09 February 2005

Interview: O'Reilly on Arcana Studio, Part I

In the midst of my ever-growing pull list, there is an elite group of comic books that rank as Must-Buys, even if it means eating Ramen for lunch all week! Two of the books currently in that group are published by Arcana Studio, the fledgling Canadian indie that is home to 100 Girls and Ezra. "Arcana Studio was formed in 2004 by Sean Patrick O'Reilly...with a vivid dream and much ambition." Coming off of a successful first year, I caught up with O'Reilly online last night, still recovering from his trip to this weekend's Emerald City ComiCon. Two hours later, his infectious enthusiasm had me excited about the likelihood of adding another couple of Arcana titles to my pull list, possibly even to that elite group.

In Part I of this two-part interview, O'Reilly talks about Arcana's first year, what really happened with Ant and Image, how Ezra became their most popular title, and what it takes to succeed in the comic book business. Tomorrow in Part II, we’ll take a peek into Arcana’s future, talking more about marketing, the pros and cons of Free Comic Book Day, and an exclusive announcement about their newest title.

Comic Book Commentary: Let's start with a quick recap of 2004. Was it a successful first year? What were the highlights?
Sean Patrick O'Reilly: Definitely...one of the biggest highlights for me was seeing Kade #1 on stands. It is a surreal feeling walking into a store and seeing something that you've dreamed about on the shelf. I'm also very proud of the fact that we attended 10 conventions last year and produced 22 different comics in one year. Also with the current situation of companies that are readjusting their outlooks...it was great just to survive and then actually prosper. Finally, I look back at our year and I realize how far we've come in terms of quality. Our books’ production values have honestly tripled and I know for sure that the best is yet to come.

CBC: What were the lowlights?
O'Reilly: Hmm...for me it was the bi-monthly schedule. At the beginning it was our best ally as people began to hear of us and know about our company. It was one of the best things about our books. As the year went on, though, a lot of retailers and fans knew about us and were asking about the frequency of the books. We were always bi-monthly and people really [started getting] impatient. Well, we're always listening and always responsive. Almost every title Arcana has from now on will be a monthly series so you can be sure to get your favorite title in a timely, monthly format.

CBC: What would you say is the most unique aspect of Arcana's approach to comic books?
O'Reilly: Our commitment to quality. After seeing Kade #1 vs. Kade #5...I couldn't believe it really. We had come so far in such a short period of time...it was humbling. We are now redoing over 50 pages just for the trade paperback. It's a tremendous amount of time, money and energy spent into ensuring quality but it's something we are proud of. We also touched up the first two issues of Ant as well as Ezra when we put them to trade format. As well, Arcana's approach has been focused on storytelling. We are always pursuing stories that not only do well in comics, but also in various mediums. Ultimately for some of these projects, it's our goal to see them on the big screen. But you take it one day at a time and keep trying to do your best.

CBC: Let's talk about Ant for a second. What happened with the switch to Image? [Ant Creator] Mario Gully has stated it's where he's always wanted to be. Was that a consideration when you first brought the book into the Arcana stable?
O'Reilly: Well, Arcana is still producing Ant but it will be published by Image. It's very similar to how Devil's Due and Dreamwave used to operate. Erik Larsen emailed Mario and asked if he wanted to come to Image and they were able to have Savage Dragon and Spawn as characters that Mario could use. It's literally been a lifedream for Mario to draw Spawn. He used to send Todd McFarlane submissions every week for months on end. When Mario got Erik's email we had long talks about what things would look like, what it meant to him, Arcana and Image. I'm very happy with the placement and some people have even told me that I shouldn't have 'let him go'. I really don't see it that way. I see this as an amazing opportunity for Mario and for Arcana. It's our first book published under the “i” and I'm hoping that they can do even more for him than I've done. Mario and I are still tight and we are always planning new ideas and working together. Right now Mario has 'put the horse in the stable' and we're both waiting to see what happens when she's galloping. We've talked about his future plans but I'll leave that up to Mario to share. As for the allure of Ant, it was the potential of having an 8-year-old girl dream of what she wants to become. In many ways, Hanna is Mario and now his dream has come true.

