You’d literally have to be a hermit crab to not know we’re living in a golden age of comic superhero stories.
Comics have become a platform for addressing social and racial issues more than ever before as we excitedly wait for Marvel or DC to drop the next superhero blockbuster or series premier.
But behind the frenzy that comic books have caused is one key ingredient responsible for their continued and timeless success — great storytelling.
Who better to show us the art behind the success than Mike Marts, the former Executive Editor of Marvel and DC Comics who’s worked a combined 20 years on some of the most iconic superhero series we have today.
Marts is now the Editor-in-Chief of AfterShock Comics, a new venture that’s going back to what’s made comics great in the first place — and he’s brought his secret sauce along with him.
Marts’ Origin Story
Marts origin story begins with a comic book obsessed 10-year-old just beginning to grow his collection and dreaming of one day writing his own comics.
“My entire youth I was pretty much obsessed with the world of comic books and with the exception of Batman, I was a Marvel zombie and everything I read was Marvel Comics, especially the ‘X-Men’. Batman was a character that was super close to me from early childhood.”
Ten years later, Marts was working in a comic shop in New Jersey while attending college where he was studying journalism. The dream of writing comic books was still very much alive — he wrote his own comic stories and submitted one every week to Marvel.
Eventually, his persistence led to a series of internships at Marvel Comics in 1993 and by the age of 21, Marvel offered him a position as an assistant editor.
“To me, seeing a life’s dream come true at age 21, I didn’t want to let that go and I accepted the position and started at Marvel Comics.”
Over the next 20 years, Marts would work his way up to Executive Editor of Marvel Comics, move on to DC Comics and then back to Marvel, leaving his own mark on the X-Men, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Batman.
But but over the two decades working what Marts once considered his dream job, another dream developed:
“The whole idea of starting a new company had been something I thought about for years and I always brainstormed in the back of my head how I would do that if I had the opportunity.
“But after working for both companies for so long, I really felt like I needed to take everything I learned there and everything that I accumulated over the years and apply that to something new and something of my own.
“To me, [AfterShock] was another dream that I saw I could make a reality and the decision for me was fairly easy.”
To build the foundations of his new company, Marts is going back to his roots of telling great stories of new worlds to captivate readers.
Telling a great story is a skill that not everyone has, but it can still be learned — that is if you can find a comic book master willing to teach you:
“It needs to be unique and captivating, original and entertaining. It needs to significantly different from the story that was told before. It needs to be bold, daring and take a chance.”
For Marts, great storytelling follows a key step-by-step process — a secret passed down by his grandfather that unfortunately remains top secret:
“I do [have a process], but it’s my grandfather’s secret family recipe. I’d be dishonoring his memory if I made it public.”
While only dedicated readers of Marts’ work may be able to decrypt the pattern of that secret formula, he did offer up the superhero origin stories that captivated him as a reader:
“Batman’s origin story ranks up there as the greatest, in my opinion. Terrific execution on showing what motivated this man to become a hero. Spider-Man’s great, too. There’s a reason why the best superheroes have the best origin stories — the reasons behind why they’re motivated to do what they do resonate with readers across all ages.”
AfterShock’s Secret Ability
AfterShock itself isn’t just another comic book company — it’s mission is rooted in something DC and Marvel lost in all their commercialism.
AfterShock is a carefully-picked collection of quality stories unrelated to each other, and unlike the comic titans Marvel and DC, AfterShock focuses on the little guys. They brought on many of the same artists and writers who worked on projects like “The Dark Knight”, “Deadpool”, “Wolverine”, “Suicide Squad” — the list goes on — only this time, the creators get all the credit for their own work.
“[The writers] come to us with passion or dream projects of theirs and we help them develop that into something we can put out where they retain the ownership of the property as opposed to say Marvel or DC — Marvel owns ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Avengers’ and DC owns ‘Batman’ 100%. With the project that we do, the creators retain that ownership.”
While the cause certainly brings justice to the real talent behind some of the most beloved comic book characters today, the challenges of growing any company has to be faced first. Publishing comic books is somewhat of an endurance game, Marts explained — those who can prove themselves the most reliable, deliver quality stories and establish a genuine relationship with retailers and readers will last.
“Once the stories are there, once the quality comic books are there, anything that comes after is just more exciting and fantastic opportunities. But we have to start with the basics first.”
This is where a determined Marts likens his own mission to build AfterShock to that of Bruce Wayne/Batman.
“To build something new, the same way Batman fights for a better tomorrow in Gotham … To me, it’s all one singular mission of making great comics. It’s all about the single mission.”
The Immortality of Comic Book Stories
We live in an exciting time where studios are obsessively bringing the best superhero stories to the big and small screen — something Marts himself enjoys greatly:
“I’ve been a big fan of everything Marvel has done through Netflix. Both seasons of ‘Daredevil’ have been fantastic. I really loved ‘Jessica Jones’.”
Unfortunately, there hasn’t been any series by DC that’s he’s followed regularly (sorry “Gotham”).
But in recent years, and in many more to come, we are going to be either bombarded or blessed, depending on how you see it, with even more superhero movies and shows.
Will we eventually get tired of these stories? The simple answer, according to Marts, is never:
“People who think along those lines aren’t thinking of the bigger picture. There’s a reason why those stories resonate and last for so long. It’s not just the last few years that we’ve been telling these types of stories — Marvel and DC have been around close to 80 years and yet it has survived all that time.
“There’s something classic about those stories that resonate with people. What matters is the type of journeys these characters take and that’s never going to go away, and because of that I don’t think there is going to be any significant drop off of fantastic movies and TV shows made based on comic books.”
The incredible journeys of deep and complex characters will forever inspire us so long as we continue to dream and work for greatness within our own stories.