There’s nothing quite like being a starving artist (whether you write, draw, perform, or do something completely unconventional). Just ask your parents, who are somewhat confused by your chosen craft, or your smart, dependable cousin who went into investment banking instead of becoming an illustrator, or even the deadlines that sit and taunt you as you try to hit them. It’s true that being drawn towards less “stable,” more creatively-inclined professions is a gamble. It’s true that not everyone is cut out for it. But if you feel its calling stirring in your gut then you also know it is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what you were meant for.
And if you’re like Peter Simeti, founder of indie publisher Alterna Comics (he is also the author of The Chair, which has been compared to The Killing Joke on this very website), you’ve been brazen and steadfast in turning your dreams into a reality. With risk comes reward, and Simeti is a testament to the perseverance, the ambition, and the straight-up hustle required to strike out on one’s own and make a lasting mark. Luckily, he was also down for a chat about Alterna, the nitty-gritty details of his job as a publisher, and the merits of newsprint.
Q: Do you remember the comic or graphic novel that ignited your love for the medium? Do you have any current favourites?:
A: Growing up in the 80s and 90s, I got into comics at a great time. Though truth be told, I think it was the trading cards of the time period that really allowed me to get interested in more characters that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. A pack of cards was just way more affordable than purchasing 5 to 10 comics. From collecting the cards, I’d try to get the comics that featured characters that I was interested in.
Q: Do you remember the exact moment you were inspired to start Alterna Comics? Can you describe it for me? Why did you choose to start your own company, rather than submitting your work elsewhere?:
A: There wasn’t really ever a truly conscious decision to create a company, it was more a chain of events that progressed into what is now Alterna Comics. Eleven years later, here we are. I’m honored to have been a small part in bringing over a hundred different titles to readers across the world.
Q: Walk me through a day in your life as a publisher. What do you do? What are some of the challenges you face? What are some of the rewarding aspects of your career?:
A: It’s a lot of behind-the-scenes un-glamorous business stuff: answering emails, reaching out to creators, talking to printers, adjusting schedules, tweaking graphic design elements, updating a website, talking to distributors, sometimes even trying to branch out with new distribution, coming up with marketing plans/executing marketing plans. The biggest challenge is that I’m always looking for new avenues for our books. New ways to get books in front of readers and determining whether the risk is worth the reward. With something like our recent push to bring back newsprint, it spawned from something that I’m very passionate and excited about (newsprint comics) and I’m so glad to see that there’s a ton of people out there that feel the same way. It’s nice when things like that work out.
Q: What makes Alterna different from other companies out there right now?:
A: That’s a tough question to answer without sounding like you’re putting down the other fantastic publishing houses out there. I’ve always tried to publish stories of substance at Alterna, particularly titles that manage to mash genres a bit. On an aesthetic level, Alterna’s very different right now because we’re bringing back newsprint comics with prices under $2 a book. We’re also branching out into newsstand distribution starting this July.
Q: What was the first book ever published under the Alterna umbrella?
A: Oh boy, talk about a walk down memory lane. I guess the first comic ever published with Alterna branding on it, was my own. An awful awful comic called Spectrum that was more of a Darkman rip-off than anything. Spectrum taught me a powerful lesson though: I hated drawing sequential art. I loved drawing covers but I just don’t have the patience for sequential art. To this day, I am always in awe of how many artists can do sequential art really well— and of course, it’s absolutely vital to comic books. No sequential art equals no comic book. I’d like to think that my art has improved a lot in the past twelve years since I printed those early copies of Spectrum, but if it wasn’t for that book, I never would’ve shifted focus to writing and eventually publishing.
Q: Who was the first writer/artist team (aside from yourself) to have their book published at Alterna?:
A: If memory serves me, Michael S. Bracco was the next creator to have a book published at Alterna. The book was Birth and went on to basically be the starting point for Michael’s Novo series. Mike’s still got books at Alterna and his Adam Wreck title is one of our debut newsprint books. A great all ages mini-series that blends Lost In Space with Star Wars.
Q: What is the thing or moment you are most proud of regarding Alterna’s history?:
A: To this day, the thing I’m still most proud of was the day we got accepted for mass distribution with Diamond. To have your work sitting on a shelf alongside other creators and publishers that you admire, is a surreal feeling.
Q: Initially, Alterna started out by publishing graphic novels and digital comics. Recently, you’ve started offering newsprint single issues as well. Why the newsprint?:
A: There’s just something so inherently “comic book” about newsprint. Premium paper stocks are great, don’t get me wrong, but a comic book printed on newsprint (in all its various forms) just feels special. I’ve been trying to find a newsprint printer for the longest time, practically since Alterna came into existence. But over time I abandoned my search. For whatever reason, I decided to give it a shot at the end of last year (our tenth anniversary year) and I ended up being able to find several printers that could do it. I’m just glad to see that it struck a nerve with so many readers and retailers. Due to the fact that newsprint is also cheaper to print on (about a third of the cost) we decided to pass on that savings to readers as well, thus the $1.50 cover prices.
Q: The newsprint has been really successful. How many times have you sold out of a newsprint book? What is your current newsprint bestseller?:
A: We’ve sold out of our debut runs for comic shops, with newsstand editions set to roll out in July. So far our best sellers keep trading places between Croak #1 and Amazing Age #1; with Lilith Dark #1 and Adam Wreck #1 not far behind. We’re raising print runs to be 25% higher for June releases and so far it looks like we might have to go even higher than that because initial orders have us on pace for another sell out. Our May releases featured mostly all ages titles with the exception of Croak (horror/mature), but June releases will all be teen or mature rated titles: Mother Russia #1, The Chair #1, Trespasser #1, and Scrimshaw #1.
Q: Digital or print? Why?:
A: Print— there’s just nothing on earth like a printed book.
Q: Are the Comixology-hosted books (like Mr. Crypt) ever going to be published in physical bind-ups?
A: Yes! (and that’s all I will say about that for now…)
Q: If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring comic book creator, what would you tell them?
Q: Alterna has a lot going on. Can you tell us about any of your future endeavors?
A: Aside from the newsprint comics, we’ve got a film that’s touring the world right now at various festivals and conventions (The Chair), and we’re putting out more graphic novels slated for the Fall — including the 5th anniversary edition of FUBAR: Empire of the Rising Dead, the 2017 IF ANTHOLOGY (which will focus on crime), and a coloring book/comic book about a throwback character called Cyko-KO! (kind of like “if Hanna-Barbera created Deadpool“). We’ve got even more planned for 2018 as well but that’s for another interview down the line!
You can find Peter Simeti on Twitter.