The folks at the local comic-book publishing company, Penny Farthing Press, understand that all it takes is one movie spin-off for their little franchise to achieve long-term financial success. Even an animated television show would do. But right now, they're just breaking even.
"We're not trying to out-Marvel Marvel," says assistant publisher David Ramirez. Instead, Penny Farthing is putting all of its energies into a few titles, like the 1930s hero Captain Gravity, the space opera Zendra, the shape-shifting alien-with-a-heart called Decoy and its more sophisticated flagship title, The Victorian.
When Penny Farthing started four years ago, it enticed the legendary Jim Steranko out of retirement to do the first cover for The Victorian. He had left the comic-book field because of his frustration with the micromanaging at the megahouses. But Penny Farthing offered him artistic freedom, and he agreed to come on board. Similar deals have attracted other relative well-knowns -- writer Len Wein (X-Men, Swamp Thing, Batman the Animated Series) and Spectrum Silver Award-winning artists Rick Berry and Michael Kaluta -- to the company. Stuart Moore, who writes Zendra, recently left his editorship at Marvel, seeking the freedom from the formula that Farthing was willing to provide.
Farthing can provide this freedom because its publisher, Ken White Jr., also happens to own W-H Energy Services, a conglomeration of 11 companies that provide services for oil drilling. "I'm 60 years old," White says. "You get to the point where you make a decision: You can hang around people your age, and all they do is complain about taxes and talk about their health, which is true. Or you say, 'Look, if you hang around with the young people, with good ideas that are creative, that's a neat deal.' "
White has been collecting comic books since the '40s and '50s, when they were the main form of entertainment for adolescent boys. "I'm now paying $500 for a comic book that I threw away in 1949 for ten cents," he says. He's keeping the company financed until it builds up a fan base and its titles can spin off into other areas.
Now comic-book readership is closer to the much-coveted 18- to 30-year-old demographic. This, in conjunction with Tinseltown's aversion to coming up with original ideas, is why comics from Men in Black to Blade have been finding their way into theaters.
White's goal may be just around the corner. He's already gotten down the Hollywood lingo, claiming to be "in the preliminary stages of negotiations" for a couple of feature films. But he hasn't given up on his pure comic-book roots. The publishing house is putting out a line of children's books, The Loch Trilogy, to reach that younger readers who have left the comic-book fold.