“Cyber Force” returns this October. That simple sentence will evoke a lot of different reactions for comic book fans of a certain age. The title, the brainchild of Image Comics partner Marc Silvestri, was part of a revolutionary artist-as-owners movement in the 1990s when comics creators were able to use their fame and the surging collector marketplace to go their own way. To others, the title was so close to Marvel’s “X-Men” and James Cameron’s “Terminator” mythologies that it was a poster child of the era’s derivative glut.
“Cyber Force” was the top-selling title in the history of Silvestri’s company, Top Cow (“Witchblade,” “Wanted”), and its tale of cybernetically enhanced freedom fighters was printed in 21 languages and went beyond the page into toys, statues, posters, lithographs, trading cards, and other merchandise. “Cyber Force” is again a symbol of a marketplace in churn and a bold bid to rewrite the rules. The plan is to use Kickstarter to launch the series, but then every issue, both digital and in print, will be free. That’s right, freedom fighters, fighting for free. We caught up with Silvestri (who will be co-writer, art director and cover artist) to help out with that math.
HC: Twenty years seems like a long time when you’re in your 20s. That changes somewhat when we’re looking back later. What kind of thoughts come to you when you consider this anniversary?
MS: Yeah, it’s amazing how you don’t actually start “learning” anything until the benefit of personal history starts to pile up behind you. I was 32 when Image Comics was formed in 1992 and barely anything I’d learned in life up to that point prepared me for the impact that singular moment had on comics in general and me in particular. A little while back all of us Image partners threw a party up in Oakland celebrating 20 years of creative independence. We called it Image Expo and invited comic fans and all the independent comic publishers to join in on the fun. The result was a feel-good weekend for everybody that took part. I remember sitting with Image partners past and present, in an autograph session and marveling at the fact we were celebrating 20 years of something people told us wouldn’t last six months … the Image “revolution” has given me a life far more interesting than I could ever have imagined back when I was a punk kid. So, yes, absolutely the anniversary has brought with it a lot of emotions.
HC: Crowd-sourced funding and the distribution model you’ve got in mind are intriguing. What are the upsides, in you view?
MS: Rule No. 1 at Top Cow Productions and Image in general has always been to think way outside the box. That and not being afraid to stick your neck out and try something new has always been the driving force for me and the company. Basically, if the status quo was to have plain whole grain toast with your egg whites for breakfast, we pretty much slathered butter on everything and ordered our omelet with extra cheese and bacon. So because of that mind-set our unique plan to reintroduce Top Cow’s original launch series “Cyber Force” using Kickstarter fits right in. Kickstarter itself is a genius idea and a win-win for everybody, really. And we want to use its crowd-sourced funding in typical Top Cow fashion, meaning differently. While most everybody uses Kickstarter to fund a project in order to build it and then sell it, we at Top Cow are going to use the funds to build “Cyber Force” and give it away — for free! Plus we’re not talking just one issue but five full issues of the comic. And it won’t be free just digitally, but also as a full-color printed comic that will be available at any participating comic shop. So for people that want to read “Cyber Force” digitally — yes, including torrent sites — it’s free. And for anyone wanting to hold a traditional comic in their hands to read it — it’s still free. We figure this is a great way to reward loyal comic fans plus get new people to get onboard reading comics and see what they’ve been missing. Plus it allows fans to actually get involved in the comic making process and be part of something truly groundbreaking that will help all of us that love the genre. “Cyber Force” obviously holds a special spot in my heart, so I’ll be doing all the concept art and working very closely with artist Khoi Pham. Plus I’ll be writing the book along with Top Cow President Matt Hawkins. I’m really excited and proud of what we’ve done with the stories and characters and believe that fans both old and new are gonna love all the surprises.
HC: How would describe the different reactions to the plan even just within the Top Cow team? And by anyone that you would consider a rival or industry counterpart?
MS: Absolutely everyone we’ve told has had the same Keanu Reeves reaction: “Whoa.” The support from the retail community has been outstanding too. Even the guys filming our interviews for the Kickstarter campaign were taken by surprise when we got to the free part. When Image dropped back in ’92 there was a collective [shock]. We think that’s gonna happen again when other publishers hear about it.
HC: The music industry is barely recognizable now compared to peak years in 1990s; the single most destructive force might have been the perception of an entire generation of young consumers who (due to Napster and illegal downloading) came to believe that music was like tap water, something that has little value. Is that worrisome to you?
MS: Yeah, it’s one of those things that people to this day try to fight. The problem is that once the “genie of convenience” is out of the bottle, not all the lamp-rubbing in the world is gonna get him back in. I pay for all my music, but I’m fully aware that millions don’t, and I’m not going to fool myself into thinking that’s going to change. What it comes down to is that people spend a lot of energy fighting city hall when what really needs to be done is to simply make city hall work for you. The Internet is always going to be a numbers game about eyeballs and piracy versus the increased number of said eyeballs. This is especially true when it comes to entertainment.
HC: Restless creators have a hard time going back to their early work — did you spend a lot of time revisiting the Cyber Force archive? If you let yourself be detached from it, and only judged by what you saw on the pages, what would you say about the young Marc Silvestri? What does he do well? Is there anything you see there that makes you groan or roll your eyes?
MS: What would I say about the young Marc Silvestri? “Boy, he’s tall! And he draws very shiny things.” Well, Geoff, you pretty much gave the answer with the question, lots groaning of eye rolling. That’s a good thing, by the way, because if I look at my past work and say, “Boy, those were the days, back when I could draw,” then my career (and enthusiasm) as an artist/creator is over. It was important for me to not look back with too much reverence to the original “Cyber Force” when retooling it because much of the first run I didn’t like. I liked the basic concept, but the execution was kind of meh. Plus, I feel like I’ve grown so much lately as an artist and a creator that I hardly even recognize my old stuff as being from the same guy. Probably the best attribute as an artist that I’ve retained throughout my career has been a kinetic energy to my work, which I think helps in a static medium. Aside from that I think everything else has changed for the better (or I’m just delusional). And yes, I’m restless as hell.
HC: The critical reaction to anything can be a mixed bag, but I remember reading some sour and savage things at the time. They seemed surprisingly personal to me. What do you take away from that? Did it have any impact as far as the changes, additions and tilts to the mythology as you moved forward?
MS: Much of the criticism was warranted to be honest. The original “Cyber Force” was derivative of my work at Marvel, and I caught some flak for that. The thing about early Image was most of us partners did what we were already known for. We wanted the fans to follow us, and at least for me that meant doing what fans were familiar with and what I was good at. But again, I like the bones of the original idea (which, oddly, never made it to print) and by combining that with all I’ve learned in the past 20 years, I believe the new “Cyber Force” will be both fresh and familiar. Oh, and speaking of the Internet, will be very timely.
HC: Here and now, what’s the biggest career, business, craft or work-balance challenge you have?
MS: At the risk of sounding trite, the challenges of the here and now aren’t all that different from the there and then. Since Day One we’ve had to think of the next/different way of doing things. The difference now of course is a digital frontier that’s going to continue to grow like … Skynet. If there is one advantage to being a relatively small operation that happens to be run by creative people — as opposed to flat-out business folk — its that we are very fast on our feet – plus no one can tell us no. And, of course, even after the apocalypse people will always need to be entertained, and it’s our happy job to do that. The greatest gift this genre has given me personally is the gift of longevity. No matter what the delivery system, the stories we tell are evergreen.
– Geoff Boucher
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