Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Caliber pt. 10- Busy, Busy, Busy

I have to admit that the three years I was with McFarlane Toys is a bit of a blur when I look back. It was an incredibly hectic time. I was Executive VP at McFarlane and handled much of the advertising, TV ads, a lot of the office, and many other duties. The response to the toy line was unbelievable and exploded at a level that was not only unexpected but pretty much unimaginable. The toy line completely revolutionized the entire action figure market.

At the same time, I still had my comic shops, my wife and I had our third child at the beginning and our fourth at the end of my time with McFarlane Toys. And of course, I still had Caliber and Stabur. With Stabur, it involved a number of trips to New York and with Caliber and McFarlane, there were a lot of Hollywood discussion ongoing so that meant quite a few trips to Los Angeles and those often tied in with a trip to Todd’s office in Arizona. There was a lot of traveling and an ungodly number of meetings. During that time, Caliber had a number of opportunities with studios, particularly Fox, but they never were signed for a variety of different reasons.

It was becoming obvious that I couldn’t handle all the duties effectively in all of these different areas. Of course, at McFarlane Toys, I had a personal assistant and a staff and for the comic shops, I had some great managers, but it was Caliber that I had to deal with mainly. At the time, Caliber consisted of me and Nate Pride who handled much of the production aspects. Not too many people realized just how small of an operation Caliber was…it was mainly me and various production people such as Mark Winfrey, Guy Davis, and then Nate who would remain with Caliber for a long time. I remember one month, the two of us put out around 20 issues although it was usually less than that. When I think back on it, that’s pretty amazing since there weren’t the computer options that we have nowadays. I don’t even know if Adobe or Corel even existed then.

I needed to hire an editor…someone that would take many of the duties. It would have to be someone with the right sensibilities that understood independent comics. I was also evaluating on how many people I would need to hire, maybe one editor wouldn’t be enough. A lot depended on how much Caliber would expand. I didn’t even consider anyone with experience from the Marvel/DC set up as independent comics were a different beast. I had one previous editor on staff before and that was Kevin VanHook and even though he was only around for about a year, it was a great relationship and I learned from him and he really helped to alleviate the burden.

I’m sure I talked to Rafael Nieves at the time as he was working with the new Comico and he and I had become good friends. He probably didn’t want to uproot from Chicago and make the move. I do remember flying in Steve Jones who at the time had done a lot of work with Malibu. His wife accompanied him and they stayed for a few days and the plan was to bring him in for Caliber and his wife would work for McFarlane as she had experience with accounting which we always needed. Also, at one of the Chicago conventions, I had a lunch meeting with Brian Azzarello for the position. Brian was just getting out of working for Comico. Again, however, it was a major step for people to think about uprooting their lives to move to the offices in the Detroit area. Working offsite was not an option at that time.

I had talked with Joe Pruett who was doing a tremendous job on Negative Burn. Joe and I had hit it off pretty well and I discussed the idea with him. But he had a great job as did his wife and things were going perfectly for him at the time. He suggested that I talk with his twin brother, Jim who was single and not on the career path that he wanted. Now, I could be wrong on how all this actually played out as far as the order went, but I’m pretty sure it went that way.

So, after talking with Jim who I must have met before….but you know how it is with twins…I talked with a Pruett here and there at conventions but I don’t remember which was which…I decided to bring Jim into the Caliber fold. Jim was exactly what I needed and it would prove for years to be one of the best decisions I made. He was an invaluable part of Caliber for the remaining years that the company existed.

Caliber branched out into many different areas at this time. With Ken Holewczynski, we put out a music magazine, Arc, that had expanded distribution. It was at this time that we began producing comics for Wal-Mart, and we had a line of comics that came out on a fairly consistent basis. Negative Burn was a monthly anthology and would eventually hit 50 issues; the relaunch of Deadworld and Realm both hit over a dozen issues; Kilroy is Here started up and would eventually run some 15 issues, Brian Bendis was doing his AKA Goldfish and Jinx; Mark Rickets did his Nowheresville series (which I absolutely loved); Sinergy was launched with the 22 levels of Hell each drawn by a different artist; an adaptation of Nosferatu was released; David Mack moved from Young Dracula to Kabuki, Renfield came out; and we released the Big Bang line of comics. One of our more successful series was OZ and we would eventually end up releasing some 30 issues of that. There were a number of other one shots and limited series as well.

At this time, I wanted to also expand the presence of Caliber and so there was a renewed emphasis on promoting the company with the Caliber Rounds monthly newsletter/preview (which sometimes ran 16 pages) and we began a program of mailing directly to over 1,000 key retailers. Caliber also attended as many trade shows as possible and provided more of a presence at conventions. Caliber had done the usual conventions but now it was going to be expanded considerably. We had done Detroit and Chicago as they were nearby and of course, San Diego a few time but now wanted to do it big time.

The next couple of convention seasons were hectic as we were hitting many of the major shows…Dallas, New York, Charlotte, Atlanta, Columbus, Toronto, etc. besides Detroit, Chicago, and San Diego. Some of the set ups were quite large and at Chicago one year, I think we took over 18 (? Not sure, but it was a lot) booths and set up an actual store on the floor with bookshelves, t-shirt racks, comic racks, etc. Around the perimeter, we had some 20 creators in little alcoves doing signings. The thing I remember most is that we didn’t get out of there until early the next morning.

Another area we expanded to was the Power Cardz, a card game similar to the incredibly popular Magic Cards of the time but this featured superheroes. We created many heroes and also utilized many of the various creators’ characters that were published through Caliber. This was in association with Sky Comics, the company run by Blue Line Pro’s Bob Hickey. Joe Martin had worked with Bob for years and was the liaison between the companies before Caliber hired him full time and moved him up to the offices.

Caliber was developing more of an identity and having long running series such as the new Deadworld and Realm, Negative Burn, OZ, etc. gave us a more stable line. The Tome Press line continued to do well and though many comic shops didn’t support this type of material, the titles revolving around H.P. Lovecraft and Sherlock Holmes did quite well in the comics market and outsold many of the creator owned titles.

Things were going pretty well. My stores were holding up well, Caliber was expanding, and of course, the toy company was growing at a phenomenal rate. We created property portfolios for Hollywood and were in discussions with a lot of people and it seemed that soon, something would develop in that area.

But as they say, all good things can’t last forever, but fortunately, things got better before they got worse.


James Pruett said...

Thanks for the kind comments, Gary. Loved my time at Caliber and view it as the best years of my life. Professionally, that is.

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