FlamesRising.com is pleased to present an interview with Filip Sablik, publisher from Top Cow Productions, Inc. In this round of questions, we offer you an inside look into this unique comic book company by discussing WANTED, their upcoming ARTIFACTS series and more!
How has the movie WANTED changed your visibility as a comic book company?
This movie impacted our company in a variety of ways. For starters, the movie had great visibility because of the actors and actresses who were cast in the film. Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie allowed WANTED to get more exposure. That, in turn, has changed the way that Hollywood views us; now they look at us as a content provider for production companies. As a result of those strong promotional efforts, WANTED was a really big success for us in the mainstream book market.
When the movie came out, Borders did a really big promotion with the movie so fans were able to make the connection between the film and the comic. At the time, WANTED was already our best-selling title. After the release of the film, the sales from WANTED were ten times what they were the previous two years. We definitely saw a direct correlation between the movie and our trade paperback sales.
How do you feel the movie WANTED represented the comic?
I think that the film did what it was supposed to do, because it needed to be accessible to non-comic book fans. The movie kept with the overall theme of the comic by following Wesley Gibson’s journey from ordinary to extraordinary, in part because the story of WANTED is really about Wesley taking control of his life. If you think about it, some of the super-villain aspect was more of the window dressing.
To anyone who loves comics as much as I do, you know that the comic books are commentary on other comics. A lot of the time screenwriters have a challenge because they need to write for two different audiences: one familiar with comics and one not that might get the inside jokes. In this case, we were happy with the film because we feel it’s important to have a good movie rather than let the film suffer because the story needed to stay true to the comic.
Another example, there’s been a WITCHBLADE film in development for two years, but we still don’t have a script we’re happy with. We feel it’s better to not make a movie for our flagship character at all than have a bad movie that doesn’t represent what her character is all about.
How has your female audience evolved since you’ve been publishing comics?
I’ve personally been at Top Cow for three years, so I can only really comment for that time period. The impression that I get is that WITCHBLADE has always had a strong female following. We do know that female readership has expanded in comics in recent years, and that the wider segment of the population wants different things so they’re drawn to the story in different ways.
Jim McLauchlin, who was our editor-in-chief at the time, had approached Ron Mars to write WITCHBLADE. Ron was vocal about what he wanted to do; he commented about how he wanted to write a strong female detective versus writing a character that needed to have her clothes come off for the fans.
Is the story that important in your comics?
When Top Cow first started, we were known for our artwork. In recent years we’ve concentrated on elevating our story to the level of our art. We’ve never watered down the art or the story for our teenage fans; we feel that we’ve been able to expand our characters from more two-dimensional figures to real people.
The world of the Top Cow Universe has always offered shades of gray. Jackie Estecado from THE DARKNESS is a good example of that because he’s essentially a “bad guy” from the standard definition of hero, but he is also a conflicted character that does both the “right thing” and the “wrong thing.” In THE DARKNESS, he’s opposed by forces that claim to be good and pure. Unlike Jackie, those forces put themselves on a pedestal and end up blinded by their goals and self-righteousness.
Since I’ve been publisher, we’ve been moving toward a more mature storytelling sensibility for our female characters. Sara from WITCHBLADE and Patience from THE MAGDALENA are good examples of characters that portray the message that strong and sexy aren’t mutually exclusive. Our goal, here, is to try to highlight the heroism in a character that will resonate with our fans.
How much criticism of the Vatican is there in THE MAGDALENA?
THE MAGDALENA is a comic that is heavily focused on a single character and her journey.The story is more about what happens to Magdalena’s character and less about having an opportunity to portray an allegory of the Catholic church. Patience is conflicted between fulfilling her duty and staying true to her faith, even when she disagrees or distrusts the people running the Church. While there are corrupt bishops and other characters within the church, there are also positive characters as well to balance them out. In THE MAGDALENA, the antagonists that her character faces aren’t simply supernatural demons. Magdalena has to face both the obvious evils and the lesser ones in order for her character to grow.
How did the NFL football player Lance Briggs’ love of THE DARKNESS make you feel?
We were excited about it, because we felt it was a way to highlight how comics are accessible to everyone. Traditionally, there has been a stigma that comics are a niche market so Lance’s ability to be vocal to people like sports fans helps them look past those preconceptions. Once those barriers are broken down, a fan’s genuine love for comics helps everyone in the hobby. Lance Briggs is a genuine fan who doesn’t just use buzzwords to express his love of the medium, either. You can see, first-hand, how much he enjoys comics by visiting Lance’s Comic World 
. He’s a great example of what a casual fan can be; someone who has memories and who can really relate to a character.
