Vault Comics had a fantastic 2020 — which is saying something for a four-year-old, family-run publisher based out of Montana. (OK, and Maryland, too.)
Yes, comics other outlets had some great offerings, but Vault had several big-time books across the year, amassing a run of truly quality titles. That sizable list included Heavy, I Walk with Monsters, Black Stars Above, The Autumnal, and A Dark Interlude. Each one, be it horror, sci-fi, or some kooky amalgamation, proved to be as inventive and daring as it was all around entertaining and engaging.
But Vault’s not resting on their collective laurels in 2021. At the start of the year, the publisher announced a roster of talent dropping books in 2021, a list which included Si Spurrier, Christopher Cantwell, Nathan Gooden Ram V, Mark Russell, and Anand RK. What kinds of books can we expect? And just when might they arrive? To figure out the answers to your most burning questions, we went straight to the top: editor-in-chief Adrian Wassel and CEO/publisher Damian Wassel. We asked the Wassel family about Vault’s 2020, what to expect from these new creators and books, how the business is shaping up, and much, much more. Spoiler alert: it’s going to be a good one for comics fans.
Stay tuned for more info on all of Vault’s forthcoming 2021 releases.
AIPT: I think 2020 was both a strange and wonderful time for comics. How would you encapsulate Vault’s 2020 in general? There seemed to be a lot of great books coming out, but how do you actually measure “success” amid a pandemic?
Damian Wassel: Operationally, 2020 was a year of incredible challenges. We all had to adapt to global difficulties we hadn’t really imagined outside the pages of genre fiction, meanwhile as a company we faced some new challenges it took everything we had to overcome. But from a sales side it would be hard for us to call 2020 anything other than a resounding success. We grew across all sales channels, set new sales records, and made some really great books.
AIPT: Vault tends toward sci-fi, fantasy, and horror titles. Is this to maybe capture some under-served market, or is there something else at play with this specific “focus?”
DW: We want to curate a catalog it is conceptually and practically possible to be a fan of. That requires focus. These genres—science fiction, fantasy, and horror—speak to me because they have enabled and continued to enable creators to kick down conceptual fences and tell groundbreaking stories.
Adrian Wassel: The two largest publishers in comics are genre focused. Many of the juggernauts of comics past were genre focused. Our focus helps us create internal standards. We never end up chasing this or that because it might be a hit, or a trend is in swing, or a name is attached, or rumor is Hollywood wants it. We build the stories that mean the most to us—and to our creators. A reader might not always want a sci-fi yarn, or a magical quest, or a spine-chilling tale, but when they do, there’s no question anymore: go to Vault.
AIPT: Building off that last question, how do these new books reflect that core focus? It’s a pretty diverse group of creators, so could that mean Vault is “branching out” as it were?
DW: We remain, now as ever, focused on these core genres.
AW: Every calendar year, I set two objectives for our catalog: 1. Hold down the fort. 2. Push the boundaries. A sci-fi, fantasy, and horror publisher without a great sword and sorcery tale is failing in its mission to hold down the fort. Likewise, a sci-fi, fantasy, and horror publisher without a voice in emerging subgenres like solarpunk is failing to push boundaries. So, hopefully every single year sees us “branching out.”
AIPT: What can you tell me about Vault’s upcoming slate of books? How would you describe the focus of these projects/titles or the overall aesthetic? Do you think they’re a nice “continuation” of the titles that came out in 2020?
DW: We’ve worked hard to build a catalog at once unified in some big aesthetic goals and varied in aesthetic style. Suffice to say, the 2021 catalog continues to aspire to the same qualities.
AW: Before the pandemic, at the risk of being wildly reductive, I said our 2020 slate was largely about hope. Our 2021 slate is largely about grit. In that way, it’s a nice rejoinder to the different futures and worlds we offered in 2020. We’re digging into the resolve it takes to flee a bad relationship, to own your lies, to usher in the end times, to make art during the end times, to stand cosmic trial, to accept your fate, to escape a small town, to steal the moon, to emote loudly, to weather the endless cold, to defy a corporation, and to build giants. (There—have your hints!)
AIPT: Is this “all-star 2021” part of a much larger campaign? Do you think you want to build a “regular” roster of writers, or just work with who ever is ready and interested? I definitely see some publishers building just such an (unofficial) roster, and think it’s super savvy.
DW: Over our short history of publishing, we’ve already established something of a regular roster. Meanwhile, we’ve also worked hard to bring new voices to Vault and new voices to comics. We’ll continue doing all of these things.
AW: We try to build all of our creative relationships with careers in mind. The hope is that a Vault creator will always have a home—a place they want to bring their most daring work. So, in that way, yes, we build a roster. Also, to put it bluntly, I have made it a personal mission to break new talent. At this point, dozens of creators who got their first published credits at Vault have returned and gone on to publish elsewhere.
AIPT: What is it about these creators that work with Vault or fit with the company’s larger mission statement? Or, do they add something new/different?
AW: The creators that make up our 2021 roster share one trait with all the other creators we will ever work with: They bring us stories that they’d never want published elsewhere. You asked about genre focus earlier—here’s another benefit. Vault creators don’t just scattershot endless stories at us and hope one fits. They have stories that they need to tell here, like an ache in their bones, because they understand our commitment to making the very best in genre comics.
AIPT: How does Vault perceive itself in the larger comics marketplace? Obviously you’re competing for so many eyeballs, but how do you think Vault is positioned compared to the Big 2 and even the Images and Scouts and AWAs of the world?
DW: We learn a lot from what other comics publishers do, but we don’t worry much about our position relative to them. Instead, we focus on delivering the best stories we can to the fans who make our work possible.
AW: I’ll let others tell the tale of the tape, but I will admit I enjoy regularly being heralded the new Vertigo. We know our mission, we set our goals, and we work until we’ve accomplished them. So far, that’s every goal we’ve ever set. Some take more time. Some take less. But we don’t stop grinding until we can check the box.
AIPT: What does having these big-name creators at Vault do for your larger business? Is this the way forward or just more great comics coming out?
DW: This is very much an “all ships rise with the tide” situation. We welcome more established talent, but make no mistake, we remain 100% committed to publishing amazing work from emerging talent.
AIPT: When can folks expect some more details on these books? Is there going to be some new names as the year rolls on?
DW: Books will be announced in their due course as release dates draw closer; with that said, we’ve given you a pretty good hint of what’s coming this year.
AW: Yep, there’ll be some new names, too.
AIPT: Is there a project/title you’re individually excited for?
DW: Everyone should be looking at Witchblood. It’s going to sneak up on you and knock you senseless with awesomeness.
AW: I’ll echo Witchblood. We’ve been working on that series for a long time now, and the team is aces.
AIPT: There’s already been an announcement regarding the rebranding/launch of Wonderbound, the imprint for young readers. How much of that and these new creators are connected/tied together (if at all?)
DW: None of the creator announcements pertain to Wonderbound; stand by for a whole other set of exciting news there.
AIPT: What can everyone expect from Vault in 2021 and beyond?
DW: More great science fiction, fantasy, and horror comics. Some big things in the book market. Some new audio productions. And maybe some other exciting multimedia news.
AW: There’s a very good chance I’ll have to recreate the iconic dance scene from Flashdance or Risky Business to make good on an old tweet. Back then, the sales ceiling I mentioned sounded distant. Now, I think I should probably start rehearsing.
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