CBC: Let's talk about 100 Girls next. In only three issues, it has jumped firmly into my Top 10 list for 2005. It's been compared favorably to Dead@17, though in my opinion, it's a superior book. How's it selling?
O'Reilly: The numbers have been alright. Truthfully, it's the one thing that leaves us scratching our heads. It's an incredible book and makes the top 300, but really should be in the top 200. Adam [Gallardo]'s writing is FANTASTIC and Todd [Demong]'s art brings it to LIFE. Arcana has never received so many awards, recognitions and critical acclaim than we have for 100 Girls. We have some plans to allow people to jump on issue 5 without missing a beat and we have some more marketing ideas so hopefully these will help. Every person that I have heard of, or read about online, who has read the book, has loved it. Even those who haven't LOVED the series didn't have 'negative' things to say about it. I'm really hoping that retailers put this on the stands more and our plans are going to make it so good that they'll have to have it on stands. Todd and Adam are very happy with the product and are hoping that the numbers will come up a bit...you guys are doing great work!

CBC: How were they received at this weekend’s Emerald City ComiCon?
O'Reilly: AMAZING! There were a tonne of people who asked for the ECCC Emerald variant by name and many people brought their entire series to be signed. I know they are getting the recognition and have an amazing fanbase and, judging from the number of entries in the pinup contest we currently have, I know they are doing amazing.

CBC: [Doing away with any pretense of objectivity here, as a fan, I'm genuinely glad to hear that!] While Ant and 100 Girls are other people's creations, Kade and Ezra are your babies. How does it feel to have two successful books in the market? What's been the best moment working on each of them?
O'Reilly: Ezra has been a phenomenon and I don't think I realized her full grab until this weekend. The number of people coming up to me wanting autographs, pictures, etc., based on Ezra's popularity was fantastic. People were asking everywhere when the trade is coming out and a lot of questions about her. Originally it was going to be a four-issue mini-series...then we added another prologue. Now we've added an entire new mini-series coming out in 2005. It wasn't our intent but sometimes when the going is good...we've just got to keep it up. We're going to be doing a lot the same, and we're going to be doing some things different. Ezra's world will be quite a bit different and we're going to be inking every issue...it made a HUGE difference in quality and we're very proud of this. I have to personally thank Alfonso Ruiz and Benny Fuentes as they are the engine in this beautiful machine. Thanks so much!

Kade. He is my favorite character of all time. The whole reason I got into comics and even started developing websites. The trade paperback is literally a double whammy because of all the extra work that went into it so that I am so VERY PROUD AND HAPPY with the outcome, but also because it culminates about 8 years of my life into one book. [Spectacular Spider-Man artist, Humberto] Ramos was the perfect choice for the cover and I'm really looking forward to seeing this in trade format. The next series of Kade will feature him in quite a different setting as we see the gothic demon hunter who doesn't feel have to face an even fiercer enemy in Jacob Cross. Set in 2006, the new Kade will answer many of the enigmatic warrior’s questions, but will also have many more questions asked...it is one series that I know will make massive waves!

CBC: Is it fair to say that, at some level, Ezra, who was/is a supporting character in Kade's series, has surpassed him in popularity? If so, why do you think?
O'Reilly: I think that's definitely true. It's kind of weird too... Ezra probably passed Kade for two main reasons...her quirky fun personality literally makes her the type of girlfriend that every guy longs for. She's sexy, strong, fun, humorous and still very feminine. She's not intimidating, either, and her physique is actually realistic. She'll hit on the 'fat guys', flirt with scumballs, drink with anyone beside her, and will throw down with anyone. Someone once said she's Peter Parker's great-grandmother. I think it's a great comparison. The second reason is because the story is so different from Kade. Kade is a very dark, brooding story that doesn't really leave a 'feel-good' mood when you are done. It's meant to conjure dark imagery, where Ezra is the light in the darkness. She takes the worst situations and manages to get a quip or two out of them. I really do love her and I'm excited to write more stories with her.

