In 1994, artist Bart Sears was a comic book industry star due to his works on books like "Eclipso" for DC Comics and "Turok, Dinosaur Hunter" for Valiant. Not content to work on other people's characters, that year he started Ominous Press -- a showcase for his own creations, including "Brute & Babe," a comic based on his instructional drawing column that ran in Wizard Magazine.
Ominous Press didn't end up lasting for more than a few releases, but more than 20 years later, it's back -- with Sears as Chief Creative Officer, and his prior Ominous colleagues back on board, with Sean HusVar serving as Publisher and Andy Smith as Art Director. This time, another comics veteran has joined Ominous -- Ron Marz, who will be Editor-in-Chief and lead writer. Sears and Marz have been friends for years and have worked on a variety of projects together, including time at now long-defunct comic book publisher CrossGen.
All four have a stake in the company, and as Sears told CBR News, " it's a chance to tell our stories, our way, without interference from anyone for any reason." The new Ominous started to came together last fall at Baltimore Comic-Con, when the four were together in person for the first time in decades.
The new Ominous Press is set to launch at this year's HeroesCon in Charlotte, North Carolina, which takes place June 17-June 19. Three books are planned for the initial launch: "Giantkillers," written and drawn by Sears; "Prometheus," written by Marz and illustrated by Tom Raney; and "Demi-God," written by Marz and drawn by Smith. Each book will be colored by Nanjan Jamberi. CBR News spoke in-depth with both Sears and Marz on their plans for Ominous.
CBR News: Ron, Bart, obviously, launching a company is a major undertaking, and you wouldn't do it if you didn't have good reasons. Let's start with this one: For both of you creatively, what opportunities do you see represented in Ominous Press that didn't exist otherwise?
Bart Sears: First and foremost, it's a chance to tell our stories, our way, without interference from anyone for any reason. Sean, Andy, Ron and I are all creative minds. We sit together and decide the tone and feel of our books, and the direction for Ominous. It's a lot of freedom. But for me, it's not really about that, because these stories I've crafted lead me creatively, they set their own boundaries and rules. I just work within them.
Ron Marz: The simplest answer is that it's the lure of creator-owned work. Ominous owns the properties, but we all have a stake in Ominous, so it's ultimately the same thing. One of the wonderful things about comics is that you can bring your vision to life with just a handful of people, and put it in front of the audience. There can be a direct line between what you create and the your audience, without filters or barriers.
People ask me about breaking into comics, and obviously what they're mostly asking is, "How do I break into working on superhero comics owned by large entertainment corporations?" But I always tell them that no one can stop you from making your own comics. Just go do it, and then put your work in front of people. Comics offer a rare form of creative freedom. You can tell any story you want to tell in comics. That's what we're doing with Ominous.
To look at things a bit wider in scope: What niche are you hoping that Ominous Press will fill in the marketplace that's needed at this point? It sounds like there's an attempt to reclaim something that you feel is missing from current offerings.
Sears: I grew up on pulp heroes, Conan, Tarzan, Doc Savage, the Shadow. There's a tone that runs through them, a kind of power and a relentless energy, that really had an effect on me. Stories of strong, flawed heroes that lived hard and loved life, even while fighting through the most horrible of events. It's that kind of relentlessness, that energy, that kind of broken, iron-willed, heroic grit, that I want to bring to Ominous.
Marz: I grew up on much the same stuff. Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard and Michael Moorcock were just as formative for me as Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. I love that kind of storytelling. This is a chance to work in those genres, which aren't as widely represented in comics as stuff like straight-up science-fiction or horror. Most of what we're doing has a cross-genre pedigree, but it all falls under the category of fantastic adventure. I think Ominous is less about filling a perceived niche than it is about pursuing stories we have a passion to tell. I feel like creators should be doing what they love, rather than just trying to chase what they think might have sales attached to it.
Sears: It's a tough thing to get a kid that watches the mind-blowing visuals and charismatic heroes in "The Avengers" and "Star Wars," and playing beautiful, immersive, crazily addictive video games like "Far Cry" and "Destiny" to read anything, let alone a comic. We want to make Ominous filled with characters and stories so powerful, so engrossing, that not only do you want to read it, you just can't wait to read the next one.
The name "Ominous Press" is hearkening back to a prior venture, but you could have started fresh with a new name had you chosen that route. What significance does the name have to you today?
Marz: I wasn't part of the first Ominous, so for me, this is new. I think it's actually good that I wasn't an active participant the first time around. I can hopefully come at things with a fresh eye and lend some perspective on what works as originally envisioned, what we can do better, and then where we can bring in some new ideas. I feel flattered to have been invited to the party.
Sears: To me, Ominous is the tone of the company, old and new, but not in a negative way. Ominous is that darkness that hovers in the corner, just out of sight, but with such a heaviness to it that you know it's there, that it's coming. I see Ominous as a fighting word, as a willingness to struggle against that darkness and crush it.
I've been creating these characters and stories for years, refining, defining and building their sagas. We'll be releasing the original Ominous material as a "Legendary" imprint, and that includes refining and then finishing the story we started years ago, collecting it all in a trade paperback.
