Creator Talk is the one of Avatar Press’ newest online exclusives featuring real life stories from creators we work with at Avatar. Here is our third post from writer/artist Mike Wolfer, the creator of Widow, Warren Ellis’ collaborator on the William Gravel saga in Strange Kiss (Stranger Kisses, Strange Killings), and artist on the upcoming Garth Ennis Western title Streets of Glory. In the first two parts of this series, the indy veteran talked about his first steps into the world of self-publishing and his successes and setbacks. The latest installment in the series talks about Mike’s narrow escape from the indy implosion of the mid 1990’s, and a chance opportunity with an old industry acquaintance. (See Part 1, Part 2)
HOW AVATAR PRESS SAVED MY LIFE, Part 3: Spiders And Sex
By Mike Wolfer
The idea was simple: Take everything that I loved about exploitation horror movies, add copious amounts of gore, sex, nudity and monsters, stir in some sexually-transmitted disease social commentary and offer it all to adult readers of black and white indy comics.
And kill the heroine at the end of the three-issue mini-series.
But the fans of WIDOW: FLESH AND BLOOD had become so attached to Emma, even before they knew that she could transform into a spider-legged, flesh-eating creature, that her imminent death was hastily rewritten.
Sales of WIDOW exceeded my wildest expectations, so when the final issue of the initial series premiered in the Spring of 1993, I was already at work on a sequel, WIDOW: KILL ME AGAIN. At that time, I had no way of knowing that WIDOW was at the forefront of a wave of wildly popular and eventually vehemently despised comic book characters called… Gulp… “Bad Girls.” I was doing what I liked, and the continued strong sales gave every indication that I was on to something bigger than I had envisioned. There was something about the raven-haired beauty that struck a chord with fans hungry to see a woman have sex with, then later eviscerate and consume her mate.
After the completion of WIDOW: KILL ME AGAIN, I repackaged the first two series into trade paperbacks and in February of 1995, I presented FANGS OF THE WIDOW, an all-ages reprinting of the very first issue. I realized that, after three years of attending conventions around the country, there was a huge comic readership that was being excluded from enjoying the adventures of the sexy arachnid princess by the “Mature Readers” label. As I strove for as strong a literary content as possible, I noted that several other companies were unveiling their own horror heroines, each pushing farther and farther away from thought-provoking content into the realm of cheesecake, pin-up porn. But that wasn’t my concern. I had my own solid reputation for delivering a story along with the sex and blood. There couldn’t possibly be any guilt by association, right?
It was at the New York Comic Book Spectacular in February 1995 that I met the head of London Night Studios, a company intent on getting their hands on WIDOW. “Bad Girls” were everywhere: RAZOR, LADY DEATH, CRY FOR DAWN, all of which did better than WIDOW on the sales charts, so it only made sense to me to join forces with another stronger company. Let someone else handle the myriad back-breaking chores associated with publishing while I concentrated solely on writing and drawing. It sounded good at the time and the deal that we eventually struck for London Night’s right to print FANGS OF THE WIDOW and a new, full-color series titled WIDOW: METAL GYPSIES was too good to pass up. WIDOW in full color! It was a step that I could not financially or creatively have performed myself. I signed on the dotted line.
The all-ages, first issue of WIDOW: METAL GYPSIES broke into Diamond Comic Distributor’s August 1995 Top 100 sellers, but the absence of WIDOW’s previously-established adult content was sorely missed by fans. Regardless, the 5-figure check that London Night handed me for that first issue made the story-telling concession worthwhile, or so I had justified it to myself. Oh, the things I would do with that sweet, sweet money…
To this day, I’m still unsure why I received the call from London Night Studios, four months later, telling me to “cancel Christmas.” That’s right: After two issues of METAL GYPSIES and four issues of FANGS, they were pulling the plug. Sales were slightly down, but still strong enough to justify the continuation of publication. Over the years, others in the comic industry have theorized that it was killing London Night to write those big checks, knowing that such huge chunks of money were flying right through their fingers. I just don’t know.
Fine. Fuck it.
I immediately picked up the reins, shifting WIDOW back to Ground Zero, where I published the third and final issue of METAL GYPSIES and resumed the reprint book, FANGS OF THE WIDOW. Next on my agenda was a five-issue series, WIDOW: BOUND BY BLOOD, featuring a new supporting character, Brandi Five-One.
It was 1996, the year all indy publishers fondly remember as the Year Of The Implosion.
Hundreds of publishers, hundreds of “Bad Girls,” hundreds of variant and gimmick covers and hundreds of “Issue #1’s” soon made it apparent to the multiple thousands of speculators who had artificially inflated sales that there was no longer any investment potential to be had in comics. So they fled, in droves, collapsing the market and driving scores of publishers, and even comic book stores and distributors out of business, including the juggernaut Capital City Distribution. But with my low overhead and myself as the only employee of Ground Zero Comics, I survived. After three issues, I shifted the conclusion of the BOUND BY BLOOD storyline over to the pages of FANGS OF THE WIDOW as a cost-cutting measure, while testing the waters by putting WIDOW: PROGENY and the WIDOW CINEGRAPHIC SPECIAL on the market. I even produced the elusive WIDOW Trading Card Set for those hardcore collectors. I was barely above water, but I could still breathe while others perished.
And then an interesting thing happened. An associate who I had met at various conventions and who had financed several variant cover versions of WIDOW books for his gigantic mail order company was starting his own publishing venture at a time when so many others were dropping like flies. We had done business through the entire London Night fiasco and he assured me that if I were to bring WIDOW over to his new company, the same would never again happen to me.
That man was William Christensen,
His new company was called Avatar Press.
To be continued…