Tim Lasiuta takes the hot seat to talk about Moonstone Books, a successful Small Press publishing company.
Epic Fail: Who are you and what is Moonstone Books?
TIM: My name is Tim Lasiuta, and I work with Joe Gentile, Publisher and all around good guy of Moonstone Books. We have been around since the early 90’s and in that time, have been privileged to publish the Phantom, Kolchak, and Buckaroo Banzai in comic book form. We publish anthologies and some of our favorites include Zorro, the Spider, the Green Hornet, Honey West, the Lone Ranger, Kolchak, the Avenger, Sherlock Holmes, and many other horror projects. We are based in Calumet City, Illinois but our tendrils extend throughout pulp and comic-dom.
To paraphrase the website blurb : “We publish fine & distinct Comic Books, Graphic Novels, and Prose… books that are meant to be read.
Classic & New Heroes in thrilling tales of adventure, mystery, & horror!
Comics and Illustrated fiction from the Dark Side to the light…”
Epic Fail: What’s Moonstone Books’ origin story?
TIM: Moonstone Books rose from the ashes of a Chicago publishing company that never got off the ground. When that company disappeared, we just had so many finished projects with no homes, we didn’t know what to do. After much ado, Dave Ulanksi, Rafael Nieves, and Joe Gentile decided they would go it on our own! Since that time, every project has been a labour of love.
Epic Fail: Is Moonstone Books more of a ‘Hands On’ or ‘Hands Off’ Publisher? Do you have a lot of control over projects or are creators allowed a free-reign?
TIM: Moonstone Books operates with a ‘sand box’ mentality. For anthologies we have invited authors to ‘play’ with our licensed properties. We do provide character bibles, and frequently, writers do use them. When it comes to our creator owned properties, we let ’em go. The Ranger book is an example of how many views of the Masked Man and supporting characters writers had. The resulting book is outstanding from a variety of narrative viewpoints, and themes.
Epic Fail: Describe the typical process of bringing a new book to press.
TIM: Book production is a very defined process, whether it’s DC, Tor-Forge, or Archie, the only differences are how quickly books see the light of day, and what kind of resources the publishers have. In our case, we will use the Captain Midnight Book as an example. We decided to do an anthology, and compiled a list of authors who might be interested in contributing to the book. As Captain Midnight was Public Domain, we did not have to worry about contracts, but with the Honey West book (forthcoming), we had to negotiate a contract. With the Green Hornet, it took around a year to get the contract, and 1 year to do the book. While doing so, we produced a rough character bible, and once potential authors accepted our conditions, sent it out to them. The scribes sent in a rough story plot, and we said nay or yea. If yea, than we gave them a deadline to produce their Midnight Masterpiece. Once the editor, Win-Scott Eckert, received the tales, he edited them and they were re-read and compiled. In the case of this book, we had interior art done which matched the stories and had 2 covers done for the book. The book was designed by the Simian Brothers, and once the stories were formatted and readied for pre-press, another edit was done. Around this time, we solicited the book through Diamond, and it was sent to press. Time from start to finish, was probably a year.
For our comic book properties, the process is slightly different. As an example, if we are going to do a Kolchak story, we approach our Kolchak writer, and get a plot synopsis. After the editor approves it, the writer fleshes it out into a full comic book script (DC method-frame by frame, balloon by balloon). Again, the story is edited, and green lit. The art is done by our assigned artist, pencil/inking. Lettering. Coloring. Digital creation of file. Solicitation by Diamond Distributors, and then publishing.. Of course, we accept the Eisner for both anthology and comic book story….
Epic Fail: What qualities do you look for in writers?
TIM: Grey hair. A revolver in their computer desk. A slouch hat on their hat rack. Cape. Mask optional….As publishers of pulp related materials, licensed properties, and anthologies, we primarily look for writers with great imagination, great writing and editing skills, and enthusiasm, writers who have long dreamt of writing their Spider, Honey West, or Avenger opus. Over many years of publishing anthologies, we have developed a wide and talented pool of writers from legendary scribes like Denny O’Neil, Steve Englehart, Johnny Boggs, Devin Grayson, and newbies who have so much talent it oozes out. Our writers are professionals primarily, or very talented semi-pros who can take a germ of an idea and turn it into a great read. With our licensed characters, following our character bibles is important, but if we can err on the side of dramatic effect without changing the character, we allow that. Unlike another company, we pride ourselves in re-presenting characters the way your fathers remembered them, with slight changes to make them appealing to modern readers.
Epic Fail: What is your stance on the Print versus Digital media argument?
TIM: As publishers, we have entered the digital world with Comixology, Kindle, and eBooks. I think that if we are serious about reaching readers with our products, then we have to be serious about meeting readers where they are. If we are going to NY Comic Con and see fans reading the Spider on their IPad, great. If we see someone fingering a well worn copy of the Phanton Chronicles, that is great too. We love print, and most of our contributors probably have bookshelves overflowing with pulp, art-of, and biographies of comic legends, but as our audience changes, so must we. Recently, we released a couple of books digital first, then have gone to print, and it has been successful. We have also entered the audio novel realm as well, with narrated adventures of some of our favourite books. Digital? Print? As long as readers pick up their favourite books and read until they go blind, we are just happy.
