Vault Comics Spotlight
*First and foremost I must give a very large and sincere thank you to Damian Wassel (CEO/Publisher) for taking the time to answer questions and provide insight. Throughout this piece are questions I submitted and Damian’s responses*
Three years. In our first three years of life we’re considered to be where we should be if we can walk in a straight line. A simple alternating of feet one after the other in succession along a straight line places us in the 95+ percentile of all in the three year old milestone category. Vault Comics is three years old in 2019 and their line is certainly straight, but the last thing they’re doing is walking. While we struggle moving from gross to fine motor skills at three, Vault has blown through developmental milestones and is already setting new standards while creating new expectations of what comic books and creative properties can be. The tag line “The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Comics” is bold yet truthful. From its inception the publisher was clear with what it was about. Comic book fans and readers deserved bigger, broader, and better books. Comic creators deserved the same. Vault would be that platform for those that dared to create them and the outlet for those that dared to read them. Today, during just their third year of being exactly what they stated they’d be, Vault Comics is a leader in producing books that take on the conventions of the medium, dare creators and fans to push the bar higher, and beg the conventions of the past to try and stop them. The line of projects from Vault is nothing short of spectacular, and it grows exponentially with each new release. I couldn’t help but feel this was all organic in nature so I asked about it:
> As I’ve gone back and traced some of the steps, creatively, there seems to have been an organic kind of gravitation that came to a head with Vault. The collaborations beforehand show roots, so to speak, of what we’ve now seen over the last two years under Vault. Would that be accurate? Is Vault a sort of culmination of sorts, of a natural coming together?
With respect to the company itself, Vault came together after Adrian, Nathan, and I learned many lessons publisher a different kind of book in the preceding years. Our plans were tempered by wisdom Tim Daniel added when he joined the organization shortly thereafter. With respect to our catalog, I like to think that our first few titles formed something of a nucleation site around with our future catalog could crystallize. But to lean into some sort of force-of-nature metaphor is to overlook the massive, nearly geological efforts, that Adrian—Vault’s editor-in-chief, has put into shaping our catalog.
> The approach from Vault is rather point blank. The genres of focus where chosen very specifically and the titles that have been published clearly represent that chosen direction. The diversity and inclusive nature of the properties is beyond reproach. What, do you feel, has been the driving force in being able to fit your stated goal while also fielding top shelf quality titles?
Science fiction and fantasy are genres that, perhaps more so than any other, reward creative risk-taking. When you raise a call for the best science fiction and fantasy stories, when you explicitly invite bold, visionary, and distinct storytelling, the pitches you receive turn out to be of surprising quality. The stated goal in effect generates its own momentum. But, again, I can’t overstate the massive amount of work Adrian has put into this catalog.
> The launch titles very clearly expressed the depth of not only the talent that is in the industry, but also that lies in the sci-fi/fantasy realm. As more titles have come out we’ve seen broadened takes on familiar settings within these realms. Has the library that Vault has published been aimed at highlighting the diversity in the genres as well?
We’re constantly looking for sub-genres of fantasy and science fiction that are underrepresented in comics. Sometimes there are strong formal reasons those genres don’t work well as comics, but often, it’s just a question of finding the right pitch with the right team.
Appropriately the first wave of books encapsulated their vision and proved their point. Fissure, Heathen, Powerless, Failsafe, Karma Police, and Colossi dove head first into the chosen genres. Inviting readers to open their minds and find new stories and approaches within known storytelling tropes, this first wave of books did more than just mark or announce intent from Vault. The diversity in creators and freshness in recipes for their tales immediately put Vault both up on high and out on a limb. It was daring. It worked. The stories they presented right out of the gate gave everyone something to latch onto. We got a lesbian viking, some government/corporate intrigue, lovely sci-fi hearkening to the silver age, the Superhero genre turned on its head, and a suspenseful supernatural story with deeper meaning all rolled out together. With their first package of books Vault put forth a breadth of comic books that you’d be hard pressed to find with any publisher today. Even with their choice to focus on a couple of areas in sci-fi and fantasy the publisher managed to put books on the shelves that each had a unique vision and voice.
