SUPERBABES is the latest title from AC Comics. It features their popular, long-running FEMFORCE characters. Now that the first issue is getting ready to appear in the next issue of Previews, Mark Heike stops by First Comics News to let all our readers know what to expect from Superbabes.

First Comics News: For fans who don’t know about FEMFORCE who is the FEMFORCE?

Mark G. Heike: The FEMFORCE is the first successful team of comic book superheroines. The brainchild of writer/artist/editor/filmmaker (and the man who originated of AC Comics), William Black; Ms. VICTORY, NIGHTVEIL, SHE-CAT, SYNN, TARA, and STARDUST; their friends, supporting characters and guest-stars have been populating the ongoing FEMFORCE quarterly comic book ) since Spring of 1985.

As of 2019, FEMFORCE #185 has just been released from AC COMICS–that’s 185 issues, plus spin-offs, mini-series and one-shots–and still going strong.

After launching AC Comics, one of the first four-color independent comic book publishers in late 1982, growing pains throughout the direct-sales market only a few years later led many publishers to begin casting about for new titles and concepts. Bill decided to re-edit some material he had on hand into a black and white special that would allow him to try out a comic book concept he’d had in mind for years: an ALL-FEMALE team of costumed super-types–and FEMFORCE was born.

It was a common attitude in the comics industry that female characters, especially superheroines wouldn’t sell. Several companies had tried it and failed. Bill’s Paragon line featured far more original superheroines than it did male heroes. Once Bill had AC Comics, when the circumstances seemed appropriate to try something no one else had done, he did it himself. It’s the sort of thing he was probably always destined to do at some point. Bill is not one to be happy with the status quo or to be put off by someone who says “It’ll never work.” He embraces a challenge, and works best when he is bucking the system and “conventional wisdom”.

When the intended “one-shot” FEMFORCE SPECIAL of 1984 proved to be a surprise AC COMICS success, a four-color, ongoing FEMFORCE title immediately went into production, with FEMFORCE #1 issue hitting comic shop shelves in late Spring, 1985. That FEMFORCE ongoing series has been running ever since, though changes in the comic book marketplace have over the years dictated a return to black and white status ( between issues #16-#56), then a return to color (from #57-87), and BACK to black and white since #88. There was an increase in page count up to 80 pages of all-new material since FEMFORCE #150. FEMFORCE is still the ONLY successful, ongoing comic book series that features a team of costumed and super-powered women, still running continuously for 33 years.

1st: Wasn’t the original pitch for FEMFORCE, Bill Black’s plan to make it an all-female Avenger team?

Mark: No. Bill just preferred to draw female characters and was always looking for opportunities to draw more. Bill suggested to Roy Thomas (when he was a writer/editor at Marvel) about trying a team-up of 1950’s Atlas/Marvel heroines like Namora, Jann of the Jungle, etc when they were working on “What If The Avengers Had Been Formed In The 1950’s?”. Roy said, “Nah, it’d never sell.”

It was in no way a “pitch” of any kind, just an idle thought quickly shot down.

1st: SUPERBABES #0 was an experiment. What type of feedback did you get from that?

Mark: SUPERBABES #0 was released as a retailer incentive. The most important “feedback” we got on it (which was what we needed from that venture) was that we could DO it–we were able to work out the kinks and “test-fly” a color book, on time (meeting Diamond deadlines), at a quality level and a cost that was sustainable.

1st: Was there any difficulty from hardcore FemForce fans having trouble getting a copy?

Mark: SUPERBABES #0 was a RETAILER INCENTIVE. We knew (from having done other retailer-incentive promo books ) that not a lot of copies WOULD get into the hands of fans. Most people who buy comics through comic shops don’t really have a clear idea how the process works, getting a book through Diamond, onto comic shop racks, and into their hands–and really, why should they?

We started early (in our FEMFORCE editorials) and explained in detail HOW our regular readers who REALLY wanted a copy could get one, realizing all along that there would probably be a lot more folks who wanted them than would get them. SUPERBABES #0 was about getting RETAILERS used to the idea of AC going back to color books, testing out the production process, creating a marketing tool and process to launch the ongoing series and generally get us ALL ready for the time that it would be ready to go.

