Monday, August 12, 2013

The early days of Caliber Press until today - Interview with Gary Reed

Transfuzion Logo

Gary Reed's one of the best publishers of all time and since I read comics from Caliber from its early days until his new publisher Transfuzion. I've decided to ask him for an interview with 14 questions and he kindly acepted .
Many great comic authors appeared through Caliber that are major stars today like:
David Mack, Greg Ruth, Vince Locke, Guy Davis among several others.
 Gary was always a low profile kind of guy and I always loved his position in life; he doesn't take anything for granted and knows really well the comic book medium and busyness.
 Check the interview out and you'll notice what kind of man he's and his vision of the comic book medium and market.

 1. How did the idea appear to do a comic publisher such as Caliber with an huge amount of styles on writing and drawings that gathered all the info with influences on other arts? (In here I'm remembering "Sudden Gravity" by Greg Ruth that was a bit inspired on "The Kingdom" by Lars Von Trier and on your own works "Saint Germaine", (that on some ways reminded me of Gogol tetralogy, most particularly of Nevski Avenue among others) "Renfield" with Bram Stoker Drácula Associaton, "Ghost Sonatta" with Strindberg and "Inferno" with Dante's influence and all the other works that appeared by Tome Press illustrated by Gustav Doré among many others).

Sudden Gravitty by Greg Ruth

The Kingdom By Lars Von Trier

 Gary Reed: Caliber started in a rather non-descript way.  It wasn’t an organized strategy but rather a somewhat compulsive response.  Guy Davis and Vince Locke had their respective titles of The Realm and Deadworld and were looking for a publisher.  They were frequent customers at one of the four comic stores I had at the time and I’m not sure when the decision came but I decided to publish them myself so I formed Caliber.  Knowing I had those two titles, which both had a following, I came up with the idea of doing an anthology which would become Caliber Presents.  At the same time, a local film company was finishing up with their low budget movie, Moontrap, that starred Star Trek’s Walter Koening and featured Bruce Campbell in a supporting role.  Guy wanted to move on from The Realm so he and I came up with Baker Street.  A customer of mine heard about the publishing launch and brought in a series he was working on and this was Jim O’Barr and The Crow.  So, that was the initial formation of Caliber.  With the process of getting the information about the books to the distributors, it took about six months although the first Caliber issue of Deadworld shipped a few months before anything else did because it was already at the printer from the former publisher.

Once the company got up and running, I was swamped with submissions and I knew I wasn’t just going to publish everything that came across my desk.  The comics market was very exciting at the time as the medium was pushing in a lot of different directions and there seemed to be a much higher appreciation of the literary aspect of what comics could be.  I knew I wasn’t interested in superheroes, especially since most of our books were black and white, although I did do a few.  I was looking for intelligent comics with something to say.  I didn’t strategize a particular genre theme or anything, it basically came down to what I personally liked although there were a few that I wasn’t that enamored with but I felt they were good comics and should be published.  So, that was pretty much my philosophy on which books got picked up…what I liked and what I thought deserved publication…they didn’t always coincide.

2. Did you thought at the time that a company as Caliber was an increasing value on the comics market?  

Gary Reed: I never considered the value aspect of the Caliber line.  I mean we did do collectible aspects but overall, the goal was just to put out good books.  The redeeming aspect of the value of the comics going on to me just meant that there was a demand.  I would go back to print on some books to try and fill that demand.

As for value affecting the content part, sure, I think that by doing good books, you’re adding to the comics market medium with some substantial work.  I felt the more books out there that appealed to the widest possible audience could only help the comics market grow and reach people who formerly thought comics were synonymous with superheroes.  I think we helped foster that quite a bit as a lot of horror fans picked up Deadworld even though they didn’t buy comics…same with fantasy fans picking up The Realm.  Baker Street and The Crow introduced quite a few people to comics.  Later, with Tome Press which was the line of historical and literary material, we had far more sales from outside the comics market than in it.  Ah, if only the Internet had been around then.  At the end of Caliber, the ‘net was just ramping up although I think we were one of the first publishers to have an online store but no one wanted to send credit card information online so they would call toll free to pay for their order placed.
3. Regarding once again "Saint Germaine", did you saw it as a possible replacement for the Sandman Series? (You know that "Saint Germaine" is one of my favourite series ever). As a mere note, I don't know if you knew at the time, but in Portugal we've a Saint Germaine that's a Saint associated with killing demons and protecting houses and his statue can be seen on some of our villages in Portugal.