As more books started hitting the shelves it wasn’t just momentum that Vault was building. The breadth of creativity within the sci-fi and fantasy realms started to rear its head. That’s not to say that classic approaches were ignored, but rather it’s an illustration of the vision that Vault and the creators involved shared. Spiritus merged several sci-fi tropes with the real world issues of criminality, subjugation, freedom, and human rights. Zojaqan explored the boundless lengths at which we go to overcome and survive tragedy and grief while serving up fantasy derived exploration of the human spirit. Alien Bounty Hunter took conventional approaches from sci-fi and brought in the same from other genres like crime/noir to create a classic book that pushed against the traditional modes of delivery for these types of stories. Songs for the Dead presented in the vein of known fantasy realms to deliver a story about pre-conceived notions butts heads with how we act in terms of forming who we are. With Maxwell’s Demons we got a disturbingly real look at dealing with domestic violence through the fantasy world created by the target of the cruelty. We go on a wonky ride through who we are, what we do, and how we see and value others while getting an accurately absurd commentary of current society in Deuce of Hearts. Of course, we can’t forget about the kid led overgrown mech-suit warfare against vampires on an Earth marked for destruction in Reactor. The branches of Vault’s tree of books were clearly reaching out into new space and searching for new light. This was one of the biggest draws for me. It was very clear that they wanted to let these stories be told, but how?
> One of the major appeals of Vault is the individuality of the titles. How do you manage the individual expression of the creators (once a project/team is selected for publication) in regards to the mission statement of Vault as a publisher?
The short answer is, we think of ourselves as stewards of our creators’ work. Our goal isn’t to put our thumbprints on their books, but instead to clear all the obstacles that stand between them and the best realization of their ideas and effort. Actually carrying this out requires an incredible amount of editorial, design, and production work per book, but we love what we do, so we put in the hours.
Putting in those hours become more than evident as the continued expansion of the Vault titles produced projects that were very clearly results of putting in those hours. Both the staff at the publisher and the creators involved in the titles have poured their all into characters and projects that push boundaries and re-invent conventional thinking. The expansion or continuing of projects at Vault is undoubtedly a direct result of these efforts. The shared universe of Cult Classic that was introduced in Return to Whisper has recently been announced to be expanding (Creature Feature). Not only is Vagrant Queen being turned into a SyFy tv series but it is also has more issues coming. The space saga unfolding in Wasted Space received the green light as an ongiong series rather than a limited endeavor. Stalag-X was the first OGN from Vault and was a collaboration with NYT best selling author Kevin J Anderson and television writer/producer Stephen L Sears. The announcement of The Dark One OGN project includes a tv series and is being done in conjunction with Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn, Wheel of Time, Stormlight Archive). As the publisher rounded into their second year they put the foot on the gas with the announcement of the partnership with British comic collective White Noise (Dan Watters, Ryan O’Sullivan, Alex Paknadel. Ram V). From this we received what might be the single most impressive assault on comic book shelves in the last decade if not two. The quartet of Deep Roots, Friendo, Fearscape, and These Savage Shores unleashed raw and unfiltered social commentary in the frame work of comic books that took the bar for creative success, MacGyver’d it into a rocket, and rode it into new stratospheres of comic book making. Stunning on both literary and visual fronts, these books didn’t pull any punches in reflecting on as well as presenting current day and historically systemic to human nature. They used nature to explore mankind’s propensity for destructive behaviors, the downfall in our society’s reliance and trust in capitalistic measures, the danger of man’s hubris, and the inner treachery of consumption and manifest destiny to weave painfully true narratives. Vault though, hasn’t just poured hours into new shiny trinkets for our shelves. They stayed true to their intentions and the projects they’d already published. Submerged typified that by bringing a terrifying story of personal truth by way of a figurative and literal hurricane uncovering what sits below the surface. There was also the announcement that Failsafe was acquired by NETFLIX. The title that introduced Vault to the majority of comic fans, Heathen, has been optioned for a movie. It’s fair to say that what Damian stated is beyond true. Vault is a steward for the creative process. This summer we were treated with the return of that awe inspiring introduction to the new voice in comic publishing as Heathen returned to shelves (and is bringing along a new artist). I needed to find out just a little more in regards to this book and its return.
