With the robust launch of the Witchblade anime series, the success 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 Top Cow would adopt in order to take advantage of these multi-media opportunities to sell more comic books and graphic novels.  In Part I Hawkins explains the 'rebooting' of the Witchblade trade series and the different approaches to the bookstore and direct markets.  In Part II he talks about the new Darkness comic book series and Top Cow's changing business model; while 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.


Tell us about the Witchblade anime?

It's kind of cool in a way.  You know, we never really knew what to expect from it.  We knew going into business with Gonzo that they did phenomenal work, but to have it do as well as it did in Japan and then to bring it over here and have it be the #1 anime series debut so far this year -- to be honest it is far more than I was expecting.


So are you planning to sort of 'reboot' the Witchblade graphic novel series?

Yeah, we are actually re-branding it.  We are going to be setting up arcs of trade paperbacks.  The best strategy for us and probably the friendliest to readers is to start a new series of trades with a new Witchblade Volume 1 with issues 80 through 86, the start of the Ron Marz era.  Then volumes 2, 3, & 4 would be composed of the subsequent arcs that Ron Marz did that have given great life to the character and created great interest.  Anytime you get into the double digits in the number of trades in a series, it gets difficult to track them all and the bookstores only want to carry one or two volumes per title.   I think what we are going to end up doing with Witchblade #1-25 is to create Witchblade Origin trades -- three or four volumes that might come out towards the end of next year.


We are going to keep everything in print.  Between the Origin series, the Compendium (the large 50-issue volumes that we do), we will be able to keep the entire series in print.  We are just doing it in different fashions for both the direct market and the bookstores -- there are a couple of different strategies -- like on the new Witchblade Trade #1, we are actually releasing it as a kind of loss leader at $4.99 as a direct market exclusive.  Now you tell the book market that you are doing that and they're like 'We don't want a $4.99 book.'  They'd rather have the $9.99 or $14.99, so we are offering the number one trade to comic stores at the $4.99 entry level price.  The same trade will be available to the bookstores, but it will have a $9.99 price.  But we will give the direct market a boost in terms of offering a low cost book.  It's a six-issue trade so it's normally something we would price between $9.99 and $12.99. 


The idea behind doing the loss leader is that I think there have been hundreds of thousands of Witchblade readers over the years and we've lost a lot of those guys for one reason or another, so we are trying to regain past audience and also pick up new readers and make it as easy as possible for them to pick up the book.  We are going to be printing quite a few of the first volume, I think the first print run will be 20 or 30 thousand of the $4.99 trade to make sure can keep that volume available.


In January we are soliciting that first volume and then in February, March and April we will be soliciting volumes 2, 3, and 4 -- so in four months we will be getting four volumes out very quickly.  Once you get that fourth volume in April you will be almost caught up to where the series is.  At that point we will publish trade collections within six months of the street date of the 32-page books, so if people just want to read the trades they can follow along pretty closely to where we are in current continuity.  Either comics or trades, you know it's become a choice with some folks preferring the comics and some the trades.


Will Witchblade Volumes 2, 3, and 4 also be priced at $4.99 in the direct market?

No, those will be regularly priced and I am not 100% sure on the exact prices, though they should be between $9.99 and $14.99 depending on page counts.  They are all different sizes because they are collecting different story arcs -- some of them are six issues and some of them are eight issues.  The idea is that Volume 1 will be the entry level for the direct market -- whether we maintain that $4.99 price point in subsequent printings I haven't decided yet.  If it's just a huge smashing success, then we may consider that going forward, and we might try it with other campaigns. 


We might try something similar when we start collecting the new Darkness material.  The biggest problem we run into -- and it's a good problem -- when you get a book up into the 100+ issue range and you include all the various one-shots and annuals that you do, you just have so much content -- and how do you keep it in print.  When we start printing Witchblade Vols. 11 & 12 and Barnes & Nobles and Borders weren't really interested in carrying all those.  They don't have volumes 1 through 10.  I've gone in and looked at most of the bookstores in the L.A. area, and with the exception of the manga, they don't keep the various volumes all in stock for anyone -- Ultimate Spider-Man is on volume 14 or 15 and you go into bookstores and they don't have all 14 or 15 volumes, they may have a couple and then the latest one.  We are already competing against these iconic characters for shelf space, so we are trying to create much friendlier content that makes sense.  If you look at the new Witchblade Vol. 1, the cover features the Witchblade gauntlet, so the idea is that fans of the anime, fans of the original TV series, fans of the comic will look at that and recognize it since the gauntlet itself runs through all the various iterations of the property, and hopefully they will pick it up and at least give it a flip through and a try.  In the comic shops at $4.99 it's an impulse buy, in the bookstores we are talking to Barnes & Noble and Borders and those guys about getting it on the new release table.


Are you planning to keep the first 80 issues of Witchblade available in compendium editions?

The compendiums we have done contain 50 issues, are like 1,400 pages long and are sold at a $60 price point.  They're huge, and we had done it as a bit of a gamble because everyone else was doing 20-25 issues as a compendium or omnibus type of thing.  But we went bigger and we have completely sold out of that first run and we have massive backorders.  So we are actually reprinting Witchblade Compendium Vol. 1, which includes issues 1 through 50.  We are reprinting that now in China along with a reprint of The Darkness Compendium Vol. 1, which is also 50 issues -- issues 1 through 40 of Volume 1 and then 1 to 8 of Volume 2 and then a couple of one-shots, but they're both 50 issues long.  We are also printing now in China Witchblade Compendium Vol. 2, which contains issues 51 through 100.  I think we are on the stands now with issue #110 or #111, so if you want the entire Witchblade collection you can get in two trades, the two compendium volumes, for $120, and with most of those issues going for between $3 and $5 at retail, so it's a savings of between $150 and $200 off of retail, so this is a pretty good price break -- and they're nice trades, they're big like phone books, and the way they do the spine structure, they're still very readable.


Click here to go to Part II.