Sunday, September 28, 2014

Riding High in the Saddle. And Pancakes.

 By Chuck Dixon

Chuck Dixon by Flint Henry
Hi, I’m comic book legend Chuck Dixon. You may remember me as the guy who killed Oliver Queen. The first time, anyway.

I used to think that Facebook was just for arguing with total strangers and watching videos of Asian traffic accidents. But I discovered recently that there’s more to it than George Takei memes and reports of where some girl you pretend to remember from high school boarded her labradoodle while she was on vacation in Myrtle Beach.

There’s lots of folks on my Facebook friends list from the comic book business (or, if you work at a library, “the graphic novel medium”) and a few of them were talking about Charlton Neo, a new endeavor providing a forum for the work of seasoned comic vets looking for interesting work and new talent looking for any work at all.

Charlton is maybe the only comics company I never worked for. So, I’d read their postings but I was kind of like the guy who’s only at the American Legion breakfast because he drove his dad there. I couldn’t really join in the conversations but there were free pancakes. At the VFW hall, that is. No pancakes at all in the Charlton Neo threads. So I lurked a lot but contributed little except for fanboy musings about Steve Ditko.

Then someone mentioned Westerns.

Westerns are my kryptonite. Well, if kryptonite was something Superman couldn’t resist harmlessly indulging in.

Westerns are my pancakes.

I broke in as a professional writing Westerns. Larry Hama bought four of my scripts of the old west for Savage Tales. Three were assigned to John Severin and one to John Buscema. My career in comics could have ended right there and I’d have died a happy man. No lie. I love Westerns, all kinds of Westerns. Cattle drives, cavalry charges, gunfights in the street, brushfires, stampedes, and massacres. I grew up on them in TV and movies. I have two 400-disc DVD players filled with nothing but sagebrush sagas from William Boyd to Terence Hill and I’m close to needing a third.

It just so happened that I had two creator-owned westerns complete with finished art in my possession. One with art by Eduardo Barreto and the other by Gary Kwapisz. They were to be part of a self-published anthology until I found out that self-publishing involved actual work and sometimes math. That whole “self” part was the deal breaker for me. So, I offered the two stories to the Charlton guys and they snapped them up. Then they started asking if I wanted to do anything new specifically for them.

They had me hooked.

The Charlton Neo project is much in the spirit of the old Charlton Comics company. See, Charlton was the last of the independent comics publishers that had newsstand distribution. They were also the last that did not solely rely on superheroes to stay in business. They were what we in the biz call a redundant publisher. That’s an outfit that looks at the sales figures then prints more of the kind of books that are at the top of their sales charts. If it’s Westerns, they print a lot of Westerns. Same for romance, war and horror. Charlton was never an “all the eggs in one basket” kind of company. Today we would call that “responding to market forces.” Today that’s as alien a concept to the big house publishers as likeable characters and stories that make sense.
Charlton was a small company but a smart one.

They also had two things going for them the bigger outfits did not have. They owned their own presses and they offered their creators a free hand.

These Neo guys (should that be we Neo guys now that I’ve been roped in?) don’t have their own press. (Do we?) But they are offering creators, seasoned and plain, the chance to do the stories they’ve always wanted to do without the pitch meetings, beat sheets, delays, excuses and all the other hoops editors make us jump through. Maybe you have that creator-owned project that’s been in your head for years and could be the next Big Thing. Here’s your chance to trot that sucker out in an actual comic book and with your copyright brand on it. All you have to bring with you is that burning desire to write and draw the comics that you love. They handle the marketing, production and even do the math.

It’s a ground-up, backyard, “let’s put on a show” kind of deal that would be impossible without a tool like the internet to bring us all together. For all the unbridled enthusiasm it is being run by professionals who know how to put comics together despite the first impressions their personal appearance might make. Neo is a mix of writers, artists, and even a few editors (but we won’t hold that against them) who want to create an ambitious, genre-spanning line of creator-owned and creator-controlled material that offers a venue for longtime pros, former phenoms, and fledgling ubernerds. Just bring your love and your talent.

The whole thing has a pull stronger than gravity to me. It’s a chance to strut my stuff with a bunch of my talented peers as well as work with artists I’ve never collaborated with before.

And someday, they promise me, there will be pancakes.

© Chuck Dixon

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