Thursday, September 13, 2007

A NOCTURNALS Publishing Primer

An Interview with Tom Negovan of OLYMPIAN Publishing---


FLYING COLORS Comics & Other Cool Stuff welcomes artist DANIEL BRERETON for an exclusive signing Saturday September 29 from 1pm-4pm.

The event will be the premier of NOCTURNALS Volume One: Black Planet & Other Stories, a beautiful hardcover edition of Brereton’s first Nocturnals story arc. The publisher is Tom Negovan of OLYMPIAN Publishing and we wanted to get some background on his company, his association with Daniel Brereton and this new NOCTURNALS project.

FlyCoJoe: Before we get into talking about the NOCTURNALS hardcover, give us a quick rundown on OLYMPIAN Publishing. It’s a name that may not be familiar to comics’ connoisseurs, even many long-time of the retailers.

Tom Negovan: The first book that we put out was a monograph covering the Symbolist Art of Gail Potocki titled THE UNION OF HOPE AND SADNESS. Her art is very 19th century-looking stuff and fits in with the art sold by our parent company, Century Guild. Attendees of the San Diego Comic-Con might know that we bring the big Muchas and Art Nouveau art objects to that venue every year. Grant Morrison gave us a quote for the Potocki book, that said "Brilliant occult portraits from the underworld of the 21st century... More than just paintings, Gail conducts seances on canvas." I think that's a great observation.

Our 2008 schedule also includes GUSTAV KLIMT: INTIMATE ALCHEMY, a book on the drawings of Klimt that features lots of artwork that hasn't been seen since the 1920s. It’s a massive photography book on Art Nouveau; a book on the poster art and costume design of the Munich and Berlin Cabaret scene... all great stuff!

The other books we've released were actually meant as companion pieces to Nocturnals, but wound up coming out first: there is the small print run (only 800 copies) children's book A NOCTURNAL ALPHABET, and the first of a series of 1950s horror reprints, CHAMBER OF MYSTERY: WITCHCRAFT. Keep an eye on www.olympianpublishing.com for updates.


FlyCoJoe: What’s the story on how you came to be the publisher for The NOCTURNALS hardcover?

Tom Negovan: I've been a huge Nocturnals fan for at least ten years. I remember how confusing it was to follow when things were coming out (the title bounced around to three publishers in that first decade) and how I would always ask the guys in the comic shop when more was supposed to be released and they were as in the dark as I was. Around four or five years ago I started seeing Dan at shows, and I would hound him with the same question and get the answer, "We're working on something..."

Fast forward to Wonder-Con 2006, and I finally get the straight answer: "the book is just too expensive to produce."

Think about it--- a fully painted comic with Dan painting full throttle for a year would only produce four issues? That's an extraordinary amount of work for not a lot of physical product, especially in this digital age. For a creator owned property, the payoff for a publisher would have to involve getting the rights to the characters as part of the deal since the money couldn't be made back on the physical comics alone, and I understand the business aspect of that. But as a fan, I hated to hear it!

The summer before, Charles Vess was sitting at the Century Guild table at the Eisners. When he didn't win the award he was up for, I thought, "why don't we sponsor some kind of Timelessness in Storytelling award, or something like that?" The idea was lingering in my head that I wanted to divert a portion of the profits from our parent company into something supportive of artists that fell outside of the standard "favorites" and it was SO formless that I was thinking of just an award.

When Dan said those words to me at Wonder-Con, I knew the answer. We would sponsor Dan (he likes to call it a patronage, like in the Middle Ages!) to create Nocturnals stories.

It's almost like getting a commission, except that we're allowed to print and share it! I feel like we're on to something really cool with this model. It has nothing to do with commerce, and everything to do with the stories themselves.

Any "wise business decisions" when discussing the Nocturnals are thrown out the window in favor of the Cool Factor. A forty foot banner at San Diego? No problem. Expensive paper stock and small "boutique" print runs? Check. Our only dedication is to realizing Dan's vision for these characters, and giving readers the highest quality product possible.

