With Further Ado #014: Writer or Entrepreneur? A conversation with Ron Marz

Ron Marz is a creator who has been around the block a time or two.  He’s worked on so many favorites (Silver Surfer, The Shadow, Green Lantern and more) for so many publishers (CrossGen, Valiant, Dynamite, Marvel, DC and more). With that in mind, it’s fascinating to me to see how he pivots and keeps not only his writing fresh but also his entrepreneurial freelance mojo fresh too. 

I enjoyed his latest graphic novel, Beasts of the Black Hand from Ominous Press. It’s a great read, but I’m equally intrigued by the format and Marz’s go-to-market strategy.  Despite his hectic schedule, I was able to catch up with Ron to learn more. 

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Ed Catto: I’ve just finished your new graphic novel, Beasts of the Black Hand. It’s a great read, but I’d find it tricky to summarize or position for readers. How do you describe it?

Ron Marz: I usually just tell people to turn over the book and read the blurb on the back that some clever writer composed: “Beasts of the Black Hand” is an epic tale of espionage, dark magic, and monsters, as British secret agent Oswald Rayner faces the secret cabal as the Black Hand. Beginning with the assassination of the mad monk Rasputin, Rayner and his allies fight to stem a supernatural tide poised to engulf the world!”

So it’s a period story, set just after World War I, but in a Europe that has a little something extra in terms of diesel-punk technology. There’s a British agent, Oswald Rayner, who was a real person. There’s Rasputin’s daughter, who was a real person. There an American war hero, Henry Johnson, who was a real person. And there are monsters summoned up by Eastern European sorcerers. Plus art by Matthew Dow Smith and Neeraj Menon!

EC: What’s the backstory behind the development of this book, Ron?

RM: The concept and characters came from my friend Paul Harding, who is an artist and sculptor who has worked for DC Collectibles, Gentle Giant, Tweeterhead and many, many others. It really started as an excuse for Paul to sculpt some monsters, but he came up with a story and characters to create a great framework. It’s grown from there.

EC: Judging from the extra pages included, Paul Harding seems like a fascinating guy. Have you known him long, Ron? 

RM: Paul lives about 30 minutes from me in the Albany, NY area, so we hang out a lot. I honestly don’t remember how me met. I assume it was at a local con, and we just got to be friends. Now we look for ways we can work together, as our schedules allow. We actually need to carve out time to go over the story details for Volume 2 of Beasts of the Black Hand, which is underway already.

EC: I thought the line art by Matthew Dow Smith absolutely sang with the colors by Neerag Menon. What did you think and how do fans like it?

RM: You know, Matt actually used to live about five minutes from Paul until he moved to the Washington, DC area. So this thing really started as a local jaunt, just friends making up stories. I’ve always been a fan of Matt’s stuff. I first reached out to him years ago when I was at CrossGen Comics in Florida, and we did an issue together, and then Matt moved down and joined the studio. When that all fell apart, we both ended up back in upstate New York. We’ve worked together as often as we can. Neeraj is most definitely not local, he’s based in India, and one of the best colorists in the business.

EC: Now, you and Ominous Press are marketing this in a unique way, right? I bought mine, for example, at Syracuse’s Salt City Comic-Con.

RM: We did an oversize hardcover as the first publication of Beasts, pretty much modeled on the European album format. It’s a 48-page story in a 64-page package. We published via Ominous Press, where I’m the Editor-in-Chief, and we ran a Kickstarter. You can order a copy of Beasts directly from the Ominous Press website.

We have copies at conventions as well, of course. Eventually, we’ll look at getting these into the traditional distribution system, but for now we made the book we wanted to make, in the format we wanted, and we’re offering it directly to readers.

EC: Can you explain to me how you’ve planned for alternate covers? 

RM: We had two different covers for the hardcover editions, the regular cover by Matthew Dow Smith, and a limited variant featuring a 3-D sculpt by Paul Harding. Beyond that, we did five variant dustjackets for the hardcovers, with art by Eric Powell, Meghan Hetrick, Mike McKone, Marc Laming and Mark A. Nelson respectively. You can pick your flavor.

EC: You have two more books coming out in this format, don’t you, Ron? While Harken’s Raiders looks great (I’ve recently read a biography of a WWII Ace and loved it), and so I am intrigued by plot of Dead of Night. Can you tell me a little about each one?

RM: Harken’s Raiders is actually going to be on Kickstarter in November. It’s a World War II story created by an Army vet named Allen Cordrey, who came to me and my Green Lantern partner Darryl Banks to execute the story. It’s an adventure in the mold of something like The Dirty Dozen or The Guns of Navarone, with a small commando force on a mission behind enemy lines.

Dead of Night will follow a little later. That’s by me and Rick Leonardi, a murder mystery set in 1930 Hollywood, starting on the set of the Spanish-language Dracula film that was shot at night in the same studio where the Tod Browning/Bela Lugosi version was shot during the day. Two LAPD detectives have to confront the possibility that a real vampire … or maybe something even worse … is on the loose.

EC: And how will these two be sold and marketed, Ron?

RM: Same way as Beasts of the Black Hand, with Kickstarter campaigns. Both Harken’s Raiders and Dead of Night will be hardcover graphic novels in the same format as Beasts. It’s proven to be a pretty good model, so we’re sticking with it.

EC:  What’s next for Ron Marz?

RM: A nap? I’d like a nap. But I don’t think I’m going to get one. In addition to the Ominous stuff we’ve already covered, I’m still writing Demi-God for Ominous, and we just put together the collected edition of Dread Gods, both through IDW. I’m also writing Fathom for Aspen, Turok for Dynamite, a Protectors sequel for AthliaComics, and a few other odds and ends. Yeah, no naps for a while.    

EC: Thanks for your time and insights, Ron.