Working to Be Better Every Single Day – An Interview with Adrian F. Wassel, EIC of Vault Comics
Papa Yeti himself, Matt Ligeti, hired a few contractors to turn the Yeti Cave into the Yeti Vault to chat with Editor-in-Chief of Vault Comics, Adrian F. Wassel, about the state of Vault Comics, navigating the pandemic, and all the wonderful comics to come.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Adrian! So good to see you, man. After years of chatting on Twitter, it’s great to finally be able to talk one-on-one like this!
ADRIAN WASSEL: It is!
CBY: Is the ankle all healed up? AW: More or less. I’m missing a ligament forever, but I’ve got some healthy scar tissue in there now thanks largely to the healing powers of DB Andry!
CBY: OK, I wanna be respectful of your time, so let’s dive into the questions! As a refresher for what this interview involves, we’re talking with representatives of indie publishers who are still fairly new to the scene about talent, the market, and what makes them tick.
The last interview we had with Vault was over two years ago, and the whole team weighed in on the answers. Since then, we’ve seen the rise of the Nightfall and Wonderbound imprints, the retirement of Vault’s Book-it program, a global distribution deal with Simon & Schuster, and, so, so many great new comics (that you somehow have the time to edit!). Also, a pandemic which changed the world as we know it. How has the way Vault does business had to shift in response to the constantly changing market, or in preparation of expected changes in the future?
AW: We’ve expanded our distribution channels so that all our eggs aren’t in one basket. A more broadly accessible catalogue is a healthier catalogue. We’re distributed through Diamond, Simon & Schuster, numerous web platforms, and are continuing to grow our DTC channels. At the same time, we’ve hyper-focused our core Vault line to help support the launch of some new and exciting imprints like Wonderbound. Debuting one new series per month, combined with a big and successful fight to keep returnability at the forefront of comics, has meant that our retail partners are able to stock and grow our base with confidence.
"Whenever we strive for accessibility, we’re pushing in the right direction. That mission, at its heart, is about escaping an echo chamber that would see our stories go stale."
CBY: It seems like a lot of indie publishers are carving out their niches in order to be successful. Sometimes, that’s in genre. Sometimes, in the talent they hire. Other times, it’s finding or creating ways to attract new readers to comics. To me, it seems like Vault is already doing a lot of these things. You specialize in sci-fi, fantasy and horror. You make a point of hiring diverse talent, and a lot of that talent comes with their own experience and fanbase outside of the comics format, like Christopher Cantwell, Sarah Beattie, and Matt Nicholas. Is that part of the plan to reach an audience who doesn’t usually read comics?
AW: Yes, absolutely. Comics — specifically American Comics — is actively escaping the stigma that’s haunted us since Judgment Day. It’s important as an industry to remember that we’ve only been beyond the reach of the CCA, collectively, for a decade now. More people have loved comics than have been comfortable saying they love comics for far too long.
Whenever we strive for accessibility, we’re pushing in the right direction. That mission, at its heart, is about escaping an echo chamber that would see our stories go stale. Bringing in talent who cares genuinely for comics, while offering new interests, influences, and audiences is just one way to continue growing a healthier fandom and business.
CBY: Can you tell us what else Vault does, or is planning to do, to differentiate from all these new publishers appearing on the scene? Or maybe hint at it? Give us a riddle?
AW: Hah. The answer I have for that one will probably make me sound like an ass, but hopefully with enough explanation it won’t be too bad. In a word, better. That’s our North Star here at Vault. Better. Every single day, we attempt to be better at something than we were the day before. I firmly believe that as a business, you’re not ready to launch anything new until you’ve demonstrated that you can continue to improve your core business, day after day, year after year.
CBY: So, no Substack partnership? No using Kickstarter to help secure funding?
AW: Not yet.
CBY: Let’s talk submissions. Do I recall correctly that Vault’s submissions used to be open, but y’all were inundated with so many, that you had to close them?
