Black Mask Studios

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Black Mask Studios
Founded 2012
Country of origin United States
Headquarters location Los Angeles, California
Key people Brett Gurewitz
Steve Niles
Matt Pizzolo
Publication types Comic books, books
Official website www.blackmaskstudios.com

Black Mask Studios is a comic book and graphic novel publishing company formed by Matt Pizzolo (Godkiller, Occupy Comics, Halo-8), Steve Niles (30 Days of Night), and Brett Gurewitz (Bad Religion, Epitaph Records) designed as a new infrastructure to support comic book creators and a new pipeline for transgressive art.[1]

Heidi MacDonald reported in The Beat:

As Pizzolo explains, “Groundbreaking art thrives when the relationship between artist and label is built on integrity, respect, and a team effort. Comics has a troubled history with its treatment of creators, our goal is to bring the supportive ethic of record labels like Epitaph, Dischord, and Revelation to comics.”

“Art has the power to move people and transgressive art can challenge and even change social norms,” adds Gurewitz. ”It’s what punk rock and comics have in common, and one of the reasons I’m super excited about Black Mask Studios.”

“Brett, Matt, and I all came up in the DiY punk scene,” furthers Niles. “And we’re bringing that kind of attitude to this… the constructive part about supporting voices who are talking about real things but in a bold and exciting way. We’re not afraid to bring in activism and politics and counterculture. What publisher today could be bringing out the next V For Vendetta? Nobody.”

Although we haven’t seen the comics yet, a couple of observations: The line seems a bit more focused talent and theme-wise than usual in these kinds of projects; post-Vertigo socially aware themes and a good mix of creators including our man Gus Storms. It’s also smart to have such an eclectic distribution model using new and existing structures. So…an interesting development for the start of the year.[2]

History[edit]

Formation[edit]

On March 20, 2012, it was announced that Occupy Comics, the charity comic book inspired by and raising funds for Occupy Wall Street - organized by Pizzolo and featuring a legendary roster of creators including Alan Moore (Watchmen) and David Lloyd (Aces Weekly) (in what would be their first shared project since V For Vendetta), Charlie Adlard (The Walking Dead), Art Spiegelman (Maus), Molly Crabapple (Shell Game), Ben Templesmith (30 Days of Night), Mike Allred (Madman), and dozens more - would not be released through an existing comic book publisher, instead a new company called Black Mask Studios would be formed to release the project.[3]

According to Comic Book Resources:

"Initially I was hoping we could partner with a publisher or retailer to work with us on distribution, but we weren't happy with any of the deals we were offered," said Pizzolo on the project's Kickstarter site.[1] "So instead I decided to invent a solution we’d be happy with, and it wound up seeming like a pretty cool way to support comics creators in general."[4]

Wired reported that Niles and Gurewitz joined with Pizzolo to found Black Mask:

The mainstream comics industry has spawned another alternative supergroup. 30 Days of Night creator Steve Niles and Epitaph Records owner and Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz have banded together with Halo-8′s Matt Pizzolo to form Black Mask Studios with the stated aim of disrupting the comics market.

“It’s become this monopolized walled garden where you’re only allowed to grow two things: superheroes and movie treatments,” Pizzolo told Wired via e-mail. “We’re going to open new space outside the entrenched market where we can cultivate more subversive experimental and literary comics to reach broader audiences.”

Inspired by the controversial but influential 1960s anarchists Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers and Edgar Allan Poe’s class-conscious gothic short The Masque of the Red Death, Black Mask Studios was teased Sunday during WonderCon’s spotlight panel on Niles, who serves as creative director. Pizzolo runs the biz as president, and Gurewitz’s Epitaph Records empowers the indie operation.

“Comics and punk have a lot in common, being transgressive art forms with under-appreciated potential for social influence,” Gurewitz said in an e-mail to Wired. “Black Mask Studios might be disruptive, in a really good way, for both artists and fans.”

“I’m really excited about this project,” Niles told Wired via e-mail. “Since the advent of the direct market and the disappearance of the spinner rack, I’ve watched comics sales fall due to lack of exposure.”[5]

On June 12, 2012, Black Mask Studios opened its webstore and officially released Occupy Comics #1 with the announcement that Pulitzer Prize-winner Art Spiegelman, Bill Ayers, Ryan Alexander-Tanner, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Matt Bors had joined the Occupy Comics roster.[6]

Spiegelman told Wired:

“I’m proud to be included in this book,” Spiegelman told Wired by email. “Occupy is the seismograph of things to come.”

“Occupy is one of the most significant things happening that could actually bring hope and change to our ravaged nation.”[6]

On September 17, 2012, the one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Comics #2 was released to the project's Kickstarter backers and via the Black Mask Studios website. The cover featured a new and iconic illustration by V For Vendetta artist David Lloyd pitting his seminal character V against the Wall Street Charging Bull.[7]

Lloyd told Wired:

"I was massively impressed by the great camaraderie and strength of will [the Occupy movement] showed in New York last October when I went to see what they were doing, and I hope that they can somehow survive all the blows they've suffered since then… They've got a hard job to do and it's not going to get any easier."[7]

First slate[edit]

Nearly a year later, on February 14, 2013, Black Mask Studios unveiled its first slate of comics with a two-pronged distribution strategy of supplying comics to traditional comic book shops as well as direct-to-fan through digital-physical hybrid subscriptions.

In addition to reporting on the distribution structure, MTV's Charles Webb reported on the star-studded nature of the launch slate:

It's "super-group" style comics, with a bunch of name comic creators being joined by non-industry types (the RZA and Ghostface Killah have their own book) for some high-concept titles with a little bit of social activism thrown in (Occupy Comics and Liberator deal with economic inequality and animal rights respectively).

It's actually not a bad lineup of creators--the one thing that typically gets me worried is how involved they'll actually be able to remain with the line (the now-defunct Virgin Comics line couldn't keep any of its name talent on board for anything longer than a minute).

What they do have nailed down is a distribution strategy, which will see Black Mask books on shelves as single issues in shops, while also offering readers the chance to subscribe to a series digitally and receive a physical trade at the end of an arc (something Pizzolo did at Halo-8 with his series Godkiller). Pizzolo's a smart guy and does some pretty cool work, and both Niles and Gurewitz have been responsible for work I've enjoyed for years (Stranger Than Fiction was one of my earliest music purchases with my own money)--I'm hoping he's able to hit the ground running and not get mired down in the usual stuff that snags indie studios like this.[8]

As announced on the Black Mask Studios official website,[2] the leadoff slate of comics includes:

Pizzolo told Borys Kit of The Hollywood Reporter:

“The way we put together the slate is with wanting to push the boundaries of what can be done in comics,” said Pizzolo, who notes that Black Mask will operate under the mottos “to create you must destroy” and “Inspire, never meddle.”

“One of the chief goals is to expand the audience of comics," he said. "We are trying to do that by bringing in different sensibilities, like Wu-Tang, like hard sci-fi and futurism, and with madcap energy. Remember books like Transmetropolitan? You don’t see much of that today.”[9]

The first slate was scheduled to launch on May Day 2013 with Occupy Comics #1.

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