Tom Mumme is a veteran of TV production working on shows ranging from Survivor and Ghost Hunters International to his current gig on Kevin Smiths’ AMC series, Comic Book Men. He was the co-cinematographer of the documentary about iconic Star Wars and Indiana Jones poster artist, Drew Struzan titled, Drew: The Man Behind the Poster. For the last five years Mr. Mumme has been working in the world of comic books after starting his company Blue Juice Comics which has successfully been releasing original comic book books with titles like, The Accelerators, Anne Bonnie and Aether & Empire. They are now releasing the new Walt Flanagan comic called, Knights of the 5th Dimension. Tom was kind enough to chat with me about how he started a comic book company, what it was like to film legends like George Lucas and Michael J Fox for the Drew Struzan documentary, his company’s experiences at New York Comic-Con, and the support he's gotten for Blue Juice Comics from the cast of Comic Book Men.
Where did the idea for Blue Juice Comics come from and how did it get started?
I and three other freelancers in the TV/Film business in Florida started Blue Juice Films, Inc. back in 2005 to make music videos, short films, documentaries and eventually feature films. For years we would try and get our feature film scripts on the desks of people with money, or people who could green light them, and it was always difficult to get people to say yes. We would also spend a lot of time and money making “sizzle reels” or short film “proof-of-concepts” for some of our original ideas. All this money would go out the door and these things would sit on an executive’s desk and would never see the light of day.
Meanwhile, I was reading the trades and almost every day there was a new comic book property that was being developed into a movie. One day, about 5 years ago, it just clicked: what if we made some of our film scripts and ideas into comic books and built our own franchises from the ground up? Almost like a “sellable” sizzle reel that we could get directly to the public and skip the executives. I’d always loved comics when I was younger, but had gotten away from them as I got older. This was a chance to jump back in full steam. And that’s how Blue Juice Comics was born. The only problem was, we had no idea how to make a comic.
Where did the idea for your comic book series the Accelerators come from and what was the creative process in putting it together?
We had worked closely with Ronnie Porto for years and at that point he was an up-and-coming screenwriter who was in the process of getting his first feature (BLUE CAPRICE) produced. We told him about our idea to make comics, asked if he wanted to be involved, and he jumped at the opportunity to pitch us some of his ideas. We had a pitch meeting where we laid out all of our projects and he told us everything that he’d been working on. He had been developing an idea about a time-travel story where the time-travel device was something small and innocuous and the hook was it could only go forward. He called it THE ACCELERATORS. We’re all big fans of the time-travel genre, and this was a concept we had never heard of before, so we were all really excited to explore that and take a time travel story in a different direction.
The other hook he had for THE ACCELERATORS was a gladiator type arena where warriors through history are “fished” out of time and pitted against each other in games to the death. At that point, we decided that THE ACCELERATORS was a perfect fit for our company’s first comic book. The concept perfectly fit the serialized story-telling of the modern day comic books that we love: PREACHER, THE WALKING DEAD, Y: THE LAST MAN, etc.
It was great having “creative meetings” where we’d sit around drinking Bourbon and Miller Lite and trying to decide what soldiers throughout history we would like to see fight each other. Ronnie’s a pro-screenwriter, so he was very much up for the challenge of adapting his own screenplay into the comic book format and telling a long form story with compelling characters and situations. Plus, it’s just so damn fun.
At that point, I just dove head first into figuring out how to make a comic. We researched, and researched, and researched and made a lot of things up as we went along.
What are the challenges in being an indie comic book company and competing with the majors?
The most challenging thing is promotion and getting eyeballs on our product. There are so many great stories out there, and so many great companies making fantastic books, that it’s hard to get the word out. Social media, of course, helps a lot, and we’ve built a pretty loyal fan base on Twitter, Instagram, and especially Facebook. It’s great to be able to communicate directly with the people who are reading your books, whether at conventions, or on social media, and at this point, we have been mostly grass roots. We had a lot of help by chronicling our (mis)-adventures of getting THE ACCELERATORS made by doing weekly updates on the I SELL COMICS podcast with Mike Zapcic and Ming Chen. For months, we went step-by-step through the process, and it was great to get direct feedback from listeners as we went through our trials and tribulations.
We were lucky enough to get distribution through Diamond Comics, the main distributor of all the comic book stores in the US, based on a pitch I sent them when we were still working on Accelerators Issue #1. So that helped us get into the local comic book shops, who are the real unsung heroes of the current comic book world…in my opinion. We’ve also had a great relationship with comiXology over the years. We launched Blue Juice Comics around the time they started their Submit program and we’re part of their Unlimited program (it’s like Netflix for comics). That has been a great way to get our books out there, even after the print issues have left the shelves. And last year, we signed with a book distributor that has been able to get our books into the big stores, like Barnes and Noble and Books-a-Million, so our books are right next to the big guys in the graphic novel sections.
Overall, I think there is room for the big guys, as well as smaller companies like Blue Juice, but it’s just a matter of doing everything we can to get our name and books out there. It’s also a matter of making sure that we keep releasing new content. We’ve done 15 issues of THE ACCELERATORS, (combined into 3 volumes of trade paperbacks) and we’re working on volume 4 (issues 16-20). We also released 6 issues and a Trade for our all ages pirate adventure ANNE BONNIE, and most recently, 6 issues and aTrade of a steampunk story from Mike Horan called ÆTHER & EMPIRE, which is like Jules Verne meets Star Trek. Æ&E is penciled and inked by Bong Ty Dazo, who has worked on a lot of Marvel and DC books like DEADPOOL and STAR WARS. Bong was a total pro and really nailed the art for the incredible story that Horan laid down.
