Comic Revolt with David Gillette: Halo 8’s Matt Pizzolo

Matt pizzolo

What was the genesis of Godkiller and how did you organize the multi-pronged approach to putting it out through various platforms?

In the very, very beginning, Godkiller was intended as a comic book, but since I’d had so much trouble getting comics off the ground, and I was just starting a new film company (Halo-8) I rewrote it as a film. When we started mapping out the film production we could afford, though, it seemed like the film would wind up playing like Flesh Gordon–which would be awesome in my humble opinion, but like I said this is all collaborative and not everybody else thought it would be fun to make a Flesh Gordon style sci-fi/exploitation movie with X-content and radical politics. Maybe someday (ha ha). So it went into our “What the fuck do we do with this project?” bin.

 

A few years later, I pitched my Halo-8 partner Brian Giberson on expanding the company with a comics arm. We sat down and did the math on the comics business, then we both scratched our heads. The comics business is literally madness, and that’s coming from someone who’s worked in underground film and indie music, neither of which is a particularly sound business. But comics is way worse. I went back to Brian with a box full of graphic novels and said “I bet there’s a way we could make comics and marry the art with a radio-play style soundscape and release them through Halo-8’s film pipeline.” And that’s what we did. We decided to start with Godkiller because it was a project we both wanted to do and it seemed like a perfect fit for this experiment. We were concerned of course that our “illustrated film” as we called it (this is before “motion comic” was a common term) might ultimately fail to hold together as a format, so Anna illustrated it as a comic first but structured the panels in the way we needed for our intended ill(ustrated)-film format. Each issue ran about 36 pages and that wound up equaling about 12 minutes of ill-film run-time. So we printed the comics and debuted them at Halo-8’s Wondercon and Wizard World booths while we were working on the ill-film.

 

When we finished producing the first 2 issues-worth of ill-film, I had the idea to make a shortform DVD with the 25-minute episode on it that we’d sell at comic cons and horror conventions for like $5 to promote the project. Technically, though, we had to offer any DVD to our retail distributor who was Warner Music Group at the time. I was like “you’re not gonna want this thing, it’s a shortform DVD–nobody does that” and they were like “well, it’s like a 7” before the album comes out, let’s give it a shot.” So they pitched it to retail and the response was fantastic. It went everywhere from indie record shops to Best Buy, Borders, and Barnes & Noble… Hot Topic even took an exclusive cover by Tim Seeley. So that was obviously super unexpected. But because of the economics of retail we had to raise the price from $5 to $10 and I felt that was too high for a 25-minute video. So we built out the ROM portion of the DVD by adding the PDFs of the comics that corresponded to the episode and I also wrote a prequel novel called Godkiller: Silent War that was serialized on each DVD as an e-book and audiobook. So it became this sorta transmedia-disc.

 

While all this was happening the Watchmen Motion Comic came out, which we thought was just gonna crush Godkiller. I think Godkiller and Watchmen Motion Comic started production around the same time, but Watchmen came out first since they were starting with a completed graphic novel whereas Anna had to draw all 200 pages of Godkiller. But actually the Watchmen Motion Comic was super helpful to us because it did great business for Warner Brothers VOD/Digital distribution, and the producer of the Watchmen Motion Comic was awesome and introduced us to the distribution side of WB (Warner Brothers is separate from Warner Music Group). Ultimately, Warner Brothers distributed Godkiller into 80 million households on Time Warner Cable, Comcast, Dish, Charter, AT&T U-Verse, Verizon FiOS, etc and all the digital networks Playstation, iTunes, Xbox, etc. It was insane. We were even able to launch Godkiller theatrically in 10 cities alongside the VOD release, so to say Godkiller beat our expectations is an understatement. It was partly strategic, but it was mostly a lot of hustling and figuring it out as we went… and really a lot of people connecting to it because it was just different from everything else out there and so they helped us navigate it.

 

At the end of the day, the Godkiller comic wasn’t successful until the Godkiller illustrated film hit Hulu and Netflix. It’s been watched several hundred thousand times just on those two platforms alone, and that drove a ton of graphic novel and t-shirt sales through the Halo-8 web store. It’s funny because ill-films and motion comics get flack in the comics world for bastardizing the medium, but we developed the ill-film specifically as a more sustainable business model to support the creation of sequential-art based storytelling. Godkiller is creator-owned and illustrated by a single person, and its sequential art images have been viewed by more people than the Avengers vs. X-Men sequential art. So in my humble opinion it’s pretty counter-productive for comics fans to reject new formats devised with love and respect for the medium while the business model of paper comics is barely surviving and hardly sustaining creators. Anyway… we’d planned and organized the multi-platform release plan, but a lot of it was still about pivoting and adapting and figuring out how to get it out there. It would be nice if that meant we now have a seamless pipeline, but the ecosystem is changing so quickly that every new project still needs to be engineered from the ground up and hustled through emerging pipelines. We can’t even use the same style as Godkiller on our next projects because the wave of motion comics that followed have completely glutted that space with crap, so we have to constantly innovate new styles to stay ahead of the imitators.

