Aaron Ommus: A Stare-Down with the Man with the Evileye

A comics interview article by: Alex Rodrik
Breaking onto the scene with their debut prose novel, Mike Oliveri’s The Pack, Evileye Books has set out to make their mark on the publishing industry. With a great line-up of comics and prose novels already announced, Evileye has even more up their sleeve. I recently got the chance to sit down with Aaron Ommus, the man behind the Eye, to take a look at what Evileye is all about and what titles we should lookout for, coming this year.


-Alex Rodrik, Editor of Features and Interviews

Alex Rodrik: Everything’s got an origin. What’s Evileye’s?

Aaron Ommus: It seems a tried and true axiom that if you grow up reading comic books, you will eventually develop the urge to create them. In many ways, it’s like a virus, but the good kind, I suppose.

In my case, the largess of my ambition to create comics is overshadowed only by my even more cosmically immense ineptitude for drawing sequential art pages or scripting a story. So what to do? Publish writers and artists far more talented than me, putting them on pedestals for all the world to bask in their glorious genius for telling stories, which is really at the heart of the matter. I love stories, particularly crime, supernatural, dark fantasy and science fiction. So that’s what we want to publish and geek out on.

AR: What is it about Evileye that sets it apart from other publishers?

AO: The one thing most comics fans can agree on is that, regardless of the gravitational pull coming from Hollywood lately and its siren songs of fame and celebrity, comics creators and publishers are in it because they love the medium. Some would argue that comics are a particular kind of male personality regression, that we don’t want to grow up and all that psychological nonsense. But the truth is that once you put aside the pop culture aspects of the medium, comics are a compelling form of storytelling, and anyone who pursues their creation is both a fan and a custodian of an art form that is in danger of being marginalized.

AR: What do you mean by comics are being marginalized?

AO: It doesn’t feel like comics, as a consumer entertainment choice, are dying because of the Hollywood heat, but can any of us quantify, at a large scale, how many new comic book readers have joined our ranks because of the success of superhero movies? How many new direct market retailers have opened up shop because of the flood of new readers -- any readers, but especially under high school age? Comics characters have garnered so much media attention, yet we have no significantly measurable growth in comic book readership to show for it; that kind of market growth that marks paradigm shifts remains elusive. The industry is, at best, going sideways, in terms of sales numbers and overall readership growth.

We should be seeing billboards promoting the latest edition of The Damned or watching commercials hawking Umbrella Academy or having field teams in major cities distributing samples of High Moon. But we’re not seeing any of that precisely at a time when the spotlight is on comics. And so the net effect is marginalization. And it’s disturbing. It’s like the opening splash page by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, introducing us to a certain high school nerd, standing dejected, alienated by all the cool kids in the school. CGI special effects and films are the cool kids; printed comics, not so much.

So as publishers we do it, for the most part, because we love the medium and want to share great stories with our readers. In that regard, we all stand on common ground, and we shouldn’t waste energy framing our existence around marketplace dynamics. We have a role to play in maintaining the vibrancy and relevancy of comics in our time.

But if you ask a different question: what kinds of stories get us excited? Then, that’s far more telling of who we are as publishers.

AR: So then, what is your vision for the creative direction of the company?

AO: We see stories as an extended conversation between reader and author, and in many ways across the whole of literature as well. Each influences the other. One idea leads to the next. One author postulates a concept and another responds, all through the magic of words and pictures. For better or for worse, it’s how we come to draw a straight line from “Pride and Prejudice” to “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”. But that conversation is also how we get from Ayn Rand’s philosophical writings to Steve Ditko’s vision of an alienated hero.

One of the benefits of that conversation as a starting point is that we focus on creating memorable, character-driven stories that our readers can come to know over time; hence, the series format rather than standalone books. It also lets us experiment with genre influences and combine them in interesting ways to see where they lead and to question old literary forms and motifs.

For example, the first series we announced and published, Mike Oliveri's The Pack, is a horror thriller, but it's wrapped around a mystery/crime wrapper; and at its heart it’s a family drama about the Tylers and the werewolf legacy (or curse) they must come to terms with as they face an increasingly hostile modern world.

Another example is Mark Justice's recently announced series, The Dead Sheriff. This is a giant love letter to the old adventure/western dime novels of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries -- the precursor of the modern magazine and, some would even argue, the comic book serial adventure. It's also an ode to the Sunday comic strips of the thirties and forties, when giants like Will Eisner's The Spirit took entire pages of a newspaper broadsheet. But it's also a western tale that mines the horror field to ask questions about the classic hero figure in fiction and comics, a deconstruction of the pulp hero, as it were, literally because the main character is a decomposing zombie, and figuratively, in terms of asking what is the essence a hero.

Notice I don’t make a distinction between comics and prose books, both of which we publish. That’s because they are mediums and our focus is on characters and stories.

AR: Since you publish both prose fiction and graphic novels, which medium will take precedence? Or will you be focusing on an infusion of both mediums?

AO: I could rationalize it all I want, but at the end, the editorial and business decisions are based on the stories themselves. They tell us what they need to be.

For example, “Winter Kill” is book one of The Pack series by Mike Oliveri. It’s a prose fiction book because the plot dictated that a narrative form would be best suited for the fast-paced action.

