Another great article that shall be tweeted!
Welcome to installment #2 of Development Hell, a column devoted to the production of comics and difficulties that creators have getting a project from the idea phase to publication.
Last week we looked at a long-rumored Warren Ellis project. This week we look at a project from a less heralded creator Ė Michael San Giacomo, writer of PHANTOM JACK.
YOU CANíT SEE ME!
In late 2003, something exciting was going on for creator-owned comics. Marvel announced the relaunch of the Epic Comics line, and an open call for submissions went out to the hordes of aspiring writers and artists. The company had just recovered from bankruptcy proceedings a couple of years earlier, and the thinking behind reopening the Epic line was two-fold: find creator-owned projects and test out new talent.
Marvel approached several columnists and creators during the process to pitch their ideas separately from the massive slush pile an open submission call would create. Jason Henderson, creator of SWORD OF DRACULA and SOULCATCHER, pitched STRANGE MAGIC, a book about the previously unknown daughter of Dr. Strange. Robert Kirkman, pre-INVICIBLE and pre-WALKING DEAD, produced his first Marvel work with SLEEPWALKER, an update of a character from the early 90s.
*Note: Itís pretty interesting to see pre-Image partner Kirkman geeking out about SLEEPWALKER in this CBR article http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=2772
Mark Millar found the only real Epic success with TROUBLE. Submissions were closed to the public and only one issue of the Epic Anthology was published. After all of the expectations, Epicís resurrection was little more than a handful of issues with a wagonload of hype.
In the midst of all this was Michael San Giacomo who pitched PHANTOM JACK, the story of a journalist with the ability to turn invisible.
Note the Image ďiĒ on the cover, there because of the Epic collapse (or epic fail?). San Giacomo chose not to include his story in the Epic anthology and negotiated the return of publishing rights. 2004 saw five issues of PHANTOM JACK released by Image Comics. Mitch Breitweiser, who has gone on to draw several Marvel titles, was the artist for the Image arc.
Fast forward to 2005 Ė Breitweiser was by this time snatched up by the big machine that is Marvel, working on such titles as ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR and CAPTAIN AMERICA. Itís difficult to keep an artist on your creator-owned book when one of the big two come calling, and San Giacomo found himself in a position that a number of writers dread. PHANTOM JACK: THE COLLECTED EDITION was released by Speakeasy Comics and new stories were added with different people handling art duties (Sean McArdle and Brett Barkley). Bad luck wasnít done with PHANTOM JACK though as Speakeasy started losing comics in late 2005, most to Image. By 2006 the company was out of business, and PHANTOM JACK once again had no home.
2007 saw the release of PHANTOM JACK: THE ABSOLUTE EDITION from Atomic Pop Art Entertainment, the fourth publisher for the property in as many years. New stories were included with the edition, indicating that San Giacomo was still hard at work. However, by 2009 APA seemed to lose steam. Press releases announcing a move from print to digital and a place holder on their website stating that they will ďbe back soonĒ seem to indicate bad news. By 2009 PHANTOM JACK was being re-released in digital form with another publisher.
IDW is the latest publisher to tackle PHANTOM JACK, releasing a new OGN (PHANTOM JACK: THE NOWHERE MAN AGENDA) in August 2010. What the future holds is less than certain, but San Giacomo has managed to keep the property alive over a seven year span at this point Ė a noteworthy achievement in todayís economic climate.
If you look at the aftermath of the Epic debacle, a lot of noteworthy things happened that eventually changed the current landscape of the comics business. Kirkmanís subsequent explosion onto the scene might not have happened the same way if it werenít for Epic. Funny to think of no INVINCIBLE, WALKING DEAD, or MARVEL ZOMBIES. No monthly books from Ryan Ottley or Cory Walker. If the ball had bounced differently, would we be talking about Jason Henderson or Michael San Giacomo as an Image partner?
This strange journey really illustrates the difficulties in finding a foothold in a business where the top spots are held by a handful of people. If the book had been pitched to Vertigo instead of Epic, would San Giacomo be mentioned in the same breath today as Brian Wood or Brian K. Vaughn? PHANTOM JACK easily fits alongside such books as DMZ, EX MACHINA, and Y: THE LAST MAN, so in my mind itís not that big of a leap in logic.
Best of luck to Michael San Giacomo as he continues to produce new stories. Many of us would have just given up when Epic collapsed, or when the second or third publisher gave up on the book. Talent by itself means nothing if you donít have the drive and tenacity to keep going in the face of adversity.
THATíS A WRAP
Thatís all for this week. If you have thoughts, feel free to comment and if you have your own story of a comic in development hell (whether youíre a fan of the book or the creator) drop me a line and Iíll be happy to tell your story.
For the record my Epic pitch - which I completed the same freaking day that Marvel announced they were no longer taking submissions - would have been awesome.
You actually convinced me of reading Phantom Jack.