Posted March 4, 2013 by Chris Romero in Comics

Interview: Aspen Comics President Frank Mastromauro

Achieving strong sales with the February debut release of Legend of the Shadow Clan #1, Aspen Comics President and Co-founder, Frank Mastromauro, says the publishing company has only given comic fans a small taste of the excitement to follow. Upcoming titles such as writer J.T. Krul’s Jirni (to be released in April), Vince Hernandez’s Charismagic (to be released May 1) and Mastromauro’s own Shrugged (to be released March 13) will lead the way for Aspen’s “10 for 10” initiative. Mastromauro chats with Geeks Unleashed about the initiative and Aspen’s future in the comic industry.


Frank Mastromauro

© Geoff Johnson, 2009

Geeks Unleashed: In recognition of Aspen Comics’ ten year anniversary, your company has launched a “10 for 10” series of #1 issues of ten new titles for the cost of a dollar each, taking place within ten straight months. What inspired you to do this?

Frank Mastromauro: In a few words, perseverance and our fans. Early last year, when we started to discuss our upcoming 10 year anniversary, I really wanted to do something that would showcase the true strength of Aspen and the people here, all while moving our company to the next level. Over the course of our storied history, we’ve overcome some of the worst possible situations, some that many thought would bring Aspen to an end.

However, Mike [Michael Turner, founder of Aspen Comics] didn’t just gather together a group of random people when he decided to start our company. He brought together a family of individuals, all with the same goals and aspirations, to put out the best possible comics we can and set the bar to all-new heights for everyone else to follow. We’ve proven that time and time again over the years and the ’10 for 10’ initiative is the next step for us.

By introducing a new title each month for the $1 price point, we’re inviting fans and retailers to invest a small sum for what we feel is a high quality product. We’re looking to get these books not only into the hands of our existing fans, but hopefully into those of new readers as well. Over the years, we’ve tried many different events and promotions to achieve this, all with varying degrees of success.

I felt by sustaining the $1 price point on a new title each month for 10 months, and coinciding that with our 10 year anniversary, was a fairly unique marketing plan but also a way to ensure as many people as possible took notice of it at some point. Planning it more like a marathon event with longevity versus a quick flash event that fewer people may have noticed was something I wanted to achieve. It wasn’t easy to coordinate and it’s been even crazier to schedule, but everyone at Aspen has the ability to pull it off and make it a success.

Plus, we never would have made it ten years without the incredible support of our fans. Providing them with all of our new #1 books throughout the year for only $1 is just a small way of saying thank you to them for always being there for us.

GU: March 2013 will see the release of the second volume of your comic, Shrugged. What influenced you to resurrect this title?

FM: Shrugged was one of the first concepts I was able to build from the ground up with Mike. It’s something I hold very dear and have been looking forward to getting it back out again. I’ve actually had the return of the series planned several times, but for whatever reason, it kept getting pushed or postponed. Once the ‘10 for 10’ started to develop, we knew instantly that Shrugged would take its place as one of the core titles in the line-up.

GU: The protagonist of Shrugged, Theo Langstrom, is a teenage boy entering his senior year of high school. Why depict the main character as a high school student approaching adulthood? Why not an older guy?

FM: When Mike and I first started discussing Shrugged, the timing of Theo’s life and his placement in high school was one of the first decisions we made. Those particular years are crucial in truly providing the building blocks towards adulthood. What friends you keep, the people you date, the jobs you take, college or career choices, and everything else that you choose that plays a part in moving you into the next stage of your life. Those are all the essential elements that the concept of Shrugged is built upon.

How those choices affect ones life. On a personal level, Mike and I shared very similar views in that respect and since we were the ones writing the book, we felt placing Theo in high school was a great way for us to explore all of that. Plus, we knew there would be a lot of engaging stories we could tell by pulling from our own life experiences, so it was the prefect fit.

Shrugged Aspen Comics

© Aspen Comics

GU: The two beings who subconsciously influence Theo’s decisions, Ange and Dev, are from the dimension of Perspecta. Can you tell GU readers a little about Perspecta?

FM: Perspecta is a world that was created parallel to mankind. As human beings began to evolve over the centuries, so did the creatures and inhabitants of Perspecta. Some work towards the betterment of mankind while others feed into our vices. Elysians, the angel side of Perspecta if you will, and the Nefarians, the devil side, are matched up with each and every human at birth, hoping to provide a proper level of balance and perspective throughout their growth.

Obviously, the balances are not always equal which causes the many varied differences between all men and women. Each trait and emotion people experience can be attributed back to Perspecta as the inhabitants there continue to work on evolving alongside the human race.

GU: What can we expect from Ange and Dev early on in the book?