Matt Pizzolo

What were the greatest challenges of putting out Godkiller across varied formats?

I think I answered this in the previous question’s epically long answer, but one thing that’s funny is at every single step, whether it was when I was developing it as a comic book or a film project or finally as an illustrated film, every step of the way I was told by production and distribution executives that I had to change the title or it would never get a commercial release. I even kept cycling it through different titles before I finally gave up and just went back to Godkiller for better or worse. In retrospect, it probably wouldn’t have succeeded with any other title. Whether it’s film or comics or anything else, executives are driven by a fear of breaking from precedent and getting people’s backs up. But my feeling is I didn’t work so hard building my own infrastructures and pipelines to have to worry about what some executive is scared of… if something’s gonna fail I’d rather it fail by being too crazy and ambitious, there’s nothing worse than an artistic endeavor that fails by being too cautious.

Matt Pizzolo

Given your political background, what did you find valuable about crafting stories in the comic medium?

Comics has an incredible history of countercultural influence, that’s what’s always drawn me to the medium. Even though I grew up on Alan Moore, JM DeMatteis, Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, as I got older it was the 90s b&w comics explosion and digging up underground comics from the 60s and 70s that really blew my mind. The breadth of what can be done in comics is staggering… just as an example, when I was working at St. Mark’s Comix our top-sellers were Death of Superman and Horny Biker Slut–and strangely Horny Biker Slut sold more to women than to men, unlike Superman.

 

At the Horror Comics panel at Comic Con last year one of the questions was for us to describe the scariest comic we’d ever read, and I said Joe Linsner’s Cry For Dawn story where the guy is diagnosed HIV+ and goes on a killing spree by sleeping around using punctured condoms. Everybody at the panel looked at me like I was a psycho, a fellow panelist accused me of debasing the conversation, and my answer was ultimately cut when the panel video was posted online. (Ha ha) what can I say, I’m not scared of vampires and zombies. I’m scared of people. But seriously, imagine Linsner trying to tell that story in a TV series or movie. Good luck. It’s such a dangerous story, it’s so risky, such a singular point of view… he wrote and illustrated that story himself and I bet it was hard to do, but it would’ve been even more challenging to do that in collaboration with cast & crew and a production company, etc. Sure, there are filmmakers who can do that, but it’s rare, and rarer still to do it at the young age Linsner did when he was channeling that youthful rage.

 

At the Horror Comics panel just last month we were asked what lines we won’t cross in our stories, and when the question reached me I turned it back on David Quinn who’d answered just before me. I was brain-raped by Faust growing up and I wasn’t satisfied with David’s answer at the panel because I really wanted to know what it was like pushing the envelope as far as he did. I kinda put him on the spot, but his response was amazing. He talked about loved ones being shocked, friends cutting him off, his girlfriend breaking up with him all because of what he wrote in his comic book. That’s so brave, and it’s different in comics than anything else because it’s generally 1 or 2 people creating these things. If you put yourself out on a limb in comics you can’t hide behind an ensemble. But if you’re fearless you can really get out there and say things that would never come out of a group. An indie comic never has to be shitty-by-committee.

 

I also love comics because they’re the most intimate dramatic art form. Plays and movies are presented with a lot of critical distance in theaters or on a TV. You read comics alone on the couch or in bed. And it’s different from a novel because it’s scripted like plays and films where all the themes are conveyed subconsciously beneath the character interactions, people read prose intellectually so it’s harder to sublimate the themes, but dramatic storytelling like comics penetrates on a more emotional, subconscious level. And the relationship between a comics creator and reader can go on for years. It’s kind’ve crazy the level of influence a comic can have on a reader. In fact, that level of influence is why comics stories currently dominate all of pop culture.

 

Why do you think there have been so many comics-based film or TV shows? It’s certainly not because of readership, the readership of comics is barely a blip compared not just to film and TV but even to novels, YouTube videos, and Facebook updates. More people read Warren Ellis’ tweets than his books. So it’s not like comics are being adapted to take advantage of built-in audiences, it’s because most contemporary film and TV executives grew up in the 80s and 90s and were heavily and profoundly influenced by comics. The comics storytellers of the 80s and 90s completely took over Hollywood, it just took a generation for the impact to be felt. They were legendarily great, but it’s not just that… it’s also that the medium itself is uniquely suited to partly wire a reader’s thinking. That’s why people like Grant Morrison and Alan Moore have had such a wide cultural influence that expands so far beyond their readers… they influence the influencers.

Matt Pizzolo

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Comments (1)

Great interview, David! Matt, you are such an inspiration. Keep fighting the good fight, man. This is quite possibly my favorite ComicBooked interview–ever.

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