Whether it's working on X-Men, Spiderman or launching a new project with the Cartoon Network, the guys at Man of Action Studios never stop. I had the chance to ask the talented bunch (Steven T. Seagle, Joe Kelly and Duncan Rouleau) what it was like working so closely with Stan Lee, how they're bracing themselves for the digital future and even a sneak peek at their upcoming top secret projects.
How did you begin Man of Action Studios?
MOA Steven T. Seagle: While we knew each other in various ways beforehand, Joe, Duncan, Joe and I first worked together on the X-Men comic books. This was a time when Marvel was in all kinds of financial chaos, so doing the books was kind of a downer. But the four of us really enjoyed working with each other. Eventually, we all migrated to the Superman books. This was a time when the Superman movie reboot was in all kinds of creative chaos, so doing those books was also kind of a downer. But again, the four of us really had a great time working together. We started to wonder what it would be like if we could work together making stuff up, but for ourselves rather than other people. So, we opened up shop as MAN OF ACTION.
MOA Joe Kelly: I remember it very differently - a dramatic lab accident, the four of us dodging a shady military organization in a far off land, using our wits and strange powers to find freedom ... and then all of the stuff Steve said. Actually, mostly all the stuff Steve said.
MOA Duncan Rouleau: I guess this is why it takes four of us. Because I distinctly remember a rocket ship, cosmic radiation ... Joe Casey turning invisible, Joe Kelly becoming a rock beast, and Steve Seagle bursting into flames! ...Get it, that makes me Mr. Fantastic.
What mistakes did you make when you first began your studio that you wished you could do all over again?
MOA Steven T. Seagle: We've actually been very good about thinking business things through upfront. We always talk really frankly about worst case scenarios, and a result, we don't have a lot of do-overs. We've pretty much done things the way we wanted to since day one.
MOA Joe Kelly: If I had to be honest, the lab escape scenario notwithstanding, I would say that the biggest challenge in the beginning was learning how best to carve out a space for "work for hire" versus original idea development. It's very easy to be distracted by the promise of cash, prestige, etc. and work solely for someone else when what one needs to do is create all the time. This is a critical time in a company's development. You want to get your name out there and you take on jobs that help expand your audience, but you have to be careful not to paint yourself into a corner where being an idea house and creative engine becomes the "after work job."
MOA Duncan Rouleau: Yeah, I wouldn't say "mistakes made" as much as things to learn. All of us are creators first. Forming and running a company is a very different skill set. As we've been growing, we've been learning. Heck, I don't think we know enough to know if we made any mistakes.
When did you know that you truly had "made it" as a company?
MOA Steven T. Seagle: For me, it was when we started seeing pictures of BEN 10 merchandise, the show we created for Cartoon Network, all over the world. There were McDonalds Happy Meal toys in Brazil; Japanese Omnitrixes; Ben 10 piñatas in Mexico -- it was really cool. We'd all had books seen by big audiences in the US before, but knowing that everyone in the world was aware of something we'd created was (and is) really cool.
MOA Joe Kelly: Yeah, you hit a different level of "wow" when international entities begin to recognize you for your work. We are currently working with very talented folks in Italy, France and Korea and have flown all over the world to meet fans. That's humbling and exciting at the same time. The fact that a kid in Uruguay gets excited that Man of Action is coming to Montevideo is really mind-blowing.
MOA Duncan Rouleau: Much like each one us remembering a different take on how Man of Action came into being, the concept of "making it" is a very personal one. I couldn't put my finger on any particular moment. The notion that people all around the world know our work is really too difficult to wrap my head around. And truthfully, hundreds and hundreds of people from Cartoon Network to Bandia made that happen as much as MOA.
People talk about the demise of the book publishing industry and even the comic book world. Do you see sales falling or do you see an increase in interest digitally?
MOA Steven T. Seagle: Reports of the death of print of print comics has been greatly exaggerated. Right now, it feels more like one audience making use of digital distribution, and another audience buying print comics. I feel that more people reading is a good thing. My suspicion is that people will sample comic for free digitally and then seek out hard copies of the ones they really like.
