Steve Ekstrom made the jump from comics journalism to comics writer. Now at Sumerian Comics, he’s a Senior Editor on the verge of seeing his creator-owned book SOKO, hit stores. We talked to Steve as MegaCon opened.
GRAPHIC POLICY: For the people who haven’t met you yet, please allow you to introduce yourself.
STEVE EKSTROM: Hi, I’m Steve Ekstrom; I’m a Scorpio who likes long walks on the beach… (haha)
I’m a former journalist in the industry who wrote for Newsarama, MTV Geek, FreakSugar and a few other noteworthy websites. I started writing comics in 2007 and I’ve been published by 803 Studios, Image Comics, DC Comics (through the ZUDA webcomic imprint), as well as Top Shelf, Tin Star Studios, Imminent Press, and now Sumerian Comics (formerly Behemoth).
GRAPHIC POLICY: Let’s start with how you got involved with Behemoth Comics first.
EKSTROM: Through a friend of a friend, actually…networking pays off.
I was talking to my friend, Mark Bertolini, and he introduced me to Nathan Yocum during the pandemic. Nathan and I had one of those moments on a phone call that was like the movie Step Brothers where we were like, “Did we just become best friends? Yep.” and everything slowly kind of came together. He’s such a great guy and a good friend. He helped me through a rough patch of time by just talking to me and letting my opinions about these damn pamphlets matter.
I’d take a bullet for that guy.
Gushing aside, I pitched SOKO to him and Behemoth was interested. Over time, I earned the trust of Nathan and Ryan (Swanson) and we started working on the notion of working together full-time. I’m really grateful for everything they’ve entrusted me with so far. The two of them did something almost no one else could…they prospered and grew during the pandemic when everyone else was hurting or shutting down. Their success (at Behemoth) and their graduation into their roles at Sumerian really is a testament to their monstrous work ethic together. They’re like this two-headed beast that you’d think twice about running into on the convention floor…they’re here to succeed and I think they’re going to have prolific careers in this industry.
They’re giving me a “belle of the ball” moment by publishing my first foray into creator-owned indie comics. I couldn’t be happier.
GRAPHIC POLICY: In March of 2022, Sumerian Records & Films acquired Behemoth. Could you give us some insight on that, and why was Behemoth such an attractive acquisition for Sumerian?
EKSTROM: It’s really not my story to tell, honestly. I’m definitely a drinker of these guys’ Kool-Aid, though. There are times when you know in your gut that something is going to be “big”…Sumerian Comics is going to be something new and different as the market changes and grows with direct-to-consumer avenues like the globalized online marketplace and, hopefully, as the digital marketplace provides readers with a new way to engage the medium. I think a lot of creators would like to harness the internet more as business models improve and show profitability. Hell, I would…but I digress.
When Nathan told me about Behemoth’s acquisition, I was genuinely excited for them but I didn’t know if I was going to have a place at that table, initially. Nathan and Ryan both were really supportive and they introduced me to Ash Avildsen, the new owner of the company, and he and I clicked as well. There’s something to be said about destiny and when something of substance comes together the way this squad has solidified itself.
Trust me when I say that nothing gets me going more than talking about the business side of comics with these three dudes and, then, you toss in Sumerian Comics’ tenacious Creative Director, Adriana Gough, and you’ve got an unstoppable juggernaut who is just starting to gain momentum.
Adriana’s work ethic makes me feel absolutely inadequate at times and I find myself comforted by the notion that we’re on the same team at the end of the day.
GRAPHIC POLICY: At Sumerian Comics now, you’re Senior Editor. Readers hear all kinds of job and editorial titles, and every one is a little bit different. What does being an editor at Sumerian entail for you?
EKSTROM: Well, like the rest of the industry, when a book does well…the creative team is lauded; however, when a book does poorly…you blame the editor. That still applies (haha).
