Comics… we love ’em, you love ’em, right? And nowadays we’re all about new, fresh voices on the comic book shop shelves which are going to galvanise us as readers and generally shake shit up. (Look at how we’ve been eager to pin our flag to feisty young turks such as AfterShock Comics and Black Crown Comics – and see how well that’s turned out!)
We’re also always revved up by new players to the game, especially if they’re bringing something bold to the table and have some serious spunk, some blood and grit, something they have to prove. That definitely describes AHOY Comics, the brainchild of former NYT reporter Hart Seely, former Vertigo Comics editors Tom Peyer and Stuart Moore, and Eisner-nominated author-artist Frank Cammuso, who serves as AHOY’s Chief Creative Officer. Scheduled to hit stands this September, AHOY are committed to bringing a distinctive style and flair to their books.
They’re also reviving a bold format, too: comic book magazines. Printing ‘traditional, full length comic book stories’, the books are also going to feature additional material including cartoons, prose, poems and traditional back-up strips, giving a real old school anthology feel to them.
But you can’t just slap together a bunch of content and call them ‘comics’ to stand out in 2018, you also have to back that up with some prime time talent, something AHOY are bringing in spades, with their first initial titles featuring a powerhouse line-up including Jamal Igle (BLACK), Mark Russell (FLINTSTONES), Peyer & Moore themselves, the legendary Ann Nocenti (THE SEEDS) and prose from none other than that there non-more-goth, grand wizard GRANT MORRISON (HAPPY!). Not too shabby, right? Nope, we don’t think so, either.
We were very lucky to get the opportunity to speak to Editor Tom Peyer about what AHOY have in store for readers – and what AHOY are planning to bring to the table to make them stand out from the herd…
AEISD: Comics, prose, poetry, art… It’s a bold mix, designed for a sophisticated palette. Who do you see as the typical AHOY reader – someone more mature and comic literate, or someone who’s never thought of picking up what they’ve previously thought of a comic before in their lives?
Tom Peyer: I welcome anyone who wants to read our titles for any reason. While the tendency to pigeonhole people is completely understandable, I’m not too interested in it. If you’re into comics, why assume you wouldn’t want to read prose or poetry? You don’t read comics, but something we do catches your eye? Good for you, good for us. I’d rather not try to anticipate some ideal reader. They’re all ideal.
AEISD: What are the touchstones when it comes to curating such an eclectic series of books? Any comics or publications that have come before? Away from comics, I’m definitely getting a vibe of the old school science fiction anthologies…
TP: There’s probably some of that. The disappointingly broad answer is that every comic, new and old, informs our thinking. The prose pieces harken back to comics from the ’30s to the ’50s that featured hastily-written pulp text stories. We looked at those and thought, what if they were good? And that’s how the back-matter idea started. We’re running our cover art on the back covers minus the logos and blurbs, just like Gold Key did in the ’60s. As a kid, I thought that was an unbelievably generous thing for Gold Key to do.
But none of this means we’re nostalgia-crazed revivalists; the stories we tell are of today, and we tell them in modern ways. Still, I remember so many little touches that gave me pleasure over the years, and so many others that annoyed me. Page numbers, for instance; why on earth did we all stop using page numbers? Don’t people want to know the number of the page they’re reading? Of course they do. And with AHOY, they will!
AEISD: I’d imagine those first phone calls, convincing initial creatives to get on board, were nerve-wracking… exhilarating! Who was the first names on your call-sheet and how did those first pitches go? Accepting from the off, or met with some scepticism?
TP: A few people early on might not have returned our messages, but they were a very tiny minority. Freelancers as a rule love to get work.
AEISD: Still, you’ve got some blinding ‘out of the gate’ talent involved: Mark Russell, Jamal Igle, Grant Morrison… These are World Builders of serious muscle. Who came to whom with the initial ideas? They pitch to you, or you pitch to them? Can you, in fact, tell Grant Morrison, ‘…nah, mate, sorry – not what we’re looking for!”?
TP: The idea that Grant would send me something I’m not looking for is more fantastic than anything he’s ever written. But, yes, he did send his stories out of the blue, because he and I are DOOM PATROL for life. That was an exciting day. In Jamal’s case, we brought THE WRONG EARTH to him, and he took to it immediately and added important touches of his own right away. His enthusiasm has been an inspiration.
AEISD: Any of those first story pitches that you got back which you instantly thought, “…yes, that’s AHOY!”? That encapsulated the approach you had in your head for the line?
TP: When Stuart Moore showed us CAPTAIN GINGER, there was no doubt. Funny, larger-than-life, one-of-a-kind, it couldn’t have been more perfect for AHOY. I mean, cats in space? I’ll have some.
AEISD: Today, comics marketing seem to want stories that can be tied up into a neat six-issue bow which they can then slap out as a trade – AHOY seems more like a publisher that revels and embraces the single issue floppy format. That’s risky. Thoughts?
TP: We do love monthly comics, but we plan to collect them in trades as well. I refuse to pick a side!
AEISD: It’s a tired question but a valid one: what are you wanting to see AHOY bring differently to make it stand out from the crowd on the shelves? What do think the comic industry has been lacking that AHOY can fulfil?
TP: Well, for one thing, we’re funny. We’re not interested in unfunny material. They don’t have to be comedies; some of the funniest shows on Prestige TV are dramas. But funny on some level. And we have high standards for art, colors, production and, of course, writing. And I like to think we consider The Whole Reader when we follow a couple of comics features up with a poem and a prose story.
AEISD: I’m a huge advocate for all-ages comics, bringing new blood to the readership, while I’m also a fan of books that the kiddie-winks aren’t and should be allowed to pick up! Where do you see AHOY servicing those markets? And could we be seeing a AHOY After Dark down the line?
TP: Two of our first four series carry a Mature label: HIGH HEAVEN and EDGAR ALLAN POE’S SNIFTER OF TERROR. Mostly for swearing, although POE gets a little sweaty here and there. CAPTAIN GINGER and THE WRONG EARTH are for all ages.
AEISD: Excellent stuff. Now, I’m loving how in 2018, the online criticism is that comic sales are tanking and yet we are seeing more and more independent publishers such as yourselves, launching into the fray! What have you found to be the biggest challenges in launching AHOY in today’s busy comics landscape?
TP: So far so good. Everyone we’ve partnered with, in distribution, publicity, legal, etc., has been very encouraging and complimentary about our material. People who have dealt with many publishers, and many more attempted publishers, have told us they’re impressed. So we have some reason to hope that retailers and readers will share that view. The main challenge is letting people know you exist, of course. David Hyde of Superfan, our publicity partner, has clearly aced that job.
AEISD: He’s a good egg, that one. What’s your long term strategy for AHOY so far? Laying plans and pencilling books down the line for six months, a year? Two years? Five?
TP: We have our second wave of miniseries nailed down, and we’re well into our third. And most of the first wave series will return when ready. We’re at a point where we have to be pretty choosy or the pipeline will fill up too many years in advance.
AEISD: In summery, then, if you had to bottle AHOY as a publisher, the sum of all its parts, what five words would you use to describe what AHOY intends to be?
TP: Funny, smart, good-looking, professional… are four words enough? Oh, wait! I thought of the fifth! Eclectic!
Thanks to David Hyde of Superfan Promotions and our own Dan Berry for setting up this interview with Tom – very much appreciated.