MOA Joe Kelly: The delivery system isn't as important to me as the content. I love comic book stores and comic books and hope to have them around for a long, long time. There is a certain tactile experience with a comic that just doesn't translate to a tablet experience. That said, digital does offer opportunities to reach your audience in a better, more targeted way. I don't think digital guarantees mega-sales. In fact, it's sort of the opposite as there is exponentially more competition on the web than in a comic store. However, you have a better chance of finding the right reader/consumer - the person who really loves your work and will search for it. I may have a book out of print that's impossible to find in a store, but is available online. That book won't necessarily sell through the roof, but stands a shot at finding its audience.
MOA Duncan Rouleau: Word. Like everything, the way markets track success and failure, publishing is going through the same transitions. It's a collage of big drivers like Marvel and DC and smaller independent self publishers. I see readership springing up in different demographics than have not traditionally been there, at least in the North American market. Each of these audiences are drawn to a different forms of the medium and consume a hybrid of digital and printed material. It's going to be a while, if ever, until strong identifiable trends get set. From our perspective, as long as graphic/fine art storytelling is around we will be using both digital as well as printable forms to tell our tales.
How has digital and eBooks completely changed your industry and your business?
MOA Joe Kelly: As far as reprinting material digitally, this is still a small fraction of what we do in terms of comics. However, we pay attention to the trends and watching new forms evolve sparks creative ideas about how best to tell stories in the age of new media.
MOA Duncan Rouleau: The eBook experience is expanding the modes of storytelling and "information gathering" as you find yourself accessing foot notes, articles written on, author commentary of. From MOA business experience, it is offering new ways of telling stories. I am currently working on a new piece that utilizes these dynamics in the actual storytelling. When it's done, I might have more to say on the subject.
If someone is interested in submitting a character or a story line or a graphic novel to your company, how would they go about it? Or do you do everything only in-house?
MOA Joe Kelly: As of right now, we self-generate all of our own I.P. That may change as we expand, but we are four creatives with a ton of ideas, so it doesn't make sense for us to go outside. We enjoy a wide range of genres and storytelling styles, so there's plenty to work with among the four of us.
MOA Duncan Rouleau: Yeah, as you can tell from our responses, we have a hard enough time keeping our own stories straight.
Having worked on The Ultimate Spiderman*, have you met or worked with Stan Lee before? What was that like for you?
MOA Steven T. Seagle: We have worked with Stan many times! He plays Stan the Janitor on the show, and does a great job! We have a very cool episode featuring him coming up later this season. I think it's hard for anyone who's a comic book fan (and all four of us are) to not get a little fanboyish when Stan comes in to the room.
MOA Joe Kelly: Absolutely. The first time I ever spoke to Stan on the phone was (and continues to be) a highlight of my career. I can't even be cool about it - I was beside myself, totally giddy, and barely held it together. Very, very professional.
MOA Duncan Rouleau: I had the honor of working with Stan while he was setting up Stan Lee Media. I had hundreds of one-on-one lunches with him for over the breadth of a year! I got to tell him how much his and Jack's and Steve's and John's (and etc.) work meant to me. When he wasn't checking out the hot girls at the table next to us, he took my gushing compliments with the humility and aplomb he is renowned for.
What new projects do you have coming out?
MOA Steven T. Seagle: My next comic book is a superhero buddy book called IMPERIAL. That will be out through Image. I also have a new graphic novel with Teddy Kristiansen called GENIUS. It's kind of a spiritual cousin to your stuff. MOA also has some exciting TV projects on deck for 2013!
MOA Joe Kelly: I'm finishing the first arc of the foul-mouthed but funny BAD DOG, getting back to FOUR EYES with the second arc, and have a few new things that are premature to name: An all ages adventure book, a surreal "western," a film project (or two), and my first prose piece. All while hitting the TV projects that Steve mentioned, which are very exciting for us.
MOA Duncan Rouleau: I'm finishing on the last two issues of The Great Unknown. Releasing a newly reformatted color hard back version of my OGN The Nightmarist, and I'm releasing a new comic called Von Voom that the great Shawn McManus has been illustrating.
*ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN airs on Disney XD in the Marvel Animation block