Entering the broader comics market as a new publisher is a tough game. It’s a market that’s saturated on all sides, with Marvel and DC dominating in the direct market and a bevy of massive book publisher-backed houses owning the book market. Where the entry points lies in there is hard to tell. It’s a narrow window, and one that requires a unique angle and perspective to get there.
Max Gadney thinks he might have found one in his new publisher Storyworlds, a house that’s launching with a quartet of four titles this year. While on the surface the blend of genre fiction represented in the opening gambit – The United States of Magic, The Sword and the Six Shooter, FAB, and Only Hope – from this house isn’t that different than the usual mix, it’s Gadney’s globalist approach and desire to tell stories in a self-contained, 64 page graphic novellas that differentiates it. As someone who is between moderately and extremely obsessed with the idea of doing things differently in comics, when presented with the chance to talk with Gadney about this house and his plans for it, I of course jumped on it.
This is that chat, as we explore the origins of Storyworlds, why he wanted to do things different, looking worldwide, the reasoning behind him writing three of the first four titles, and more.
Your background includes time as a Commissioning Editor at the BBC as well as running a design consultancy. Relative to your previous work, moving into comics feels like a bit of a left turn. Why did you want to get into the comics world? Does it stem from any personal affection for the medium?
Max Gadney: A year and a half ago I realised that I’d made enough money to either pay off my mortgage, or pursue a lifelong dream of mine: starting my own comics company.
I’m from the UK, so naturally, my comics fanship started with 2000AD, growing into US 80’s, 90’s avant garde books like Elektra: Assassin and Preacher. I once went to a fancy dress wedding as Judge Dredd (and my cardboard costume was still better than the lame movies). Anything I like has a subversive UK sensibility and that’s the muse for Storyworlds.
My time at the BBC and design company taught me loads of skills that are really useful for a comics startup: like managing creative talent, writing briefs, having commercial and legal discipline, dealing with print production, digital marketing, design and more.
Those experiences also informed my worldview. I remember working in the BBC newsroom on 9/11, going to early TED conferences and working on crazy prototyping projects with Google. A lot of the world of technology, history and foreign affairs makes its way into the Storyworlds universe.
Okay, there are clearly a lot of directions I could go from here, but I have to ask about that Judge Dredd costume. How exactly did you end up going to a fancy dress wedding dressed as Judge Dredd?
MG: The actual wedding was traditional and the party was fancy dress. On the way, the taxi seat belt wouldn’t go over my Dredd shoulder pads. I thought if the cops pulled us over, a well delivered “No officer, I am the Law” would have surely been worth any consequences. There are no photos. Thank god this was 20 years ago, before smartphones.
We’re going to get into this more here in a bit, but you talked about how those work experiences impacted your worldview. How did that love of 2000AD and those “avant garde” like books you referred to impact your love of story? Did those stories influence the types of stories you yourself want to tell?
MG: 2000AD’s creators found a darkly humorous and cynical way to talk about the world around them. The more complex themes and structure of Dark Knight, Watchmen and Elektra: Assassin, were a more sophisticated, longer-form take on this.
I also read a lot of Marvel Epic and Max labels, but generally Vertigo and DC spoke better to the darker reaches of human nature, which is why the Joker is their most important, and my favourite, DC character. Garth Ennis characters and worlds are visceral avatars for the darkness and comedy he sees in the real world. Readers use these fantastic proxies to hold the world to account.
All this inspired me to start creating my own ideas, alongside the day job.
FAB was born out thinking about the amazing potential of technology, crossed with a pessimistic view of man just making a mess. Our Six-Shooter book is a highly enjoyable samurai-western, but it will also address the bloody roots of the American national origin myths.