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What's in Store TomorrowBy Oliver Chin
Starting out in the comics industry is not for the meek of heart. As you well know, being a fan is always a starting point. But to make it over the long haul, you do need to have certain personal characteristics, particularly a curious nose for business and a thick skin for disappointment.
Especially in troubled economic times, the gambles are that much greater to strike it out on your own and establish your niche in the universe. For another profile on an ambitious independent publisher, I spoke with John Morrow who is the force behind TwoMorrows, based in Raleigh, North Carolina (www.twomorrows.com).
The state is more famous for being the home of Tarheels, Blue Devils, and Democratic Senator John Edwards than for being a hotbed of comicdom. However, Morrow, like little Orphan Annie, hopes that indeed the sun will shine over him and the comic books he's producing for readers everywhere.
From Fanzine to Magazine
Back in 1989, John and his wife Pamela founded an advertising agency named "TwoMorrows." But five years later their careers would take a different turn, once he heard that his idol Jack Kirby had died. Morrow remembered, "After spending that spring re-experiencing what had drawn me to Kirby's work originally, I decided to produce a newsletter about him in my spare time. The result was THE JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR #1 in September 1994, mailed free to 125 other Kirby fans."
A few years later, TwoMorrows started branching out into more traditional magazines. "In 1998, we teamed with editor Jon Cooke to produce the Eisner Award-winning Comic Book Artist, followed by the revival of Roy Thomas' 1960s fanzine Alter Ego in 1999," recalled Morrow. In the year that followed, Morrow recounted publishing "Brian Saner-Lamken's critically-acclaimed Comicology (covering the contemporary comics scene), while Mike Manley's DRAW! (the professional how-to magazine about comics, cartooning, and animation) debuted in 2001, and Danny Fingeroth's WRITE NOW! (offering tips and lessons on writing for comics) premiered in 2002." Now TwoMorrows has launched another new title BACK ISSUE! (edited by Michael Eury) which surveys comics from the 1970s to the present day.
Meanwhile, TwoMorrows also has been progressively prying into the private lives of the industry's most prolific and popular artists. Taking the approach of using in-depth interviews, the company has been gradually expanding its series of trade paperbacks that provide an "insider's guide" to the comics industry.
"One of our best sellers to date was THE EXTRAORDINARY WORKS OF ALAN MOORE, an autobiographical account of Alan's life and career, encompassing two years of interviews with the writer himself," Morrow states. "Other top sellers are THE LEGION COMPANION, covering the history of DC's Legion of Super-Heroes, and AGAINST THE GRAIN: MAD ARTIST WALLACE WOOD, covering the life of the famed sci-fi and comics artist." One particular title Morrow thinks is deserving of wider recognition is HERO GETS GIRL!: THE LIFE & ART OF KURT SCHAFFENBERGER.
But, carving out one's territory in the marketplace is still very challenging, especially when sales are still slipping across the board. "The economy is partially to blame, but the fact that comics are squirreled away in little comics shops, instead of easily accessible to kids and teenagers, means only those who know what comics are in the first place will know where and how to get them," laments Morrow. But he explains that TwoMorrows is trying a slightly different tactic, "Our audience is largely composed of longtime comics readers, so they know where to find us. But we're branching out with comics-related books, like G-FORCE and CAPTAIN ACTION, to try and reach new readers."
Celebrating its 10th anniversary, TwoMorrows is going back to the future by reprinting the first three collections of its original Jack Kirby newsletter, and planning to release a fourth volume in July 2004. Not to be outdone by the incessant wave of crossovers, Morrows will also try a summer blend of his magazines DRAW and WRITE NOW to demonstrate the A to Z's of making a comic.
On the book front, TwoMorrows is slated to publish a unique perspective on "how comics artists make a living using their talents outside of the comic book field" called COMICS ABOVE GROUND. The third installment of the MODERN MASTERS series will feature Bruce Timm. Then rounding the schedule out will be ACTING WITH A PENCIL by Mike Manley and Bret Blevins, TRUE BRIT (account of UK comics artists), and a re-issue of Roy Thomas' ALL-STAR COMPANION along with a fresh second volume.
TwoMorrow's motto is "Bringing New Life To Comics Fandom." With over 160 products to date, and 30 more in the offing this year, this company is doing its best to live up to its mission.