In short, I'm a huge fan of these characters and I’m willing to do anything necessary to get to read more of their adventures!

At this point, we've committed to three years of new stories. The three oversized hardcover volumes preceding the new series are meant as a gift to the existing fans as well as a jumping-on point for the new generation of readers who need to get ready for when the regular series begins. Each book follows a kind of "director's cut" approach, and includes all-new story material that rounds out the stories even further.

FlyCoJoe: The NOCTURNALS was originally slated for an October ’06 release. What caused the delay?

Tom Negovan: Since this is an article the whole industry will see, I won’t skirt or avoid the academic parts.

The main problem was technical. The materials for the first story, BLACK PLANET, were films that were thirteen years old and required some special handling. We went through the process--- or we thought--- of making sure all was well, as the films were at the same printer that had printed the ONI edition of the books, and then designed the new parts of the book around the existing material.

Everything seemed wholly on track---until the day before press time someone from the physical plant wanted to know where the materials were. You can't imagine how much this confused me, as I had been told all was well! The month ended with the printer firmly telling us that they were not as previously expressed in possession of the films to print the book, and that the material--- the only copy of films of the six issue story BLACK PLANET in the world, mind you--- was lost.

After many months and lots of melodrama Dan's lawyer got someone higher up at the printer to finally leave their desk and look for the films. From what I understand about three hours later they were found, safely filed... under "MADMAN".

We then took physical possession of the films, and began the costly process of rescanning them with the newest technology. This not only made the materials printable on modern equipment, but also ensured there would never again be an issue of losing the art. In a digital format, it's eminently preservable.

By this point we were into this with over nine months of dedicated labor, and many tens of thousands of dollars. There is no doubt in my mind that without a parent company to lean on, this would have bankrupted any other small publisher.

So we reached a point where everything was beautifully converted to a high resolution digital format, and could print the books overseas at the same place we print our fine art books. We also used the time created by the delays to tweak the design of the book. We upgraded the paper to the highest stock available, duplicated cobweb-embossed end-papers that I had seen in an 1890s book on dinosaurs, and prepared the materials for Volumes Two and Three ahead of schedule.

All of this cost so much more that we at one point decided to raise the cover price of the books $10 to offset the expenses. But in the final hour before solicitation, we remembered that this is not a commercial venture, and decided to keep the price low so that everyone could afford the book. I really believe that the quality of NOCTURNALS Volume One is comparable to books from other companies that are priced $60- $100---but our price is $29.99 for the regular edition and $39.99 for the edition with the extra sketchbook section. You'll feel the quality of the book when you physically get a copy in your hands, I'm certain.

Now, on to Volume Two!

FlyCOJoe: What else is in your publishing plans?

Tom Negovan:In the realm of comics, it's only Dan Brereton and 1950s horror---

The second volume in our CHAMBER OF MYSTERY series, VOODOO, is due out late fall. This one--- as well as the first volume, WITCHCRAFT, feature splash pages with the stunning Polychrome from NOCTURNALS as our "EC-style" hostess, and feature some of Dan's most detailed work.

NOCTURNALS Volume Two: THE DARK FOREVER AND OTHER STORIES features a brilliantly horrific all-new 32 page painted story that takes place immediately before The Dark Forever storyline. NOCTURNALS Volume Three will see the Gunwitch story drawn by Ted Naifeh (of Courtney Crumrin fame) which has to date only appeared in black and white presented in full color and an expanded version of the rare short story "Spectres". We don't have street dates for these yet, but they're not far away.

FlyCoJoe: Thanks for the inside scoop, Tom.

TOMORROW! The artist himself, DANIEL BRERETON, discusses NOCTURNALS, his inspiration for doing a horror epic tinged with "crime noir" elements, the IMMORTAL IRON FIST, his career and, you know, "other cool stuff."

Until then----
Peace!

FlyCoJoe
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