General Marvel

Interview: Vince Hernandez Discusses Aspen, Kiani, and the Changing Comic Readership

00b_FAK4-02-CMYKcrop_1In early November Aspen Comics made the announcement they were changing up the look of their heroine Kiani when Fathom: Kiani Volume 4 #1 arrives February 11th. Alex Konat, Giuseppe Cafaro, and Wes Hatman were tasked with updating Kiani’s look and the title’s overall design.

What was even more amazing was the honesty and transparency as to why this design change and update was happening:

And as our company and fan base continue to evolve, a new generation of readers will be introduced to this wonderful character, including a much larger female audience. We wanted to honor that spirit of progress by updating the look and feel of the series with an exciting new design.

In a year of major changes in the diversity of comic characters, this was the latest example that 2014 could be called “the year of the woman” in the comic industry.

We got a chance to throw some questions at the writer of Fathom: Kiani, Vince Hernandez, not just about the new direction, but also the changing demographics of comic readers and fans.

We have even more images of Kiani, and tomorrow come back for Part II, where we talk with artist Giuseppe Cafaro about the actual design process.

00b_FAK3-01-CMYKcrop[1]Graphic Policy: So the big news is you’re redesigning Kiani for her comic’s next volume out in February. How did you all come to the decision for the redesign?

Vince Hernandez: That’s correct, we’ll be ushering in a new look for the series both through the narrative and the visual aspect of the title. Like most ideas we have, this was derived from one of our production meetings, while discussing the new direction of Fathom: Kiani, and what we were looking to achieve with the final product. We’ve tried really hard to establish a library of titles that will appeal to the growing number of comic book readers, and that includes a large female audience. With this fourth volume of Fathom: Kiani, we tried to be mindful of this new audience while also staying true to the character and her rich history. This included a natural evolution to the character’s appearance that fits more with where she is in her journey. It’s all very organic to the story when you read it. I hope readers will agree.

GP: How many people were involved in the redesign process?

VH: Everything we do here at Aspen is a collaborative process, so everyone’s opinion matters. Usually, that starts in our production meetings and carries over into the individual discussions I have with the creative team, and all along the way I try to gather everyone’s opinions. For Fathom: Kiani, it’s like clockwork because Giuseppe Cafaro, Wes Hartman and Josh Reed know exactly what to do, since we’ve worked together on this title for quite some time.

GP: Were there any mandates as far as the redesign?

VH: No mandates, just to stay true to the character and the story, and our original discussions about the visual look of the series which includes covers, solicitation ads, and the approach to marketing the book for a wider audience.

KIANI-V4-01c-Garbowska-2x3_1GP: In the release announcing this you mention how the Aspen Comics fan base has evolved, and the much larger female audience. How closely does Aspen follow that? Do you have a good idea of what your readership “looks like”?

VH: I think so, although we’re always pleasantly surprised to meet new readers. The comic industry is growing larger and with that comes new readers and fans looking to enjoy our books. With the advent of more conventions and social networking, it’s a very fun time to be a comic book creator, as we can interact with our fan base directly. We try to stay current with that approach and evolve as our fan base does. One thing many people wrongly perceive about Aspen is that we have a mostly male fan base, because they see our female heroines on the covers and assume we’re something we’re not. We actually have a very strong and loyal female audience that we adore, and we’re very open to hearing our fans’ opinions. We’re here to entertain first and foremost, and with that comes a responsibility to be open to criticism.

GP: How do you feel the comic readership has changed over the years as far as habits and demographics?

VH: I think the comic readership has become much more attuned to challenging the status quo in terms of voting with their wallets, but I definitely wouldn’t mind even more change in that department. Right now there’s such a great influx of female readers and more of a focus on increasing diversity in the industry, but there’s still a large majority of readers that dismiss anything not by the Big Two. Those buying habits are hard to change, but thankfully I think it’s trending in the other direction now.

GP: This year’s big story for comics is diversity with numerous publishers headlining a lot more minorities in comics, and outright changing gender or race of characters. What do you see as the driving force behind that?

VH: I’d love to say that I think it’s all organic to the story and not part of a larger initiative to appeal to a demographic that has been under-served, but I wouldn’t be completely honest. But, then at the end of the day, anything that helps to add more diversity to the industry I can’t see as a bad thing–as long as it’s handled with respect and care for the story and/or characters.

GP: Do you think those changes are editorially driven? Number crunching/marketing driven? A combination?

VH: A combination, and I think it’s foolish to think that marketing doesn’t play a part in these decisions. Oftentimes, we as fans can get so caught up in the comics we love that we forget that publishers have to run as a business, first and foremost. Understanding market trends and areas of growth potential are essential to any good business model in the long term. Finding new readership is the best way to feed that growth, and publishers have to search out those new readers in these ways.

GP: Do you think the rise of self-publishing, Kickstarter, web comics, the explosion of indie books has helped pushed for greater diversity in the rest of the industry?

VH: Absolutely, and the benefit to that added diversity is that it puts the larger publishers in a position to not rest on their heels, which is a win for the overall quality of the work produced in comics. Being a published comic book creator doesn’t have the same value that it did a decade ago, now that anybody can publish their own work with enough determination. It makes for a more competitive playing field, and more options for fans to choose from.

GP: We publish monthly demographic studies of folks who “like” comics on Facebook. Do comic publishers consider that sort of thing when deciding what to publish and who an audience for a comic might be?

VH: You know, at this moment the correlation between a “like” on Facebook and a sale at the retail level to me hasn’t presented itself yet, but I think there are plenty of conclusions you can draw from the statistical data on Facebook. I think this is much more pronounced at the creator level, as I’ve seen some creators really build a solid revenue stream for their work due to their strong social media presence. As a publisher, we usually have to make our decisions much earlier, as we plan our production schedule far in advance. Once it hits social media we already anticipate a certain level of awareness for the property or title.

GP: Can we expect any other shake-ups like this for 2015 for Aspen?

VH: Well, the great thing about Aspen is that we’re free to really shake things up all the time, so I think Aspen fans can expect many more surprises in 2015, as we have some really fun new projects on the horizon!

RIPT Apparel