We recently spent some time with Barry Levine, President and Publisher of Radical Publishing.  Radical recently launched its first two comic series and gave a look at more of its properties on Free Comic Book Day.  Its first two graphic novels will be released in November.  


Levine spent about three years working with Dark Horse, where he helped develop Rex Mundi (see “Johnny Depp To Do Rex Mundi”) and other projects.  He co-founded Radical Publishing with Jesse Berger, David Elliott and Matthew Berger. 


In Part 1 of this two part interview, we talk about plans for Radical’s publishing roll-out and its plans for the manga and anime businesses.  In Part 2, we talk about the Radical’s relationship with Imaginary Friends, the Radical brand, and the movie pipeline.


Update us on the status of Radical’s publishing rollout.

We have Hercules by Steve Moore, and we have Caliber written by Sam Sarkar, who is an avid comic book fan.  This will be his first series of books.  Funny enough, he planned this—he’s a screen writer who also runs development for Johnny Depp’s company.  He’s been with Johnny in many various roles for 21 years and he’s had this idea for 10 years.  But he never wanted to do just the typical western.  He always wanted to do something that was a little to the left of it and that’s why he came up with this mythical, Arthurian legend.


So those are our first two books.  We decided to release two books at once to basically help brand our universe and help brand Radical Comics.  And then we are only launching one book a month up until April of ’09, although we may launch two books in February of ’09 because that would be the second Hercules series.


It’s a very competitive business out there and we wanted to focus our attention.  We told our creators that we would spend X amount of dollars, spend X amount of time in marketing, on the phones, everything we possibly could do to promote their book that month.


They were in stores last Wednesday, along with our Free Comic Book Day Imaginary booklet, which basically gives you a pretty good visual and story reference on the next six books that we have coming out over the next six months.


In June we have our Yoshitaka Amano book, which comes under the auspices of Radical Books. Coming out for August will be Freedom Formula, which is a book that Bryan Singer and I are producing as a film, and it’s all Imaginary.  They created it, they wrote it; it’s an amazing book with really unique artwork. 


After that we will have Aladdin that Ian Edginton is writing which is more like our Lord of the Rings. Again, we try to do original stuff or try to reinvent the iconic.  After that we’ll have Steve Niles’ A City of Dust (formerly known as Khrome), which is basically supernatural Blade Runner.


How many new series will you launch this year?

This year we will launch five new series and the Yoshitaki Amano book.


Will each of the series be monthly?

Each will be monthly.  Even though they’re five and six-issue miniseries, you will see another five issues of Caliber in 2009, the new Hercules is already green lit, same thing for Aladdin.  They’re all franchisable.


What's going to follow from Radical? 

The reason we created Radical Publishing is that we’re more than just a comic book company dealing with the direct sales market.  Direct sales is a really important market for us because it really establishes who we are, our universe, our fan base, but we’re also very much involved in the book and mass markets.  Graphic novels are very important to us.


We’re even creating hybrid books as well, which are very much like the old French books.  Full page, double pages, splash pages.  35-40 images from artists that you normally would not get to do sequential, but they will approach it as if it’s a full painting and you use those paintings in lieu of panels.  One image can tell a lot. Books will be written as almost like a novel.  A lot of these writers, especially a lot of comic book writers that I’ve come across, are basically frustrated novelists.  A lot of them would love to have a certain amount of continuity and just write novels without having bubbles and having to know that “I’ve got 22 pages, five-six issues, how do I make it work?”


So that market is a very important market.  We have Radical Comics, then we have Radical Books which is working with the direct market and the mass market stores.


We have Radical Kidz, our first book’s coming out-- a book called Animal Squares, that we’re doing as an animated piece.  Again, we’re doing that with Johnny Depp’s company.  We’ve got three projects with them. 


And then we have Radical Manga, which is an imprint. It is manga done for the Asian market.  We’re not even thinking of doing Americanized manga.  I’ve seen that done; it’s not true to the essence of what it’s about.  That’s Imaginary, who we’re in partnership with.  The concept is great.  The art is great. It’ll always translate over here in other mediums as well.


Then we have Radical Art, which is our coffee table books, our art books.  We’re doing one with Yoshitaki Amano, which is called The Winds of Silence. It’s about 400 pages.