Gary Reed: No, I never saw Saint Germaine like that.  I’ll admit that Sandman was an influence just like Alan Moore’s material was at that time was.  Essentially, it showed me that you could write sophisticated material and it could find an audience.  And by sophistication, I don’t mean to imply better but rather the sense it could be multi-layered and structured in different ways.  I was always interested in history and so by creating a character that was an amalgam of different people throughout history, it allowed me to delve into that.  The supernatural aspect allowed me to do that with the character but a lot of potential readers who were interested in the historical part didn’t want to deal with a supernatural character.  But I loved doing that series and keep planning on doing more.
 4. What do you think of "The Walking Dead" comic books and series? Do you think that they were inspired on your "Deadworld" series? (On my opinion there all lots of things in common.)

Gary Reed: Well, this is becoming an increasingly touchy subject.  I have never read the comics but have caught the TV show.  I’m sorta catching up on it as I don’t have time to watch that much TV so everything is on DVR.  Some of the similarities are a bit striking…the guy cutting off his hand and attaching a blade to it, the leader of a band of people with a wife named Laura and a son named Carl who has to kill the old guy of the group because he got bit…the idea of covering yourself with zombie flesh to walk through the zombies…the religious family that our group ends up with…the female with swords who keeps her pets chained up…a town ruled by a megalomania leader…but the RV vehicle was different as Deadworld had a school bus.  So, yeah, some similarities.  My first thought was that I didn’t want to be “that” guy claiming it was a rip-off, or at least derivative, but I really do have to set aside some time and evaluate it.  I’ve been contacted by a couple of lawyers who want to pursue it but they seemed more the ambulance chaser type.  I don’t know at this point.  But I do get a little pissed off when people see all the Deadworld collections coming from IDW as well as the new mini-series and claim that I’m jumping on the zombie bandwagon.  Deadworld was first published some 25 years ago and yes, the schedule has been erratic over the years but there’s still at least 75  issues out there.
 5. Regarding Negative Burn (the best anthology ever), how was it for you to promote and publish some of the best stars of comics today? People like: Gaiman, Moore, David Mack, Bendis, Michael lark, Vince Locke, Brian Bolland, Paul Pope, Michael Gaydos, Phil Hester, Guy davis among many others. Were you pleased with "Negative Burn"?

Negative Burn - Cover by Paul Pope
Gary Reed: Negative Burn was developed by primarily Joe Pruett along with Jim Pruett and some other guys and when it first launched, it was to replace Caliber Presents which ran, I think, 24 issues.  Caliber Presents had featured quite of those names but with Negative Burn, the big difference was that Joe secured a lot of big names who did not make their mark at Caliber.  Mack, Bendis, Lark, Locke, Davis, and others pretty much made their names at Caliber and were in the first anthology series, but Joe brought in many others as he was working from a different base.   Also, at that time, Caliber had a much more visible presence than the early days so we were more of a known quantity.  So, I think it was a bit easier to attract the big names but again, it was Joe mainly, that actually did the work and getting them and he put the issues together.  At Caliber, we released 50 issues of Negative Burn, a remarkable run for an anthology.  It was nominated for a number of awards and deservedly so.
 6. I Remember one story written by you with Lord Byron, Mary Shelley and Percy Shelley near a bonfire trying to write the best horror story ever (and Mary wrote Frankenstein), Do you think that Frankenstein was a bit of an autobiography story by Mary Shelley over being married with a guy (Percy Shelley) that had lots of people inside him?

