With the robust launch of the Witchblade anime series, the success of the Darkness Videogame and the impending release of a major motion picture based on Wanted, ICv2 talked with Top Cow President Matt Hawkins to see what strategies that Top Cow would adopt to take advantage of these multi-media opportunities to sell more comic books and graphic novels.  In Part II Hawkins talks about the new The Darkness comic book series and Top Cow's changing business model.  In Part III Hawkins discusses the forthcoming film version of Wanted and, from the perspective of someone who has been involved with at least 30 projects that have been optioned for development, the difficulties of getting films made in Tinseltown.  And in Part I Hawkins explained the 'rebooting' of the Witchblade trade series and the different approaches to the bookstore and direct markets. 

 

Tell us about the new Darkness series.

Well The Darkness new series comes out in December with Phil Hester writing and a new guy that we've found and built up a bit named Mike Broussard.  The Darkness videogame came out in June in the U.S. and at the end of July in Europe and I know we were at 906,000 units sold at the end of July worldwide.  Now I haven't had any updated information since then, but we've got to be over the million mark at this point, so we are very stoked about that.  That game did phenomenally well worldwide--very well in Europe, very well in the United States on both for XBox and PlayStation 3.  With the success of the Darkness videogame, the Witchblade anime and the Wanted movie coming out in March -- our three multi-media things this year are really paying off for us.

 

A Dark Horse Hellgate graphic novel is being included in a special edition of the Hellgate videogame, do you have any sort of synergistic plans like this for The Darkness?

On The Darkness videogame itself there are over 20 comic books available in digital, readable form on the game itself -- they're not like a printed insert, they're actually part of the game, where when you achieve certain things in the game it unlocks a code and then you can go and read some issues -- and it's not just The Darkness, there are Witchblade, Necromancer, a number of other titles that are unlockable on the videogame itself.

 

We also did a trade paperback based on a 5-issue mini-series called The Darkness Levels.  Each individual book was associated with one of the levels of the game -- and The Darkness Level Zero comic that we did 2K (The Darkness videogame producer) actually printed about half a million copies of that and gave them away all over the place.  We've not done a graphic novel to give away for free, but there are multiple issues of The Darkness comic available in the game itself.

 

Are you planning to do a 'jump-on' entry-level, low-priced trade collecting the new Phil Hester The Darkness issues?

The first issue comes out in December, so the first trade realistically is going to be released at the end of '08 or early '09, so fortunately for me, I can sit back and see how well this $4.99 Witchblade works in the direct market and evaluate it and tweak it or change it using what we learn from the Witchblade program and adapt it to The Darkness program.  I really do like the idea of making some things especially for the direct market.  The book trade has had a larger percentage of growth for us over the last five years -- those numbers are huge compared with what they used to be -- but we still do the majority of our business through the comic book stores and we want to support that market.  If you go into most big comic book stores, they do carry all the volumes of a trade paperback series.  It is the place where you can find all 11 Witchblade trades, whereas if you go down to Barnes & Noble, may be you can find one or two, and I want to support the guys that support us on a regular basis.  We're going to continue doing programs for the direct market, for example on The Darkness -- and I don't know if this has been announced yet -- for the first three issues of the book, we are doing a program that allows for limited returnability.  I don't know the exact parameters, but it's a significant step.  I've talked to a number of retailers off and on over the years about returnable books, and for us at this point with the numbers we are doing, and in particular when we are launching a book that we are so content with, we are willing to try it. 

 

Witchblade and The Darkness are both properties of which we have published hundreds of issues at this point -- Witchblade continuously and The Darkness through a series of volumes, but I am kind of determined on The Darkness at this point given the videogame's success, the film possibilities, that we are going to keep a monthly book (for us a monthly book is 10 issues a year) going perpetually.  We are pretty damned determined to keep Witchblade and The Darkness going as monthly titles -- never say never, but at the numbers we are doing these series are profitable and we are able to build on their success. 

 

The business model for us has changed very dramatically over the past few years, but between the issue sales, the trades, and the foreign, it's a solid business model -- I mean we are making money on just about everything we do.  It's a somewhat weird business model for us now, we are selling more trades now than we are individual issues, eventually that is, and it's actually not taking that long.  Wanted for example, sold very well as a mini-series.  We sold 40 to 50 thousand of those books -- in this day and age that's a good number (it's sad because I can remember when we canned books that sold those numbers ten years ago), but we've sold more trades than we sold on any individual issue.  I realize there are the issues of sporadic shipping and such that make it easier for some to read a trade, but we are still very committed to publishing 32-page comics.  We are absolutely diametrically opposed to going to a pure graphic novel publishing format.

 

Click here to go to Part III.