Since Devil’s Due and the revived 1First Comics merged in June (see "1First Comics, Devil’s Due Merge"), it’s become clear that the new comics company aspires to be more than a boutique independent.  A publishing program of significant scale is taking shape, with an emphasis on creator-owned work and a different business model than Image Comics, the leader in that space.

At San Diego Comic-Con, we caught up with 1First Comics co-founder Ken F. Levin for a conversation about the company’s plans.  In Part 1, we talk about the company’s massive publishing scale-up, which begins in September, including some of its new properties, plans for the classic 1First Publishing titles, and the company’s philosophy on keeping comics on schedule.  In Part 2, we talked about the events between the purchase of the original 1First in the early 90s and the recent revival of the company, how the iPad and the recent change in the standard Vertigo contract led to the new venture, the merger, and more on the company’s launch in September.

ICv2:  How many books are you publishing consecutively over the next few months?
Levin:  We’ll add at least one new title every comic book Wednesday for the first four Wednesdays of the month through March, starting in September.  We’re in this month’s Previews.  September 2nd is the first Wednesday in September and we come out with Public Relations, which is this extraordinary monthly series that Newsarama flipped over, gave us 10 out of 10 and said it’s hilarious, and it is.  Terrific writers, Matt Sturges , who’s done a lot with Bill Willingham, and Dave Justus, who knows Matt Sturges.

Is that a new issue every Wednesday, or a new title?
New titles.

We’ve got Public Relations, Serving Supes, R.R.H., and Night Stalker.  There’s a new miniseries of Zen that Marat Michaels has done the art for that’s just gorgeous.  We had an exclusive preview book at San Diego.  Drude, an Omaha Perez book.  There’s a Jimmy Palmiotti book called Delete with Amanda Conner doing covers.

When is Delete launching?
I actually have to meet with Jimmy and see.  We have three of the issues in.  I think it’s just a question of when Amanda can get to it.  She is wonderfully busy, enormously popular, deserving every bit of it.  What they’ve done with Harley Quinn is kind of amazing.  I’m guessing first quarter of ’16.

Then we’ve got 13 original graphic novels that are finished, ready to go.  A number from the Fillbach Brothers who will be mega-stars in three years.  Their books are so unique and exceptional.  I can’t tell you how pleased I was that they decided to…  (I wish I could remember the quote exactly, it’s something like) ‘throw our brand in with First’ (or some cowboy thing).  They’re really talented.  We’ve got three of their books coming out in October.

R.R.H. #1 comes out in October.  Beautiful book.  Orlando Harding wrote it, created it and Orlando also did Night Stalker.  He did a title that fans’ll know called Pariah, about two years ago.  That’s when he first came to my attention.

And we’re doing some collections of classic First titles.  We’ve done E- Man, which is of the golden years.  We’ve done the first reprints of the E-Man titles that were at Charlton, when Charlton went out of business and we acquired E-Man and Joe [Staton] came over to be our first Art Director.  Those Charlton books that Nick Cuti wrote had never been collected before.  And we had all the film and Alex Wald, our last Art Director and current Art Director, said we could use the film and it would look OK, but it won’t really look great.  So we ended up recoloring the whole thing and it’s just spectacular.  That’s in Previews.

Through the merged imprint with Devil’s Due, we have the first collection of the Devil’s Due title Solitary, which was really a breakout hit.  It’s a really unique high concept.  That trade comes out in September.  And the first of our Fillbach books is Cadaver Dogs of Winter.  That book is what I think the Coen Brothers would have done if they decided to do graphic novels instead of Fargo.  It’s right on the muscle.  Brilliant storytelling.  And we’ve got three more of their original graphic novels coming out this year.

First always tried to have books for any taste, any demographic.  We have kid-friendly, or family-friendly books; typically the Fillbach Brothers’ are not one of them.  But they did a series for about 10 years called Star Wars: Clone Wars that was very popular, digest sized.

From Dark Horse Comics.
Exactly.  After doing four graphic novels for us, they said "we’d really like to do something digest-sized."  We don’t have any experience with digest size, but their stuff had been so great, we said "sure."  And they came up with the title Tales of the S.S. Junky Star.  80 pages.