High Caliber - With Percy Shelley story
Gary Reed: That was “To a Poet Dying Young”, illustrated by Galen Showman who also did Renfield and was the main artist behind Sinergy (the collection was re-titled Sin Eternal) which was an updating of Dante’s Inferno.  The short story you mention appeared first in the High Caliber anthology graphic novel which were all original stories by the Caliber talent crew at the time.  My center of the story was how much creative people give up of themselves sometimes when they embark on their endeavors.  It was based on a real event of Percy Shelly having died and the others were so distraught and when they burned the body, it appeared the heart wouldn’t burn.  The character that we emphasize with is a struggling writer who desperately wants to be part of the group, you have to remember that Byron was the rock star of his age, and just wanted to be one of them.  Mary Shelley lets him know that there’s a price to pay and it isn’t worth it.  As for the Shellys, I don’t think the idea of Frankenstein grew from Percy, but rather from the idea of vitalism.  At that time, it was believed all life had a vital force and it was being debated at that time as understanding how basic chemistry and biological systems were fermenting into different ideas.   In their era, they started questioning any kind of mysterious force and if you examine all the stories that the group wrote, they all dealt with some aspect of Vitalism.  Dr. Polidori, who was also part of the group, may have written the first vampire story which again dealt with a vital force but this one was contained in the blood.
 7. Caliber had amazing series on my opinion "Baker Street" and "The Marquis" By Guy Davis, "Saint Germaine", "Deadworld", "Ghost Sonatta", "Red Diaries", "Renfield" by you, which one do you see as your favourite one and that holds a special place on your heart?
Baker Street with Guy Davis

Saint Germaine with Vince Locke
The Marquis by Guy Davis

Renfield with Galen Showman  

Gary Reed: Obviously, my stuff holds more of a special place but I published some stuff I really liked a lot such as Sudden Gravity, Go-Man, and Fringe.  I think those were my three favorites.  As for my material, Baker Street has a special place as it was my first comic.  Deadworld because of how long its lasted but its only been the last few years that I feel its really what I want to do so I’m loving the new series.  Ghost Sonata is one that I think is very under-rated, Red Diaries was one I really enjoyed, but as a complete package, I think Renfield is my favorite.  I was thrilled when it was used in a University literature class.  However, Saint Germaine is probably the one I enjoyed the most and would love to get back to.  I think it is the most “me” in the sense that I’m doing what I really wanted to do.  I’m actually launching another series, a murder mystery set in early 1900s and I will be doing something similar that I did with Germaine as I’ll be incorporating a lot of historical elements into it.  But it won’t have the supernatural elements, more of chronicling experiences.
 8. Another short story that I really enjoyed was a short story over the character : Rasputin (and I was amazed on how much you knew over european history with some of your stories). Do you view yourself as an avid world history consumer?  

With various artists - Transfuzion
Gary Reed: Yes, I am an avid fan of history.  There are certain time periods that just fascinate me and Russian history is one of those.  I did the Rasputin story you mentioned, also as a new story in High Caliber, with Michael Lark.  One of my favorite movies was The Red Tent about survivors in the arctic and I loved the narrative structure of it so I adopted it for this story.  I also brought in Rasputin in Saint Germaine as well as Helsing.  He’s a great figure.  In my biology classes I teach, I bring him up also when discussing genetics and how the Russian royalty fell because they lacked a simple understanding of genetics.
 9. I also remember a tiny story that appeared on High Caliber "amongst the stars" by Jim Alexander and I still think that it's the best science fiction story told in comics format and I compare it easily to some of the best works of Philip K. Dick

My favourite Philip K. Dick book
Gary Reed: That was one of the leads in the comic  version of High Caliber and that was a short lived flip book and Amongst the Stars was in the first two issues, flipped with Ghost Sonata that ran four issues.  Jim has released Amongst the Starts into a single comic and I think both physical and digital copies are available.
 Since Caliber had an wide range of writing themes like : Adventure, History, Biblical stories, Children stories, Science-Fiction, Action, horror and Humour, which theme do you think was your favourite one during Caliber days?
Gary Reed: That’s hard to say, I mean, it all depends on the story.  The theme or genre shouldn’t dictate the story and if it does, well, then that’s the focus.  I’m not too much into genre fiction where the genre defines the story.  I like good stories and they can be set in any genre.  So, guess I can’t really say what themes I like or don’t like…it all depends on the story.
 10. Was it difficult to close Caliber comics for good for you?