Can you tell me about the work you do on the AMC television series Comic Book Men and how that led to the support you've gotten for Blue Juice Comics from the cast of the show?
My day job is still TV production, and I’ve been fortunate for the past seven years to work as the Audio Supervisor for AMC’s COMIC BOOK MEN. It really is a fantastic show to be a part of for a 70s movie/TV/comic geek like myself. The support from the cast and crew has been phenomenal. Not only from Mike and Ming and I SELL COMICS, but Walter Flanagan and Bryan Johnson have been very supportive. Walt even did the art for the first five covers of THE ACCELERATORS. He was so excited about what we’ve built from the ground up, that he actually pitched us an idea a few years ago and we’ve partnered with him on our newest book KNIGHTS OF THE 5TH DIMENSION. It’s really Walt’s homage to the Bronze Age of comics and the things that he loved about comics in that time period. It’s a four issues arc that will release in 2018. Walt, Bryan, and Brian Quinn (IMPRACTICAL JOKERS) even brought me on their podcast TELL EM STEVE DAVE and have been completely supportive of Blue Juice and our endeavors.
You are also the co-cinematographer (along with Greg Boas) of the documentary I directed and Charles Ricciardi Produced, Drew: The Man Behind The Poster about Star Wars and Indiana Jones poster artist, Drew Struzan. What was it like filming such legends in the industry like George Lucas, Guillermo Del Toro, and Michael J Fox for that film?
Charles and I have known each other since elementary school, and when he mentioned that he was working on a documentary about Drew Struzan, I told him I absolutely want to be involved in any capacity. Drew is a legend and is responsible for a big portion of my childhood. When I was 14, my first job was in a video store and we had all of Drew’s posters hanging around everywhere. I never knew it was one guy that was responsible for the majority of the greatest movie posters, from all the greatest movies of my childhood.
On the first day of production on DREW: THE MAN BEHIND THE POSTER, we ended up at Skywalker Ranch, which is a mecca for movie lovers of my generation. The very first interview we did was with George Lucas and he couldn’t be more inviting. He gave us a tour of the offices at the Presidio and the whole crew was in heaven.
Interviewing Guillermo Del Toro and Michael J. Fox was pretty epic, so much film history and so many great anecdotes. But my biggest takeaway from the years of production on the doc was getting to know Drew the man. He is such a humble guy, so down to earth. He invited us into his home and we met his family and everyone was so warm and friendly. At this point, I’m honored to call him a friend.
Can you tell me about the creative team working for Blue Juice Comics and their artistic and creative contributions to the company?
Blue Juice is made up of Adam Miller, Mike Misconi, and Jeremy Schneider (who has also been on COMIC BOOK MEN since the beginning as the Director of Photography). The four of us are responsible for all the books and hitting all the necessary deadlines. Adam Miller is invaluable as the co-editor of everything, he does all the digital dirty work. None of this would happen without him. While the rest of us get to have fun with the creative side, Adam is the one working behind the scenes to make sure everything is ready for print and stands up to the quality that we strive for. It’s even kind of a family affair, Adam’s wife Megan is our lead copy editor and literally makes sure all the t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted.
Ronnie Porto and Gavin Smith are the main driving forces behind THE ACCELERATORS, and Mike Horan and Bong Dazo did a fantastic job last year on ÆTHER & EMPIRE. We really want to be known as a Creator Friendly publishing house, so we want to give the artists, writers, and creators the opportunity to tell their stories and create their worlds the way they want. We’re just here to give support and guide them, give suggestions, and help create the best possible product for the readers. Sometimes the best thing you can do as an editor is give your opinion and advice and then get the hell out of the way and let the artists do their thing.
Blue Juice Comics always has a presence at New York Comic-Con. Can you talk about your experiences at NYCC and what we can expect from you guys at this year’s convention?
NYCC has become our BIG convention for the last five years. There is something about New York, there’s a love of culture and the arts that is second to none. Fans love to come for the big draws, like Marvel, DC, and Image, but they also love to support the indie books. New Yorkers love to try out new artistic ventures and NYCC is the perfect place for a publisher at our level to get the word out there about our books.
We’re very excited about this year’s NYCC. Ronnie Porto and Gavin Smith will be selling and signing copies of THE ACCELERATORS and Mike Horan will be there for ÆTHER & EMPIRE. Walt Flanagan’s book, KNIGHTS OF THE 5TH DIMENSION, isn’t coming out until 2018, but we’re releasing an exclusive NYCC limited edition of Issue #1 at the BLUE JUICE COMICS booth 2254. Walt will be around all weekend to meet fans and to sign pre-release copies of the book. The COMIC BOOK MEN usually use our booth as a home base for their events, so if you stop by, you never know who you’re going to see.
You can learn more about Blue Juice Comics on their website www.bluejuicecomics.com. And the new season of Comic Book Men starts on Oct.22nd on AMC.