For this 11 Questions interview I was able to talk with Gary Reed who was the Publisher and also a Writer for Caliber Comics back from 1989 -2000 and who now is involved with Desperado Publishing, Transfuzion Publishing and Image Comics.
Well, I’m not like most people in the business who had this passion for comics growing up. I read them as a kid but once I hit my teens, I stopped. After I got married, I worked while my wife went to school full time and I attended night classes. Just about the time she graduated and I could start going full time, I opened a used book store.
It was a bit hectic, going to school full time and running a book store but things were going well on both ends. I added comics to the store as something to appeal to the kids because the store was mainly old ladies burning through the romance novels. The comics did well and eventually consumed the books so I ended up with just comic stores.
By the time I graduated with my Masters in Biology, I had four stores running. I didn’t see much future in biology at that time and instead focused on the stores. I also was hosting a radio show in the metro Detroit area and putting on conventions. Obviously, I had to start reading all the comics as it was important to know the material I was selling.
At first it was enjoyable because of simple nostalgia but that was a time, the early to mid 1980’s, when comics really starting growing as an art and literary field. It was amazing the type of material that came out compared to just a few years earlier.
I can’t say I have any direct influences although certainly Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Howard Chaykin and others really pushed the maturation of the comics field. It was more of a movement…a movement which primarily came from DC and the independent market.
Even though Vertigo hadn’t started up yet, the Vertigoish titles were already out there when I started Caliber and there was a flood of new and exciting titles. Comics weren’t just becoming cool, they were becoming literate. It wasn’t just the maturing of comics as some of the smaller publishers were starting to do new stories based on the classic literature that were more than just adaptations, they grew to become vehicles with familiar settings. At that time, it seemed the market was fulfilling the hope that there were comics for everyone’s taste.
Again, it wasn’t something that was a strong desire and wasn’t even something I had planned on. There was a local comic company called Arrow Comics and heir creators were frequently at my store and I got to know most of them pretty well. When the black and white boom went bust, Arrow folded because they were owed so much money from distributors. Two of their titles, Deadworld and Realm, were turned over to the artists working on the books in lieu of payment and this was Vince Locke and Guy Davis respectively.
Since I was going to so many conventions and trade shows as a retailer, they asked if I could help find a new publisher for their books. About the same time, a local film company was doing a movie called Moontrap. They wanted me to hook them up with a comics publisher to do an adaptation of the movie. Things just started to jell and I figured that I could be the comic company for both of these situations. Guy Davis already had a few issues of the unpublished Realm completed and wanted to move into something else.
It was an adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes stores but set in an alternative universe where punks had made a bigger impact on the culture. We discussed the ideas, both good and bad, so I came in on the writing end and Baker Street was born. I though that it was a good nucleus to start the company with Deadworld, Realm, Moontrap, and Baker Street. I decided to do an anthology called Caliber Presents.
As things were developing, one of my customers who sold t-shirts in my store found out about the new company and said he had an idea. That was The Crow by James O’Barr. So, in 1989, Caliber launched with Deadworld #10 being our first actual issue followed by Realm #14 and Baker Street #1. I think…it seems like so long ago.
I didn’t think too much of it at the time but it was a lot of work, especially when I look back. But it was an exciting time, full of energy. Baker Street was one of the first comics work I did, if not actually the first. I found I was the fastest and cheapest writer I knew so I started writing a lot of the stories.
It didn’t look good for the publisher to be writing so much as it gave the appearance of a vanity press so I wrote under a variety of different names. Even though I was doing up to five comics a month along with the publishing, I still had my stores that I was running.
Things really got crazy in 1993 when I got involved in a new company which became TMP, Todd McFarlane’s toy company. I was Executive Vice President for the company for the first three years and also Caliber merged with Stabur Graphics which I took over the role of publisher of that as well. Those years are a blur now, mainly because I was so busy. What really killed me was the travel as I went to LA and New York just about every month. After I left TMP in 1996, things slowed down but of course, by that time I had a few kids to keep me even busier.
Caliber actually produced quite a few superhero comics but it wasn’t something that I particularly wanted to get into. We did UN Force which did quite well for us. We also did the first Big Bang Comics and a series called Stormquest which was in association with Bob Hickey, now of Blue Line Pro. Both of those were done expressly for Wal-Mart but we sold them in the comics market as well.
My partner in the Caliber/Stabur company, Paul Burke, had made inroads into Wal-Mart and in fact, the first Image books were set up there before they even went to print. We did a few series for them including some of the Tome Press line which were historical and literary based comics. So, superheroes weren’t a passion for me. And you’re right, the success of titles like those that became Vertigo influenced Caliber simply because that’s what I liked. The few comics I read mostly came from titles edited by Karen Berger which of course, later became Vertigo. Similar tastes, I guess. Thinking back on it, she scooped up Vince Locke and Guy Davis pretty quick.