CBC: LOL! The "Peter Parker's great-grandmother" thing was me! What I liked most about Ezra was that while on the surface, it appeared to be another cheesecake comic, there's actually a lot more to her. I passed up the first issue several times, largely because of the Greg Horn cover, before finally peeking inside and realizing there was more to it. Did you get that reaction a lot early on?
O'Reilly: A lot of people thought it was a 'bad girl' comic. I really don't think that it is, though. She's pretty much a good girl. I really like the fact that she's three-dimensional and has layers to her personality. She's a bit rough around the edges, but she has an amazing heart. I always saw her as the 'driving force' that would allow Kade to continue his impossible quest. It's funny how she's spun into something much more complex and much more fun. But I definitely wouldn't call Ezra a cheesecake or bad girl book. We're actually talking with a studio to get her optioned into a movie. I get a lot of talkers in this industry though so we'll see if they come up to bat.

CBC: Who would you love to see cast as Ezra?
O'Reilly: That's a tricky question...mostly because we are under negotiations. When I created her I always thought of her like Max from Dark Angel. Jessica Alba would find this an easy role. I would also like to see Elisha Cuthbert in it. But I truthfully don't like saying these types of things because the probability of me getting it is slim to none. Currently they are soliciting the role to an actress who has a great following in Spain and is looking to break in the U.S. Again...we'll see where it leads.

CBC: Let's talk about the trades. You have four coming out in 2005, including Ant: Days Like These, which has already been released. You went with the digest format on that one. Will all of them go that route? And is that a publisher decision, or are the creators on board with it, too?
O'Reilly: For now all of our trades will be digest size. This has been quite the debate. We've asked dozens of people and keep getting the old 'fork vs. spoon' debate. Ultimately, when neither side won, we went down to price point. We could sell our digest trades at $9.95, which is extremely aggressive. Our purpose was to [reach more] readers. The cheaper we can make it, the more readers we'll have. It definitely worked and these ideas are borrowed from the Manga industry. They are going to a smaller and more readable book. In time, I would like to see larger traditional sizes of all the books, but I don't foresee this in 2005. Maybe in a couple of years.

Our trades are: DEC042381 Kade: Identity TP, FEB052560 100 Girls Vol. 1: First Girl TP, FEB052561 Ant Vol. 1: Days Like These TP, FEB052562 Ezra Vol. 1: Egyptian Exchange TP

CBC: Let's talk about marketing next. As an independent publisher, what's been your biggest challenge in getting attention for your books? What are you doing to overcome it?
O'Reilly: The biggest challenge was trust. I've been told that when you are new in the industry every person has [made] promises out of the wazoo. It's our job to make those promises and then stick to them. EVERY single issue we promised we'd deliver on time...was there. Some of our numbers were fantastic, and we delivered on time. Some weren't, and we still delivered on time. I want to be known as the guy who will work with any retailer, any person and any event to help promote our company and the function. I've sent $150 posters to retailers for free...handed out over $4000 worth of stock at the last retailer summit, and I promise I'm going to keep doing this. We can't buy the same coverage that Marvel gets, but we can work hard to try and achieve the same effect. People who know me know that I am working on Arcana 24 hours a day. You have to. I'm always reading, watching, typing, planning, writing, editing, laying out, discussing, IM'ing on AIM, MSN, ICQ, Yahoo! all at the same time, developing websites, our online store, conventions, etc. Basically I'm saying this is a passion. I really love what I'm doing and I can't imagine doing anything else. I believe it is that will...that desire that will allow us to continue shining bright.

CBC: How do you balance Arcana with the rest of your life? You're a teacher, correct? Married? Kids?
O'Reilly: Truthfully my life has been a bit unbalanced. Teaching is great because I get really energized being around the students. All of them know me as 'Mr. O' and I think they see me as a big kid. It's the one part of my day where I actually get to unwind and have some fun. It was my resolution for 2005 to try and get a bit more balance and I think I've done alright. I'm going to the gym a lot more and I am setting aside much more time with my wonderful wife, Shell. Summer is my daughter and I love watching her grow up... I'm really curious to where I'll be in a couple years and what she'll think of her comic book dad. It's great and I know this is a special time of my life where I've been given LOTS of opportunities. I don't want to squander any of them and I really am preparing for the future, reflecting upon what I've done and most importantly savoring the present.

[Tune in tomorrow for Part II. Check out Arcana Studio online at www.arcanastudio.com]

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