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Metal Life Magazine Exclusive Interview with Marc Silvestri – Top Cow Productions

MetalLife.com Interview With Marc Silvestri 
By: Eva Jarkiewicz
Date: Aug, 2012

Marc Silvestri SDCC 2012Eva from Metal Life Magazine was able to connect with Marc Silvestri, founder of Top Cow Productions and Cyber Force creator, via phone to discuss the Cyber Force Returns Kickstarter and what Top Cow is doing in an attempt to change the “landscape of mainstream comics in the US”. Be sure to check out our related story Top Cow – Kickstarting the Comic Book Industry?

After sorting out some pesky cell phone reception issues, we were able to get down to what we thought you our readers would be interested in hearing from Marc Silvestri himself.

1. Metal Life Magazine: Everybody has already asked you the obvious question of why do a Kickstarter? Why not just sell the book? Instead we would like to know, what was the instigation or trigger to shake up the industry again?

Marc: You know, it needed it. [laughs]

Back 20 years ago when Image started kind of shook things up and things don’t really shake comics up that much. If you look at comics historically, evan when Marvel kind of came on the scene it wasn’t a shake up of comics, it was kind of this slow easy in. Marvel is kind of cooler and hipper … without being noticed, Marvel was taking over and employing these characters like Spiderman and X-Men, stuff like that everyone was – oh these are cool!

Really the first shake up in comics happened when Image hit 20 years ago. When everybody kind of went ‘Oh geez this is kind of a new paradigm, this hasn’t really been done at this level before’. There’d been toes dipped in the pool of independent comics and creators striking out on their own, but never at that level.

And for us, there have been years and years of the comic industry, aside from going into all the media, sales being on a decline and everybody being ‘oh my goodness where are comic going to be in a few years, are there going to be any more comics’ and for us we don’t like to hear that sort of thing and not do anything about it.

So taking the Kickstarter model and what they’re doing, which I think is actually really really cool and offers a lot of opportunities for people. We thought why don’t we do this Kickstarter thing and why don’t we do something a little different to get noticed. Let’s do it for free! Let’s get Kickstarter, let’s get people on board, and let’s give Cyber Force away for nothing and see what happens. It’s a big experiment but we’re not afraid of trying something new. That’s for sure! We’ve proven that over the years. We think the timing is great. We think we probably couldn’t have done this without the social funding that Kickstarter has kind of pioneered. And the opportunity seemed perfectly right.

What a coincidence, Cyber Force is 20 years old! There have always been stories of Cyber Force I have wanted to tell and never have. Cyber Force is more relevant now than it ever was, especially 20 years ago. And we have the social funding that we can kind of latch on to us as booster rockets and allow us to kind of afford to lose some money for awhile. And get people that maybe haven’t been picking up comics all the time or old fans, new fans or what have you. Hey what’s the harm, here’s your free comic. And with the cooperation of the good folks and the retailers that are backing the project up, with their help we’re able to do this.

So yeah, it’s time to shake things up, it’s been a long time and we’re tired of hearing about how the publishing community is going downhill and people just aren’t buying comic books anymore and online piracy and all this and all that. Well, maybe now’s the time to show there’s other ways of doing things. We can still print comics, we can still embrace audience and maybe tap into a new one. Or we’ll have egg on our face. We don’t know yet.

2. Metal Life Magazine: Well considering the response you are getting so far on the Kickstarter, I doubt you’re going to have egg on your face.

Marc: Fortunately it’s working well and we’re going to meet our goal. The thing is, the more we get on the Kickstarter, the more we can do with Cyber Force. More free stuff, maybe even extend it longer for free, it all depends. We’re going to make our initial goal which is great and we really appreciate the support. But the more we get the more can do, so keep on giving people!

3. Metal Life Magazine: This time around you are describing Cyber Force as Bio-Cybernetic Steampunk. The bio-cybernetic is pretty obvious with Cyber Force, but why steampunk?

Marc: Here’s the thing, and this is kind of why I did a mash-up and changed the name a bit. Steampunk is really really cool just by nature of what it is. The idea of what it is, the age of steam brought into the modern world. I’ve always liked that esthetic. I’ve got a clock and watch fetish. I love watch-works and I love the way gears mesh and I love that whole mechanical clock esthetic that steam punk culture embraces. But it’s also a very specific genre. Steampunk is something that is easily defined as steampunk. When you see it, you know it. Not everybody is into flat out solid steampunk. I am! But not everybody is. Plus you have people already doing that. So I thought, why don’t I combine the more accessible audience of steampunk and anyway take out the steam. Just take out the steam powered elements, just pull back on that a little bit and bring in more of the slick bio-organic technology and mix that with the steampunk so that you don’t have to much of either genre but have a hybrid of both. Which I feel will make it more accessible, hopefully anyway.

But to my esthetic it’s really what I would like the most from both genres It’s not to slick. It’s not to much, even though I am a huge fan of Syd Mead, I think that look has been done a lot, it’s not to much of that. It’s also not to much of the hard core steampunk, which I think again kind of limits the audience to people that are really into steampunk.

I think we’ve done a pretty good job of combining those two and with Khoi Pham on board, he really gets the look. And obviously Sunny Gho as a colorist, he’s a genius.

One of the things people will find out quickly, in the first issue, is the whole universe of Cyber Force the comic books is not actually bio-cybernetic steampunk. It’s real world. It’s us! It’s what we know and see on a daily basis but the technology and this covert world of Cyber Force and Cyberdata, which is the corporation that we’ll be establishing as the big bad guys, the technology has this bio-cybernetic steampunk esthetic to it. So daily life doesn’t. We have a little trick we are going to pull, on everyone who reads it, as to why that is and why that’s able to exist in our world and we’re not really completely aware of it. We’re going to have some fun but the entire world, and again this is me being really careful not to alienate people who aren’t really into steampunk, the entire world of the comic is real world as we know it on a daily basis. It’s when the technology starts to show itself and when we start to look under the surface of our real world that we see that bio-organic steampunk esthetic.

4. Metal Life Magazine: Cyber Force is still set in the same world as Darkness, Witchblade and the other stories, just separate for the time being right?

Marc: Yes, It’s all set and we’re not crossing anything over right now. You aren’t going to see any Witchblade or Darkness references especially in the mini that we are opening up with, the first five issue arc. But it is set in the world that it could.

We have a city, called Millennium City, which is essentially Cyberdata Industries. Which is a huge corporation spanning the world and basically controlling the things we use every day to make our lives more convenient and comfortable. They essentially bought Pittsburgh. And what they did is they built Millennium City in the heart of it, kind of spread out like this living organism. Where everything within the main hub of Millennium City is great new and terrific but the outlying areas have been kind of left to decay. We are going to have some really interesting things to say about the political, economic and social climates that we experience today in this petrie dish that we are calling Millennium City. So it’s going to be interesting for people, I think.

5. Metal Life Magazine: I do like the idea that they bought Pittsburgh. That’s kind of amusing.

Marc: Yeah they just went out and bought it. We are going to use that to show how the economy works today and how business works and how it works with just the common man. You know we’re going to have some fun with social commentary wrapped up in this adventure with these really interesting characters. There is a lot of humanity mixed in with all the high concepts, that’s critical. And I think the visual analogy that something like Millennium City will provide will be a constant reminder to the reader of the kind of world that we live in today. The fact that this major corporation just goes in and buys a major metropolis like Pittsburgh, we’re going to have some fun with that.

6. Metal Life Magazine: Have you been getting any push back from the fans, or anybody else, that you are changing the characters?

Marc: Nothing negative, which is interesting. The most we have been getting is curious, ‘well, what are you guys going to do? This is something I grew up on. As a kid I grew up on Cyber Force, what are you going to do to my characters’ Well it’s true we are going to throw some curve balls at you guys. And we’re all going to have fun. We’re going to have fun and you’re going to have fun.

Obviously I am a huge fan of Cyber Force, it means a lot to me. But the original concept was never what I really wanted it to be. Now is the opportunity to tell those stories that I always wanted to tell. And like I said earlier, Cyber Force is more relevant today than it ever was. Yes there are going to be changes, the immediate change is what people are going to see with the new esthetic. For the most part, 99.9% percent, has been really positive, the other percent has been really curious, ‘hmmm well I’ll see if I like it’. Our job is to make sure they like it, and I’m sure if we like it everyone else is going to like it, because we’re fans.

7. Metal Life Magazine: I’m just hoping I am still going to like Ripclaw when you are done.

Marc: I know you are big Ripclaw fan. You are going to like him even more.

One of the things we wanted to make sure, this time around, was the characters need to be more compelling and deeper. You know, reading back through the old Cyberforce stuff, they were kind of shallow. They’re just a little generic. We don’t want to do that anymore. We are giving all the characters some really meaty backstories. And really meaty motivations. But again we are going tease it all out, we are in no hurry. We’re not going to blow all the cool stuff right off the bat. We are going to establish things. We are going to get people really interested.

Matt (Hawkins) and I, we are writing this together and we like to compare this saga to, I think saga is better term than just a story, kind of the way Game of Thrones spools out. It’s very complex and yet very human. And that’s what we want to do, balance what we are looking for. There’s a lot of characters, there’s a lot of concepts and there is a lot of story to be told. And what we are going to do is make sure that we keep everyone interested and make sure we have relationships between characters that people can identify with. Characters people can identify with.

In the case of Ripclaw you are going to like him ten times more than you did before. And not just because he can do different things. Which he can. And the things he can do now are much, much cooler and unique than what he did twenty years ago. But I think as a character, you are going to really really feel for this guy and you are going to want to see this guy work. You want to see him make his life work. We want to have that with all the characters, but for you specifically Ripclaw is going to be pretty cool.

8. Metal Life Magazine: As you know our fans are into Heavy Metal, well any form of Metal, and among their interests many list Comics and Arts. Since you work in that field we can’t exactly ask you if you are into them, we already know you are. So instead, what kind of music do you listen to when working on a story like Cyber Force.

Marc: You know it really depends, I have always been really sensitive to my creative moods and music really drives me, I am all over the map. From The Cure, David Bowie, Morcheeba, Scorpions, The Smiths, Nine Inch Nails, Judas Priest, Hooverphonic, Pink Floyd, Slayer, to some old school 80s metal with Pantera or Metallica … I’ll absolutely have metal on when I’m cruising. When I’m in a rhythm and I already know in my head what I am going to put down paper that’s usually when I crank it up a bit more I just like to hear the thrashing… I’ll throw the metal on there.

I have this project I am working on Emily Lazar, from September Mourning, which is this, Metal / Comics / Online / all kinds of things, multi-media project. That circles around her and if you’ve heard any of her music, September Mourning stuff, she’s full on screaming in that mic, she’s just thrashing around, it’s full on metal. It’s cool stuff!

9. Metal Life Magazine: I have to thank you, because from the panel I connected with her at Comic-Con and we will be doing an interview with her later as well.

Marc: Awesome, she’s bad ass huh!

10. Metal Life Magazine: She seems really cool, and everything we’ve heard of her music so far is really awesome.

Marc: She’s great. She loves comics. She’s not a poser in any way. She’s not a poser in music, it’s her life. What you see is genuine. It’s not anything she’s doing to impress people. She does what she does, and she loves comic books. You can’t beat that combination. You have this chick that is full on metal and full on theatrics, full on pop-culture and full on into comics and movies, it’s great! We are going to have a lot of fun with that project.

11. Metal Life Magazine: I’ve asked you a few questions about the Kickstarter and I’ve picked up more information online, but what else would you like to share that other people may not know yet about this project?

Marc: The obvious stuff we’ve talked about, the fact that we want to give it away for free. It’s a grand experiment. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We are going to do the best we can but we’re interested in feedback. So anyone that wants to ask questions, just go onto the Kickstarter site and go ahead and ask questions. We answer those questions, we update it on a regular basis, which people should check out even if they’ve already donated go ahead and check it out. We add new incentives and my original art work is going to be up there for people that hit certain incentive levels. Covers and interior work, because I will be doing the interiors for the printed version of the comic.

Two pages in each issue, that will later be pulled together in its own hard cover, will be telling intimate stories of each of the characters. Which we thought would be kind of cool. They are sort of related to the issue you are are reading, but they’re not. They could be just these little slice of life tales of Ripclaw or Velocity or some other character that seems minor but eventually plays a key role simply because they walked through a scene. Just going to have a lot of fun with that. I don’t think a lot of people know that is going to happen. That’s in the printed version only. Our little thank you to the people that still buy comic books. You know Cyber Force is going to be free online to anyone, you can only get extra content if you pick up the actual comic. So that’s something that we want people to be aware of. And the updates coming, actually have a big one coming near the end, the updates will be coming fast and furious. And will be a big push from this point all the way through to the end. So people should keep checking out the site, spread the word, spread it among all their friends. A dollar even does it for you, five bucks gets you some free stuff. Kick in there and help us try something new.