But The Pack also has a comics line. “Chimaera” is the first graphic novel in the series, and it explores a completely different storyline than the prose books, one that is so visually rich, it lends itself more to the graphic novel format.

And in both cases, we have no plans to adapt each story into the other medium. Both lines will explore different aspects of The Pack that can be followed by readers independently of one another; yet, if you follow both, you are rewarded with Easter eggs and a broader perspective of the characters and their stories.

Other series, like the upcoming supernatural noir tales of Darkwalker by John Urbancik, are primarily told in a prose fiction line. Mr. Urbancik’s writing is lush and nuanced and it deserves the broader narrative canvas of prose. There will be some promotional short stories told in comics form, but they are not extended works like those that would be found in our graphic novels.

AR: Will Evileye be focusing on cultivating miniseries or will we be seeing a monthly title coming our way?

AO: The closest we’ll get to a monthly series -- or even a miniseries for that matter -- is the comics line we will launch in April on our EvileyeReader.com site, which will publish weekly comics of most of our announced titles.

Beyond that, our comics side focuses first on graphic novel-length stories, and second on shorter storylines that help introduce characters and series concepts.

AR: Raze, by Cullen Bunn and Shawn Lee, begins with two One-shot webcomics before releasing an OGN and webcomic combo. How integral will webcomics be to the Evileye game plan?

AO: I agree to call the shorts webcomics only because it serves as nice shorthand to help people distinguish between the shorter works and our longer OGN stories.

But the model we have developed for our comics line is a response to the evolution in delivery we are experiencing industry-wide, and it encompasses more than online delivery -- most importantly, the reality of noise and distribution barriers in the marketplace.

No one takes a new publisher seriously -- especially retailers -- until it’s been around the block a few times. It also doesn’t help that distributors have policies that hinder market growth and competition. This would normally be a bad thing, but among comics creators, a funny thing usually happens when the powers that be put up barriers: they ignore them and find other ways to get their stories to readers. In our era, that rebel yell of sorts has dovetailed with the ubiquity of certain technologies -- the internet and mobile devices -- to launch the beginning of a potential revolution in channel delivery. Apple’s iPad is the latest salvo in that revolution. Ironically, this seems to be leading the Direct Market and publishers to embrace anew an aspect of comics they’ve ignored of late or relegated to goofy variant cover schemes: the collector’s edition. That, if anything, may be the eventual savior of the periodical comics format. But that’s a different barstool topic.

So our response to all these converging pressures is that we will do everything we can to introduce ourselves and our stories in ways that are open and broad-based. For example, our entire comics line, whether shorts or OGNs, will start life on our upcoming EvileyeReader.com site. After a while, we will collect storylines and publish them as issues for mobile devices. A while after that, we will introduce collections of the shorts, anthologies of the different titles and, of course, the graphic novels. The timeframe is such that we hope to grow our audience for each series along the path to traditional publication formats. How long that takes for each series will depend on readers themselves.

AR: You’re currently developing a webcomics reader -- The Evileye Reader. Tell us a bit about it and how it might change the way we experience webcomics.

AO: The Evileye Reader will be a browser-based platform for reading comics and novel excerpts. We’re very excited about the potential of mobile device platforms for comics and ebooks. But despite all the buzz, the platform that is ready right now to bridge the gap between the potential of mobile devices and the large image dimensions of a printed comic book page is the Web browser. As a reader, it is the most open, in terms of technology and ubiquity, and it has no learning curve or economic barriers. All our comics on the browser platform will be free. Once mobile devices are truly ready for comics viewing, we’ll be ready with platform-specific apps that we are developing for the future.

AR: Will Evileye titles be making their way over to our handy-dandy mobile devices in the near future?

AO: It’s inevitable that every comics publisher embrace mobile devices as a delivery channel for their books. When our comics are ready for collection into issues for mobile devices, we will work with mobile comics distributors that already do a phenomenal job of bringing comics to the iPhone and soon, the iPad. These collections, of course, will provide content and behind-the-scenes material that will not be found on EvileyeReader.com.

And as we alluded to earlier, with an eye toward the future, we are also working with a team to explore the benefits of creating our own mobile apps. But we first have to see that platform settle on certain technology standards.

AR: What titles can readers expect in 2010?

AO: This year is the year we breakout. As we’ve mentioned, on the comics side we will debut our inaugural lineup of comics via our EvileyeReader.com site in April, including stories from The Pack, Raze, The Dead Sheriff, and several other series that we have not yet announced.

On the prose fiction side, book two of The Pack will be released in the fall, along with the trade paperback edition of Darkwalker, The Dead Sheriff: Zombie Damnation, and three other series that will debut, but we can’t yet reveal.

Also on the prose side, and which we announced on Valentine’s Day, we are launching the Burning Maiden Anthology, which will publish short form stories and comics.

And from the parent company, Pulp+Pixel Entertainment, we will be debuting two new imprints later this year.

All in all, it’s going to be very busy. Good thing I shave my head because otherwise I’d be pulling out my hair from how insane of a year it’s going to be.

AR: Where can our readers go out and buy Evileye Books titles?

AO: Our prose book line will be sold as ebook editions for Kindle and Kindle for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. Trade paperbacks will be sold via Amazon.com and special order at traditional booksellers. Special editions will be sold directly from Evileye Books on our sites, at book signings and convention appearances.

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