Epic Fail: What do you think it takes for a publishing company to survive in ‘the new’ publishing industry?
TIM: This is a tougher question, as the rules for survival in this day and age keep changing. We have seen DC and Marvel re-invent themselves to great reviews and sales. We have seen comic books invade the big screen with scores of movies being produced with varied successes. The “Walking Dead” keeps trotting along and builds a greater audience each episode. With “Arrow” coming to TV soon, along with the DC comic book cartoon presence, it is vital to keep an eye towards licensing your books and characters to a wider audience. Not every company has a film/TV production in tow. With the greater synergy between film and comics, and more obvious co-operation between studios and the graphic novel industry, every company has its’ efforts to be the next hit. While Moonstone has had interest from film companies, nothing has gelled, but we have created a niche market for our books and comics.
One of my favorite books, Zombies Vs Cheerleaders, is already a media darling, and our book just builds on that reputation. It sells well, and speaks to those fans who appreciate good Cheerleader violence. Our Kolchak book has a loyal following, and attracts great attention from collectors and writers wanting to put Kolchak in the way of another demon. Our Phantom book is the longest running American publication of the Lee Falk creation. All of us at Moonstone were, and still are very proud of our Phantom line. I think what I am trying to say is that success is not just based on market penetration and sales, but rather a dedicated following of a specific book. We have that. Another element is that of being unique. We have the Spider, Honey West, Zombies vs Cheerleaders, the Green Hornet, Avenger, the Phantom, the Lone Ranger (fiction), Kolchak, and so many other one of a kind ‘heroes’. We are indeed unique, and enjoy that distinction.
We also, as previously answered, are not afraid of trying to put our product into different markets, and different formats. We use ‘wide vision’ formats for graphic novels, audio books for our fiction, digital formats for our iPad/Kindle readers, and of course use a variety of print distribution sources to reach readers.
Again, as long as we continue to attract readers, passionate creators, and media attention, like this interview, we will be around for another 25 years.
Epic Fail: What do you look for in comic and graphic artists? Does Moonstone Books have a visual style?
TIM: Moonstone Books do not really have a visual style. With a wide variety of different characters, we have tried to keep our looks unique and distinctive. For Kolchak, we tend to go to a more ‘spooky’ look, kinda like a kirby/simon horror feel, but updated. (perhaps a Phantom Stranger style as executed by Aparo). ZvC, is a cartoony, simplistic style. The focus of that book is not the art…Our Honey West book has ranged from simple to a more detailed look. With our pulp books, we have gone to a noir inspired style for covers and interiors. Some of our artists have gone onto other companies like DC and Marvel and created a niche for themselves. To more directly answer your question, we use a full script method, and expect our artists to be able to execute that. Obviously, good technical and artistic skills are very useful in this industry, whether you work for DC, DE,IDW, or Marvel.
Epic Fail: What’s the future for Moonstone Books?
TIM: We will continue to look for properties ready for the Moonstone touch, and publish comic books, graphic novels, wide-vision novels, and anthologies based on the characters we love to read and write about. We, to paraphrase Star Trek, will continue our 20 year mission to boldly go where no publisher has gone before, to seek out new (and exciting) properties…(cue theme music)
Epic Fail: Okay last question, and it isn’t really a question. This is open mic: Your chance to say anything you want to about Moonstone Books.
TIM: I am constantly amazed at the variety and skill of creators we attract to our products. Having been around for 20 years, and associating with the creators we have so far, this has been fun. We have met the legends, and near legends. We have hired extraordinary talents, have helped creators develop their talents, we have returned characters to the public eye in a respectful way. Most importantly, we have had fun. Have we won every battle? I would like to say yes, but we have had the opportunity to negotiate for more than one character and come 2nd. Through this, we remain passionate, and ready to take on new challenges. For myself, I started out with Moonstone by writing reviews for CBG, and here I am, doing interviews for Moonstone Books. I am thankful that Joe Gentile had faith in me and invited me to come and play in the sandbox. It is very interesting that many of the characters that I enjoyed reading as a kid, we publish. When I first wrote my Tom Gill autobiography (www.lonerangercartoonist.com), I wanted to do a fiction book. A mere 8 years later, here we are. Many of the books we do have a link to our childhoods and early reading years. It is so interesting to look back at my emails and see Philip Jose Farmer refuse to write a Green Hornet tale as he was pretty near written out (at nearly 90)!. Or have Stephen King say no, politely. That said, I think our publishing model is one of opportunity. Opportunity to write about what you like, opportunity to see your work published, and opportunity to develop a creative ‘home’. Fans can find us on facebook, and online at www.moonstonebooks.com