William DuBay is one of the more interesting figures in comics. He served as the long-time Editor for Warren Magazines, publisher of such legendary mags as Eerie, Creepy, Vampirella, Famous Monsters of Filmland, The Rook, and The Spirit. But DuBay was more than just an editor, a true Renaissance man, he is a writer, and artist as well. He worked for Charlton Comics and marvel before heading up Warren’s magazines. He is also the creator of “The Rook” the time-traveling hero and star of his own magazine at Warren in the late 1970s and early 80s. After twenty-five years the Rook is returning to comics and Mania had a chance to sit down and talk to Mr. DuBay about the new project as well as his many years in the comics industry.
1. We understand that you’re launching a new graphic novel line and have incorporated as Time Castle Books. Can you tell us about that?
Time Castle Books is a new imprint for some classic graphic story characters. With a few new ones liberally sprinkled throughout our schedule.
We’ve launched with an Internet site that provides free access to all of our works-in-progress. [TimeCastleBooks.com]
Right now, we’ve got a set of twenty volumes on the schedule featuring the classic adventures of The Rook, the time traveling chess master Budd Lewis and I created for the old Warren magazines.
You can see some of our other titles on the sight, as well. The Goblin. The Fox. The Sentients. Octobrem. Spooky Tales. String of Pearls. The Microbe Patrol. And, for your five year-old, Kiddo the Super-Truck.
All will remain posted online until the books are published and begin to be available in February.
This gives readers the opportunity to become familiar with our entire line without our ever having to kill a single tree.
It should finally quiet the cries we’ve heard for years from old-time readers who’ve almost universally griped that they loved The Rook, but hated that they could never find it on the newsstand. And when they did, they invariably came in at the beginning, middle or end of one of our three-part story arcs--and missed out on reading the entire adventure.
It’ll also offer graphic story aficionados a continuous source of free online entertainment during these problematic economic times. Something we’re hoping they’ll appreciate.
2. Sounds like either excellent business strategy or certain publishing death.
The business we’ve loved has evolved since the days of the Warren magazines, and continues to do so.
Launching a line of comic books in troubled times will, almost certainly, challenge any publisher attempting to find a market niche. With graphic novels it’s easier to identify the number of copies to print from direct sales orders. Not having to bet the farm on printing thousands of copies, unsure of whether or not they’ll sell, also gives you some indication of the level of success you and your investors can expect.
Additionally, today’s top graphic story publishers will no doubt agree that they’re as much in the IP business as they are in selling books or comics. A well-maintained character franchise, whether it’s Superman, Batman, Spider-man, Hulk or Hellboy will generate more revenue success in licenses, be they film, lunchboxes or Underoos (Do they still make those?) than the entire comic book run. Multiply this by every international territory and you’ll begin to see why Intellectual Properties are very real, very viable commercial real estate.
With The Rook, we have the most romantic, intelligent, dynamic and appealing hero (to both men and women) ever to languish in disuse for a quarter of a century! And, it’s been neglected simply because Budd Lewis and I have continuously jumped from one television or film project to the next without ever looking back.
We both knew that we’d have to one day readdress the property. This year, 2008, marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the last published Rook story. I think we both realized that if we didn’t do this now, we probably never would. So, we’ve pushed everything else aside (well, most everything) and jumped in with both feet.
Basically, we’re collecting all our old stories, polishing away our youthful transgressions and emerging with old work that’s brand new again. And, unlike most other series archiving or reprinting ancient material from equally-ancient tear sheets, we’re shooting directly from the original art, which has aged to museum quality sweetness over the years, giving this wonderful old time travel series a look and feel that exceeds even that in its original run.
Take a look at TimeCastleBooks.com and see if you don’t agree.
3. Time Castle is basically a reference, then, to you opening a literal time capsule of graphic story treasures?
Yes, there is that rather honest inference. But, the fact that The Rook is a chess playing time master who swoops quickly and directly through history in a time castle is even more honest. And the image of that castle is both simple and iconic.