Whew, that’s a longer response than you probably expect. Caliber was dealt a number of crushing blows. Without going into too much detail, we had the Power Cardz fiasco which crippled us. This was a game, for simplicity’s sake, something similar to Magic Cards. We put everything we had into that because we had millions of dollars in purchase orders with the Spawn Cardz and were talking with Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee.
The printer screwed up because of their ineptness and a deceitful salesman. So, not only did we lose the sales but everything we put into it. It took years for the lawsuit to be settled and by the time I won, the printer had declared bankruptcy so I got nothing out of it. Add to that the screwups with out main comics printer on our graphic novels which were falling apart. That killed our graphic novel business which was a large part of our company.
Most people don’t realize that we had produced over 75 graphic novels, well before graphic novels became the factor they are today. And of course, the distributor wars which saw the monopoly of Diamond emerge. Not that I blame Diamond, but for example, Capital City sold a lot more of our product than Diamond did—before or after they took over control.
Caliber managed to hang on for awhile and in fact, saleswise, 1997 was our best year ever. But things culminated by the end of 1998 and just proved to be too hard to maintain. I wondered why I was bothering as it was me getting further and further into debt to compensate for the decline of the market. It was waiting for things to bottom out but they never did, they just continued to get worse.
I really never pulled the plug on Caliber, I just sort of walked away.
I had my Masters degree thought about teaching at the community college level so I visited one to see what was the procedure and an hour later, I had a job. I started teaching a full time schedule at different colleges which gives me a variety of different classes and students and I really enjoyed that. I was perfectly content with that but then Byron Preiss called me.
Byron and I had never worked together but we became business pals over the years. He wanted to compile Baker Street for his new imprint, iBooks, which was being distributed by Simon and Shuster. He also wanted me to write a number of different books for Penguin and other publishers. I did two books for Penguin and was about to embark on a few projects that would’ve taken years to complete but unfortunately, Byron died in a car crash.
I met Shannon Denton via Bryon and got involved in doing some work with Komikwerks and then Actionopolis. At the same time, Joe Pruett, who worked for me at Caliber, started up Desperado Publishing and was releasing his books through Image Comics. I was more involved in the business aspects of Desperado but Joe wanted to relaunch Deadworld so I started the new series. At the same time, Image packaged up Saint Germaine, Red Diaries, and Renfield as graphic novels.
Transfuzion started when I was talking to long time friend, Rafael Nieves. We discussed collecting much of our stuff into trade paperbacks and also making them available for digital format although we realized that the mechanisms for that hadn’t been worked out yet. So, Transfuzion essentially began as a reprint house for our stuff but it’s growing beyond that and maybe growing too fast. I don’t know if I want to venture into full time publishing again and if I can’t dedicate myself to it, I shouldn’t do it. I balance it now with my teaching job and it’s manageable.
It runs the gamut from enthusiastic responses to total apathy. Overall, I have to say the reception has been pretty positive. Obviously, certain works have a more favorable response. I think Renfield and Red Diaries through Image were the best received outside of the comics market. Renfield was used in college classes at Northern Illinois and Red Diaries has had good responses in mystery stores and with some of the JFK conspiracies’ websites. There are quite a few people who weren’t familiar with Caliber. Some because they weren’t marvel and DC titles, others because they weren’t around at that time. But that’s okay because that means the industry is bringing in some new blood. It would be pretty sad if all the fans today were around in the late 1980’s and 1990’s.
I guess so. I mean, for the most part, they’re just collections that I release through Image, Desperado, and Transfuzion. I add some background and introductions to most of them. Sometimes an artist will redo some panels and Mark Bloodworth on Ripper Legacy went through the entire three issues and added grey screens to give it a richer look. That was a lot of work and I don’t think it helped sales at all but Mark wanted to do it. I’ve toyed with the idea of redoing some stuff but then I think the original work should stand, warts and all.
However, on the upcoming Sinergy book, which is a return to Dante’s Inferno, there will be some changes. Each level of Hell was illustrated by a different artist and there were some notable artists included such as Guy Davis, Michael Lark, Jim Calafiore, David Mack, Vince Locke, and over two dozen others. But in the new edition which will be re-titled Abandon Hope and due out later this year, I took out some of the artists and replaced the with new ones. Some of it was because the art didn’t fit the rest of the book and some because the art just wasn’t very good.
Of course, now that I have the library of stuff to go through, it allows me to be a bit more creative. One of my favorite books that Transfuzion did was Of Scenes and Stories which was a collection of a lot of my short stories plus scenes from many of the comics I did. It was probably a little self indulgent as all collections probably are, but it’s usually one of my better sellers at conventions and it’s a good way for people to test the waters on some of the different stories that I’ve done over the years. It has stories and/or excerpts from Baker Street, Saint Germaine, Sinergy, Realm, Seeker, Magus, Ghost Sonata, Deadworld, and many others.