Gary Reed: Sure.  But it was a case of trying to hang on to something for no particularly good reason.  The comics market was suffering and it had changed completely.  The excitement of the 80’s where it seemed all things were possible was now mired into collectibles and superheroes.  Towards the end, I was looking to do some projects which I really didn’t want to do but they might keep Caliber afloat as we were owed a lot of money by distributors and retailers who never paid us.  But I started thinking that just publishing anything to keep the Caliber line going was not something I wanted to do.  It was a disservice to everyone involved.  Just like my writing.  I write what I want to write and I don’t take on writing jobs that I don’t want to do, jut for the sake of writing.   Yeah, I could’ve kept publishing but it wouldn’t have been Caliber, even though the logo was on the masthead.  Of course, if I knew how all the opportunities were to present themselves as far as digital goes, I might have stuck it out longer but you can’t go back.  Besides, I think the hiatus of me out of the comics market for a couple of years did me good.

11. Do you think that you're targetting the same public that loved Caliber with Transfuzion?  

Gary Reed: No, not generally.  Transfuzion primarily was all reprint books, much of it from Caliber.  It’s branched off to some new material but Transfuzion doesn’t have the same awareness that Caliber had, but at the same time, Transfuzion has some advantages that Caliber didn’t have and most of the sales are online from sites like Amazon and others.  As for appeal, I think that in recent years, diversity among the comic offerings is fairly broad so there’s less need for a specialty publisher.  Of course, most of the comics market still want their comic format and at Transfuzion, it’s all graphic novels…no comics.

 12. What do you think of the comics market nowadays?

Gary Reed: On one hand, I think the quality and diversity is fantastic right now and there are incredible works available but these are primarily what is labeled as the independents. So, the other hand is that the market still seems mired in the superhero world.  Personally, I have no interest in the spandex lines even though I grew up with them.  The characters may have the same names but they’re not the same characters and with all the rebooting of the lines, whatever happens is irrelevant because in a year or two, it will be a moot point.  I do understand, however, that the characters have to keep changing because the limited audience doesn’t want to read the same thing over and over.  The problem is that no new characters from the two major publishers are replacing the original ones and so they have to reuse the masthead characters over and over.  To me, it would be like trying to keep Harry Potter going and just reinventing the concepts and novels every few years so eventually, it becomes totally unrecognizable yet still has the name of Harry Potter.  The majors have to figure out some way to bring in new characters to build around but the audience seems to want only the old ones.  I look at it just as do with the Hardy Boys…as a kid, I read every book at least twice but then I moved on.  Same with the superheroes, I’ve moved on.  I still have a fond memory of them but I don’t want to read some twisted version that only has the name in common.
 13 . Do you see technology as an enemy of comic books with E-books, I-pads and with lots of info everywhere on the web?
Gary Reed: No, just a shift of something that’s going to happen however I feel about it.  I personally don’t like to read on a computer or tablet as much as the physical, but I do because lots of times it is just more convenient .  It’s nice to have a library at your fingers all the time.  The digital isn’t the enemy although I do wonder why some publisher are selling out to it so fast.  As a publisher, sure, I deal with it but I’m not sacrificing the physical books as right now, it’s not feasible.  Undoubtedly, it will be in the future but I don’t know how long that will take and then I’ll adjust accordingly.
 14. Do you think that the comic book industry will start to fail as a published format or do you've the impression that perhaps it could happen like on the 90's? (when people took lots of photocopies of books but wanted the "real thing")  
Gary Reed: I think it’s likely there’ll be comics as long as there are books.  The comics market is already a small niche market and will likely be able to stay that way for awhile. The collectible aspect plays a role and of course, the tactile crowd who want a physical book also play their part.  But you have a whole generation coming up that won’t be making a choice between physical and digital, they’ll only know digital.  In their minds, they won’t be picking one over the other, they’ll just go with what they know and that doesn’t bode well for the physical books.  Everything has their day in the sun, as they say, and perhaps the comic format is going to go the way of newspaper strips and pulp novels, just like digital squashed CDs, vinyl, VCRs, film cameras, and the like.  They may still be around but not like they used to be.  Technology is to bring new products and devices and that always means they’re replacing something else.


1 comment:

  1. Great interview! I was an honor to start my career at Caliber, and I will always be indebted to Gary Reed's willingness to take a change on a guy who had only drawn 28 pages of comics in his entire life! Thanks, Gary!

    Michael Lark