With Further Ado #043: The Super Genius of Jim Salicrup

What do you get when you take a guy who loves comics, was mentored by Stan Lee, spent time with Spider-Man (and especially Venom) and has an incredible publishing track record?  Throw in a dollop or two of “he’s an awfully nice guy” and you have Jim Salicrup. 

I’m eager to drag Jim up to Ithaca College as a guest speaker for my entrepreneurial and comic-con courses. But until then, I had to catch up with him and find out about his new endeavor, Super Genius! 

Ed Catto: You have an amazing history in comics, Jim. Can you remind me how you started and how you got to this point?

Jim Salicrup: Like most people working in comics today, I fell in love with comics as a kid. In fact, my childhood dreams, back when I was a kid living in the projects in the Bronx, were to work at Marvel Comics and to live in Manhattan. I even applied to the High School of Art and Design, where so many comic book artists went, thinking that would prepare me to work in comics. Imagine my surprise, when after sending a postcard to Marvel offering to be their slave, they actually took me up on my offer! Well, I wasn’t technically a slave—I was paid a salary. And this happened in the Summer of ’72 before I even started attending The High School of Art & Design. Once I was at Marvel, I was there for twenty years, eventually editing most of Marvel’s top titles—from the Claremont/Byrne X-MEN to SPIDER-MAN by Todd McFarlane.

After I left Marvel, I was the Editor-in-Chief at Topps Comics, where I worked with everyone from Jack Kirby to Ray Bradbury! After Topps, I was back working with Stan Lee again as Senior Writer/Editor at Stan Lee Media. And after that, I was involved with the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA) and co-founding Papercutz with NBM publisher, Terry Nantier. Our first graphic novels came out January 2005, and we’ve been dedicated to publishing great graphic novels for all ages ever since. 

EC: Your new imprint, Super Genius, looks great. Can you tell me how this came about?

JS: When Terry and I started Papercutz, very few publishers were doing graphic novels for kids. The trend for many years was to get comics accepted by adults, and it finally got to the point that most comics, with the exception of manga, were being created for older male audiences. Terry saw an opportunity to create graphic novels for younger audiences, especially for girls, and that’s how Papercutz was born. We can now safely say, that Terry was totally right, as now almost every comics publisher has jumped on the kids comics bandwagon, and it’s now the fastest growing part of the comics and graphic novel market.

While I love editing comics for all ages, I longed to still be able to edit comics for an older audience, comics that may be too mature for younger audiences. Thus, Super Genius was born. One of the first comics we published under the Super Genius imprint was WWE SUPERSTARS. Like comics, professional wrestling has been misunderstood and looked down at by various segments of the population, and like comics, they have incredibly devoted fans. It was a thrill to work on these comics, with the legendary Mick Foley, and to be able to meet so many WWE Superstars in person. Although Super Genius is being positioned as a YA imprint, which is perfect for THE WENDY PROJECT or VINCENT, but titles such as TRISH TRASH: ROLLERGIRL OF MARS by Jessica Abel, or TALES FROM THE CRYPT are as “adult” as any Marvel or Vertigo comic.

EC: But you are continuing with Papercutz, right?

JS: Of course! I’m as devoted to Papercutz as ever, and we’ve got some incredible projects coming up. We also started an imprint called “Charmz,” which is basically bringing back romance comics for a modern audience. We just added MONICA ADVENTURES to the line, which is one of the biggest-selling comics in Brazil. Monica was created over 50 years ago by Mauricio de Sousa. Named after his own daughter, Monica’s a fun, a very strong and strong-willed little girl, packing a blue plush bunny rabbit which she may use to wallop her opponents, and the leader of her gang of friends. The character is so popular, a teenage version of Monica was spun off, and that’s the material we’re publishing at Charmz. It was our Managing Editor, Jeff Whitman, who first brought these great comics to my attention.

EC: I was so very, very impressed with what is essentially your Superman book,  THE ARTISTS BEHIND SUPERMAN: THE JOE SHUSTER STORY. I’d love to learn more about it and how Super Genius came to publish this one.

JS: Our publisher Terry Nantier had worked with writer Julian Voloj before at NBM on the excellent GHETTO BROTHER, so when THE JOE SHUSTER STORY was offered to us, it seemed like a perfect fit for Super Genius. Julian had done an incredible amount of research for this book, and we’re continually revising and updating the “Notes” in the back of the book, just to get all the facts right. The story is slightly fictionalized, but I believe portrays all the players involved in the success of Superman in a very fair and human and compassionate way, something I thought was missing in some recent accounts of the Siegel and Shuster story.

I’d like to point out that some folks may have thought this book was a prose history book—as you know, it’s a graphic novel. With a great script by Julian and amazing artwork by Thomas Campi. Usually if comics fans actually get a look at this book, they want to buy it! The trouble is just finding it, as it tends to sell out quickly. I suggest looking for it online if your favorite comicbook shop or bookstore doesn’t have it in stock.

EC: Those Neil Gaiman comics look interesting – especially with the Dan Brereton covers. Can you tell me more?

