Last summer, I did a month of Ask Me Anything posts. The beauty of the internet is that it remembers everything. Last week, I got a new submission from those old posts. It asked:
What happened to your CrossGen stuff?
Scroll down to the last paragraph for the answer if you know the CrossGen story. If not, read this first:
Soooo… for context, CrossGen Comics was a comic book publisher that ran in the late 1990s and early 2000s. At the time, I was pretty burnt out on Marvel. They offered a great alternative without being too alternative. They were mostly action/adventure tales using similar storytelling techniques seen in superhero comics but they were set in different genre trappings or remixes, like sci-fi, high fantasy, Victorian mystery, kung-fu, etc. Like Marvel and DC, the comics were all set in the same universe, but to give breathing room, independence and accessibility, each comic was set on a different planet, instead of a different city or part of New York. This allowed a lot of unique world building and stylistic freedom. But because there was some shared mythology and the possibility to visit other planets, it still had the appeal of shared universes. For the most part, this allowed readers to read as little or as much of the publisher’s line as they wanted. When characters did crossover, they were initially very good at presenting it so it held up regardless of how much of the line you read.
That unique approach to publishing was already intriguing to me, but to add to that was the unique business model. At the time, and for the most part still today, comic book creators work as freelancers. There will be exclusive contracts here and there, but for the vast majority, comic creators still almost entirely work from home project to project with little job security. CrossGen Comics was bankrolled and led by a comics fan who just so happened to have been a CEO for a previous non-comics company that had been bought. He took a decidedly corporate approach to running CrossGen. Creators were hired full-time to work in the office headquarters in Tampa, Florida. They were given a salary and full benefits like a real full-time employee. This led to a collaborative bullpen, like the mythological Marvel Bullpen. At the same time, the company innovated in how it handled reprint editions to bookstores, establishing a format and release schedule that has become industry standard, and digital comics well before the launch of comiXology.
It all sounded pretty exciting, so I jumped right in early on. I bought every book and built a fan-site that tracked each character and their appearances. It was pretty barebones design-wise, and I never got around to actually dressing it up, but it became a good resource for those getting into the company’s universe, especially as it grew. Around the same time, I started writing for the short-lived online resurrection of The Comics Reader (another site sadly no longer online), and interviewed CrossGen’s CEO for one of the first in-depth articles on the nonprofit organization that would become The Hero Initiative. I interviewed several others on the initial board for The Hero Initiative, but CrossGen’s CEO was the most generous with his time. We spoke on the phone and he was very charming, generously sending me a few prints.
So what happened? Long story short (too late), the company overreached. The CEO’s ambitions outstretched the limitations of the comics industry at the time. Plus, from what I understand from various interviews, there were some significant clashing of egos at the CrossGen Compound in regards to how much the shared universe elements should play a part in each book. Risks were taken that didn’t pay off. Paychecks started to slow down. Creators started to leave. Finally, they went into bankruptcy. Because of the corporate structure, all of the properties were either fully or partially owned by CrossGen (aside from a few partnerships with other publishers). When the properties went to auction, Disney’s Hyperion Books showed up and bought the entire line just so they could get J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Ploog’s Abadazad, a beautiful fantasy series that riffed on classic children’s books like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The comic was a late entry in the publisher’s output intended for an imprint set outside the CrossGen Universe line. Only 3 issues were published before the company went under. The book was relaunched by Hyperion Books in 2006 as a comics/illustrated children’s book hybrid that sadly didn’t find an audience and was discontinued after the third book in the series. Also in 2006, Checker Books licensed reprint rights to try to get unreleased collected editions to market. At the time, there were rumors of Checker trying to also publish unreleased stories, such as the highly anticipated Negation War. But alas, Checker seemed poorly equipped to really promote the line properly and their production quality couldn’t match the original books. Plus, the bad taste of the company’s end was probably still too fresh.
Then in 2009, Disney acquired Marvel Comics, which means that ironically CrossGen Comics is now part of the same company it once wanted to supplant. The following year, Marvel announced a CrossGen revival, and a few mini-series were released in 2011 minus the shared universe element. Historically, Marvel has not done well with marketing non-superhero comics, with the most notable exception of Star Wars, which basically markets itself. So needless to say, that relaunch fizzled. It’s been nothing since.
Every so often I’ll get an email asking me about that old site proving that either old CrossGen fans are still out there or new readers are somehow still finding the old books. As I said in the beginning of this post: the internet remembers.
To (finally) answer the original question, somewhere mid-2000s I switched a few services in how my sites are hosted. Sadly, the CrossGen site was lost. I thought I had locally saved the information, but even that seems to be gone now, probably swallowed up in a computer transfer. It’s one of those things in the back of my mind that I’d like to try to rebuild but honestly it’s not a priority as I don’t really relish the idea of redoing all that work, and I don’t really know if there’s still enough CrossGen fans out there that would care. Maybe someday… Heck, if Valiant can come back…
EDIT: Oh yeah, and sure, I’ll keep the Ask Me Anything open: