Walking A Blackline: Interview With Blackline Comics Director of Operations/Executive Editor Mike De Lepine
Thursday, April 29, 2010 - 15:17
Walking A Blackline:
Interview With Blackline Comics
Director of Operations/Executive Editor Mike De Lepine
Being editor of Cosmic Book News I come into contact with a variety of creators, publishers and fellow comic book journalists. In the past few years I have gotten to know Scott Williams from his terrific comic news site, Project Fanboy. "The Baddest Geeks You'll Ever Meet" recently launched their podcast, "The Fanboy Buzz" not too long ago and I managed to listen to their latest episode.
They happened to have a guest host on, Mike De Lepine, who impressed me with his overall demeanor, his love for comic books, his professional comic resume, his new comic book publishing company, Blackline Comics, and their respective titles.
Mike is the Director of Operations and Executive Editor at Blackline comics which publishes creator owned titles. Cosmic Book News caught up with
Mike De Lepine to discuss Blackline Comics, their Free Comic Book Day releases, Black Salt: The Last Heroes Left and Colonel, the Black Salt movie, their upcoming projects and more. Mike also shares an exclusive announcement with readers of Cosmic Book News!
Cosmic Book News: Can you tell us a bit about Blackline Comics? How did Blackline Comics come about?
Mike De Lepine: I was once part of a national organization called the Comicbook Artists Guild, or CAG for short, made up of indie comic creators of all skill and experience levels for the purpose of networking and sharing their craft. There were seven chapters across the country, including Rhode Island, New York, Connecticut, Texas, Nebraska and two chapters in Southern California, of which I rose to be chapter leader of one of them. I was in the process of putting CAG on the path to becoming a not-for-profit organization.
Let’s just say, to make a long story less long, that my relationship with CAG did not work out, and after almost two years I walked away from them. Political infighting within the group became commonplace, and more disappointingly, the ones in the Guild who talked about doing positive things with their talents to help CAG grow were many, but the ones who actually did what they said they would do were woefully few. I resigned from CAG just after San Diego Comic-Con 2008, and the two West Coast Chapters of CAG collapsed as a result.
It was about three months before that Comic-Con that I made first contact with Jay Savage, my current partner and publisher at Blackline, who was interested in starting and running what would have been CAG’s first Las Vegas chapter. But in the weeks approaching Comic-Con, he saw the handwriting on the wall regarding the dissension in CAG’s ranks, and by the time I announced I was leaving, Jay had had enough, too. We got to talking, and quickly came up with the idea of forming Blackline Comics together. That was over 14 months ago. We set Blackline up to be a publishing house that would push forward digital comics to a level that hadn’t been reached before, and at the same time perpetuate and promote independent creators’ rights. Blackline owns none of the properties it publishes, and that’s the way we like it.
Cosmic Book News: Mike, you were a letterer for over twenty years. Can you share with us who you have worked with? What did you bring from your lettering experience in the comic business that you feel most benefited the publishing side?
Mike De Lepine: I guess you could say that most people trying to rise up in the comics industry would kill for the mentoring I’ve had. Being a born-and-bred New Yorker, I graduated first from the High School of Art and Design, and then from the School of Visual Arts, where I got my BFA in Cartooning , minoring in Graphic Design. At SVA I got to study under true masters of the medium of comics: Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman, Art Spiegleman, Gene Colan and Joe Orlando. August company, indeed. It was Joe Orlando who took me under his wing and got me into working at DC Comics. I worked in their production bullpen for a year, producing art and lettering corrections for their entire line of books, which at that time, in 1987-1988, was over 85 different titles every month, from mainstream DC Universe titles to the fairly new at that time Vertigo line. I had to learn to match the lettering styles of greats like Todd Klein, John Workman, Kenny Lopez, Gaspar Saladino, Bob Lappan, Clem Robbins, and many others. Mind you, this is all BEFORE the advent of computer lettering for comics. Such a great experience!
I never initially set out to be a freelance comics letterer, but I quickly realized it was an income with a much quicker turnaround than you would have as a penciller, an inker or even a colorist. At my peak I could letter a different comic each for five different publishers, all at a fraction of the time it would take for any other creator in the assembly line of producing comics. At that time, the average comic was 22 pages of story to be lettered, times $25.00 per page, times 5 issues per month… well, you do the math. It was lucrative, to say the least. It worked out so that 3 out of 4 weeks per month I was working. It was a creative period in my career I’ll always look back on with fondness.
I got to letter a lot of ROBOTECH for Malibu Graphics, some STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE and ALIEN NATION, also for Malibu; a book called THE DEATH OF GEORGE REEVES for Eclipse that never saw print because Eclipse folded; a combination comic and trading card set called LEGACY for Majestic Entertainment; a super-heroine book called TWILIGHT GIRL for Cross Plains Publishing, a company based on Robert E. Howard’s writings; THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. for Millennium Graphics; various VAMPIRELLA titles from Harris Comics; THE BIG BOOK OF THUGS and THE BIG BOOK OF LOSERS for DC’s Paragon Press line of oversized trade paperbacks; GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS for Dark Horse; and just before I helped form Blackline, I worked on GRIMM FAIRY TALES and RETURN TO WONDERLAND for Zenescope Entertainment. I’ve unfortunately forgotten more of what I’ve worked on than I’ll ever remember.
I even worked on Malibu’s XXX-rated comics, like DEBBIE DOES DALLAS, and I worked for a spell at Penthouse, where, as organized under editor George Caragonne, I lettered magazines such as PENTHOUSE COMIX, working on artists the likes of Adam Hughes, Arthur Suydam and Gray Morrow; and OMNI COMIX, where getting to letter THE T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS over the artwork of Paris Cullins, Mark Beachum, Mark Texeira and Paul Gulacy was the coolest of cool.
Looking back now, I wish I hadn’t lettered the porn comics. I wasn’t a born-again Christian then, like I am now. But even those experiences helped shape me as a creator and as a human being. My Blackline partner, Jay Savage, is a Christian as well, and we try daily to translate our beliefs into responsible decisions regarding how Blackline is run.
To answer the last portion of that question, lettering requires more focus and attention to detail than one might believe. A letterer is a comic production team’s unsung traffic cop of sorts. The letterer commands the “flow” of how a comic book is read; the letterer directs the reader’s eyes to where they should go. That’s the ethic lettering taught me, and as Blackline’s Director of Ops and Executive Editor, that’s the same ethic I apply to my job: directing our readers toward what they should be paying attention to when they read a Blackline comic.
Y’know, one thing on lettering that I believe that Richard Starkings and I have always have been on opposite sides of the fence about, is that he feels letterers should be invisible, meaning that their work shouldn’t stand out in a comic. I feel good lettering should enhance the comic it’s in. Good lettering should raise the quality level of the comic it appears in and maximize the enjoyment for the reader. That’s the responsibility of a letterer, and I try to apply those same basic principles to running Blackline.
Cosmic Book News: Free Comic Book Day is this Saturday and you are releasing the first digital comics in conjunction with FCBD, Black Salt and Colonel. Can you give us some details on each?
Mike De Lepine: BLACK SALT: THE LAST HEROES LEFT is a contemporary martial arts spy thriller involving the theft of a powerful bio-weapon by a group of terrorists led by a renegade monk from China’s fabled Shaolin Temple. An African-American intelligence agent, secretly trained in the ways of Shaolin forbidden to outsiders, kills the son of the ex-Shaolin monk, who was leading the terrorist strike team during the bio-weapon’s theft. In retaliation, the monk has the agent’s wife and daughter killed. Thus, the die is cast as both the agent and the monk travel a collision course of revenge, one against the other.
The BLACK SALT: THE LAST HEROES LEFT FCBD SPECIAL EDITION is written by Chad Boudreau (ACTS OF VIOLENCE) from the screenplay created by Owen Ratliff and Aries Carmona, with artwork by J.C. Grande (JOHNNY MONSTER), colors by Santosh Kumar Rath and letters by Ed Brisson (issue #1) and Michael De Lepine (issue #2 onward).
COLONEL is a sci-fi tale told in the far-flung future, focusing on a lone soldier searching for his regiment and dodging enemy forces, while taking orders from his commanding officer – the high-powered rifle he is carrying. The COLONEL FCBD SPECIAL EDITION is co-written by Manoel Magalhães and Osmarco Valladão, with artwork and lettering by Magalhães and colors by Valladão. Chad Boudreau provides edits.
Incidently, the inside back covers of both FCBD Special Editions will feature a Certificate of Authenticity, verifying the rareness of these two digital comics as being the first created specifically for Free Comic Book Day, and hopefully making these books recognizable as the first digital comic “collectibles” of their kind. Both are available this Saturday, May 1st, Free Comic Book Day, from midnight to midnight, with the official FCBD logo on each cover. These digital comics will not be available anytime before or after May 1st.
Cosmic Book News: Care to share details on the Black Salt movie in the works? So who is going to play Samuel -- or maybe I should ask, who would you want to portray the cast of Black Salt if you had your pick?
Mike De Lepine: I’d be too tempted to name actual people who are truly interested in being in the Black Salt movie, so I’ll keep potential audiences in the dark, at least for now. But I will say that several A-list actors and directors have expressed interest in being involved in the Black Salt project – to the point that some of them have signed official Letters of Intent. This is a big deal, which can only lead to an action explosion at the box office. Frankly, I can’t wait!
Cosmic Book News: Can you tell us about the other titles from Blackline Comics? Engine is described as a “swashbuckling space adventure,” and can be found up at your site, what details can you share with us about that?
