For over a decade Aspen Comics has showcased the famous creations of Michael Turner in the pages of “Fathom” and “Soulfire.” Each comic book has been published regularly and has undergone several iterations since Turner first put pen to paper on these outstanding fantasy series. The concepts and the designs of these two comic books are so enduring because the stories are visually beautiful and the concepts are fresh. But the worlds of “Fathom” and “Soulfire” have never shared the same space before, until now.
Aspen Comics announced last week that their two most popular titles would be coming together in a huge storyline set for summer 2016. The event written by J.T. Krul (“Teen Titans”/”Green Arrow”) and Joshua Hale Fialkov (“Echoes”/”The Life After”) with art by Jordan Gunderson (“Four Points”/“Executive Assistant Assassins”) will debut for free as Aspen’s Free Comic Book Day comic “Worlds of Aspen.” The FCBD event will be held at comic book retailers May 7 worldwide.
To discuss this monumental news, the Hollywood Comic Books Examiner caught up with the Editor-in-Chief of Aspen Comics, Vince Hernandez, to talk about what it means that after all these years the worlds of “Fathom” and “Soulfire” will finally crossover and what it means for the overall publishing plans for Aspen Comics.
Hollywood Comic Books Examiner: How long have you been planning for the meeting of the worlds of Aspen Mathews (“Fathom”) and Grace (“Soulfire”)?
Vince Hernandez: The concept of merging the two worlds has been discussed before, but never in great lengths, as we established the two properties as separate universes from the start of the comic line here at Aspen Comics. But, it was always something that would be brought up as a sort of “what-if?” type of concept. This past summer, as we held several production meetings to flesh out our line-up of titles for the summer and fall of 2016, our co-owner Frank Mastromauro initiated the conversation as a potential concept worth exploring.
For us, everything we do has to make sense within the framework of the narrative—as we have an obvious reverence for the brilliant concepts and storylines that Michael Turner created. However, as we all brainstormed various options, it became clear that we had already forged a path within the story that became more obvious as we decided that this idea could work. And, fans will be able to experience this firsthand once they begin reading the event we have planned.
Concurrently while this was going on, I was pursuing Joshua Hale Fialkov as a writer we really wanted to work with. As a writer myself, I am very fond of his written work up to date, and had been in touch with him several times before about potentially coming onboard an Aspen title. As these things tend to happen, there was always a scheduling conflict or hurdle to making the collaboration work. Finally, after this summer cleared up schedule-wise, we were able to approach Joshua with this new concept and felt he was the perfect voice on the outside to lend a new perspective to our worlds and characters. Thankfully, he agreed and was able to fit it into his schedule.
At this past year’s Long Beach Comic Con, we were able to sit down with Joshua and our resident “Soulfire” expert and veteran writer J.T. Krul to discuss the vision for this project, and it became evident that the two of them were the perfect pair to entrust this event to. Fortunately, they were already friends and were eager to collaborate on their first project together. Needless to say we were pumped and gave them the green light to work their magic (no pun intended).
HCBE: Is there a strong story reason for the two to come together?
VH: I think our number one reason was due to fan response over the years. We’ve had an overwhelming number of fans mention this to us, and we felt after over a dozen years it was time to try something fresh and exciting that was already pre-approved by the fan base, so to speak. On the editorial side, it’s been a breath of fresh air to experiment with these new possibilities as well.
HCBE: Is the merger of the worlds a long term storyline or is it just for the Summer event?
VH: I’ll say this right off the bat—this is not an empty event that will be reversed once the initial series is over. No, we’ve planned this as a massive universe-building moment that will continue to grow—and we sincerely hope—foster a brand new line of exciting titles for fans to experience. At Aspen, we’re very hesitant to label anything an “event” book, because as comic fans ourselves, we know the pitfalls and frustration that oftentimes can come out of these types of stories. It can turn into a novelty act that is overused. We look at this as an opportunity to offer a lasting new direction with fun interactions between our most popular characters. No hidden sales plot or initiative from us here, just fun comics.
HCBE: What is the structure of the event? Will there be multiple books that crossover or will it be one self-contained series?
VH: This initial crossover event will kick off in the Free Comic Book Day “Worlds of Aspen 2016” book and then lead right into it’s own self-contained mini-series. After that, we will be debuting an initial offering of titles that will spawn out of the aforementioned events in the series. We’re a boutique publisher, so our goal is not to flood the shelves with as many new titles as possible, but rather carefully select the ones we feel will push the universe further. Our fans can expect that it will be a precise and continual push forward but nothing that will break reader’s wallets along the way.
