Thursday, January 5, 2012

CaliberPart 8--- Not an Identity Crisis

As promised, an update within a few weeks!

Around the third year of Caliber, there was an incredible amount of changes occurring with the company as I said before. It was the nature of the company that creators would come with new ideas and a chance to showcase their talents and titles and often time, move on to the bigger guys. I realized that we were becoming a farm system.

But that was okay. Sales were decent and even though Caliber didn’t own most of the books, most of them were profitable, even if profits were small. In a long twisting route, I ended up owning Deadworld and the Realm and the Tome Press titles were mostly Caliber owned titles. At this time, there really wasn’t much thought or impetus to consider the exploitation of comics outside of just doing comics.

As was the norm for most of the company’s publishing life, I was bombarded with submissions. Actually, it’s kind of odd as even today, over ten years after Caliber stopped publishing, I still get submissions every month. I did understand that although I felt that a company shouldn’t be restricted to any kind of genre, the output from Caliber was over all the place. There was no such thing as a typical “Caliber” book and I knew that this could become problematic while at the same time, I didn’t want to limit what kind of material to do based on some perceived image of what we were.

The Tome Press line worked out fantastic and with those titles safely nestled under that imprint and fans as well as retailers, understanding what the line was, I decided to branch off with more imprints. I came up with Gauntlet for the more action/adventure type books and for the more introspective work or what is often referred to as the self reflective books, I created Iconografix.

Iconografix was our “artsy” line and Ed Brubaker’s Lowlife moved into that line, I believe. There were a number of different titles, many of them one shots and the talents that were published with Iconografix included the likes of Dame Darcy, Mary Fleener, Richard Sala, Jason Lutes, Paul Tobin, Joe Zabel, Eric Haven, Dennis Worden, Al Frank, David Chelsea, Mark Burby, Mark Badger, Mack White, Phil Hester, George Parsons, Lloyd Dangle, Gary Dumm, and Ashley Holt. A lot of those creators were involved in the anthology, Monkey Wrench. That was edited by Brubaker. However, when he contacted everyone, he offered them page rates which was something that Caliber didn’t do. I never saw the logic on giving page rates for creator owned books. That caused a slight flare-up and Brubaker disappeared for a while and the next thing I knew, he was writing mainstream comics.

For Gauntlet, I ventured into the world of superheroes. I blame Patrick Zircher for that. He really wanted to do his Samurai Seven and since Patrick was so willing to do anything I ever asked and do a great job of it, I conceded. He deserved that chance. So, in addition to that book, there were a few series, most notably UN Force (in color), Tekq, Beck and Caul, and the Berserker series written by Gary Carlson which was the big seller. Collecting some of the earlier work that had never seen print, it included story art or pinups by Angel Medina, Rob Liefeld, and Erik Larsen. The Big Bang line of comics also came out from Caliber but I don’t remember if those were under the Gauntlet banner or not. I think not because these were packaged for sale to Wal-Mart and we had established the Caliber identity with them. Same with the Stormquest title that we put together with Blue Line. However, both would have firmly fit in with the Gauntlet line.

That doesn’t mean that the Caliber line was forgotten about. Caliber releases included Bernie Mireault’s Mackenzie Queen (and later, we would release his classic series, The Jam), Gabriel Morrisette’s Gaijin, two color series in Sean Shaw’s Billy Nguyen and Michael Allred’s Graphik Muzik. Kevin VanHook’s Frost series was released after we compiled a one shot. This would eventually lead to his movie which was released years later.

It was about this time that a new influx of creators were coming into Caliber. There were creators like Ken Holewczynski and Rafael Nieves who contributed some and Raf became a good friend. When Kevin VanHook was still onboard, he saw a lot of promise in a young artist which would prove to be justified and Galen Showman did some key titles with Caliber. I had signed up Michael Lark’s Airwaves as a series and he also branched out to the Taken Under series which ran in Caliber Presents. Brian Bendis came on board with his Parts of a Hole, Spunky Todd, and Quivers. Mark Ricketts had an interesting series called Warp Walking that we did, and there were a couple of series from two guys from Kentucky which ended up being Happy the Clown and Young Dracula. Gary Francis was the writer and David Mack was the artist. Joe Pruett came to me with his Kilroy series and that would open a long relationship with him and his twin, Jim.

This last set of creators came at the right time. Caliber had entrenched itself for the long haul as we had ventured into a lot of different areas including record distribution as we did the magazine ARC and also the guys at Skingraft made some inroads with records.

The Caliber line started to solidify with a more stable lineup with the aid of the imprints absorbing some of the more specific genre titles. Many of the creators became good friends and Caliber embarked on a series of convention tours and it was during this time that titles such as AKA Goldfish, Kabuki, and Nowheresville started. With Galen, two series I wrote, Renfield and Sinergy both garnered quite a bit of attention. And the stage was set to move from the anthology of Caliber Presents to an all new anthology called Negative Burn.

It was a crazy time and it was about to get even crazier as Caliber merged with Stabur. Next time, I’ll discuss that and how the grandiose plans that caused the merger quickly fell apart all because a guy wanted to start up his own toy company.


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