> Heathen returned this summer. This was the title that, publicly, started it all. What led to this being the title to launch with?
In a word, love. Everyone on our team loved Heathen from the moment we encountered it. We couldn’t imagine running a company that said “no” to a book like that. So, we said, “yes.”
> What was the importance in, and how important was it, getting back to Heathen?
Heathen is a beautiful story that deserves an ending; there was nothing we wouldn’t do to see it finished. Aydis climbs mountains, comes through fire, and battles gods on her quest. The least we could do was navigate a few delays to continue her story.
> How did Ashley A Woods come into the fold to pick up the artwork for Heathen?
Natasha developed a medical condition that made it basically impossible for her to handle line art for a comic series. So, we found an artist who shared our love for the book and brought her in to work with Natasha to help see the series through. Ashley happens to be an old friend of our Director of PR & Sales, and so we were lucky to be able to work with her.
> The timing of the announcement doesn’t appear to be coincidental. Heathen is a landmark book and instantly supplied the bedrock on which Vault has rapidly built a stellar framework as a publisher. Everything that has come out of the ‘House of Vault’ (titles, announcements, projects, etc) appears to be well planned out and purposeful. With that, is there a hand in hand approach to pushing the endeavor as a whole while maintaining the individual personalities of the properties?
Yes. But I’m afraid we have to keep some secrets.
> With the film/tv productions in the works, you’ve partnered with industry names for projects, thre are original graphic novels coming, etc. How big of a basket does Vault envision carrying? Is there a specific idea or goal or is it open to become whatever it becomes?
Again, I’ll have to be a big cryptic. We have big plans, but they’ll have to be revealed in their own good time.
With so much happening so fast there have been plenty of doors opened and opportunities presented to the Vault team and creators involved. One of the aspects of being a fan (specifically of theirs) that I truly do look forward to is the continued growth and what doors and opportunities are presented for me as a reader. The latest wave of titles offer some clues while playing true to the heart of what Vault is trying to accomplish. Damien mentioned finding sub-genres that are underrepresented and the proper creative team to fit those projects. The titles in this newest batch back up his comments. Queen of Bad Dreams addresses the battle we face when we ‘wake up’ from the confines placed upon us. She Said Destroy delivers a sibling rivalry full of magic and fantasy. The cost of getting what we wish for and what we have to give up to get it is explored in Test (Issue 1 review). What horrors may come and the ones we breath life to are lay within the pages of Resonant (Issue 1 review). A fantastical tale of original mythology awaits us in Sera & The Royal Stars. These new titles are reaching into the sci-fi and fantasy genres and bringing forth new modes and mechanisms to tell their stories. Who we identify ourselves as on EVERY level of existence has seen a rapid evolution the last decade. We’ve long known, or at least had pretty good idea of how we are shaped. The acceptance and transcendence of ones’ self has never been at the level of mainstream consciousness as it is today. These new books find creative measures in using these newly opened doors to extract sincerity and beauty in the stories they are telling. It isn’t just about filling the weekly pull list.
> In the closing months of 2018 the YA/MG imprint MYRIAD was announced. This is a rapidly growing part of the comic/graphic novel (and overall reading) sector. The importance of this audience is paramount. For Vault, as a publisher, what is the guiding thought in this launch and how does it tie to the inclusion/diversity approach?
If I could get the world to believe just one thing about comics, it would be this: Comics are just books. If you like books, you have no reason not to read comics too. We want to participate in, and contribute to comics publishing’s efforts to grow up a whole new audience for the books we make. And once again, we think there’s an open niche in the market for a different kind of story then is currently being published by our soon-to-be competitors.
There’s more to Vault than just their main line of comic titles. As 2018 closed out they mad the announcement of their MYRIAD imprint. The line of books will be produced for the YA/MIDDLE GRADE readers out there (first Myriad titles announced). In the announcement of the first titles branding and design guru Tim Daniel stated “Young readers want to make their own heroes—so our heroes must be equally reflective of all of us, representing who we are broadly and as individuals.” Much like the genre choices and approach taken with their main comic line, Vault is purposefully curating options for ALL readers. The team is taking the challenge of engaging and captivating the new age of young readers head on. The announced launch titles will approach the readership with stories of finding ones’ self, facing emotional and spiritual understanding, and shared experiences that ties us all together. Furthering that thought Vault announced a way for the intended readers to get involved in literally bringing one of these new titles to life. The Bonding Promotion (submissions accepted through mid September) invites us all to create our own ‘slug’ and be as creative as we can. Anyone that creates and submits is in contention to have their slug incorporated into the actual series!