AW: That is correct. Editorial is a two-person shop here, and we only have so much bandwidth.
CBY: So, how do new books or teams get chosen? Do you already have a selection for the next however-many years?
AW: We try to be as programmatic as possible with our catalogue, signing work way out in advance, while embracing that comics are, almost necessarily, mercurial. Which, I guess, is a fancy way of saying that we’ve got years of series in the works, but we’re nimble and able to move launch dates around when it’s prudent.
CBY: Now that you have so many titles in the Vault library, do you feel like it’s more difficult to keep finding new twists on the sci-fi, fantasy and horror genres, or does it still feel like fertile territory?
AW: No editor worth a damn will ever have trouble finding more exceptional stories to anchor or expand genre fiction. Anyway, can’t we all finally agree that Realism is/was overrated? Look at the world now and tell me who’s winning the argument. Is it, writ large, banal or absurd?
The most fertile ground for truth is not realism. Not in my book. Not by a long shot.
"We didn’t put pencils down on a single project throughout this entire pandemic, even during the shutdowns. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be prouder of my team for anything than what we accomplished steering through this together."
CBY: Do you feel like the big industry awards take genre books or indie publishers less seriously or pay them less attention than more mainstream ones?
AW: Yes. No. Maybe. We’ve heaped up some amazing accolades, IGNYTEs, Tripwire Awards, Foreword INDIES, and more.
I think Vault will likely never win an Eisner as long as we publish— I’d be amazed if we ever even land a proper nomination — if that’s what you’re really asking. Because, and I mean this with my whole damn heart, I don’t care. I’d be happy for our creators, of course, if somehow it ever happened. But I’ve never made a single choice in my entire career with awards in mind.
CBY: The bulk of Vault’s titles are miniseries but, most (if not all) of those are made up of single-issues released on a monthly basis. Why not go straight to trade? Are single-issues still lucrative in indie comics with regard to miniseries? Or is it more of a budgeting concern?
AW: We love monthlies. We believe in them. And our sales keep growing and growing. But monthlies are only one part of our strategy. We release OGNs. For instance, Dark One, and our entire Wonderbound line. We’ve partnered with multiple web platforms. And we have some other tricks up our sleeves. You’ll see soon-ish.
CBY: For a lot of new indie publishers, it can be difficult to make ends meet, pay creators, even keep the lights on. Now that Vault’s been established for a few years, do things feel a little more stable? Do you feel like you can focus on building the brand without always worrying the ground will collapse beneath you?
AW: Yes, absolutely. We didn’t put pencils down on a single project throughout this entire pandemic, even during the shutdowns. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be prouder of my team for anything than what we accomplished steering through this together.
CBY: Are there things you wish comics fans, journalists, creators, or the public at large knew or understood about comics, publishers, or the industry in general?
AW: There aren’t just creators and faceless companies. For instance, as an editor, my success is largely determined not by my own efforts, but the tireless efforts of Tim Daniel’s beautiful design, Ian Baldessari’s meticulous production, David Dissanayake’s brilliant sales and retailer relations, and Syndee Barwick’s exhaustive expertise in the book trade. And that’s just a handful of the amazing people I get to work with. Sometimes, the world of comics gets so focused on the creative talent that it forgets the people who pour their lives into these stories in other ways, who sell them, who market them, who design them, who build them, who letter them, who flat them, and so on, and so on.
I wish the conversation could, for every five hundred times it cycles over who deserves to be credited on a cover, stop and talk about who was really behind selling fifty-thousand copies of that next series we all obsess over.
That’d be nice.
CBY: Last, what else can you tell us about the future for Vault? Any big plans or releases coming soon? Is the Watters/Paknadel Earthcrosser title still happening? Can we expect more Michael Moreci titles in 2022 and beyond?
AW: Lots of YESes.
But you’ll just have to stay tuned to find out. I don’t spill the beans, I help make ‘em.
CBY: Adrian, thank you again, so SO much for your time and your answers. This was truly a pleasure. AW: Thank you!