Mark Heike

Here at First Comics News, we have been longtime supporters of AC Comics. It has been a long time since they announced a new color title. As soon as I heard about it I had to ask Mark Heike all about it. Mark was nice enough to stop by First Comics News and let our readers know what to expect from Superbabes.

First Comics News: I noticed the talked about the companies 35-year record. Didn’t the company start in 1969?

Mark Heike: Bill Black began his Paragon Publications in 1969. He started publishing color, standard-sized comic books (that hit comic shop shelves) in late 1982, under the Americomics( shortly morphed into AC Comics) logo. So, strictly speaking, we consider AC Comics to have been around since 1983- since that’s the point where books bearing the AC slug appeared in comic book shops.

1st: How long has it been since FemForce was in color?

Mark: In the 1990’s, we were printing on four-color newsprint when everyone was moving to glossy color. In a way, it was a step backward, since Bill started color printing on glossy stock in 1982 when absolutely no one else was doing that in comic books. At that point, flat color, web-press printing on newsprint was a more economical option. That’s no longer the case. The last one of these newsprint color issue was Femforce #87. We’re going back to glossy with full digital color now!

1st: What made this the right time to bring color back?

Mark: We’ve been planning on bringing back color to the AC line for a long time!

When Bill stepped away from running the day-to-day operations at AC in 2014, and we (Mark and Stephanie Heike) took over, putting FEMFORCE material back into color was one of the items at the top of our list of goals. We realized that getting production organized and assembling the proper creative staff- not to mention tightening up the business end of things- would be quite a challenge and would require a lot of long-range strategizing. It’s taken us all of four years to get where we need to be. We’re not strangers to modern color comic book production, however.

Stephanie did do three issues of 21st Centurions, a full digital color comics series self-published outside of AC Comics. The response was very positive and she tried to shop it around to other publishers. Lots of indy publishers were interested to see a book written by a woman but you could see that they immediately had no interest when they found out it was a superhero book–because of course, they wanted “serious” material. )

Then we got tied up with both freelance work and running AC Comics. Stephanie is hoping to revive it as soon as we can! The success of the SUPERBABES launch could speed up that process.

1st: How much more expensive is color?

Mark: These days, it’s really the creative costs of putting the color on the files that’s the difference. For us, the “how much more” is still TBD. That’s because it’ll depend on how much of that aspect of the operation we do ourselves, as opposed to how much we “job out”. There’s always a price to pay, whether it’s in commissions to outside freelancers, or your own labor if you’re paying with “sweat equity”. When we looked at the actual cost of putting the ink onto paper, the difference really wasn’t that great- that’s why we started moving in this direction. Sometimes it’s not just how much something costs, but WHEN you have to pay for it that is important. The cash-flow situation at AC dictated the when (and “how”) of our production for many years. When that changed, and we looked at the bottom-line costs involved, we realized that if we were very smart and very careful color books might again be viable.

1st: Why launch a new title instead of adding color FemForce?

Mark: While we’d REALLY rather have just done exactly that, there are compelling reasons NOT to. Going to color production is a risk -make no mistake- and we’re doing it this way to try to minimize that. Our ongoing FEMFORCE title- with #183 coming out in late summer- remains a viable product for us. The 80 pages of all-new (albeit black and white) material for $9.95 quarterly has done well. When we debuted that with issue #150, there were a lot of skeptics who thought we couldn’t keep that up, but our next issue will be the 33rd one that we’ve done in that format. We’re not aware of any other publisher whose managed this on a regular basis, but it’s worked for us. Right now, we don’t want to jeopardize that.

Mark: A book like SUPERBABES, with a different format, page count and price, that’s quite a change, and we don’t want to” throw” our regular, hard-core long-time readers with it. We certainly hope that group will like and support SUPERBABES, since it will give them even MORE FEMFORCE material to read, with the hitherto unseen added dimension of color; but for the foreseeable future, this will NOT affect the regular ongoing FF title. Also, a new “number one” issue of any comic book had, for many years a special “bump” that would entice retailers to see a little more potential value (meaning higher potential sales) to it than any other issue number. I think most of that kind of thinking went by the wayside a while ago, but we felt it can’t hurt to try with SUPERBABES.

Some people might say “Why not just reboot with a new FEMFORCE #1”, but we HATE that kind of thinking. Our characters have a long and rich continuity and history, and we plan to continue to work with that (and build on it) as long as we are publishing. We’re not interested in starting over, and we’re not going to just make it LOOK like we are by renumbering with a “new” FEMFORCE #1. So in SUPERBABES, it’ll be same characters (plus maybe a few more), same universe, same continuity as FEMFORCE, but in an additional title- and in color.

To be clear, however we DON’T plan to continue specific stories crossing over from one title to the other; nothing where you HAVE to pick up BOTH titles to get the whole story. While we certainly hope all our readers (and tons of new ones) DO buy both, it won’t be required. If someone wants to only follow SUPERBABES, they’ll be able to do so- the same with our regular ongoing FF title.

