Richard Emms: The Man In Charge of AP Comics

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AP Comics is a British grown comic publisher; I have been following their comics for a year or so after I first read Darkham Vale #1. Adam Volk will provide some more interviews of their creators soon, but I thought as an introduction we should catch up with the man at the top and ask him a few questions about AP Comics!

How did AP Comics come about? Give me some history. Who are you and what do you do?

APC was started up wayyy back in 1998. It was always a dream of mine to publish comics and something I have always wanted to do. There's a great deal of untapped talent that goes unseen because of the difficulty to break into this industry. Ask any artist that goes to the conventions and gets turned away by the bigger publisher. I'm proud to say that the likes of Jack Lawrence, Kit Wallis and Gez Fry were all published at APC first, all of whom really deserved to be seen and get their work published. And we've got so many talented artists now working for us that are new to this industry. Just take a look at Lee Garbett's art on Dark Mists or Ryan Stegman's art on Midnight Kiss. These guys are fantastically talented.
APC was started while I was running my own comic store. A successful store that was so different to the regular comic book store - we always tried to do things differently. It was originally based in a shopping centre and it built a great customer base and relocated to its own outside location in 2000.

As I was a guy that wanted to always be "adventurous" - much to my business partner's chagrin - I fancied a crack at writing a story. A story that popped into my head when I was out driving in the UK countryside. Yep, sounds strange, but very true - but there I was thinking of characters to put into the script. When I got back home I turned on the PC and sat down to put the ideas into a synopsis. And that's how Heaven 7 was born. I loved David Lynch's Twin Peaks and wanted to do something that had super-natural-heroes in it, and nasty to boot.

So drafting in local guy, Kit Wallis, who had just finished his university course for illustration - we embarked on doing the first issue. We published it under Autumn Press (the AP bit) and released it on Halloween 2001. It did okay and gave me the taste of publishing comics.

So moving on. Then came Monster Club. Kit wanted to do his own book, and I decided to back him and put money into the first issue. We launched it at the Comics 2003 show in Bristol and sold a handful of a digitally printed 32 page book. All of a sudden we had lots of interest in the series. Local animation studio Treehouse Productions (run by APComics' co-director, Phil Littler) gave us the opportunity to showcase the book to other markets. In fact, they took Monster Club as a series to the Cannes Film festival, which lead to a meeting with Cartoon Network Extreme. Unfortunately, CNX had to turn it down due to the company having no funds to produce it as a series, but in the meantime we had several film companies interested in Monster Club as an animated film - which is starting this year.

By this time Monster Club was into its first few issues, and I had started to get plenty of submissions from creators from the USA and UK, including Jack Lawrence. Jack was another frustrated creator who had many great ideas, but no one would listen to him. He sent me a portfolio with his early ideas of Darkham Vale - and I liked the story - as it really caught me as a "monster" alternative to Harry Potter. So we gave it a chance. Sales were poor, due to Jack being an unknown, but the amount of people who read it and loved it was great publicity for Jack.

You only have to look at where he is now to see what the series had done for his career.

Over that year, 2003-2004, we published quite a few books including a collaboration with Mike Baron and Mel Rubi called Faro Korbit. For a relatively unknown publisher, we have a tough time getting noticed - but the perseverance has paid off for us now with the licensed books we've recently picked up the rights to.

Mr.T the comic book - it doesn't get better than that, does it?

Absolutely! Signing the Mr. T series has opened so many doors for us not only in the USA but around the world. Sales are far better than ANY other UK published comic series and re-orders are coming in all the time. I've been very surprised of its success.

How are things going with Mr. T? How are the issues shaping up? Why should we buy it if we are a fan of Mr. T?

Mr. T is looking great. The first issue is due to print this week and due to hit the USA around May 17th - just in time for Mr. T's birthday. But we will have the first issue at the Comic Expo on May 13th – as we're dying to show the UK fans that a Brit company can do it as well as the big US companies. Com.x certainly proved that it can be done - we're just making sure that it's done right and the books come out on a regular basis.

Does Mr. T himself have much input?

Lots. Chris Bunting (the writer) speaks to Mr. T's agent on a weekly basis and Mr. T is looking at everything we do and reading every script. His input is great and, although I haven't spoken to him, he's a great guy and an inspiration to the whole series.

Harry Gallan's The Lexian Chronicles has got me excited. What can you tell me about that?

The Lexian Chronicles. Where do I start? It's great and coming together as a book that I believe that once retailers see will be a massive independent smash hit. The story is incredible and the art from Inaki and Eva is beautiful. Issue two is nearly complete and the advance Preview Book is shipping to retailers this week.
The series is based on the bestselling children's book by Harry Gallan. Harry self published the book in the summer of 2004. Recently, Harry has been in negotiations with a major publisher - which has stopped the planned second printing of the novel. A few months ago, the book received an order from a UK chain store for over 5000 copies. Chris Bunting (writer of Mr. T) is adapting the book into comic scripts and he'd doing a great job. Chris has also got another licensed project to adapt later this year - which we're keeping a tight lid on - as it is a huge deal that many publishers will be envious of.

