By Barry Levine
As someone who’s been a comics fan for decades but only just started my own comic book business last year, I’m always interested to see how all the people I currently work with made their way into the industry. The staggering amount of talent out there makes one thing crystal clear: nobody works in this business because of a shortage of other options. In short, nobody works in comics because they have to; they work in comics because they want to.
I’ve collaborated with people in film, music and photography at some of the highest levels of those fields, and they’re easily matched by the passion that every single comics professional I’ve met has for their craft. My only disappointment is that Radical Publishing can’t realistically hire them all (yet). But since I find it so interesting to compare how others got into the business, it’s probably only fair that I explain my crazy path into this world of high concepts and alternate realities.
Growing up as a poor postwar kid in Boston was its own special kind of experience, but it taught me that the key to success is often having the will to succeed. For me, that meant taking my creative vision and focusing it through the lens of a camera. After years of teaching myself the craft, I became one of the top rock photographers in the music business. I had the good fortune to shoot the likes of Aerosmith, Queen, ABBA, Elton John, Led Zeppelin and an entire range of royalty among the rock pantheon. I shot multiplatinum album covers for Motley Crue and Ratt, and became the photographer responsible for virtually all of the signature images associated with the megagroup KISS.
You’d think that a band so directly influenced by comic books would have led me directly into publishing them, but I’d take a detour into the film world first—initially as a music supervisor, drawing upon my experiences in the recording world. I oversaw the soundtracks for films like Judge Dredd, Street Fighter, Die Hard with a Vengeance, and even Driving Miss Daisy. (Okay, that last one’s not an action film, but it did win the Oscar for Best Picture, so I hope you can appreciate my range in identifying the cutting edge.)
From there, the genre films I had worked on dragged me away from music and pushed me full force into movies. I signed on with Dark Horse Entertainment, setting up Rex Mundi at Warner Bros. with Johnny Depp attached to star. In addition, I discovered 30 Days of Night for Hollywood and produced the KISS-inspired coming-of-age comedy Detroit Rock City.
So it only seemed a natural choice for me to open up the throttle on that trajectory and follow the film business directly into comic books. For certain, Radical has enjoyed remarkable success in its very short lifetime in capturing Hollywood’s attention for our projects—we’ve already got film deals in place for our first three titles, Caliber: First Canon of Justice, Hercules: The Thracian Wars and Freedom Formula: Ghost of the Wasteland, working with the likes of John Woo, Peter Berg and Bryan Singer.
At our New York Comic-Con panel on Saturday, Feb. 7, I plan on making another big announcement regarding a future project, and we’ll have all sorts of other cool previews at our booth (#1415) all weekend. None of that to me would be worth the paper that the comics are printed on, however, if I didn’t put first and foremost the quality of the art and stories themselves.
As someone who spent years as a visual artist, the quality of the art in our titles is perhaps one of the highest standards I’ve ever established for myself in my career, and the painted style for Radical is something that I hope becomes an industry standard in the future. As I said, you’ve got to believe in your vision; and when you do, other people will begin to believe in it too.
I’m convinced that’s how in our (thus far) brief publishing history we’ve been able to attract creators of such stature—from legends like Jim Steranko to hot current talent like Arthur Suydam, Steve Niles, David Hine, Rick Remender and Steve Pugh (all of them will be signing at our booth in New York). I know it sounds like I’m just hyping my company, but give me the benefit of your doubt and look past that for a moment: what I really want to do here is hype my philosophy. I have a tattoo on my arm that reads, “He who does not hope to win has already lost,” and that’s how I have approached photography, music, film, comics and life.
In a world where the status quo seem to avoid taking risk; where people often adhere to normality in hopes of just getting by day to day; and in a financial marketplace where fans and critics find solace in escaping from their realities to enjoy a slice of the fantastical, buried deep in their favorite comic book stories, Radical Publishing stands as a beacon, signifying the future of publishing and a dawn of a new era.
I believe in it, and I hope others will, too.
President and Publisher