if you're talented you'll find there are some VERY friendly folks just loving to work with new talent, only to find out it's because they can so easily exploit folks wanting to break into the business. They give you tons of work, promising big payoffs, and then never follow up. This seemed pretty lousy overall.
So, I got to thinking how could some of this be fixed? After all, even as a fan I spent a lot of time analyzing the market, how it worked, what didn't work, etc. During my short tenure in the industry I purposefully got to know every aspect of the market, studying publishing, printing, retail, trends etc. until I could speak pretty solid 'Comicese'. Meanwhile, I had been blessed enough to connect with a lot of really top notch, just wonderful folks, real professionals in this industry, who are also, thankfully, I believe the majority, so I realized I had a pretty strong network and decided I should not just dream but do something.
I started brainstorming, pulled in my good friend Charlie Hall who got interested out of his love for the medium and signed on as Business Manager, then we approached Brian, another good friend pre-VCS and we began talking about, what if…? Visionary was the brainchild of that.