The Gloom. This is one of your upcoming projects that I am most interested in along with Scatterbrain. What can you tell me about it?

I love The Gloom. It is just great. Adventure, action and fun from start to finish and working with Tony Lee is fantastic - as he offers so much to his work and scripts than no other writer I've worked with before. Dan Boultwood is an artist that has such an incredible eye for design and an artist that will inspire a new generation of comic creators and readers.

Tell me about Dark Mists? The Promo Art looks amazing. How is that project coming together?

Dark Mists has been our surprise smash hit for May's releases. The feedback we've had from all the forums and fans has been unreal. I don't think it's received one bad comment. The series is being written by a good friend of mine, Annika Eade, who has worked so hard on the series and done so much background work that she could write a novel on 1930's Japanese Geisha. We wanted to release the book - but finding a suitable artist was really hard. But then all of a sudden, out of the blue, Lee Garbett e-mailed me with some images from his portfolio. I was really taken back by Lee's very neat style and his line work was very fine. I e-mailed him back within a few minutes and asked him if he would be interested in doing a four issue mini series. We met with Lee at the London Comic show in October last year. Within a week Lee had provided some sketches and we knew he was the guy for the job.

Darkham Vale: Uprising - the first series was amazing. Why do you think fans of the original series should pick the new series up?

Jack's creation was one of the best indie comics to ever grace the comic stores. We just didn't want to end it when Jack left us to work on Lions, Tigers and Bears. But until we found a writer who could come up with a "back story" that we thought would add to Darkham's mystical background, we wouldn't do it. When we teamed up with a literary agent we gave him a bundle of TPBs. One of the writers (Harry Gallan) really like the story and offered to write the back story of Darkham. We liked what Harry had produced and he started to write the new series.

I've wanted to work with US based Paul Gutierrez for some time now, so I e-mailed him to see if he wanted to do the series. He said "sure" and we were off.

With this series we're tying all the lose ends together with the characters and story from the first series but making sure that readers who are new to Darkham Vale can pick it up from issue one and enjoy it.

Another Project that has caught my eye is Scatterbrain. What can you tell me about it?

Scatterbrain is a fabulous comic. A dark superhero series with stunning digital art from Tim Seelig and created by Miramax's head of development, Brendan Deneen. Quite a few top writers have read the first two scripts, and the front covers will have quotes from Robert Kirkman, Mike Oeming and some other top geezers! We think that it's going to do extremely well.

Comicana was fun. Anymore of that on the way?

Comicana was planned to run for another three issue series but due to a problem with the solicitation in Previews we had to cancel. Dan moved onto The Gloom and we're looking at launching it at the end of 2005.

Any more Bin4ry on the way? I quite enjoyed the comics released so far.

I've stopped writing B1N4RY as the other books I'm preparing are taking so much time that I just can't do it. I really enjoyed doing B1N4RY – so maybe I might go back and do another series. The plan was to keep it as an ongoing.

Do you have any plans for more writing or are you busy working behind the scenes?

Too busy behind the scenes. I'd rather work with new creators and bring out more series that can grow APC's catalogue for the international market. I really believe that Europe and Japan is where we will see our business grow. The USA has been great - but we are competing against very similar companies with very similar "ideas" and budgets. We've just signed a Japanese deal and it does look very promising indeed. In Japan sales of anything under 5000 copies is considered poor. We are, sort of, doing the opposite thing to what Tokyo Pop has done in the USA.

Are you staying true to your British talent plan? Promoting British Talent in the comic world?

Yep, although we're working with some really great American creators. The line-up of Brits consists of Chris Bunting, Neil Edwards, Lee Garbett, Annika Eade, Harry Gallan, Tony Lee, Dan Boultwood and me. So plenty of Brit talent there!!! But there's also some great European talents like Inaki, Eva and Pedro. It's a great mix of international comic stars.

What does the future hold for AP Comics? Are you planning a British Invasion of America?

The future. Hmm. I never look at the distant future. The market changes so quickly. One minute fans want "manga", the next black and white underground style books. But over the next few months we are going to be making some really big announcements and working with some of the biggest names in the "book/novel" world. But due to those things called "NDA's" being signed, I'm not allowed to breathe a word.

Apart from Mr. T, you have some real quality projects coming out. Original ideas. Are you looking for more, is there anything you are developing that we should out for? Do you have anymore surprises up your sleeve like Mr. T?

Plenty. But if I told you, I'd have to kill you!!!

Big thanks to Richard for taking the time out to answer my questions. Make sure you do check out some the books above. I will definitely be checking out The Gloom, ScatterBrain, The Lexian Chronicles and… Mr.T, for my sins which looks pretty good. I was expecting some cheesy throwback like the Mr.T cartoon, but the comic looks pretty gritty and dark. I advise anyone who hasn’t to at least check out the TPB of Darkham Vale by Jack Lawrence – it is wonderful fun and well worth buying. APComics will be attending the UK Comic Expo with exclusive copies of some of their new releases. Check out http://www.comicexpo.net and also http://www.apcomics.com.

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