Mind you, that is NOT to say that we may not eventually evolve the regular FF title into a color, standard-sized comic book- we’d like to do just that at some point. SUPERBABES will need to be a successful title for us first. If it works, there will be more to come. In the meantime, both it and the regular black and white FEMFORCE comic need to keep heads above water, so to speak.

1st: Wasn’t Superbabes the title of the FemForce role-playing game?

Mark: Absolutely!! Superbabes was a great FEMFORCE/AC Universe role-playing game released by Tri-City Games in the mid-1990’s. David Sanford, Mark Schezzini and Cameron Verkaik of Tri-City created and produced a great game that we at AC were very proud of. It was one of (if not THE ) best-licensed products ever produced based on our characters. While it did not get widespread distribution, those fans and gamers who bought it loved it, and any used copies or supplements to it that are still available on the collector’s market fetch huge prices today. The SUPERBABES title was their creation. Into the late 1990’s, after Tri-City discontinued production on the SUPERBABES RPG, we asked David Sanford about the name, and he gave us permission to use it as a comic book title. We used it as a sub-head on the fifth (and last) of our annual FEMFORCE PIN -UP PORTFOLIO books, and we’re reviving it here. Should Tri-City ever want to put their game ( or some iteration of it) back into production, we’d be thrilled.

1st: Will both FemForce and Superbabes feature the same team of heroes?

Mark: More or less. By that I mean, the current FF title often features backup stories that are set in the past (occasionally even the FUTURE), as well as solo and guest features by AC characters that are NOT FEMFORCE members- even at times guest-characters that are NOT AC properties. That will also be the case in SUPERBABES. So, while the group that we consider the current, contemporary FEMFORCE (Ms. VICTORY, SHE-CAT, NIGHTVEIL, SYNN, STARDUST, and TARA) will also be the “current” FF in SUPERBABES, that doesn’t mean readers won’t be seeing other eras/versions in “retro” or future-set stories in SUPERBABES, just like they do in the regular FF book.

1st: For readers new to the AC universe. Who are the Superbabes?

Mark: Beyond the current FEMFORCE team roster, other AC heroines who may pop up in SUPERBABES include former FF members like RAD, RIO RITA (we know she’s dead, but there are always RETRO stories), The BLUE BULLETEER, and The BLONDE BOMBER. Popular supporting-cast heroines like GARGANTA, STORMY TEMPEST, NYOKA, YANKEE GIRL, The BLACK PHANTOM, MISS MASQUE, JET GIRL, BLACK VENUS and others may make appearances, as well as other guest characters. Since the title is SUPERBABES, we plan to limit the contents of the book EXCLUSIVELY to the exploits of FEMALE heroes (more accurately, heroines); but anyone familiar with AC Comics knows that considering the number of those that we have, that’s not very limited!

1st: With 2 quarterly titles will they ship 6 weeks apart or at the same time?

Mark: Once the ongoing SUPERBABES series starts, FEMFORCE and SUPERBABES will be released in separate months. As of now, our initial rotation will be: one-month FEMFORCE, next month SUPERBABES, the next month one of our vintage reprint titles (MEN Of MYSTERY or CRYPT Of HORROR), then start the cycle over again with the next issue of FEMFORCE.

1st: With the coloring, some companies go old school with newsprint, while others use digital color on clay coated paper. How is AC coloring Superbabes?

Mark: It will definitely be digital color on glossy paper. We never have, nor will we start now, INTENTIONALLY try to work in a vintage or “old-school” approach. We are old people, so we can’t help but to have grown up with and been influenced by comics produced in earlier eras, but we are being as “contemporary” as we can be in our approach, given our backgrounds. As we said earlier, we’ve produced color books as projects outside of AC Comics over the years and will bring that experience to bear on SUPERBABES.

1st: Will the stories crossover between the comics?

Mark: Not strictly speaking. It will be all shared continuity, and we may in the course of a given story refer to something that occurred in the other title, but we won’t do any stories that START in one title and END in the other so that a reader MUST buy both. Hopefully, such a reference will pique a readers interest enough that they may WANT to pick up the other title (or possibly a back-issue even, in the web store on our www.accomics.com official website), but we won’t structure stories that FORCE a reader to do so.

1st: Will the storytelling be the same in both comics, or will there be different types of stories in each title?

Stephanie Heike

Mark: We’re not planning to use any specific, separate approaches differentiating the two titles. As we always have, we’ll try to tell the most engaging, entertaining stories that we can. That’s always been the AC way. Anyone who has read enough AC Comics over the years can see that everyone who writes at AC; Bill, Mark, Stephanie- any and all of the outside people who may contribute stories- all have different approaches. Our goal is to try to keep the personalities, motivations and “voices” of the individual characters as consistent as possible while telling lots of different types of stories involving those characters. We’ve been doing that for about 35 years, so we must be doing something right.

