Caught In The Nexus: Gabriel Benson

If you’re a fan of sports cards, Dragonball Z, or Yu-Gi-Oh, you’re probably familiar with Beckett Publications. Founded in 1984 by Dr. James Beckett, Beckett Publications has been the industry leader in sports card price guides for nearly two decades. Their publications have evolved to cover a host of non-sports properties in the past decade as well. What you may not be aware of is that Beckett Comics was launched a little over a year ago.

Recently, I sat down with the Managing Editor of Beckett Comics, Gabriel Benson. We had a chance to talk about the past, present, and future of Beckett Comics.

The Nexus: Thank you for taking the time to sit down with us, Gabriel. First, can you tell us a little about your duties with Beckett Comics, and how you got there?

Gabriel Benson: I am the Managing Editor at Beckett Comics, and I am currently writing two of our titles, Fade From Grace and The Ballad Of Sleeping Beauty. In addition to shepherding those titles, I also edit Ruule Vol. 2: Kiss & Tell. On top of that and with the help of others here at Beckett, I am constantly trying to find ways to help build brand awareness and build the division as a whole. Enough can’t be said about the support that we have gotten from inside the company.

About two years ago, I was working in Hollywood at the production company involved in making Terminator 3. Beckett Entertainment President, Jeff Amano, came out to pitch us about doing Terminator 3 Comic Books. Of course, I knew Beckett from their sports cards magazines, but I had no idea what to expect from them regarding comics. But Jeff walked in and blew us all away with his passion for the product and for the medium. Over the course of the next couple of months we worked pretty closely and found that we shared very similar ideas of storytelling. Jeff and I had talked about my writing Fade From Grace, and as those conversations progressed I finally just asked him if I could move to Dallas and help him get Beckett Comics off the ground. And now, here I am.

The Nexus: Beckett is known as the premier name in sports collectible publications as well as magazines devoted to such properties as Yu-Gi-Oh, and Dragonball Z. Why the decision to branch out into the comic book marketplace?

Gabriel Benson: Jeff’s goal for years has been to branch out into comics. Working on those two titles above was Jeff’s way of laying the groundwork for comics.

The Nexus: Free Comic Book Day is becoming a bigger deal every year. I am one of many people that got their first taste of the high-quality product that Beckett was producing with the July 3rd freebie The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty. I have yet to see an unkind word written about the book. It truly seems like a home run. Has there been an influx of advanced orders now that the free book is available?

Gabriel Benson: The response to the book has been tremendous. It has been extremely gratifying to us all. The promotion itself has worked wonders for us business wise, and we are also seeing that people who have liked Ballad have taken a chance on our other books.

The Nexus: Did it take a lot of convincing to your bosses that giving away a complete first issue on high-quality paper would be a sound business strategy?

Gabriel Benson: It was our Publisher, Claire Amano, who really championed the idea, and in fact it has been our “bosses” who have really been pushing us to try new and different marketing and pricing plans. Without their complete support from the very beginning we would never have been able to price our books as we do, run pretty aggressive advertising campaigns in Wizard and other magazines, or be involved in FCBD.

What Claire and the others saw in Free Comic Book Day was a way to get our name out there, and to show people how strongly we believe in our books. We felt that if we could distribute a high-quality comic to as many people as possible, it would start a chain reaction where fans of Ballad would check out our other titles. And based on reactions in San Diego and on the Internet, it has been a complete success.

The Nexus: In a nutshell, what’s The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty about?

Gabriel Benson: The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty is a retelling of the classic fairy tale in a western setting. In our version instead of a dashing young prince, we have a grizzled gunfighter who is desperately searching for the Sleeping Beauty. From that starting point, the story becomes a quest for revenge and atonement for a man who is desperately trying to find peace within himself after the brutal death of the woman he loved.

The Nexus: How did the idea for a retelling of Sleeping Beauty as a western come about?

Gabriel Benson: When I came to Beckett, I talked to Jeff Amano about my love for this story, but how I had never found the right setting. I had tried it as a straight fantasy story and as Blade Runner-esque sci-fi epic, but nothing ever felt right. As we were talking he mentioned how all my characters seemed to have a sense of honor similar to those in classic westerns – and for the first time everything just fell into place.

The Nexus: Is The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty an ongoing series or will it be finite?

Gabriel Benson: It will be a nine issue series.

The Nexus: It seems to be a phenomenal promotion, and it’s not like you guys are charging as high of a price for comics as most publishers. In a day and age when comics are so expensive, tell us about the affordable pricing structure offered by Beckett?