HCBE: J.T. Krul has worked on both the “Fathom” and “Soulfire series so he is very familiar with the characters. But if I’m not mistaken this is the first time that Joshua Hale Fialkov has worked on the characters. What does each of these writers bring to the table from a story and collaborative standpoint?
VH: I think you really hit the nail on the head with your question. J.T. has been with us from the start and knows these properties like the back of his hand. For us this was a no-brainer to have him lead the charge. But, we felt Joshua offered a unique opinion from outside our own perspective. That was huge for us, as we wanted to make sure to move forward in a direction that was completely unlike anything we’ve done before.
People tend to think of our studio as this larger company based off of other respective publishers and their size, but we’re actually a very tight-knit family that is no bigger than a handful of people at any given time. So we obviously are very married to the material and the work we’ve done up to this point as it’s all created in-house. But, we felt like we needed a voice from the outside to come in and offer up new ideas that we might not have thought of due to this insulation.
Joshua was the perfect fit for this task. Already, he’s been instrumental in offering suggestions and concepts that have been thrilling to see come to life, with new ways of handling these characters and concepts. He’s certainly brought a new dimension to the Aspen universe already.
HCBE: Jordan Gunderson who did amazing work on “Executive Assistant Assassins” is handling the art duties and he like, Krul, has done a lot of work on all of the Aspen characters most recently with the “Fathom” tie-in “Four Points” what is it about his work that makes you want to put him on your biggest launch of the last few years?
VH: We love Jordan, and this opportunity was something we felt he not only earned but deserved based off of his past work, and also the fact that he can flat out draw his butt off. Everything just felt right with Jordan when it came time to decide upon an artist for this. I personally feel like Jordan has yet to truly be discovered by the greater fandom of comics, but hopefully that will change with projects such as this under his belt. I can tell you based off of his initial work on this title that fans are going to really be blown away by his work in 2016! His initial redesigns of Aspen Matthews outfits (see photos) for example will help usher in a new age for Aspen.
HCBE: The debut of the “Fathom”/“Soulfire” crossover comes in the FCBD “Worlds of Aspen 2016” comics; will this issue be vital to the storyline?
VH: I would say the importance in this combo is the platform that FCBD offers for new readers and fans to absorb material they might not have otherwise. Naturally, we felt our Worlds of Aspen title would be the largest possible avenue to debut something like this and lead directly into the summer with the mini-series. It’s free, so even if you love it or hate it, you can still experience the story and form an opinion either way. I think it’s really a win-win for readers out there.
HCBE: Will other Aspen titles and characters take part in the story? Do you expect to have previews of how other Aspen titles and characters will be a part of this event in the FCBD issue?
VH: We’re still having some fun in the mystery phase of this announcement, and specifically I can’t say we’ll be offering any previews just yet in the “Worlds of Aspen” book, but it’s definitely something that’s well in the works in terms of planning and scheduling. I would say that fans can expect some Easter eggs within the narrative that will begin to piece together other elements from other titles—and that’s really one of the exciting parts of these types of stories. Who will appear? What will happen between specific characters? Etc.
HCBE: The announcement of the much anticipated combining of the Worlds of Aspen was joined by the announcement of an all-new logo for Aspen Comics. What does this say about the overall plans for Aspen in 2016?
VH: Well we’ve definitely done some soul-searching in the past few years. Following Michael’s tragic passing, there were quite a few years of trial-and-error and finding our place in the changing climate of comics.
While I’m extremely proud of the fact that our talent is consistently elevated to positions at Marvel and DC—more so than any other Indie publisher in my humble estimation, it also leads to a difficult amount of turnover on a consistent basis. We’re always forced to continually stay ahead of the curve in finding and fostering the new creators of tomorrow. Needless to say, when we’re competing against other Indie publishers anchored by powerful licenses or creators with Big Two pedigree now entering the Indie market as well. It can be daunting—but that’s all part of the fun of the game!
Here at Aspen, our goal moving forward is to not try to reinvent the wheel or change the world. We just want to make entertaining stories that readers will enjoy! Part of our new logo and branding is involved in this new statement, and as you can see our new logo definitely has something to say, and so do we in 2016!
Save the date of May 7, 2016 to go to your local comic book store and take part in Free Comic Book Day. Find your nearest comic book retailer by using the Comic Shop Locator. You won’t want to miss the debut of the next chapter in the story of Aspen Comics with “Worlds of Aspen 2016.” And be sure to follow the Hollywood Comic Books Examiner for more updates as we get closer to the launch of this series.