The efforts go even further with the Bound: Comics and Community Initiative. According to Damien Wassel “Vault celebrates and applauds comic shops who work to foster deep ties with their community, through events that engage fans, promote literacy and inclusion, and support local businesses.” This is at the heart of the initiative. In efforts to foster the entirety of the comic community the publisher has ear marked upwards of $25,000 in retail value of product for comic shops that engage in these community efforts and activities. It is clear that Vault is aiming to strengthen and broaden the entirety of comics. That effort and genuine belief of promoting every aspect of the community goes beyond the creators and business outlets involved. Behind it all, ultimately, are fans of comics. People that share the wonder, imagination, and love of creativity. Inclusion of other fans and engagement all the way up and down the community ladder opens all possible doors for everyone. That might just be the key to it all. The folks behind Vault, are just that … folks like you and me.
> Clearly your approach to inclusion isn’t resigned to the properties that you publish. Vault has been open and engaging since day one. You provide free firsts for download, allow creators to engage and promote their books individually, and actively encourage independent outlets regardless of size (such as myself). What do you see and hope for in this relationship outside of the obvious business/consumer aspect?
Good storytelling requires connection with your audience. We think being good at the storytelling business requires just the same thing. So, our hope is that by reaching out to our audience, they’ll take our hand and follow us down some crazy narrative roads.
> You’re in control of the radio for Vault HQ, so ______ is dominating the playlist.
We’re getting a lot of Bjork, Kate Bush, and The Knife.
> You lose a bet and have to buy lunch for the office, what’s for lunch?
We all agree that tacos are the best food. It might be a condition of employment at Vault that you share that article of faith.
Good news for me here. This South Texan already meets what just may be the ultimate pre-req to working at Vault. Tacos are simply, the best. This knowledge and insight that the Vault team is in agreement across the board on this cements the fact that the folks behind Vault are also simply, the best. So hey guys, maybe save me a spot for when my duty is over? While that may be some fun being had there (but really though it’s true), the hardest pat of making a splash like Vault has right out of the gate is keeping it up. Not resting on their already impressive laurels, Vault has announced the NIGHTFALL imprint with The Plot as the first title in the seasonal line. Going forward each year there will be select titles released between September and December that will fall under the imprint. Announced titles The Mall and The Necromancer’s Map will bring back creators and expand on stories in the Vault stable respectively. Relics of Youth will blend yesterday’s mysteries with today’s emerging generation.
But it isn’t just about tomorrow and the tomorrow after that. Vault genuinely appreciates and cares for the creative forces that paved the way for their efforts. It started out as a special way of saying thank you. As their titles began selling out of their original print runs, they instituted the ‘Vault Vintage’ line of covers for the second print runs. Now it is a common practice and the ‘B’ covers (and subsequent retailer incentive covers) are adorned with homage to classic images and creators from up and down the comic book time line. Gold, silver, bronze, copper, and modern age classics have been and will continue to have tributes paid. I could continue. I could write line after line about how Vault has assaulted the comic book industry with positivity in every possible way. There’s more to tell sure, and at some point in the future I’ll probably write more on Vault Comics. For now though you need to go and explore them for yourself. Just as they have dug into both the figurative and literal creative minds of the creators whose stories they cultivate, we as fans need to do the same with their projects. It is a rewarding experience to do so. Beyond the enjoyment and fulfillment in consuming the stories within the pages, you’ll find an unprecedented community of sharing, inclusion, and involvement. Vault titles aren’t just making you think, but making you think in different ways. The folks behind Vault aren’t just promoting their products, but promoting the creative endeavor shared by the teams that tell the stories. Over the last three years Vault has done, with enthusiasm what has made imprints of the past achieve ground breaking status. They’ve challenged themselves to be bigger, broader, and better. Because of this we are getting creative teams, stories, and an experience that is all three and so much more.
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