EXCLUSIVE: STEVE WANDS is Here to Welcome You to a DEAD SKY
Recently, famous comics letterer (among many other things!), Steve Wands, and I were chatting about the brand-new publisher he's currently Co-Publisher at. Naturally, as an indie pub connoisseur, I had to get the skinny. I sent him entirely too many questions, and he was gracious enough to supply this curious yeti with answers and the beautiful visuals you'll see below.
Be prepared: this article is a hybrid of interview and FAQ. And you can be certain we'll use it for reference for our next indie publisher audit! Many of the images and details below are EXCLUSIVE to ComicBookYeti.com, and we also have a 5-page preview for Mucho Mojo you can scroll through below!
Who is Steve Wands?
The quick and dirty on me is that I’m mostly known as a comic book letterer. I’ve worked with most every major publisher in some capacity or another over the nearly two decades I’ve been in comics. While I love all the fun stuff I do, I’ve been given an opportunity to put my skills to new use and challenge myself to build a publisher from the ground up and I’m going to give it my best effort.
From left to right: Steve Wands, Jeremy Wagner and Jarod Barbee.
What is Dead Sky Publishing?
Dead Sky Publishing is a three-headed monster. Jarod Barbee, Jeremy Wagner, and myself are Co-Publishers and we make all the big-picture decisions as a team, but I handle the day-to-day operations of running the imprint. Jeremy does the same with our parent company, Stygian Sky Media, while Jarod handles all of Death’s Head Press.
We recently welcomed Shawn Macomber as editor across all imprints, and it’s hard to give Anna Kubik a title since she does, well...everything.
How did Dead Sky Publishing get its start?
We started in March by way of synchronicity. Jarod, his then Editor-in-Chief, Patrick, and Jeremy had already begun talking about doing graphic novels. Actually, not just talking but acquiring. Many of the authors with SSM and DHP have an interest in writing comics and graphic novels. Joe R. Lansdale recently had his rights returned to him for the Hap and Leonard graphic novel, Mucho Mojo, and struck a deal with Jarod and Jeremy. They weren’t familiar with preparing comics for print, and one of their authors, Brian Keene, had suggested they contact me. We got to talking and the more we did, the more we realized our goals aligned.
What kind of comics is Dead Sky looking to publish?
We are interested primarily in works that are inherently dark. We are open to format and style, but we come at it from the question of “how is the story best told?”
Who are the creators we can look forward to seeing comics from?
In addition to publishing Joe R. Lansdale’s Mucho Mojo, with art by Jussi Piironen, we recently announced via our newsletter the creative teams behind our upcoming splatter Western one-shot comics:
We have Scott Bryan Wilson (TRVE KVLT (IDW), Pennyworth, Batman Gotham Nights (DC)) and Robert Gaughran (Producing The End Of The World (KS)), R.K. Latch (Phantom In The Pines (BMP)) and Mike Fiorentino (R.L. Stine’s Just Beyond (BOOM!)), J.M. Brandt (Swamp Dogs (Black Caravan/Scout)) and Tom Napolitano (GRIM (BOOM!), We Have Demons (Dark Horse)), and Michelle Garza (one half of the Sisters of Slaughter, Mayan Blue (Sinister Grin Press), Kingdom of Teeth (Eraserhead Press)) and Dan Franco (Jugular). All with covers by Garry Brown (co-creator/artist on Black Road (Image), artist on Daredevil, Batman (Marvel, DC)).
We’re doing a mini-series with Tina Horn (SFSX (Image)), Lisa Sterle (Witchblood (Vault)), Gab Contreras (TRVE KVLT (IDW)), and covers by Dani (Coffin Bound (Image)).
Additionally, we’re developing another comic with Joe R. Lansdale (Moon Lake), and his daughter Kasey Lansdale (Terror Is Our Business), with artist Daniele Serra (Hellraiser (BOOM!)), but we’re keeping that title to ourselves for now.
Myself and artist J. Schiek (The Death of the Horror Anthology (A Wave Blue World)) with Stelladia (Submerged (Vault)) are doing a graphic novel called Feareater based on my novella and audiobook of the same name.