1st: SUPERBABES #0 said it was continuing into SUPERBABES #1 do you have to read the zero issue to know what’s going on in #1?

Mark: No. There were eight pages of new material of the “Headhunter’s Wake” storyline that will now be reprinted in SUPERBABES #1, along with the rest of that story. SUPERBABES #0 also had some additional material that will not be reprinted in SUPERBABES #1 or anywhere else.

1st: Why do the zero issue and the first if you have the same cover?

Mark: Originally we had planned to make a bigger “splash” with SUPERBABES #0, but behind the scenes, production complications occurred to cement the retailer incentive aspect and negated the promotional aspect of the book. Retailer incentive books are only listed by Diamond on the retailer order form as a line of copy; no artwork. The only place someone would have seen it outside of SUPERBABES #0 was in ads and promotional places online like this. We also got lots of positive comments from people who saw it in our house ads as ”AC Comics–Clawing Our Way Back to the Top!”. In the end, rather than go with a different cover on #1, we opted to reuse it here.

1st: SUPERBABES is half the price of FEMFORCE with half the pages but full color. Doesn’t color add to the cost of the production?

Mark: It is a completely accurate statement to say (all things being equal) “color printing is more expensive than black and white printing”. But of course, all things are NOT equal. Sometimes it’s a question of moving costs around, as opposed to adding or subtracting them.

If you start with the obvious fact that cutting OUT the resources involved in putting an addition 48 black and white pages into a book (the difference between an 80-page FEMFORCE format and the 32-page SUPERBABES package.) allows you to put more dollars into the color aspect. Then, factor in that the SUPERBABES #0 venture showed us that, if we HAVE to, we can handle the color labor in-house, and cut that cost out as well.

When you figure things that way, the actual cost of color printing versus what we have to lay out to do the 80-page B & W isn’t very different. There are other “cost” factors beyond dollars to consider, as well. Over the last nine-plus years, we’ve now done 35 consecutive 80-page FEMFORCE issues. That’s a LOT of material to generate; it’s really pretty nutty. No one else in comics has ever done that, as far as we know. The pressure in keeping up with that sort of volume on a quarterly basis is tremendous. It’s driving us nutty. On top of that, we are forced to make A LOT of compromises to stay on schedule. That affects the quality of the final product, sometimes way too much.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m extremely proud of the books we’ve done– considering the time we have to do them in and the amount of pages we have to fill. There is always that “considering” proviso, though. The plain fact is, we think we can produce much BETTER comic books if all we have to fill is 32 pages to complete a book!

Better stories, better art, more manageably on time, less stress not JUST on editors Mark and Stephanie, but on our hard-working creators as well. If we can spread the material we used to have to put into ONE FEMFORCE issue into 2 1/2 SUPERBABES books, the books will be better and we on the creative side will perhaps live a little longer.

1st: Will every issue of SUPERBABES have a FEMFORCE story?

Mark: Unequivocally yes. Some issue will end up with more non-FEMFORCE stories, some less; but there will ALWAYS be at least one FEMFORCE adventure in every SUPERBABES.

1st: You said if SUPERBABES is successful there will be more color comics coming from AC in the future. What sales level are you looking for to consider it successful?

Mark: Enough copies to be able to keep going. Like most publishers I know of, AC has never wanted to talk circulation “numbers”, and we’re not about to start now. For our color line to succeed, SUPERBABES does need to sell more than FEMFORCE to meet Diamond’s minimum sales performance levels, but not that MUCH more. Since we like to think that a color package is more palatable in the marketplace, and the new format is substantially cheaper (albeit with fewer story pages), we feel we have a pretty good shot at it, since the new format should be more in line with what the rest of the market is producing.

The two biggest NEGATIVES we have tended to hear about our books over the years is “They’re BLACK AND WHITE and COST TOO MUCH.” If we’ve addressed both of those complaints with SUPERBABES and other future color books, we hope that will leave more readers open to buying them.

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SUPERBABES is the latest title from AC Comics. It features their popular, long-running FEMFORCE characters. Now that the first issue is getting ready to appear in the next issue of Previews, Mark Heike stops by First Comics News to let all our readers know what to expect from Superbabes. First...