In all seriousness, I edit the creative work of others. I swing my weight when my opinions are needed for ad materials, covers, layouts, and other technical aspects of the publication process like lettering and making sure our pages meet the specs of the printer.
It’s a lot of work and, dammit, I love it even when I have Ryan breathing down my neck for files that are due.
A really cool part of this job is that I get to talk to other creatives about comic books all damn day and, honestly, it doesn’t get any better than that. Being in an editorial position like this is VERY empowering if you have a creative soul that is passionate about this medium.
Comic books have been a part of my life since I was very young. You know the old adage, “Find something you love and let it kill you…”
If comics don’t kill me, Ryan Swanson will. I kid…but, seriously, watch that kid. He’s got a darkness about him. (haha)
GRAPHIC POLICY: What separates Sumerian from the rest of the comics pack right now?
EKSTROM: I was actually talking about this with Ash (Avildsen) at dinner last night. Nathan and Ryan captured lightning in a bottle when they started Behemoth; they created a very “punk rock” feeling brand that had VERY indie feeling books that, ultimately, connected with a new generation of comic book readers. I really want to continue to foster that sensibility with the content we’re beginning to put together with Sumerian.
We have a great body of indie work shaping up that we’re going to begin to couple with licensed projects that you would have never imagined were going to wind up with fresh comic book content featuring rising stars in the industry.
It all started at Wonder Con when we started rolling out some of our content that will be hitting shelves later this year.
Minds will be blown.
GRAPHIC POLICY: We know that comics fans can be particular about what they choose to check out and why. Do you think that being attached to a successful record label makes it easier to promote a comic (name recognition, etc.) or harder (the way some fans see “outsiders,” etc.), and why?
EKSTROM: I think it’s a double-edged sword, to be frank. It gives us this amazing level-up in terms of having a new platform to promote to a wider audience that boasts bands like BAD OMENS, SLAUGHTER TO PREVAIL, and the SMASHING PUMPKINS.
But that also sets the bar higher for us when you think about it.
You can’t rest on your laurels. You can’t just hope to sell merch and watered down content together. We want to give people comics and reading experiences that they’ll never forget.
We get to do that with synergistic content tied to bands that are chart-topping as we speak. How fucking cool is that?!
Comic books and rock music are counter-culture cousins if anything. It’s a perfect pairing when you consider the challenges of coming up with fresh, innovative content in a constantly evolving consumer marketplace that voraciously devours content.
GRAPHIC POLICY: What is Sumerian’s overall approach to title development? With horror, crime, etc., you’re not just sticking to one genre. What’s the mission statement, and what makes a book uniquely Sumerian?
EKSTROM: I don’t think we have a clear cut “mission statement”, I don’t think that would be very “punk rock” of us, honestly, if you consider the humble origins of Behemoth and, now, Sumerian Comics.
I think what people need to know when they see our brand on a book is that we give a shit about the quality of the entertainment they’re investing in when they pick up our stuff off or a convention table or shelf in a shop. Nathan, Ryan, and Adriana…they all omnivorous consumers of comics. There are stacks of books from other publishers all over our office that we are constantly showing each other and saying, “Hey, I really like this, how can we do this…but better and in our own way.”
I think that’s the most important thing you can do in the modern comic book market now that Millennials have become the primary adult consumers of content: give an actual shit and care about the work as much as your fans care about you.
GRAPHIC POLICY: Your own title, SOKO, is dropping from Sumerian. You’ve had that in development for a while. Now that it’s solicited, how do you feel?
EKSTROM: I keep disassociating when I get in my car…like way too much. Like I don’t know how I haven’t gotten in an accident. It’s surreal to have something this majestic with your name on the cover.
You worry. You’re taking your five year-old to their first day in kindergarten and you drop them off and you wave and you hope the other kids don’t eat your kid alive. You hope your kid doesn’t spend the day eating paste…I can carry this metaphor out to prom but I know for a fact that the five people who have continued to read my blather at this point don’t want any of that smoke.