Readers who remember the character will pretty much instantly associate the name Time Castle and the image on our logo with The Rook.
4. It sounds like you’ve been thinking about doing this for a very long time.
The genesis of Time Castle Books extends all the way back to my mother’s grandfather--a wonderful California pioneer named George Lucas. He passed when I was eight years old. The family--Lucases, Sears, Spreckles--three generations of San Franciscans--gathered at my uncle’s estate in Woodside. My brother and I were the only kids among the adults and I don’t really think they knew what to do with us.
So, my uncle put a couple of books in our hands and told us to go off and amuse ourselves.
The books were Herge’s TinTins.
My brother, Chik, didn’t like them. He wandered off to taunt the horses.
I dove in and devoured both books, only to emerge a couple of hours later to ask my Uncle Allen for more.
He sent me home with six TinTin volumes and said they were my Christmas presents.
And when the good little Catholic boy said his bedtime prayers that night, he asked God if he could, maybe one day, make something equally as wonderful.
I recently told my uncle that it took all these years for that prayer to manifest, but here, at last, it is!
My love of comics continued through those formative years, into the time I started working professionally at eighteen and through my burn-out by thirty. (Giving anything your all will do that to you!)
My first stint editing the Warren magazines was both memorable and exciting for me. But it was also fraught with what I felt to be a lot of unnecessary difficulty. It culminated in my writing a book-length Vampirella story that revolved around and guest starred Will Eisner’s Spirit, (Vampirella #50.) the first time Will had ever allowed his character to guest star with another comics icon.
As a life-long fanboy, I didn’t think it could get better than that. But, working for Jim Warren, as grateful as I was for the opportunities he gave me, had been hell and I felt completely fried, utterly exhausted and thoroughly used and abused. So, I wrote the most gentlemanly farewell editorial I could muster, lied to Jim about my assistant being ready to take my place and walked away.
I had no plans and figured I’d let life take me where it would.
Pretty much right away, I got a call from Marv Wolfman, asking me if I’d like to contribute to Marvel’s new humor magazine Crazy. Silver-tongued devil told me he’d always liked my humor art and said that my style would “mesh perfectly” with what they wanted and where they were going.
So I joined them.
Then Jim Warren called. He told me that things weren’t working out quite the way I’d promised with the new editor. He said there was a “flat-out refusal to take any of his guff!” Surprise! Surprise!
He made a generous offer and asked me to return.
“At least write or draw a few stories.”
I told him I’d think about writing, and that was all, because I felt that I’d pretty much found my niche as a cartoonist.
But this was Jim Warren. You know that old maxim about a pit-bull never letting go? Jim Warren! Relentless to the core!
So, he made another offer: twice my monthly mortgage--every month--for the use of my name on the mastheads of his titles.
I think he listed me as consulting editor in Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella and The Spirit. Though I didn’t consult much. His editor made it clear I was neither wanted nor needed.
This went on for more than a year.
I was enjoying my work with Marvel’s Crazy magazine and I think it showed, because other offers kept coming in. National Lampoon. International Insanity. Sick. Even Playboy.
Then I got a call from The Harry Chester Studio. They were producing Cracked for Bob Sproul and wanted to know if I’d like to join their team of “usual idiots.”
I knew Sproul. I’d worked for him on his Web of Horror title. And I didn’t like him very much. So, I declined, explaining that I’d had my fill of needlessly acerbic publishers.
But then they told me how much he was paying.
And my only question was, “Where do I sign?”
I think I did some of my best work for Cracked. But, I continued with Crazy, too. And, though Marvel’s rates were about 20% of my Cracked page rate, I reduced neither my volume nor quality of work for them. I just continued to enjoy every job, no matter who it was for.
It was in that time period, when I was being inundated with humor art assignments, that I asked Budd Lewis and Jim Stenstrum my top two Warren writers--and excellent cartoonists themselves, to join me.