The preview book is in black and white, but they’ll be in color.  That book is the first of six, and it’s terrific.  It’s charming; it’s entertaining.  We’ve had people at the convention come up, all ages and sizes, and just really like it.  I think that’s going to be a long-running series and next year we’re going to put out the first of however many we have done, four I think, in hardbound as well as softcover.

We’re going to do that with a number of the titles, where you can get hardbound versions that are all the same format so they look good on your shelf.  Maybe they look good on a retailer shelf, a library shelf.

We’re having a good time.

What are some of your classic First titles?  Warp, E-Man…
Warp was our first title.  We really came into being because the trilogy of plays that Stuart Gordon, Joey Montagna, and Dennis Franz were doing at the Organic Theatre.  One of them of them was Warp!, which they marketed as a comic book come to life.  And it went to Broadway and they tried to get Marvel or DC interested in it and they weren’t interested.  They would have had to own it and they weren’t going to pay very much for it, so we used that as our launch title and got Frank Brunner to do the art for nine issues.  Each three issues was one of the three plays, so in nine issues we did the whole trilogy of plays.  I think everybody agrees it’s the best comic art Frank Brunner ever did.  Peter Gillis did the writing and it had never been collected either.  And we had that recolored, too.

It turns out that there’s a lot of comics fans who missed the whole independent movement, who don’t have any sense of the history of when we started: there was only Marvel and DC.

And the really great, classic titles like the great, classic anything, like art or Shakespeare, I think the ultimate test is that is survives.  That you look at it not as a historical artifact but say, "oh, this is really good."

E-Man’s really good. Unless there’s a cultural reference, you wouldn’t know it wasn’t done last week. Warp is still a terrific takeoff on all of the absurdities of comic art heroes and superheroes.

But mostly what we’re doing are new, original stories from some of the best and brightest of the creators today.  And it’s a happy mix.

What about Badger?
There is a new Badger that Mike Baron has written and Paul Pope did the initial cover for that’s just beautiful (see "’Badger’ Returns with Paul Pope Cover").  It’s a five-issue miniseries.  Alex [Wald] and I both think it’s the best Badger Mike’s written maybe since the middle of his initial run. It’s really, really good.  Alex has been friends with Mike for years and Alex edited that book.

When’s that going to launch?
We’re waiting for issue five to finish, but my guess is the first issue will be at least by January and I’d really like to get the first issue out for Christmas.  That’s my goal, to have it in retail stores that first week in December.  And unless something goes wonky, which seems to be endemic to our industry, that’s the plan.

For those who aren’t familiar with First, can you talk about your philosophy of putting books out on time?
When we started and there was only Marvel and DC, we were just trying to survive in that environment, get attention.  One of the things that was really important to us because retailers told us it’s important to them was if you’ve got fans and they’re going to invest their time, their interest, their money, in a title, they’re going to expect you to be professional enough to deliver regularly.  If you’re doing a monthly title, your book better come out monthly.

And we had Marvel and DC doing a whisper campaign saying ‘don’t invest anything in these guys because they’ll never be able to deliver on time,’ and ‘they’re a startup,’ and so on.  We made that a mission and delivered every book we announced and we had over 500 books.  We went almost five years and then we had one title where everything fell off the cliff at once and we were six weeks late.

So one of the things we do is that we don’t announce a book unless it’s ready to go so that nothing bad can happen in terms of production.  Your artist suddenly takes ill; your writer goes on walkabout.  Those things happen, but they don’t affect our production, because we won’t have announced it.

That’s really the reason that Badger, for example, hasn’t been put in production yet because we don’t have that fifth issue far enough along.  The lettering and coloring we don’t worry about, but the art is important and Mike has had that scripted for a while.  We’re all chomping at the bit to get that back because Badger, as you know, is just a wonderful property.  It’s really kind of a joy to be able to have a small hand in bringing it back to the industry.  New fans are going to love that book as if it’s a brand new title and for them it might as well be, and that’s fine too.

Click here for Part 2, on the events between the purchase of the original 1First in the early 90s and the recent revival of the company, how the iPad and the recent change in the standard Vertigo contract led to the new venture, the merger, and more on the company’s launch in September.