Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Caliber pt. 11- Divided Duties

As I mentioned before, the three years I was at McFarlane Toys was a hectic blur. The company was growing so fast, it was almost impossible to keep up. As the Detroit area offices expanded a couple of times, it was decided the best move was to build a new building, perfectly suited for our needs as warehouse and offices. I was heavily involved in designing the building and laying out the floor plan and that was an interesting exploration of just all the little things you have to consider.

The Powercardz game we released did pretty well. It wasn’t a great seller but it was sort of a trial run. We expanded into signing up Spawn and were also in discussions with Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee to do games based on their properties after the release of Spawn. Obviously the success of Spawn PowerCardz that was going to determine if we continued. We brought up another guy from Kentucky in Tim Parsons who worked with Joe Martin on the game. I have to give Joe and Tim most of the credit for the game as they handled the majority of it and worked their butts off for a very long time.

On the Caliber line, I wanted to continue the regularity that we were starting to have with our titles and in an effort to be less at the mercy of late artists or those who moved on quickly to the big guys, I decided to develope some titles that we would control.

I created Raven Chronicles with some assistance of one of my employees, Chet Jacques. This was about a team of paranormal investigators exploring claims of the unknown. Made of believers and skeptics, it has an interesting dynamic with members of the team featured each issue. Sort of like X-Files meets Mission Impossible (the TV show, not the movies). The plan was to have each issue self contained and that way I could bring in different writers and artists and keep it on a regular schedule. We published 16 issues but I ended up writing about half as I enjoyed it so much. Raven Chronicles became sort of my shared universe as I utilized the characters in many other titles I wrote such as Seeker, Red Diaries, Saint Germaine, Helsing, and even Jim Pruett utilized the characters in his Black Mist series.

Another title I started to develop was Inferno. I had just a vague idea of a city of Hell where immortality reigns along with corruption…a place you could see the sins of the past mixed in with today’s. I did a short prelude of a traveler getting to the gates but just didn’t have time to do much with it. I turned it over to Mike Carey with Michael Gaydos drawing it and they ended up doing a five issue series on it. We share the copyrights on it equally and it will be collected from Transfuzion Publishing this summer.

While these “company owned” titles (which meant me) were being developed, I had brought in many creators to participate in the concepts of not only these, but to bring in their own. Some of the creator owned titles Caliber released came out of this confab but mainly it was to develop some of the titles. The hardest one was Searchers. This was about the descendants of many of the great Victorian heroes and the featured worlds of Verne, Haggard, Doyle, Wells, and others. They were brought into reality so you had Moriarty, the Invisible Man, War of the Worlds, Captain Nemo, Professor Challenger, and many more all mixed together. This was done years before Alan Moore launched his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

There were a number of proposed ideas for the Searchers and I only had a guideline as I didn’t want to restrict anyone else’s ideas. I finally chose the plan from Chris Dows and Colin Clayton and the Searchers was released. I also utilized Chris and Colin to develop another property I had which was The Disciples and they fleshed it into a series that was eventually published by Image Comics.

Somewhere along this time, we got involved with Susie Owens and her Flaxen character. Bill Liebowicz of Golden Apple Comic had worked with Susie on the character so we worked with them to release the comic. Susie traveled with us on the convention circuit and was a tremendous hit. She marketed the hell out of the book, and herself as well, and though she was focused and determined, she always remained a very sweet person. The comic was written by James Hudnall and illustrated by Brian Bendis and David Mack…which was sort of an unusual match but it worked.

Deadworld and Realm had gone through their re-launches but began to sputter primarily due to artist schedules. I had tried to anticipate this by putting two artists on each book to alleviate the demands. On Deadworld, I had Troy Nixey pencil and Galen Showman ink and for The Realm, I had two different artists draw different characters and scenes so each was only drawing half the book. Brian Bendis and Donald Marquez split the book between them and I figured things would go twice as fast. Well, things change in independent comics and most of them were quickly hired away or moved onto their own projects. So, after about a dozen issues or so, both ended.

Deadworld had been optioned by George Clooney’s Maysville Pictures and then put into development by Warner Brothers. I put Deadworld on hiatus figuring I’d see how the movie developed and not veer off into any directions that might conflict with the move. For the Realm, I had been writing it but I was a reluctant fantasy writer and yet I knew that a lot of people still wanted The Realm. I decided to put someone else on the book. Bendis submitted a proposal to take over the book but he soon shifted more towards his crime comics. Joe Martin was a huge fantasy fan. We talked about my desire to relaunch The Realm and he was having some conceptual ideas about his character series, Seeker. So, we decided to switch. He would write The Realm and I would take over his Seeker. I did five issues of Seeker but he and artist Phil Xavier did 18 issues of the newly renamed Realm as it was called Legend Lore. They did a fantastic job on it and it had great critical acclaim particularly amongst the pure fantasy fans.

As all of this was going on- the launch of a number of Caliber titles, the Spawn PowerCardz production, and the Stabur line of books and projects, the demands of McFarlane Toys increased. It wasn’t just a handful of guys in the back room….now it was a major multi-million dollar corporation with many employees, some of who I barely knew as we were bringing them in fairly fast.

An area that was also taking up a lot of time was the exploitation of the Caliber properties in Hollywood. There were a number of meetings, some with the top executives of the major studios. We prepared property bibles for many of the titles and were in deep discussions with a lot of the executives. The Caliber catalog was being actively shopped and actively pursued and although nothing really came out it in the end, it was really close in many cases. Yes, some properties were optioned but that’s really no big deal.

It became evident that I was spread too thin (and that didn’t even include the stores I still had) and a decision had to be made. I couldn’t keep doing it all. I had to decide on Caliber/Stabur or McFarlane Toys. Frankly, I didn’t think it was a problem and although I put in a lot of hours, I knew it wasn’t a permanent situation. I don’t think that the heavy schedule impacted anything I was doing but some felt that no one can work that many in so many different directions without burning out. But even on a personal level, I had a very understanding wife and when I was home, I was home. I was still heavily involved with raising my kids and the family life. It’s not that I was gifted in any way, but I knew how to compartmentalize and I was able to focus intently on the issue at hand and deal with things without it escalating to a worrying situation. To me, it wasn’t a problem and there was no let down in the work itself. Of course, it couldn’t continue forever, but Jim Pruett was assuming more of the duties and plans were to bring in more editors. Joe Martin and Tim Parsons had both stepped up in this area as well as did Chet Jacques.

It came to a head one day as I came in to work. I remember because it was my birthday. In a way, it was an ultimatum…I had to choose. I could stay with McFarlane Toys with the hefty salary I earned as Vice President of the company or leave with the Caliber line. If I stayed with the toy company, the consideration was that Caliber would be consumed by the toy company, or actually the parent company of TMP (Todd McFarlane Productions).

I had a couple of days to think it over and had a lot of discussions with Paul about it. Paul was torn about it as he knew it made sense and could catapult the Caliber titles with Todd’s name behind them yet he was also an entrepreneur in the truest sense and always felt that it was best to be your own guidance regardless of all else. He even considered leaving with me but he was co-owner of McFarlane Toys and CEO.

So, the ultimate decision came down to Caliber with all of its possibilities…both good and bad or to continue with McFarlane Toys solely and give up Caliber. To Todd, it was likely just one of many things he dealt with on any given day, but for me, I knew it was a momentous decision. We set a time for the discussion which was a couple of days away and then it was a case of deciding what I was going to do.

It was an interesting conversation I had with Todd, one that lasted a long time, and surprisingly, it wasn’t until the conversation itself that I eventually made up my mind.

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