Mike De Lepine: ENGINE is the type of series that once the reader starts to get comfortable with what’s going on in the story, the story flips 180 degrees. It’s a cool storytelling process that keeps the readers engaged because they don’t quite know what to expect. It’s no wonder that when creator Tim Tyler moved this serialized strip from DrunkDuck.com to Blackline that all his fans at Drunk Duck followed him. Well over 100 pages have been done by Tim, and he tells us the story of ENGINE won’t be complete until he finishes page 400!
The other digital comic we have going is MANHUNT, a black and white crime noir drama involving a pair of FBI agents in a relentless chase after an internationally-known assassin. It’s great stuff by writer Jeremy Scully and artist Ryan Kent Paule. Currently, both MANHUNT and our flagship book, BLACK SALT: THE LAST HEROES LEFT, are available for sale from both the ComicsXP website (www.comicsxp.com) and Drive Thru Comics (www.comics.drivethrustuff.com).
The one other comic that’s running on the Blackline website is one of my favorites: a strip entitled MR. BRUNELLE EXPLAINS IT ALL. Created by Robert Waldo Brunelle of Vermont, it is a whimsical slice-of life strip running twice a week on the website. I personally find it very topical with current events and pop culture, created by a very knowledgeable art teacher and violin player and restorer who can trace his family roots all the way to the Mayflower Pilgrims. New strips of MR. BRUNELLE pop up every Monday and Thursday on www.blacklinecomics.com.
Cosmic Book News: I see Blackline comics also accept submissions from creators for publishing. Do you have any advice for creators wanting to get their work published? Is there anything in particular you could recommend for an Indie creator to - or even not - to do to make their work more presentable or acceptable?
Mike De Lepine: Primarily we are looking for projects that are either completed or are close to completion, either original graphic novels or serialized issues. If a creator or creative team presents a either an ongoing series or mini-series, we would need a minimum of 3-5 issues done and in the can. Of course we want the projects we accept to be polished and visually appealing, if not blow-me-away arresting. We will accept just about any genre, be it historical, sci-fi, horror, crime noir, superhero stuff, you name it. But they must be cool, compelling stories that are well-crafted with solid artwork. All creators submitting to Blackline need to know that the following will not be permitted in any comic published by Blackline:
- • No cursing, swearing or foul language of any kind.
• No nudity or sex of any kind.
• No gratuitous or over-the-top violence, meaning violence that does not serve to further the story it appears in.
That’s pretty much it. Everything else is fair game.
Cosmic Book News: Can you share with us any of your upcoming projects from Blackline comics?
Mike De Lepine: Certainly!
Well, you probably know by now about Free Comic Book Day at Blackline, where on Saturday, May 1st, fans can download for free the BLACK SALT: THE LAST HEROES LEFT FCBD SPECIAL EDITION and the COLONEL FCBD SPECIAL EDITION all day from midnight to midnight. Those books will have a Certificate of Authenticity on the inside back covers to attest that they are the first digital collectibles of its kind.
Speaking of COLONEL, this summer we will be releasing the full 56-page graphic novel of COLONEL, featuring the complete story by Manoel Magalhães and Osmarco Valladão (the FCBD Special Edition only covers the first 18 pages).
As far as other upcoming projects, we have FRANKENSTEIN: PARANORMAL P.I., a series that is just what you think it is, sprinkled with equal doses of horror, action and humor, as written by Josh Pierce, art by J.C. Grande (our BLACK SALT artist), colored by Paul Little (the colorist on BOMB QUEEN), and lettered by me. Also, we’ll be doing another series involving a detective confronting the supernatural entitled MISERY CITY. It’s created and drawn by a fantastic artist from Greece named Vassilis Gogtzilas whose drawing style is so beautiful that the best way I can describe his style is a cross between MAD Magazine’s Mort Drucker and Bill Sienkiewicz! He is signing on to do 15 issues of MISERY CITY with Blackline! Also, there is a graphic novel project in the works with a wrestler from the WWE. This is truly an exciting time for us at Blackline Comics.
Beyond that, it looks like we will be in print before the end of the summer, as we’re on the verge of having BLACK SALT being accepted by Diamond Comics Distribution’s solicitation catalog PREVIEWS, and I just found out we’ve been accepted to carry our digital comics on iTunes! You’ve read that here first, everybody!
Cosmic Book News: Excellent news, Mike!
Where can we go to find out more about Blackline Comics?
Mike De Lepine: The best way is to check out our website at www.blacklinecomics.com. This is the year we are stepping forward and blowing up, and we want to bring as many fans with us as possible. Our new tag line should give people an idea of what Blackline Comics is all about:
Vivid Imagination at Brute Force.
Cosmic Book News: Thanks for the great interview. We appreciate it!
Mike De Lepine: Thanks for this interview. It’s been fun. See you on
Free Comic Book Day!