Gabriel Benson: Last year at SDCC, we had one Terminator book and a banner for the first volume of Ruule. This year we had six Terminator books, the entire run of Ruule Vol. 1, and several issues of our three new series. That is a long way of saying that we are a new company, and we need to do everything we can to get our name out there, and that includes pricing the comics as low as we can in order to lower the barriers for readers to take a chance on us. Whether it is 99¢ or $1.99 we are still asking every reader and dealer to take a chance on us. Hopefully, when someone does read our comics they like them enough to come back.

The Nexus: The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty #1 featured a preview of another new Beckett series, Fade From Grace (now on sale). What can we expect from this book?

Gabriel Benson: Fade From Grace is another book that I am writing with art by Jeff Amano. It is based on an idea that Jeff came up with, and we talked about my writing it before my coming to work at Beckett. The story is about your average struggling young couple whose lives are drastically altered when the man develops the ability to change his density while trying to save his girlfriend from a fire. The story is told from Grace’s point of view, and follows their journey as they try to deal with the myriad of new responsibilities and problems that arise from having a burgeoning super-hero in the family. But don’t worry, even though it is a love story there is still plenty of really cool action.

The Nexus: Artistically speaking, The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty is gorgeous. Not to forget the impressive seven-page preview of Fade From Grace. Where did you find Mike Hawthorne and Jeff Amano?

Gabriel Benson: I had worked with Mike as an Editor on two of his previous Beckett series, Ruule Vol. 1: Ganglords Of Chinatown and Terminator 3: Eyes Of The Rise, and was very lucky that he was willing to put up with me again for another book. I tell Mike every time that he sends pages in that I think he gets better and better with each page, and that includes the work he does for other people. I also think that colorist Mike Atiyeh deserves a ton of credit for the overall look of the book as he is constantly trying to balance the numerous flashback sequences that will pepper the series, as well as trying to give the book a classic western feel.

As I mentioned above, Fade From Grace was something that Jeff and I had talked about before I came to Beckett. In addition to having run the entire company at one point, Jeff is also an accomplished artist having released his own independent series called Tao-land in the 90s, and having done hundreds of covers for Beckett Entertainment.

After we had hashed out the basic story for Fade, Jeff started doing concept work on it for presentation purposes. However instead of using it to hunt for an artist, I just fell in love with what he was doing. When you strip the book down to its core, it is a love story and Jeff’s work simply and beautifully gets across story and themes by highlighting the iconic moments that we worked so hard to build into each script.

The Nexus: Ruule: Gang Lords of Chinatown, a five part mini-series, was released last year, and followed recently by the release of the second volume, Ruule: Kiss and Tell. What’s Ruule about?

Gabriel Benson: Ruule is an imprint that takes stories from The Bible and re-tells them in different genres. While the environments are different – the stories, themes and characters, and even the level of violence, are very faithful to the source material.

Ruule Vol. 1: Ganglords Of Chintown is a retelling of the story of Gideon and how his leadership in the defense of his town from invaders leads to the destruction of his soul.

Ruule Vol. 2: Kiss & Tell is the story of Samson and Delilah told as Film Noir. Samson is now Sam Swede, Private Eye, and Delilah is a mobste’s ultimate weapon. This book is complimented by tremendously beautiful interior work by Craig Rousseau and Giulia Brusco. They really nailed the setting and it looks absolutely amazing.

The Nexus: Beckett seems to be aiming for a wide array of genres with your publishing plan. There’s the sci-fi movie tie-in with Terminator, the western fable with The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty, the cross genre appeal of Ruule, and superheroics affect on a marriage in Fade From Grace. Any hints of what’s on tap for later this year?

Gabriel Benson: Well, we will continue to try different things. We have about ten different titles in at least five different genres in the pipeline, but we only plan on putting out half that many to insure that the books are as good as the can be. It is too early to really say today what they will be, but I will certainly let you know.

The Nexus: The comic industry has not exactly been kind to new companies in the marketplace the last decade. What are you hoping to accomplish as Managing Editor and one of the chief writers for Beckett Comics?

Gabriel Benson: Our goals are relatively modest. As I mentioned above, we have tons of stories we want to tell, but it is more important for us to keep putting out quality books than to expand to a point where we are just trying to fill shelf space. In the little over a year that we have been around, I couldn’t be more proud of everyone’s efforts in building this company.

The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty #2, Fade From Grace #1, and Ruule vol. 2 #3 are the most recent releases from Beckett Comics. Check out the Beckett Comics site for more detailed information on their books, future offerings, and online ordering information.