Marz: I think Bart and Andy and Sean definitely feel like this is unfinished business. I know those guys have a sense of responsibility to pay off what was started years ago, as well as tell the next chapters. We just did our first convention as Ominous in South Carolina over the weekend, and I was gratified by how many people brought the original Ominous material to have Bart and Andy sign it. There's a core audience that remembers the work, which is great. But we realize that we have to make everything new-reader friendly, and provide a ground-floor experience for every reader.
If you were into the Ominous stories 20 years ago, or followed Bart's Brutes and Babes art lessons, we'd love to have you back. But if you've never seen any of that stuff, you're going to be welcomed with open arms.
Do you see a similarity between the initial three Ominous Press books? What do you see that these title offer that make them unique?
Sears: Similarity? No… and yes. All three are Ominous properties, created with the same eye to energy and style, and characters from one book may appear with importance in others. But the tones and types of stories are not similar at all.
"Giantkillers" is heroic, apocalyptic sword and sorcery/science fiction. Equal parts "Blade Runner," "Lord of the Rings" and "Mad Max: Fury Road," with a dash of "The Terminator."
"Prometheus" is set in a dystopian future. Think "The Matrix" on steroids, with some of the grim feel of "Judge Dredd."
"Demi-God" might, at first glance, appear the most familiar. Initially it seems like a superhero story, but it'll fool you. There are mythological themes as well as 21st-century science.
Marz: The frameworks for these stories already existed when I was invited to come and play, but from day one, Bart said, "Make these your own." He's giving us his babies to raise, which is a pretty rare gift.
I always feel like creative casting is a hugely overlooked aspect in comics. If you want the best results, the right talent has to be married to the right concepts. I'm writing "Prometheus" to take advantage of Tom Raney's artistic strengths. There's no sense in working with great artists and then sticking them things they're not enthused about drawing. Tom has already spent a long weekend at my house, during which we brainstormed and he designed a lot of the characters and settings. There's a very techno-organic feel to the book, which is obviously right up Tom's alley. "Prometheus" is about what happens when heroes in a fantasy world find out they're actually monsters in the real world.
"Demi-God" plays to Andy's strengths. There's a lot of over-the-top action, but there's also a lot of humor, which is what you expect when a modern slacker gets "rewarded" with the power of an ancient god. Not everybody's up to the "great responsibility" part that comes with great power. Writing a lead character who's a jerk, but a really appealing jerk, has been great fun.
Bart is writing and drawing "Giantkillers," but I'm editing it, and chipping in on the story where it's warranted. It's pure Bart Sears -- a big guy with a big sword, trying to keep a powerful villain from crushing the world under his boot heel.
Given that Ominous is a venture where the creators on these books are all clearly closely involved, are these concepts that you've developed for a while, but were looking for the right home? What made these comics right for Ominous?
Sears: I created all of these concepts to be within Ominous, I never imagined another home for them. I think the better question might be what made these creators right for Ominous. We all have our own ideas, and we don't always agree, but we listen and reason and share the same relentless vision. That may sound like marketing speak, or even just extremely geeky, but I don't care. It's the truth. This is a perfect storm of creators coming together in the right place at the right time.
Marz: One of the everlasting appeals of comics is you can wind up working with your friends. You can create something with people you like, and whose work you respect. Bart, Andy and Sean have been my friends for years. Tom Raney and I first worked together way back on a "Silver Surfer" issue very early on both our careers, and we've been friends ever since. Our colorist, Nanjan Jamberi, worked on my "John Carter: Warlord of Mars" run, and I was impressed enough to recommend him to Bart. Troy Peteri letters a great deal of what I write. A creative team is like a jazz combo. Everybody brings a different skill, but everybody has to work together and riff off of each other to make something greater than anyone could create solo.
What do you see, at this point, as the goals for Ominous? Is it to keep things small and with the principals, or do you see potential to broaden things out further?
Sears: Yes. And yes.
Marz: You know, Bart and Andy and I had ringside seats for the rise and fall of CrossGen. We saw what succeeded initially, and more importantly, we saw what was wasteful and self-indulgent and led to the eventually collapse of the company. First and foremost, we're doing this to tell these stories. But there are also business and financial considerations involved. Obviously you have to balance the creative with the business, and in my experience, the surest path to failure is biting off more than you can chew. We would love to grow, but we're not going to make the mistake of getting ahead of ourselves. The comics highway is strewn with the wreckage of publishers who have done just that.
In terms of actually getting these comics into the world, what's the current plan? Working with a publishing partner?
Marz: We're considering all the options. The nice thing about it is we know we can do it by ourselves if that's the way we decide to go. We have the backing and we have the experience to bring these stories into the world by ourselves. But if we find the right partner, we're not opposed to that at all. I can tell you the Ominous Press preview book will debut at Heroes Con in Charlotte in June. It'll have introductions to all three titles, with some extra goodies.
Sears: That's a discussion we've had continually since last November. We've been exploring the pros and cons of all the options we see, and it's not an easy answer. We're closing in on a decision. Whichever way we go, we know it's not an easy road. But we will be relentless. You can count on that.