FM: Ange and Dev have always been at odds with one another, but that animosity is increased tenfold at the start of this new volume. Ange, being a woman, has matured at a quicker pace than Dev and is looking to keep Theo’s schooling on track so he can move on to a good college and career. Dev feels his time is now, which mainly consists of sleeping, playing video games, and chasing girls.

He wants Theo to really enjoy his final year of school and doing homework isn’t part of his fun time curriculum planner. They both want to push their own ideals and have completely opposing views of how Theo’s life should be at the moment, which isn’t going to create the best of situations for any of them.

GU: How did newbie artist Jonathan Marks become involved with Shrugged? What can we expect from him?

FM: I first met Jonathan during a portfolio review while at the New York Comic Con two years back. It’s funny because he lives in Los Angeles near our studio but we wound up meeting all the way on the east coast! Anyway, we kept in touch and eventually we placed him on one of our Soulfire event books that came out last summer.

After he drew that issue, I felt his unique and powerful art style would work really well on Shrugged, with the many creatures, otherworldly elements and such. What I didn’t realize was the subtle touches and comedic elements he’s also able to put into his art. I think anyone who enjoyed the first volume of the series will be highly impressed with the way Jonathan has taken to the Shrugged universe and made it his own in such a short time period.

Legend of the Shadow Clan #2

© Aspen Comics

GU: Aspen Comics has had success working with other publishers and major TV networks. As Co-owner and President, what are your short-term and long-term goals for the company?

FM: Short-term, I’m focused on making sure our ‘10 for 10’ initiative is completed to our best ability. Long-term, I want to keep building our relationship with the fans and retailers to ensure Aspen can continue to produce great books for the next ten years to come. From there, we have many different projects and outside opportunities that are at various levels of completion and development, which should hopefully keep us active and viable for years to come.

We’ll continue to work and partner with different publishers, networks, production houses, etc and explore those opportunities as they come. There’s a lot of great stuff on the horizon that I’m excited to get to!

GU: Almost five years after founder Michael Turner’s passing, how well has Aspen Comics established itself in the comic book industry?

FM: We’re definitely still known as the house that Mike built, and I’m proud of that. But, for the most part of Mike’s last remaining years, he only drew a handful of books. Being sick so often, it was difficult for him to focus on sequential pages and storytelling, which is the reason why he did so many covers during that time. They were much easier for him to accomplish and get done.

The reason I mention this is because throughout that time, we had already started to cultivate the next great Aspen properties outside of Fathom and Soulfire. We’re not a licensing company and we don’t take other stories, fairy tales, etc and put a ‘twist’ on them. We spend years developing brand new properties that can stand against everything out there and push forward with them for better or worse.

I feel retailers, whether they stock Aspen books or not, have picked up on that over the years and try to support us as best they can. To be honest, we didn’t have much to offer them the year or two after Mike’s passing because it took us a while to get everything in order. However, I feel we’ve had a much better track record the past few years and aside from a few hiccups in there, we’re starting to build stronger relationships with not only the retailers but Diamond as well. And with the ’10 for 10’ this year, I don’t see anything but more positive growth in the future.

GU: What can GU readers expect from the other titles to be released under the “10 for 10” launch?

Fathom Vol 4 #8

© Aspen Comics

FM: As we spoke about earlier, Aspen has had many great opportunities over the years to work with some incredible artists and creators. From Gale Anne Hurd and Dead Man’s Run, to Joe Benitez and Lady Mechanika, to NBC and Heroes, and AXE with the Anarchy Graphic Novel, we’ve been honored to be a part of some really great projects.

However, with the ’10 for 10’, I wanted it to focus on the core people at Aspen, and showcase what those creators who have brought you all of these great books over the past 10 years can and continue to do. All of the ’10 for 10’ titles fit in the Aspen ‘wheelhouse’, but also expand our collective universe like never before.

Even the returning books such as Fathom and Soulfire will be rebranded and reintroduced for new readers so even if you’ve never picked up one of our books before now, you won’t feel like you’ve missed out. I hold my expectations of us at a very high level and I wouldn’t want any of our fans or readers expecting any less.

GU: We thank Frank Mastromauro for sharing his insight and Aspen’s plans for their books. For more information about upcoming releases, check out Aspen‘s website.

Stick with Geeks Unleashed as we bring you news of Aspen’s “10 for 10” titles.

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Teacher by day, hero by night, Chris’ superpowers include holding his breath under water for ten solid seconds and unjamming a photocopier machine at work. You can find him at the comic shop every Wednesday afternoon, looking for what Geeks Unleashed readers should be adding to their list. Check out Chris’ weekly comic review column, ComicBurst, for the latest reviews of today’s hottest titles.