When it comes to working in the comic book industry, Bob Shreck knows how tough it can get. When we sat down together at the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2) this past weekend, the Editor-in-chief of Legendary Comics - publishing imprint of Legendary Entertainment founder Thomas Tull – spoke honestly about the challenges that one is confronted with in starting a new comic-book company.
When questioned about how he hopes to succeed in the current market - one that is already full of superheroes, fantasy epics and space operas - Shreck points to “The Tower Chronicles”, Legendary’s inaugural series. Based on an idea by Tull and scripted by Matt Wagner, it tells the story of John Tower, a bounty hunter of considerable skill, who is very much in demand. “You must be screened to get his services” Shreck explains, “and you must have substantial resources. But he doesn’t always do it for the money.”
Long-time comic books readers may not find the concept alone to be all that inspiring, but they should take notice at the notion of Matt Wagner writing the book. But why was the creator of Mage and Grendel brought onto the book? Shreck says that when Tull first proposed “The Tower Chronicles”, Tull asked him to find a writer who would tell him if his ideas didn’t work. Enter Wagner, an acclaimed comic book creator with a solid track record working with iconic characters like Batman and Superman, and the conviction to tell the owner of a multi-million dollar media corporation if his ideas are bad. On Shreck’s recommendation, Wagner went to Burbank to meet with Thomas – an admitted comic book lover - and they hit it off. After discussing the concept and fleshing out the world that John Tower lived in, Wagner began writing the scripts with Tull overseeing the process, making sure that the book was in line with his vision. Wagner is also tasked with making sure that readers are invested in the character. “What separates a good story is when you create a good person, which is what we have in John Tower.” Shreck says, “He’s a character that makes you bond with him on his journey, like Wagner’s other characters.”
The challenge to telling a compelling story also comes in taking a new approach to ideas that he concedes are overly familiar. “There are only so many stories. The trick is - say the Hunger Games - that’s not a new story. It’s been done, many, many times. When you readdress it for a modern age so a new generation can relate to it, that’s what an editor needs to do.” Shreck explains. “We’re all churning over the same material, but it’s about finding that shard in the prism that hasn’t been seen before.”
In addition to Wagner on the scripting chores, industry standout Simon Bisley has been brought on board to handle the art. When he first heard the concept of John Tower, Shreck says he thought of Bisley immediately. And the first issue is to offer a number of variant covers, most notably one by fan-favorite Jim Lee. (see image)
While playing things close to the vest, Shreck concedes that he is in talks with 10-15 people currently in the comics industry – “big names” as he puts it - to do work for Legendary Comics. And he won’t dismiss having Hollywood heavyweights Chris Nolan and Bryan Singer working under the imprint. “They know we’ve got our catcher’s mitt on if they want to pitch a script and make a graphic novel of it.”
“The Tower Chronicles” is an exercise is “world building” for Legendary Comics, but not necessarily with the intent to create intellectual properties for the film division. “I want to create comics that stand on their own,” Shreck says “first and foremost.” When pressed, Shreck insists that Legendary Comics has the directive to focus on creating strong comic books without worrying about the prospect of creating concepts for film, “(Others) are chumming the waters (to make movies). If (our books) work outside as a TV (show) or movie, then great; but we need this (Legendary Comics) to make the medium stronger and better.”
If you ask me, the character of John Tower - a bounty hunter who isn’t in the business just for the money – sounds like an analogy for Legendary Comics. Here’s hoping that Tower gets his man.