Andrew Sumner is a dynamo wrapped in a fireball with the limitless energy of a blazing supernova. I’m always fascinated by everything he’s doing and the launch of his new podcast, Hard Agree, (I’ve become a regular listener) provided a great excuse to catch up with him!
Ed Catto: You’ve got so much going on now and such a cool origin story, Andrew. Can you tell us a little about who you are and how you ended up at your current position at Titan?
Andrew Sumner: My grandfather and best friend, Pops Smythe, served with an American unit in Normandy in WWII, and when he came back to Liverpool, England in 1947 (after spending two years as an MP on clean-up duty in post-Nazi-occupied Paris), he came back with a great love of America, Americans and American popular culture – as personified by movies, big band music and the comic books he’d received as part of his US Army rations. He transferred all of those passions to me – when I was three, he bought me my first US comic (Batman #184) and I was hooked for life.
Over the next fifty years, I managed to take my love of movies, jazz, rock & roll and comic books and turn it into some kind of career. I’m not really sure how, a combination of single-minded interest, good people relationships and sheer dumb luck, I guess. I worked as a movie journalist for many years, transitioned into publishing various well-known magazines, dabbled with a bit of TV presenting, worked in Paris for a while and wound up as the EVP at Titan Entertainment (which comprises Titan Books, Titan Comics, Titan Merchandise and Forbidden Planet, the world’s largest cult retail chain).
Titan’s a diverse multi-leveled business but an unrestrained love of comic book culture sits at the heart of everything we do, whether that’s publishing Stephen King’s latest New York Times #1 best-seller (which our Hard Case Crime imprint just did), producing the world’s widest range of Doctor Who apparel/collectibles, or hosting author/creator/filmmaker signings at our flagship Forbidden Planet London store.
EC: Hard Agree is your new podcast-and you’ve planted your flagpole upon such an interesting premise. What’s the background –and what’s your vision for Hard Agree?
AS: So, as you know Ed, I’m a positivist by nature. That’s not something I was born with (my Grandma was extremely quick-witted & funny, but she was also the most savage-tongued, judgmental person I’ve ever met), and I grew up in a high school environment where heavy deadpan sarcasm was valued above everything else. Initially, I transferred this approach into my college life and into my early working habitat but I came to realize that, while I was quite adept at cynicism & sarcasm, embracing those forms so wholeheartedly was not working for my mental health. So I decided, quite deliberately, to set all that aside and embrace positivity, to celebrate life & my fellow human beings and the things they’re capable of, wherever/whenever I could (whenever possible).
Now, of course, we’re living in dark times filled with inequality and there’s a lot wrong with our world, there’s a lot wrong with human society and I’m supremely aware of this – embracing positivity is not the same thing as retreating into wilful naïveté – but, outside of the personal actions we all take to try and make a difference, to try and stand for something, I’m interested in the shared passions that spontaneously connect people, irrespective of their personal circumstances and beliefs. I see those unexpected moments of instinctive connective agreement all the time and that’s what I want to explore with Hard Agree, via conversations with the creators, performers, professionals & public servants I’ve met over the years.
EC: You have such a vast professional network. How important is that for a podcast like Hard Agree?
AS: I think it’s certainly very helpful. I guess human relationships have always been at the heart of what I do and I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve accumulated like-minded friends & business contacts over my thirty-five years lurking behind the front lines of popular culture. I’ve never done anything of any real note myself, but I know a lot of interesting people who’ve achieved a lot, some of whom are good friends of mine.
I guess in creating Hard Agree, I’m trying to inhabit the same role as Damon Runyon’s not-so-silent omnipresent narrator (in his classic 1930s Broadway Stories). I’ve often been in the thick of things and seen interesting stuff go down, and it’s my role, via the tactical application of some hearty good fellowship, to get my acquaintances who’ve actually done those things to open up about (and analyze and celebrate) what they’ve done.
EC: You’ve been in thick of it for a long time. What’s the most interesting, or the most challenging thing about the industry today?
AS: For me, what’s interesting right now is that ease of communication, speed of communication and the global speed of transmission of new ideas is at an all-time-high – while at the same time, worldwide public health issues (in the form of an ever-evolving pandemic) mean that the direct human contact (that inspires great storytelling, that inspires innovation) is more difficult to achieve & sustain than it has ever been.
It’s not impossible of course (and the pandemic itself is inspiring amazing scientific/logistical innovations – just look at the speed of vaccine development & delivery) but I think we all have to work hard to remain consciously connected to our common humanity, to access our interest in – and our empathy for – our fellow humans.
EC: You have become a master at exhibiting, moderating and doing business at comic conventions. How do you think comic conventions, when they start up again, be different, and how will they be the same?
AS: Aw, you’re very kind, Ed! I think that the en masse celebration of a storytelling art form we all love (whether that’s comics, movies, TV, music, animation, gaming) will always sit at the heart of what makes comic conventions work. Connecting with a vast array of differing humans that you all share something with – that’s the beauty of the comic convention experience to me.
However, the logistics of marshaling 120 thousand people into the San Diego Convention Center is going to be a very different thing for my pals at Comic-Con moving forward than it was back in 2019. I think that the human connection at the heart of the experience will always be the same – but the manner in which that human connection is delivered will evolve to include the social-distancing and public-health-preserving measures that have become part of our daily lives in 2021.
Question 5 1/2:
EC: You deal with so many licensed properties, Andrew. Rather than ask you “which one is your favorite?” I want to know if there was ever a property that you didn’t really care for, as a fan, but become passionate about?
AS: So, I know a lot about Hammer Horror movies after growing up watching them every Friday, late nights on Granada TV in Merseyside. Although Granada was a network TV channel (the independent station for the North West of England), it used to screen its midnight movies uncut – which was quite an eye opener for me aged fourteen. But the thing is, I was never really that much of a Hammer fan.
One of the first exclusive products I developed when I arrived at Titan (over a decade ago) was a range of highly-detailed polystone resin maxi-busts of the classic Hammer Horror characters – Christopher Lee as Dracula, Ingrid Pitt as Countess Dracula, and Peter Cushing as Van Helsing. Our sculpting team did an amazing job with all of them but they really knocked it out of the park with Van Helsing, which was widely-and-correctly fêted as the greatest sculpt anyone had created of Mr. Cushing (a brilliant job by a genius sculptor called Andy Teal). In the course of being very thankful for that fan reaction (all of these statues are long-sold-out and now very difficult to find), I re-watched Terence Fisher’s 1958 Dracula (AKA The Horror of Dracula in the US) and fell in love with it in a way that I never had before. I appreciated it on a whole other level and was totally blown away by Cushing’s precise, focused performance. The whole experience birthed an all-new personal appreciation for Hammer movies and for Peter Cushing’s career.
EC: Thanks so much, Andrew!
Hard Agree can be found on multiple podcast delivery platforms. Here is the link for the Apple Podcasts location. Andrew has had amazing guests, like Ed Asner, Garth Ennis, Max Allen Collins, Dave Gibbons, and Brian Bolland.