12. Metal Life Magazine: Personally, I want to win the lottery this week so I can go for the ultimate reward in there, that nice little trip to Disney and then the site seeing tour with Top Cow.

Marc: [laughs] Yeah do it! Or get some friends that have some cash and say ‘you know I will be your date.’

We are going to be adding some original artwork, I think it’s the $5000 mark along with everything else that you get at the lower levels plus I think I am going to add a new level that has interior artwork, those two pages that I am going to be doing. Plus the concept sketches those are all going to be updated and put up there as well. So you can have the originals. I don’t know what level those are yet. But those will be included.

13. Metal Life Magazine: Going completely off track from the Kickstarter, I know if I keep digging online I will eventually find this information. Top Cow is doing a talent search now, and I know part of the reason you’ve said that you are doing it is because you all got a break at some point from somebody in the industry. Who do you credit with your break?

Marc: I don’t really know, I was kind of pushed. I know it seems like a strong word, by my brother and my cousin, to get into comics. I was pretty much a slacker, didn’t know what I wanted to do. Yeah, I could kind of draw, sort of, yeah sorta, kinda. Sitting at home drawing comics seemed like an easy gig. But over at the Chicago Comicon which was in 1982, I think, back in the stone age when it used to be downtown… I think it was Joe Orlando, he was over at DC … DC was running a big new talent search. So I slapped a portfolio together and went down there and they gave me my first gig. So Joe Orlando saw something amongst all the crap I had drawn, at least a kernel of something that I could develop into and he gave me a gig. Gave me my first job. I was at DC comics, and then a year after that I sold my stuff over at Marvel. Jim Shooter at the time was running things, I showed him my work and he gave me a job. I was with Marvel all the up until Image. We want to do the same thing for people. Everybody needs a break. There is a lot of talent out there that is yet to be discovered.

14. Metal Life Magazine: I am glad they gave you that break. And when you were at Marvel you actually worked on another of my favorite titles.

Marc: Which one was that?

Metal Life Magazine: Wolverine

Marc: I am sensing a trend with you there. Wolverine actually was my favorite character at Marvel. My favorite comic character in general, aside from the stuff we do is, Batman. I just think Batman is just cool! And then Wolverine right after that. So obviously, yeah there is some similarity there with Ripclaw but actually I have pulled him a little further away from that. He is still this awesome badass dude but he is more his own guy now. The comparisons won’t be as easy to draw but you still dig him.

15. Metal Life Magazine: So is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Marc: Sometimes I think I sound trite when I say this stuff, but it’s absolutely sincere, I am just so appreciative of fans of comics. People that love comic books, because those same people bleed out into all the genres that are connected with comics. The fun movies, the action movies, the sci-fi and the fantasy, it’s all stuff that I am into. And the fact that there’s people out there who are reading comics, are loving comics, comics are actually starting to creep back up which a lot of people in the industry really didn’t think was going to happen. So we are really really appreciative of that and I’m appreciative of my fans. Top Cow is appreciative of all Top Cow fans. People like you Eva keep us going. We have a good deal here, if you keep buying our stuff, we can keep making it. So we really, really, really appreciate it and any one that comes by the Top Cow booth, just please stop on by or hang out. Usually it’s time for meetings but I love to just hang out and BS with the fans and talk comics and movies and stuff. I’m not one of those guys that likes to blister through a line, unless I have to. I am always down for just hanging out talking about the stuff we all love. So thanks everybody!

16. Metal Life Magazine: I think I noticed that when I was at the booth. Your attitude seems to rub off on the rest of the team there as well, everybody at that booth seemed to be really genuine and really nice.

Marc: Oh yeah, thank you. And they are! We’re all fans, which helps. That’s something unique I think to comics a lot. The people behind the scenes are fans themselves which is very very helpful. And hopefully that bleeds onto the comic book pages.

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