Once a year Top Cow's President & COO Matt Hawkins likes to give a State of the Union type of address showing where the publisher is and where it's going. And I can tell you, after chatting with Matt for an hour or so the other day, the state of the Top Cow is good.
When most readers think of the company started by Marc Silvestri, co-founder of Image Comics, they think of two characters: Witchblade and Darkness. And for almost twenty years those two titles were the flagships of the line. Both series have ended and replaced by titles like Think Tank, Sunstone and Tales of Honor. That's because the company sees the industry growing in new ways. This is the same thing it did back in 1995 when it was obvious that the superhero scene was dominated by Marvel and DC. Books like Cyberforce that launched the studio moved aside for a focus on supernatural based themes. Now, as the rest of the comic industry moves towards being edgy, Top Cow pushes that envelope even further with books split into four different groups: Edenverse, Sunstone or Sejicverse, Top Cow Universe and other.
The Edenverse consists of Think Tank, The Tithe, Postal and Eden's Fall. These series are more down to Earth thrillers, and each book is created in whole or part by Hawkins. He describes them as "reader books", ignoring the collectors market and moving away from variant covers. These books also do very well in the bookstores and through Amazon. The first Think Tank trade has outsold all of the individual issues combined. Hawkins brings copies of the first issue of Think Tank to conventions and gives them away to interested attendees on Friday to entice them back for the trade over the reaming two days. He says that works very well. There will be more Think Tank in March as well as another run for The Tithe in 2017. A new title is in the works as well based on a suggestion by Silvestri.
The Sunstone universe is the work of Stjepan Sejic and Linda Sejic and is based on their work that they've been posting for free on deviantart. This consists of Sunstone, which will be wrapping up their first arc shortly, Blood Stain and the upcoming book Swing by Hawkins, his wife Jenni Cheung and Linda Sejic. The odds of a big crossover between these books is slim, but the series are all connected through an MMORPG (like World of Warcraft) that characters in each book play together. The second (of four) arcs for Sunstone will begin a month or two after the first finishes and will be called Mercy based on the characters safe-word. These books are an oddity in the comic market in that they are available free on-line, but sales of the trades make it one of the bestselling books from Top Cow in their 25-year history.
On his Facebook page, Sejic posted: "Why I'm never leaving Top Cow? Well, one day I said, 'listen, I have this adult oriented erotic romance I'd like to publish. Trust me it's good.' And they trusted me."
The third line is the Top Cow Universe that has existed for years but then took a little break. It's getting a nice restart though with some new takes on characters like Magdalena by Tini Howard, Ryan Cady and Christian DiBari, Aphrodite V by Bryan Hill and Jeffrey Spokes and an upcoming Tom Judge series written by me (Dan Wickline) and drawn by Rom. This is the line that will still try and attract the collectors with variant covers and gorgeous statues by XM Studios.
And finally there is the other category. Books that don't fit into the other universe, but they want to publish because they're good. Books like Tales of Honor, Adrift, Symmetry, Mechanism, Eclipse and the upcoming Bryan Hill and Nelson Blake II series Romulus.
Hawkins spoke about how the industry has changed over his 19-years with the company. Where once you promoted a comic by buying ad space in Wizard Magazine and the Comic Buyers Guide. Now it's about social media and web presence. That they are more focused on growing their readership than trying to work the collector market with multiple covers and chase variants. The company is making more in roads by expanding into libraries across the country and offering up free digital issues to get people's attention. He feels that the company is producing some of the best books they've ever done and are working with as good a base of artists as ever, which is saying something when you look at the bar the company set with the likes of Silvestri, Dale Keown, Michael Turner and Brandon Peterson to name a few.
The longevity of any company is based on its ability to change with the market. Top Cow has proven that not only can they shift with the readers; they can be a head of the game.