We established and incorporated The Cartoon Factory and set up shop in a beautiful old Victorian on Main Street in Ridgefield, Connecticut.
Then Warren called again. “Got a big job for you! Come on down!”
When I got there, Jim introduced me to Howard Peretz of Package Play Development. A toy line packager.
He and Jim wanted me to design a new series for Eerie magazine that would enable them to reuse old toy molds from the ‘50s on brand new ‘70s toys.
The old molds? Cowboys and Indians, complete with horses, stagecoaches and cheap plastic edgeflaps.
Jim wanted me to “make it fit” into Eerie because he and Peretz were certain that cyclical trends were about to make “cowboys popular again!” despite the then-recent demise of even the most stalwart old west stays, Gunsmoke and Bonanza.
The prospect wasn’t particularly attractive, but, back at the studio, I laid it out for Budd and Jim.
They were even less enthused than I.
Nonetheless, we went to work.
Unlike Warren and Peretz, we didn’t think westerns were coming back. We just couldn’t see Jim readdressing his Wildest Western title, but thought that if there was going to be a new trend, it would probably have more to do with robots and spaceships. (This was in 1976, a year before even the first Star Wars trailer.)
We explored everything from cowboys and aliens to cowboys and monsters and cowboys and rocketships. And ended up settling on a time traveler who looked like a cowboy and partnered with a gunslinging grandfather from the old west and a wise-talking sentient robot in a ten gallon Stetson.
Stenstrum thought the entire premise ridiculous and announced that he wanted no part of it. His focus was on developing two of his own series: Joe Guy and Rex Havoc.
So, Budd and I pressed on, added the chess master facet to the development and brought Jim and Howard The Rook.
They wanted it at first sight.
But, I had stipulations. The biggest one being that Budd and I retain all rights. The second one being that no one touch a word of anything we turned in.
Warren agreed, drew up the papers and The Rook was launched.
Though Budd and I had a great time writing, and Luis Bermejo, the artist we’d chosen to illustrate, was clearly having just as much fun, we didn’t know how our “cowboy” series was going to be accepted by Eerie’s readership until Jim called me in, months later, and proudly flaunted the magazine’s sales figures. They were climbing!
I remember telling him that it was, no doubt, due to the interesting quality of work coming from the editorial department since my departure.
Then he showed me the sales figures for Creepy, Vampirella and The Spirit.
Sales on all three titles were slumping, while Eerie, for the first time ever, was outselling everything. Including Famous Monsters of Filmland.
The increased sales corresponded with the first appearances of The Rook.
But, there was something he wanted to try just to be sure.
He proposed a Rook one shot.
I recognized that it was his sneaky way of luring me back onto his editorial team, but I bit anyway.
Much of this story was recapped in the introduction published in that one-shot.
Long story short, sales figures of that trial issue justified the publication of a regular Rook title.
Jim asked me to edit. I accepted. But only if I could do it from my studio.
Warren’s Rook magazine was off and running.
The book had a solid, loyal following, which I attribute in great part to the excellent caliber of art published throughout its run. Lee Elias, Luis Bermejo, Alex Toth, Nestor Redondo, Alfredo Alcala, Jose Ortiz, John Severin and so many others, produced the absolute best work of their long, lustrous careers.
Years into the magazine’s run, when Warren ran into financial difficulty, his Comptroller, Dan Tunick, called our studio and told me that the company’s lawyer was advising me to come down and collect The Rook material because he was closing the office doors for good.
Dan put the package together for me. I signed it out, dropped it off at a storage facility in Ridgefield, and proceeded with my life.
Thirty seconds later I found myself in California with a guy named Stan Lee who asked me to help him build a new animation company.
A new facet of my life began and I haven’t looked back in twenty-five years.
We'll have more from Mr. DuBay and the relaunch of THE ROOK tomorrow!