Matt Hawkins is the current COO and President of Top Cow Productions. As an industry veteran, Hawkins has published over a 1,000 different comic books (ranging from Witchblade to The Darkness to his current series, Think Tank), worked on several television shows and videogames (The Darkness and Wanted: Weapons of Fate), and has a background in Physics. (Don’t piss him off or he’ll go Mad Scientist on you.)
Nicholas Yanes: I like to believe that everyone in the comic book industry has a secret origin. So, how did you first get into the comic book industry? Given your experience, what advice would you give to people currently trying to make a career in comics?
Matt Hawkins: I went to a store signing in March of 1993 in Anaheim, CA where Rob Liefeld and the Extreme Studios guys were all signing. I was working for a bank, and didn’t like that much, while finishing up my college work. These guys looked like they were having so much fun that I asked Rob when I finally got up to the front if he was looking for anyone. He said he needed someone to write press releases and he gave me his card. I bought a book on how to write a press release and wrote one and faxed it over to Rob. He hired me a few days later.
Careers in comics are hard to get into on the creative side because the people that were making comics 10 and 20 years ago are all still making them today for the most part. As a writer, you can either self publish or you can try to get a job at one of the publishers doing anything and back your way into creative (like I did). I see a new breed of people today who review comics online and use that to build an awareness of them in the community and then try to switch over. There’s no sure fire way. For artists, it’s much easier just work up a good sample and send it in. Your work will speak for itself.
Yanes: You have a BS in Physics from UCLA and an MS from CalTech. How do you think your science background has helped you as both a creator and a business figure?
For me as a writer, the science background is invaluable because it gives me access to research and information that I can write about that most other people don’t have.
Yanes: You’ve been with Top Cow since the 90s. How do you feel Top Cow has evolved over the decades? With creator-owned properties rising in popularity, do you feel Top Cow’s mission has changed somewhat?
Hawkins: Top Cow continues to change with the times, today we’re focusing more on science-fiction type stuff and most of the new projects we’re doing are either Marc Silvestri or my ideas. We don’t publish a lot of books, maybe 5-6 a month so keeping it to what we want to do works for us.
Yanes: You wrote a few episodes for the Power Rangers franchise. First, which is your favorite power ranger of all time? Second, how did this experience help you further develop as a writer and as a professional in the entertainment industry?
Hawkins: My knowledge of the Power Ranger franchise is limited to the two seasons I worked on. I’ve never watched any of the other ones. I liked the Red Ranger from Space Patrol Delta. My favorite episode I wrote was “Samurai” from that season.
I don’t think writing those episodes did much of anything for me as a writer. I learned a bit more about writing work-for-hire and having non creative people telling you what to write, which sort of cemented that I didn’t want to do that anymore. I have great freedom in comics and I like it.
Yanes: In addition to television, it seems that Top Cow has been pushing to expand its properties into other mediums. What are some of the difficulties you’ve encountered when working to bring Top Cow’s comics to other media? For example, given that you’ve worked on the games The Darkness and Wanted: Weapons of Fate, did this process given you greater insight into what makes videogame adaptations succeed?
Hawkins: For us it comes down to this, is it cool or not. Would we want to play it? We actually care about the adaptations so we don’t want something that’s just shit out there so we can get a paycheck.
I’m an avid gamer so I liked games with good stories and great gameplay. It’s amazing how hard that is to pull off, but it’s what people want. I hate the plug and play licensed games we see for so many movies and licensed franchises. The key to our success in other media has been in partnering with people that we know care like we do and want to make something that we’re all proud of.
Yanes: In July 2012, Top Cow Productions started a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a Cyber Force series. Looking back at this over a year later, what are some things you learned from this project? Specifically, did this provide any insights that you other comic book companies could learn from?
Hawkins: Well, international postage is a bitch, that I can say. From the time we did the kickstarter to when we fulfilled it, the cost of postage went up dramatically. We hadn’t factored for that. I think the key to crowdfunding is to either have a story/message or something that people can buy into or just have an existing fan base and offer them something exclusive.
Yanes: In an interview with CBR, you suggested a way to combat piracy would be to create a type of Netflix service for comic books. What changes in the industry do you think would have to take place for this to occur? And what do you think would have to happen to get consumers on board?
Hawkins: It would need all the publishers to participate (at least all the big ones) and that won’t happen so it’s kind of a pipe dream. I’m not in distribution so this is a question for people who are trying to create something to beat Comixology. They’ve dominated the pay download at this point so that horse is out of the barn. Someone needs to come in with something different, competitive to try and grab some market share. I like the idea of being able to read all the comics I want for $20 a month (or whatever), but I don’t see it happening.
Yanes: Not only are you the COO and President of Top Cow, you still have the time to write the series Think Tank. How do you manage to find the time to write? Moreover, what are your long term plans for this property?
Hawkins: It’s all about time management. I try and write in the mornings and on the weekends and use my weekday afternoons for business. Doesn’t always work that way, but I do what I can. We’re a small outfit, so we all wear a bunch of different hats. I’m actually writing three monthly books now, Aphrodite IX, Think Tank, and Tales of Honor which comes out in March.
For Think Tank the first arc ends with issue 12, and Rahsan Ekedal and I are launching the second arc in August in color. People complained about the black and white, and despite great reviews, sales weren’t great. So we’re revamping to go out in color and see what we can do with it.
Yanes: What are some projects that you and Top Cow in general are working that people can look forward to?
Hawkins: I’m working on Tales of Honor with a Korean painter with the story loosely based on the Honor Harrington novels written by David Weber. That’s pretty exciting and comes out in March. Marc Silvestri is working on a book called Rise of the Magi that comes out as part of Free Comic Book Day in 2014 and I’m excited about that book as well.
Yanes: Finally, if you wanted your fans to add false information to one Wikipedia entry, what entry and what information would you want added or changed?
Hawkins: Hmmm. I think I’d go write something subtly subversive on the various religion pages. I like Wikipedia a lot (and donate) so I’d rather the info on there be correct.