A Force to Be Reckoned With
Darren G. Davis is the president of Female Force, a comics imprint under Bluewater Production. With an incredibly diverse lineup from Bluewater and a well-structured marketing plan that garnered them national attention, Female Force has had back-to-back, sellout successes with biographies of Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and now Michelle Obamas. These nonfiction works have come around just at the right time, striking a chord not only with regular comics readers but with people who weren’t that interested in them before. We talked to Darren to find out what goes in to making these biographies and who’s next on his wish list for Female Force—which includes a switch to putting some focus on the men in politics too!
You’ve just published the comic book biography of Michelle Obama, and already it’s gone back to press. Were you ready for that kind of reaction?
Honestly, I was ready to go back to press on it. I was shocked that we went back to press on the Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton comics (now in its third printing). So we thought that with those selling out that Michelle Obama would sell out as well. We think that retailers under-ordered on these titles. When they see the amount of press that we do on them, they go back and do reorders.
How much of Michelle Obama’s life does the book cover? How thorough is it and how did you bring her life story to the page?
We cover as much as we can in 22 pages. It is sort of the Cliff’s Notes of her life. We talk about everything from her childhood to the campaign trail. We also give people things they never knew, like that she worked for the “Barney the Dinosaur” company. The only problem is the writers want more than the 22 pages to tell the story. So the best thing I tell them is “sequel!”
Where and when did the idea for the Female Force comics originate?
We were sitting around during the election listening to everyone making comments on Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton just based on headlines. People either love or hate these women. It was really polarizing. We did the research on both of these women and found out they both have earned the right to be in the places they are at. Whether you like them or not, there is a respect for who they are. It also shows girls that they one day can be president of the United States! So since we have been doing comics with strong women, it was organic to us to do these biography comics. What we wanted to do is also tell a biography story that was not dry.
Tell us a little bit about the background of Bluewater. How did it start and what makes it different?
I think what makes us different is that we get that we understand the media. I have worked in the entertainment field for years and we look at everything we do as a product that needs a marketing plan. I started this thought when I launched 10th Muse at Image Comics at the sixth highest selling comic. We used Sable from the WWE as the photo model for that book. We also made sure the product was good. We hired a Top Cow artist and had Marv Wolfman write the story. We got on Entertainment Tonight. I then developed Legend of Isis at Image. I also did a really bad job with the Tekken license. It only had one issue. It was the first time I have ever picked up a title from someone else who edited the book. Never again!
After that, I bounced around a couple other publishers until I decided to self-publish. Now I have been doing it for two years, doing five titles a month. We have worked with Ray Harryhausen, who did some cult films. Those books are now around in graphic novels: Wrath of the Titans, Flying Saucers vs. the Earth, and 20 Million Miles More.
Bluewater Productions is involved in a lot of other markets and areas in the comics industry as well. What do you see happening in the marketplace currently? Which areas do you see increasing in popularity and what changes are occurring?
I think the current marketplace is kind of sad. I think a lot of it has to do with the greed in the ’90s of comic books. The 500 covers for each issue. People would buy them all as an investment and when they never paid off, readers left comics. So selling millions is a world that is dead for now in comics. I have nothing but respect for this industry and hope like things like Free Comic Book Day bring in new readers. I think that graphic novels are the way to go, but I will never give up single-issue comic books. I am still one of those people who go to a comic book store each week.
How do you go about putting together these comics?
We are working with great talent. We start with the covers by Vinnie Tartamella, who has done the majority of them. We then hired Neal Bailey, who wrote these women’s stories. We made sure to keep it interesting. There is nothing worse than a boring biography, so we added him as a narrator in the comic book. We also make sure they are 100% non-biased. After that, we have had two amazing artists working on the series, Ryan Howe and Joshua LaBello. We do try to give the artist a lot of freedom so they will be inspired to do the best work they can. We are 100% with all of the books!
Was the response what you expected?
I was shocked at the response to all the press. To see the comics on Live with Regis and Kelly was a surreal moment. I work from home, and I watch that show every morning. It started to get insane when CNN took hold of the story. Then we were everywhere around the world. This weekend, I got to see the comic on Larry King Live. I can’ say enough about how stunned I am about all of this.
Do you know if the subjects of the books—Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sarah Palin, and now Michelle Obama—have seen them?
We know that Sarah Palin knows about it. She signed a copy for us that is hanging on my office wall. I also got a call from Bill Clinton’s people asking for a copy of the book. The assistant said that President Clinton requested a copy of the comic book for him. I was shocked and sent him a couple. I also sent the cover to the comic book that will feature him in the fall. We are spinning off the “Female Force” title to “Political Power.” Issue #1 comes out in July featuring Colin Powell. We will also be covering Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, and a bunch more! But nothing from the White House yet.
Are they more popular with men or women? Or is it split?
Women are buying these for their daughters. These books have become a voice of female empowerment for some people. We are getting emails from not only adults but kids really enjoying the series, and they are looking forward to who we are going to announce as the next subject. A lot of collectors of political memorabilia are also picking this series up. We did a launch party for the book and there were tons of women who had never been to a comic book store. They did not know they even excised. So it was really neat to bring in new readers.
Do you think publishers are doing enough to attract female readers and give them interesting reading material?
I think most publishers focus on the male demographic. Most of the female-driven books we have done in the past always skewed high with women. Both 10th Muse and Legend of Isis are great books for women. They are toned down from the traditional comic book women. We also give them issues that real women deal with. I have strong female influences in my life, and this is sort of a way to celebrate them.
What other women would you like to feature in Female Force?
We have a couple new ones coming in the pipeline. In June, we are featuring Caroline Kennedy, in July will be Princess Diana, in August will be Condi Rice, and in September we will be featuring Oprah. We are planning this to be a long and ongoing series, so you never know who might be popping up. I know we have JK Rowling scheduled for the late fall. After four issues, we trade paperback them. Our first trade paperback on this series starts in September with Hillary, Caroline, Sarah, and Michelle. All the single issues are available on Amazon, which is rare for a comic book to be listed there. We even peaked at number 300 on Amazon.com! We print the single issues with a heavy stock so people will be happy with them too.
What else is Bluewater working on currently?
In June, we are releasing a book with William Shatner based on his bestselling novels. There will be four different comic series produced with Shatner. We get to work with the icon and it is not just a license. We are also launching our popular Legend of Isis title this spring. She is one of our flagship titles that we are doing an ongoing series with. We will also be continuing our Vincent Price Presents series. We release about five titles a month. The newest one is Tom Corbett: Space Cadet based on the old novels from the ’50s. We do have a couple big things upcoming soon!