JS: Certainly! Back in the 90s a publisher called TEKNO•COMICS commissioned various science fiction authors and celebrities to create characters for their comic book universe. They wisely asked then-hot young talent Neil Gaiman to create a character for them, and he responded by creating five characters, three of which were then awarded their own on-going comicbook series. The Gaiman characters form a small self-contained universe of their own within the Tekno Universe, and it’s not necessary to read any of the other TEKNO•COMICS to fully enjoy these comics. While Neil Gaiman dreamed up these characters, the comics themselves were written by others. Those three series were collected by Super Genius, each series in two volumes, available in both papercback and hardcover. After all, Neil Gaiman has since become a media superstar, not to mention best-selling author, and many of his fans are unaware of these characters he created.

The Big Bad of these comics is an intelligent, 65 million-year-old, humanoid dinosaur, Henry Phage—THE TEKNOPHAGE—and he holds the key to untold universes. From his mobile headquarters (a combination skyscraper/tank) on the planet Kalighoul, he plots the bloody expansion of his intergalactic empire. The TEKNOPHAGE series is filled with dark satirical writing by Rick Veitch and Paul Jenkins, with art by Bryan Talbot and others.

With a villain that evil and powerful, you’re going to need a hero, and that’s exactly what we have in MR. HERO THE NEWMATIC MAN. Mr. Hero was born into Teknophage’s army of darkness, but even a devil can err in his works and in place of a demon…create a hero. Mr. Hero is an ingenious steam and watchwork contrivance…a steampunk robot. He’s discovered on Earth by Jennifer Hale, a young street performer, and together they embark on a mission to find out more about his mysterious past and to find his missing hand. As dark as TEKNOPHAGE the series is, MR. HERO is light, with wonderful fun scripts by James Vance and delightful art by Ted Slampyak and others. Vance’s introduction to the second volume, written not long before his untimely passing, offers incredible insights into writing ongoing comics that are part of a bigger “universe.”

Daniel Brereton’s covers for LADY JUSTICE are incredible. The series concept is that when an innocent woman is horribly wronged, she can be possessed by a spirit of justice that will empower her to seek the justice she deserves by any means possible. LADY JUSTICE is written by C.J. Henderson and Wendi Lee, and illustrated by various artists including Michael Netzer, Greg Boone, Steve Lieber, and others. C.J. Henderson was looking forward to Super Genius bringing these stories back into print, and hoped to finally conclude the cliffhanger that was in the last published comic, but unfortunately he passed away before that could happen.

EC: I’m pleased to see you working with that brilliant team from HIGH MOON, David Gallaher and Steve Ellis.   Did you just debut their ONLY LIVING GIRL series? 

JS: Yes! Here’s another example of an “all-ages” comic from Papercutz that truly can be enjoyed by adults as well as kids. In a nutshell, it’s the story of a young boy, Erik Farrell, who wakes up on a strange patchwork planet with no idea how he got there. Surrounded by aliens and monsters, Erik has to grow up fast if he hopes to survive. THE ONLY LIVING GIRL is the all-new follow-up to Gallaher and Ellis’s award-winning series, THE ONLY LIVING BOY, which has just been collected in an Omnibus edition, complete with many pages of bonus comics. HIGH MOON, on the other hand, is for older audiences and therefore is part of Super Genius. Originally a part of DC Comics’ online experiment, Zuma Comics, it was collected years ago in a much smaller edition. Now, you can really enjoy the art in this much larger edition.

EC: This year, 2019, seems to be a crazy year for publishers. What are your thoughts on it all?

JS: When I started at Marvel Comics back in the Summer of ’72, John Romita Sr. advised me that I should have a fallback career, as he was certain comics weren’t going to be around much longer. Comics survived, but they’re very different from what they were in ’72. I, too, survived and I’m also very different than I was in ’72. What’s important is that the issues facing the industry today are being talked about, and I suspect things will change, and comics, in one form or another will still be around, as I hope I will be, too.

EC: We just saw, in fact, two mid-size publishers merge.  Is that something you’re exploring?

JS: Hey, I’m sure if someone makes Terry and me the right offer, we won’t say no. But right now we’re doing everything we can to keep Papercutz, including Charmz and Super Genius, going strong and publishing the best comics in the world.

EC: What’s your next exciting project, Jim?

JS: We have so many new titles coming out featuring cats, that we’re almost tempted to change our name to Papercatz! One is called CAT & CAT, a humor series about a young girl, Catherine, and her cat, Sushi, and her dad, all trying to live together peacefully. Another is BRINA, about a cat that’s lured away from her human owners by cats living in the wild. We’re also going to publish another series co-created by THE SCARLET ROSE creator Patricia Lyfoung, called MYTHICS, featuring six kids from around the world granted the powers of mythological gods to battle a great evil threatening the earth. Not to mention more SMURFS, THE LOUD HOUSE, GERONIMO STILTON REPORTER, GILLBERT by Art Baltazar, and much, much more! Aw, yeah!

EC: Sounds like so much fun. Thanks for your time, Jim.