That’s how it feels to have your first big time comic on the shelves in stores…well, that’s how it’s going to feel on April 12th. I don’t know the pre-order numbers yet. I kinda don’t wanna know because I’ll probably lose my lunch at least once.
Honestly, I’ve never felt more alive. All I’ve ever wanted to do is make comic books. I took the time to learn my craft as a storyteller and then I studied the medium of comics and how to make them. It took me roughly twenty years to get to this point…and I’m just getting warmed up. I wish I could talk about some of the stuff I’m attached to but, unfortunately, I can’t…for now.
SOKO is a wild ride and I’m excited that people like Ross Ritchie, Mark Waid, and Howard Chaykin were kind enough to write glowing endorsements for our book.
GRAPHIC POLICY: Tell everybody about SOKO and your team.
EKSTROM: SOKO (which translates to “falcon” in Serbian) is a fast-paced police procedural and crime-thriller about two beat cops who uncover a mountain of systemic corruption within the law enforcement system of Serbia that’s deeply connected to the Serbian mob and human trafficking.
The intimal concept was created by my Serbian writing partner, Vanja Miskovic. He’s the heart of this book. We’re very fortunate to be working with veteran artist, Antonio Fuso. Antonio has been on a tear lately with a lot of successful indie projects getting optioned like WYRD at Dark Horse and STARGAZER at Mad Cave. We also have two really talented colorists, Stefano Simeone, artist for MEGA MAN: FULLY CHARGED at Boom! as well as Emilio Lecce who worked on DR1VE for IDW.
I was brought in to initially letter an 8 page short Vanja created. Eventually, I was asked to letter and edit. After that, Vanja was like, “Why don’t you just co-write the project with me…” and the rest is history.
Our cover artist roster is really stacked as well. We have rising stars Francesco Tomaselli who has graduated to doing cover art Todd MacFarlane’s SPAWN and Lorenzo Tammetta over at Marvel killing it on projects like MURDER WORLD: GAME OVER.
But my favorite part is that Serbian artist, R.M. Guera, artist for Vertigo’s SCALPED provided us with a cover for the first issue of SOKO. I couldn’t be more honored. As fan of comics, Scalped is probably my favorite contemporary comic of the 21st Century, hands down.
GRAPHIC POLICY: What’s your big picture view of comics at the moment, and where do you think comics as a whole will be one year from now? What’s going to be the biggest issue, and what’s one important takeaway you want to leave for readers?
EKSTROM: Comics are in a really precarious place where we are expanding and contracting at the same time. There is always someone talking about how the sky is falling and the medium is dying and there’s always someone pointing out the rising profits of print books and graphic novels from the past couple of years.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” right?
I think we’re still wrestling with a proper method of delivery in terms of digital content and I think that frontier is still rough terrain for publishers because there is no true, clear-cut path to substantial profitability. There is no primary mode of delivery. I think that’s going to be a detriment to the rise of digital content and eventual supplanting of the print market for the foreseeable future…like it has been for the past decade.
Tablets are a luxury item in most homes even though they’re more proliferated than ever. Don’t get me started about attempting to read comics on a phone…I’ll blow a gasket.
We’re consuming more screen-based content than ever, collectively speaking. Comics have to provide something that competes with video games, cartoons, and television programming.
It’s funny to think about when you consider that comics are a cornerstone of the development of those industries in terms of storyboards essentially being simplified comics themselves. It’s like asking an egg to fight a full-grown chicken on steroids. (haha)
Getting books in hands and butts in seats will always be my primary concern no matter if I’m making the comics myself or helping to produce them as an editor for a really great new brand that’s going to be bringing the thunder this year.
I hope that my enthusiasm and the enthusiasm of the crew at Sumerian will inspire you to want to check out our books.
But, seriously, buy more comics, people. See you at MegaCon. Come to the booth and tell Ryan Swanson you think he has a heroic jawline. You’ll have my undying admiration if you do.