What types of charity organizations does Top Cow donate to?
Top Cow has two main charities that we try to support throughout the year. We just launched a line of WITCHBLADE fragrances through BPAL.com 
and a portion of the proceeds benefits The Hero Initiative 
. Typically we license our characters, but in this case we waived the licensing fee. All we wanted to do was ensure that our characters were portrayed correctly, and we’ve heard that the response to the fragrances has been great. We also work with the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund 
throughout the year.
How has the internet and digital comics affected your ability to reach new fans?
For digital comics, we feel that it’s too early to tell. We just really started making things available in December; downloadable Top Cow comics for sales have only been available since January so it’s pretty premature at this point. However, we’re very optimistic about what it could do. Most people can’t easily access comic shops or don’t know where their local comic shop is right now, so having digital comics offers a broader reach and accessibility to get new people interested in the medium. We do see that free previews are encouraging people to get into the comic stores. We’re also on various social media sites and encourage our fans to follow us there, too.
Can you tell us about ARTIFACTS?
We hope our fans will consider ARTIFACTS to be one of the defining milestones for the company. At C2E2, we were able to offer fans a sneak preview of the art involved for this new series, which incorporates ten of our existing signature characters with their Artifacts and introduces three new ones into one story.
From a logistics standpoint, since we are coordinating all of the characters and three art teams our project management has had to evolve to keep up with the creative demands. Typically, we operate on a month-to-month basis for new comics. For ARTIFACTS, we started talking about it a year and a half ago. Matt Hawkins, Marc Silvestri, Phil Smith and I were meeting on a weekly basis to brainstorm for an hour to two hours so we could decide what the important touchstones and events were. Then, we provided that framework to Top Cow writer Ron Marz in order to build the story. He came back with the skeleton of the story; we then expanded things from there to incorporate some guidelines. Ron is going to knock this story out of the park.
Internally, we are all genuinely excited about ARTIFACTS. Up to this point, when we have described ARTIFACTS, we’ve always referred to them as thirteen objects. Throughout the course of the series, astute fans will notice that ARTIFACTS will not only refer to the objects, but something else as well.
This project has really brought our team together and we feel that this self-contained universe will change the lives of our fans and our characters forever. We hope you’re able to make it to your local comic book store to pick up the zero prelude issue on Free Comic Book Day.
How have the fans contributed to your creative process?
Ron and I are very active on our message boards. One topic that has been hotly contested for years is a lot of speculation about what the thirteen Artifacts are. Ever since we revealed that there were thirteen Artifacts in an issue of WITCHBLADE, fans have wondered what the underlying plan is supposed to be. Part of the reason we’re publishing the series is because we wanted to reward long-time fans with answers to the lingering questions that they’ve had. For new readers, we feel that ARTIFACTS will provide a really emotional story that they can respond to and discover the heartbreak what happens when two people have their child taken from them.
On a regular basis, we also get fans that discuss how characters touch them in different ways. It’s always really interesting for us to hear how different fans feel about WITCHBLADE. For example, when Phil Hester started working on THE DARKNESS, he wasn’t really interested in the darklings and didn’t understand why they needed to be there. We didn’t realize how important the darklings were until our fans started contacting us to express their interest in them. Phil ended up bringing them back and now they are one of his favorite parts of the book to write.
Have you thought about doing a hobby game based on ARTIFACTS?
That isn’t something that we have considered, but we would be open to it. Part of the issue would be to ensure that the game fits our style of storytelling. I feel that a game would work really well for ARTIFACTS, partially because the story exists in the genres that traditional hobby gamers like. There is a little bit of everything in ARTIFACTS.
For more about this comic publisher, be sure to visit the official Top Cow Productions website , engage with Top Cow on Facebook , or follow Top Cow on Twitter .
If you’re interested in exploring their comics, be sure to visit DriveThruComics.com  to download free issues and purchase digital comics of titles like BERSERKER, WITCHBLADE, IMPALER, THE DARKNESS and more.
 Preview of Top Cow Production’s Artifacts No. 1 : http://www.flamesrising.com/preview-of-artifacts-no-1/