As someone who is well-known for lettering, will you be filling the role of letterer for Dead Sky's first wave of comics?
Yes, I will be doing some of the lettering on our initial books, and pretty much anything else that needs to be done from logo design, art direction, and editing, to pre-press.
I think knowing how to put together a comic from the manufacturing side to the creative side will be of big benefit to us. As a letterer, I see many inefficiencies I can address as Co-Publisher that would otherwise fall on deaf ears. Any letterer will tell you they make their money handling volume, but as a publisher, I think there’s too much over-publishing and too much concern for market share.
Will all this new work take time away from Lo-Fi Fonts or your writing or art endeavors?
As of now, being that we are starting with a very small publishing plan, I intend to continue doing all the work I currently do, including Lo-Fi Fonts, and my art and writing efforts. It’s my hope that Dead Sky Publishing grows and, if that is the case, I would leave all my work-for-hire projects behind.
Why the focus on splatter Westerns for Dead Sky?
The splatter Western really came from our early discussions. Death’s Head Press essentially coined the term and has had great success with their splatter Western titles. I love a good splatter punk book, love a good Western, so it just seemed like a natural place to start. As we began approaching talent about what kind of projects they’d want to do with us, the horror western kept coming up.
What makes Dead Sky Publishing unique and different from other publishers?
Dead Sky Publishing is different in a few ways. We are operating with many of the benefits of mainstream publishing, but all the comforts of being an indie press. We’re not a creator-owned company, but we are creator-centric. We know our creators want equity in what they create. We feel we’ve found that middle-ground for creators who want some ownership of their work without having to take out a loan or [having to] crowdsource to make it a reality.
We see publishing as a relationship, not a storage unit for intellectual property.
How does Dead Sky pay creators?
As far as page rates or revenue splits go, we don’t have a fixed recipe. That might change over time, but right now, everything is a conversation and we look at the needs and wants of the creators we want to work with and try to find an agreement in which we, as a publisher, are happy with and one they, as creatives, are happy with.
Is Dead Sky Publishing reliant on crowdfunding for their comics?
We are not reliant on crowdfunding. We are not against it. It’s certainly a powerful tool and many creatives have had great success with it, but at this time we’re not interested in it as a publisher. If there’s a project where using crowdfunding makes sense, we’ll re-consider it.
Is Dead Sky open for submissions?
We are open to submissions and we have our policy posted on our website. We actually started getting subs a few weeks after it went live, which was really cool to see. Knowing that we already have creatives interested in working with us is tremendous.
Are there other publishers that inspire you or are the gold standard of success in your eyes?
There are a lot of publishers that I find inspiring. In the now, Vault comes to mind. They’ve done a lot very well and in a short amount of time. Nachie Marsham has assembled an editorial A-Team at IDW with a stellar lineup. I was inspired when Mike Marts quit mainstream comics to start Aftershock. I love TKO’s release model and format experimentation. DC continually tries to innovate with things like Hill House Comics and Black Label. Hell, just thinking about how Image was formed gets me inspired.
What does success look like to you with regard to Dead Sky Publishing and for you, personally?
Success is one of those strange things to measure as it seems no matter what level or degree you achieve, even a small amount of it, the bar seems to constantly shift. I think if we’re successful as a publisher, it means you can walk into any comic shop and readily find one of our titles, that our talent is happy to be working with us, and that readers are enjoying the books.
On a personal level, it really looks the same but maybe I get more vacation time.
What are Dead Sky's plans for the next 5 years, or for the future in general?
The future is bright. I think comics are in such a great place and we think the future is in small presses with a tight focus. In our earliest discussions, we talked about what success would look like for Dead Sky and we agreed that if we could turn it into something on the level of Dark Horse comics, we’d be very happy.
In the meantime, we’re just going to focus on making each single comic the best it can be.
And now, please enjoy this 5-page preview of Mucho Mojo, compliments of Steve Wands and Dead Sky Publishing.