We’ve been pretty lucky that our first two books that are coming out, Hercules and Caliber, have been sold as feature films, before they even came out.  One is with Peter Berg directing through Universal and the other one is with John Woo that we’re showcasing at Cannes this year.  They stand on their own. One of the things we do is we don’t make comic books to just make films.  We make graphic novels; we make books; we create a universe, we create characters.  With or without a film it has to have its own merit, it has to have its strong dialogue, strong mythology.  I’m always about, “Well a lot of these new comic book companies are just making comics to turn them into films, and we know some of those companies.”  We’re not into doing that.  I’d like to elevate the graphic novel market.  I didn’t invent the wheel, all I’m trying to do is the best I can to establish new venues for it and bring more people to it.  I’d love to see to see the mass American market treat comic books and graphic novels, especially graphic novels, the way the French treat their graphic novels.


I’m very good friends with Claude de Saint-Vincent, who runs Dargaud.  I just watch the sales that they do and their volumes, their books are the fabric of the French lives.  I’d love to see that here.  You go into Barnes & Noble and all these other stores and you see the manga section and graphic novel sections and they’re growing, but it’s not there yet.  We have to make sure that our basic product, our properties, are well defined, and the art and the writing are well defined before they go anywhere else. That’s one of our things as well is to try to increase the appreciation for what a graphic novel is.


You have people like Neil Gaiman, who’s done that, and people like Frank Miller, and Grant Morrison, and Steve Niles.  There’s a handful of them, as opposed to the way it really should be.  You look at the best sellers and what people do with novels.  I would love to see us to be in the middle of that.


You were describing the two film deals--which one is John Woo attached to?

John Woo is directing Caliber.  Sam Sarkar and I flew to Beijing to make sure that we were all on the right page.  I’m not about a big name attaching himself to something and then he either never directs it or the film never happens.  He truly understands the essence of the characters and what the high concept really is.


Can you tell us more about the other imprints?  For Radical Kidz, you said the first property there is also going to be animated?

We’re involved with a major company in Japan—I wish I could tell you, but we’re going to announce it at Comic-Con.  Because our partners are Singaporean and our money comes out of Singapore as well as London, we helped invest X amount of dollars into a film that’s in production right now.  It’s an anime.  We’re not going to get into the animation business, but the anime business.  Animal Squares has been created by Singaporeans and we’re going be doing an anime on that as well as a book, and probably toys and stuff.  It’s a great project.  It’s “square animals in a round world.”  It’s kind of irreverent.  It’s for the kids and yet there are certain aspects of it that parents will chuckle at.  It has the mentality of a Spongebob, but not as cutting as a Family Guy.


Some of these properties have an international heritage.  Do you plan to launch them worldwide at the same time or platform between countries?

We’re going to want to launch that worldwide because it’s emanating from Asia.


I had a pretty abrupt learning experience.  I’ve been going back and forth to Singapore a lot, and Beijing, and Japan, and on my last trip to Japan, I really had an eye-opening experience, because not really knowing that market, you think “hey, we’ve got great stuff.”  It’s virtually impossible to penetrate that market. But because of our Asian partners and the people we’re involved with and the content that we’re creating, we’re creating content for Asian market as opposed to trying to try to sell American books over there.  That just doesn’t happen.


For the European market, I was in Claude de Saint-Vincent’s office last year and I saw this poster for this manga which I did not know.  I know a lot of that world, and I had never heard of that title.  And I said “I’ve never heard of that. What kind of numbers?”  I thought he was going to say 50,000 or 100,000.  It did 1.2 million.


So this is something we want to brand worldwide.  We want to turn it into a feature film as well. One of the Family Guy writers, Matt Fleckenstein, is the one who’s writing the take on it and will be writing the book as well.


That’s for Animal Squares?

Yes.  That will be produced by Infinitum Nihil, which is Johnny’s company, and Radical.


You also mentioned Radical Manga. Tell us about that.

Freedom Formula is the first book we’re doing under Radical Comics, and then we’re releasing a manga version of it which is the prequel, which will be released only in Asia.  It’s basically an Imaginary Friends studio imprint that we’re publishing because they have quite a few manga artists and because of the relationship that we will be announcing at Comic-Con with one of the leading anime houses.  They have access to some incredible and established artists—people that have a brand.  And they have a sister company that is also heavily involved with other well-known anime and manga properties.  That is going to be something we’re going to focus on with the mass market as well.


Click here for Part 2.