Monday, December 12, 2011

PULPTACULAR | IDW


Though I’ve been familiar with and a fan of their work practically since they began publishing comics in 2002, IDW isn’t a name I immediately associate with pulp the way I do companies like Moonstone and Dynamite. That has everything to do with my own biases about the pulp label though. While I know in my head that pulp encompasses a wide variety of other genres, the images that instinctively pop into my head when I hear the term are still those of the heroic pulp of the ‘30s and early ‘40s. That’s not what IDW does, but once I think about the wide variety of horror, fantasy, crime, and adventure series they publish, I’m ashamed of the unconscious limits I sometimes place on the genre. Pulp was bigger than heroic fiction and New Pulp is too. Of course IDW is a New Pulp publisher.

Though their early days are most associated with Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith’s famous vampires-in-Alaska series, 30 Days of Night, IDW’s very first comic was a one-shot that had less in common with HP Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith than it did with exploitation pulp novels like Women’s Battalion, House Party, and Pleasure Island. Lurid was an “unflinching look at the lifestyle and characters that make up the working life of a strip club.” Not the kind of pulp that immediately springs to mind when most people hear the word, but pulp nonetheless. And of course 30 Days of Night is pulp through-and-through.

A quick look at the IDW website reveals that they’re still extremely interested in publishing pulp-influenced series, even among their licensed titles. GI Joe, Transformers, Star Trek, Doctor Who, and Dungeons & Dragons are all heavily inspired by pulp, as are new series like the urban fantasy Memorial and Joe Hill’s popular horror-fantasy series Locke & Key.

As usual, though, I wanted to get the publisher’s insight on the company and what it contributes to the New Pulp landscape. Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall was kind enough to talk with me and I’m glad he did, because he mentioned a few books I left out that are some of the best pulp-like stories in history.

Michael: Chris, what’s the short history of IDW? What was missing that you guys wanted to provide?

Chris: The very short, not-so-secret origin of IDW is: it started in 1999 as a creative-service company, doing custom design work, card games like Yu-G-i-Oh and the like. That begat an Ashley Wood art book, which led to 30 Days of Night in 2002. It was never the intent then to become a full comics publisher; 30 Days was done more as a favor to Steve and Ben after others had turned them down. But when that book became a hit, and then the licensed comics started up successfully with CSI, it's become more and more of the company’s focus, and certainly the primary focus for at least the past half-decade or more (maybe not coincidentally, since I’ve been here as the company’s editor-in-chief since 2004, and comics were certainly the reason I was brought on board after Jeff Mariotte left).

As a company, we provide alternatives to the same-ol’-same-ol’. If you've outgrown superhero books or just want something different, we have all kinds of comics that work as a natural outgrowth from those kinds of comics. Or if you want comics that tie in to your favorite movie/TV show/game/toy, we do that; we do lots of archival quality strip books and art books and some prose and some things that aren't so easily classified. Basically, when you outgrow the stuff you've grown up on – or just want to try other things in addition to those comics – no matter what your tastes, IDW has something good for you.

Michael: There are a few comics publishers who do a lot of licensed and pulp-flavored comics. I’m not looking to start anything and let me know if this question makes you uncomfortable, but in your opinion, what differentiates IDW’s books from those published by companies like Dark Horse or Dynamite?

Chris: Well, I'm sure they'd say the same about themselves, but in my opinion, IDW is far and away the best publisher of licensed comics. We have a great array of fan-favorite titles, we pride ourselves on our ability to match the property with the best creative teams, and we treat each one with the importance it deserves. Which isn't to say the others don't in some cases, but I can't speak to what they do. I can only speak to the fact that we really give our all to developing these comics into something special and never just a tie-in or nostalgia piece.

Michael: Where did the name Idea and Design Works come from?

Chris: It was just the parent company name, back when they started up as a creative-service company in 1999. They wanted something more palatable for the comics division when that got going, so "IDW Publishing" was born from that name.

Michael: This might be an impossible question to answer, but is there an IDW comic that you’d recommend to someone who’s never read one of your books? Where’s the perfect place to start to get an accurate feel for what IDW represents?

Chris: Actually, it's an easy question, but with multiple parts. I think the very best comic book we do is Locke & Key, which, when done, will likely be considered alongside things like Sandman for one of the best continued series ever. What Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez do with that book each month is really something special; something that even on this side, I try to savor every month since I know it won't be here forever.

I'd also give our new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Rocketeer comics to anyone who likes superhero books. Both of those titles are as good as anything else any of the “Big Two” put out.

Finally, I'd give anyone a copy of Darwyn Cooke's Parker as a true representation of the absolute potential of the medium.

There are many more, of course, from our archival strip reprints to so many more comics and graphic novels, but those are all great examples of what an IDW book is.

Michael: Yeah, shame on me for forgetting the archival strips, but old newspaper serials like Terry and the Pirates and Little Orphan Annie have everything in common with pulp.

Let’s say someone has somehow enjoyed every IDW title available and is still craving more like it. What classic literature – prose or comics – would you suggest he or she read that would be comparable to yours?


Chris: The Bible. Both the King James and Satanic versions.

No, really, if that were the case, I'd probably just point people to my personal favorite books: prose books like The Phantom Tollbooth, The Martian Chronicles, The Stand, Carter Beats the Devil; all of those are books I just adore, and since all of those books have helped shape my tastes, I have to assume some of that mix has bled into the choices I've made at IDW. So that's a good next step if you want to understand what makes me, if not the company, tick.

Michael: Chris, thanks so much for talking with me!


Next week: If I can get my act together, we’ll look at science fiction/fantasy publisher Meteor House.

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