1st: Superbabes launches with a zero issue that is a Free retailer incentive. Is there any way your fans can guarantee they get a copy?

Mark: Good question, and the SHORT, and honest, answer is “no”. Let me explain WHY we’re launching SUPERBABES the way we are. Those of us here on the “creator” side of comic books would like to think WE hold the ultimate control on the success of a comic book- if we write and draw something that is GOOD ENOUGH, it is bound to succeed. Readers out there on the “fan” side of things like to think THEY control the reigns- “If we readers LIKE something enough, it’ll sell so many copies it HAS to succeed”. Actually, both of those assumptions are wrong. It is comic book RETAILERS that decide whether a new book is a success or not, based on the number of copies they pre-order, and any comic book retailer shrewd enough to stay in business for the long-haul can only order products that he can sell and make a profit on. So, in an effort to make SUPERBABES a success, we are creating a promotional #0 zero issue that will both allow a comic-shop retailer to hold in his hands a physical example of the quality and production values that will be in evidence in the regular ongoing SUPERBABES series that will debut with issue #1 in 2019, but ALSO give him a collector’s item that he can potentially sell to a hard-core AC reader. Since said retailer gains those two things simply by ordering three copies of FEMFORCE #183, it is at NO ADDITIONAL COST to him, and he can potentially sell the extra two copies of FF #183 AND the color promo copy. That way he is making additional money on the promotion itself, and hopefully interesting one (or more, if he uses the promo SUPERBABES properly, and shows it around to multiple customers before selling it to an interested collector) reader into subscribing to the ongoing SUPERBABES series once it starts up. We realize that this is not beneficial or even FAIR, really; to the fans. We MUST win over the comic shop retailer – as the “gatekeeper” in the direct-sales comic book marketplace- in order to make SUPERBABES a success. Unless we can make this new title advantageous to HIM, you’ll never SEE the book in your store. So please bear with us on this.

If a reader REALLY wants a copy of #0, urge your comic shop guy to order the three copies of FF #183, and see if you can’t make a deal with him to obtain the promo #0 he’ll get with them. If you can guarantee him that in advance, he’ll make the preorder. If we can link EXTRA MONEY to preorders of AC Comics in the minds of enough comic book retailers, SUPERBABES (and possibly additional AC Comics titles in the future) will be a successful, long-running comic book.

1st: Will the story in #0 be reprinted or available digitally?

Mark: Again, the hard answer to that is “no”. In order to retain the exclusivity and collectibility (thereby maintaining the value in the retailer’s eyes) of SUPERBABES #0, we’re going to keep the original material in it exclusive to that issue. It will not be reprinted or available in any other format. Although the lead story in #0 will be the first part of an adventure that will continue In SUPERBABES #1, there WILL be enough explanation/recap in #1 so that readers who didn’t see the #0 won’t be lost.

1st: What makes Superbabes the perfect jumping on point for the AC Universe?

Mark: Obviously, it’ll be the start of a new title, and in color for the first time in decades. Truthfully, any time is a good time to jump aboard the AC Universe. Although our characters have a LOT of history and continuity, we try to craft each issue as if it was a reader’s first exposure to our world. Most AC stories can be enjoyed on at least two levels; the plot unfolding in a particular adventure (if we are doing it right, always accessible to a new reader) and long-term continuity (and unfolding characterization) for the long-time reader. One advantage to being an “old time” comic book person is that we grew up reading comics before collected editions existed, let alone the Internet for researching. In the “old days”, the first time you picked up an issue of a particular comic book, it was in the middle of the book’s run, and in the middle of a plotline. But in THOSE days, publishers realized that, and wrote in enough recapping and reset so that new readers wouldn’t be lost. You understood enough of what was going on in the story to follow it, and the other bits of character and detail that were NOT self-evident made you want to read MORE issues to hopefully learn the rest. That’s how we do OUR books. They are meant to be read, from one issue to another- starting at whatever happens to BE a particular reader’s first issue. They are NOT structured as chapters that ONLY make sense if you are reading all the segments in order or as a graphic novel or online compilation. However, for many years people who DIDN’T choose to try AC Comics have cited things like the fact that they were “only” in black and white, or they didn’t like the price and/or format. SUPERBABES will be our attempt to address those issues, and we hope all readers that may be interested in exciting, compelling comic book stories about exceptional, super-powered women will try SUPERBABES. #0 promotional issue, available in October 2018, FREE with a Diamond preorder of three copies of FEMFORCE #183; with the regular series debuting with issue #1 early in 2019.

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Here at First Comics News, we have been longtime supporters of AC Comics. It has been a long time since they announced a new color title. As soon as I heard about it I had to ask Mark Heike all about it. Mark was nice enough to stop by...