That’s an interesting question and the flippant answer would be to say all of them. But that’s not true. Renfield is a complete story so even though I get requests to do more, I just don’t see it. Stuff like Seeker and Helsing…maybe. Probably the two I enjoyed most were Raven Chronicles and Saint Germaine.
Raven Chronicles was about a team of paranormal investigators and their discoveries left a lot of questions and also revelations of supernatural fraud. You never knew if it was indeed heading towards something paranormal or not. I did 16 issues with Caliber plus other series such as Red Diaries, Ripper Legacy, and Black Mist tied in directly with it. It also was featured in Helsing, Seeker and even Saint Germaine. Sort of my personal shared universe that I built into the background of most everything I wrote that was applicable.
But if I could return to only one series, it would have to be Saint Germaine. I did about 12 issues of that along with the Magus storyline which was a direct tie in. I loved doing that series as it allowed me to delve into my interests in history.
It was something always in the back of my mind ever since I was a kid. It just seemed that the story of Renfield was unfinished in Stoker’s novel. I thought it needed more exploration and it’s kinda funny that I had this idea even before I ever thought of writing. When Caliber started, it was actually going to be one of the first projects after the initial launch. Vince Locke was going to do the art and he was going to paint the entire series in full color.
He did a few scenes and they were gorgeous. But he kept getting work from DC with American Freaks, Sandman, History of Violence, etc. so finally I told him I’d have to get another artist. Galen Showman had worked with me on some projects and he was an eager artist with tremendous skills. He worked with P. Craig Russell quite a bit. I discussed the idea with him and off we went. It took awhile because he got sick between the second and third issue, I think.
Galen was a great choice as he fully understood what I was striving for. I didn’t want this to be a vampire book and especially not a Dracula book. In fact, Dracula’s name is never mentioned in any of the comic pages. The original novel was unusual in that it was told from a number of different perspectives via letters, notes, and phonogram. I wanted to keep that part of it but also wanted to give it a more personal touch so the comic pages themselves were all done from the perspective of Renfield.
Everything that happens is through Renfield’s eyes, nothing is from anyone else. Although the subject matter deals with vampires, it is more of a psychological drama as Renfield is driven by these visions and he descends into madness. It is a religious zeal that drives him as he realizes he is going to meet his so-called messiah. The realization that it is a false messiah is a shock to him. I felt it was very important to make sure that everything that happened in the comic story could seamlessly fit into the Dracula novel and I wanted to make it as if Stoker left out these pages in his novel. From most of the response I’ve gotten, including college professors, I succeeded. So, Renfield was personally, a very satisfying piece of work and I’m still proud of it.
Oh, yeah. But that was part of the fun. I’m a huge history buff and I’m one of those types that if I watch a movie based on anything historical, I have to research it. For example, Braveheart. When I saw that, it was my mission to research William Wallace and compare it to the movie version.
When I launched Tome Press, a division of Caliber that dealt with historical, biographic, and literary works, it allowed me to do comics on things that fascinated me. You know stuff like Cortez, the Zulu Wars, Spy Stories, etc. Saint Germaine allowed me that luxury as well plus I got to weave a fictional character throughout it all. I found myself also venturing quite a bit into religion but that’s a natural fit because religion and history so often go together.
All of the Saint Germaine material will eventually be in print as a new collection will appear at the end of the year collecting the Saint Germaine story that appeared in Negative Burn that dealt with Shakespeare’s Falstaff plus the entire Magus storyline. There are also two new stories as Germaine explains the story of the Hunchback of Notre Dame and then we see him at the time of Genghis Khan.
As far as a new storyline, it would probably have to be a graphic novel. I have lots of ideas to venture towards that but not sure how well it would be accepted in today’s marketplace. The Saint Germaine stuff seems to have a good response outside of the comic stores so if that continues to grow, maybe I can get back to it.
I’d like to thank Gary for his time to do this interview with me.
It was a landmark for myself being able to get this interview after Gary had replied to my review of the first Saint Germaine trade. I have great memories of the Caliber titles and from that company we had people like Brian Micheal Bendis, Brian Bolland, Guy Davis, James O’Barr and Michael Avon Oeming working for them before they made it to the big leagues they’re at today.
And I have to say that Negative Burn was one of the best anthology titles that has EVER been printed to this day and if you can find the old issues then I would recommend getting them.
You can find out what he’s up to at his website or find the trades of his work from any of these publishers: Desperado Publishing, Transfuzion Publishing and Image Comics and lastly you can go to DriveThruComics.com for digital versions of many of the Caliber titles starting at $1.