Matt Brady of Newsarama interviews Spencer Lamm

User Bordough sent us this story from Newsarama.

It kind of just makes sense – put the creative forces of Larry and Andy Wachowski, Steve Skroce and Geof Darrow together for a long enough time, and you’re going to get something….just by virtue of their natures. The first output from the four was, of course, The Matrix trilogy, based upon a story by the Wachowskis and gobs and gobs of visualizations from Skroce and Darrow.

The second wave gets started this fall as two comics coming from the Wachowski’s Burlyman Entertainment: Shaolin Cowboy by Darrow; with dialogue by the Wachowskis and Doc Frankenstein, created by Darrow and Skroce, co-plotted by Skroce and the Wachowskis, scripted by the Wachowskis and illustrated by Skroce.

Driving the Burlyman bus with a mixture of maniacal glee and a hint of fear is Spencer Lamm. We caught up with him for a chat about the books, the company, and what readers can expect.

Burlyman (more on the name later) has been a back-burner idea for the past few years, and recently was moved to the front when the schedule hog known as The Matrix finally got out of the way for all involved.

“The idea of publishing the books was always there, but Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions kind of overshadowed everything,” Lamm said. “Also – for a long time, the idea of publishing comics was on a ‘are we certain we want to do this?’ balancing act. We all know comics in various ways, shapes or forms – we’ve all been involved with them for a longtime, but we didn’t know if we really wanted to get involved in the business of publishing.

“But this all has been a very organic thing. There have been so many instances where the five of us have been together and it will come up, even though it wasn’t the primary concern for that particular meeting. A big thing that helped convince us that we should do this was the decision to release the trade paperback for the Matrix Comics last year. We wanted to do it because we were being asked, but we also wanted to do it for reasons beyond using it as our own proving ground, but it did serve that purpose as well. It was a perfect, perfect opportunity to take a trade paperback to the book market and the direct market, as well as international so we could really see the process of publishing from start to finish. It was a book that was in demand, so we got to see how it would work if things went right. In that scenario, the worst we figured we’d do would be to break even, even though we figured we’d make some money out of it while we got to see the mechanics.

“By doing that, we saw how it all worked, and made it very tangible to figure out what it would take to make it work. It was a matter of pulling things together that we needed in a very organic way. Because of the way it’s developed, we all had to give it the green light – we’re all a part of this. But it’s loose – I hope we’re doing the business side correctly, and I think we are, but we’re definitely not doing it with world domination in mind.”

As Lamm hinted, from the start, one thing has been clear about Burylman, and that’s that the Wachowskis are doing it for the love, not the bucks. “The big joke, from Larry and Andy’s point of view is that we’re doing Burlyman so that they can retire,” Lamm said. “That’s the running joke. During the production of Reloaded and Revolutions, one of the ways to vent became, ‘If the movies don’t work, we’ve got comics to fall back on.’ It’s easy to make light of it, but the reality of it is that there’s no way we’re doing this for the money. My catchphrase has become that we have great aspirations to break even. That’s the goal at this stage. We’re doing two titles, bi-monthly, with one coming out each month. I’ve done the math on it, and we know how much we need to sell to hit that break even point. We’ve got a target.”

While he’s the go-to guy for the publishing side of things, Lamm also has meaty comic bona fides as well. He earned his chops in the industry during that time loved by some and loathed by others called “the early ‘90s.” Got a copy of Marvels lying around? Look at the Assistant Editor’s name.

“Along with Marvels, I helped with the Clive Barker ‘Barkerverse,’ and that’s where I met Larry and Andy with Ectokid, so I still bow to Ectokid to this day,” Lamm chuckled. “Steve was the artist on that, so it’s all carried through. I really had a good time in comics, which isn’t what everyone who was in it at that time would say during that furnace of the early ‘90s. Comics in that day were so unrealistic to any business model – you could sell three million copies of a title. Books would be cancelled at 80,000 copies. It was very unrealistic, but very cool.

“I was also there for the first couple years of normalization, and the waves of firings, and people started to come to their senses. I love comics, but I went to film school and fell into comics. I loved it and ran with it, but coming in from another field helped me during the period when things looked like they were falling apart. It wasn’t like my entire world was collapsing; a place I loved was collapsing. I saw a lot of people that, to this day, I consider really, really good friends, being hurt immensely by those changes.”

Of the two titles, Darrow’s Shaolin Cowboy is the grizzled vet, having been around for years, and shown off by the creator to any who would catch him at a convention. “I’d first heard about Geof’s Shaolin Cowboy back in 1999 at San Diego,” Lamm said. “He’s been working on it for a long time, which, from my perspective means we have a lot of pages, and the bimonthly schedule will be one we can keep.

“Basically, he’s being working on it for a long, long time,” Lamm continued. “To say what it’s about…it’s Geof Darrow. People who know Geoff’s past work knows exactly what I mean just by saying that. It’s pretty intense. The pages, needless to say, are insane. Two weeks to a month spent on each page.

“There’s a single hero who’s not your typical hero that goes around in a post-apocalyptic landscape with the help of a talking mule. That’s by no means the story, but it certainly touches on elements. It’s a vast canvas, but it leans towards the surreal – you don’t have any clue what’s going to happen next. Geoff has it planned for a long time – a real epic, and each issue will pull you in deeper. He’s only about 100 pages into it, without an end in sight. So yeah – for Geoff Darrow fans, there are an incredible number of new pages to look forward to.”

As a concept, Doc Frankenstein is a tad younger – a byproduct in a manner of speaking, or Skroce and Darrow working closely for years. “Doc is a little easier to explain than Shaolin Cowboy, but no less interesting. It’s a reinvention of the Frankenstein monster that kind of plays with the idea of what if the monster had survived through the ages to today? There are parallels with superheroes, of course, as the monster would be all powerful, but what people seem to forget is that the monster himself was never an idiot in the novel. So, in the comics, we see that the monster has lived for a couple of centuries, has an incredible intellect, so he’s done pretty well for himself. He’s got money, political influence, and a lot of things that people wouldn’t put together when they think of Frankenstein’s monster. That’s the monster we’re introducing.

“At the Burlyman summit, it became official that Larry and Andy would co-plot and write Doc Frankenstein. Already, it’s going in directions that are wonderfully satirical and political, and I’m dying to see what the reactions to it will be. It’s very, very contemporary in its political jabs. It’s fantasy in the sense that the Frankenstein monster wields influence in our world, but with respect to the rest…well, the President in the story may appear familiar. Politics is an intensely dangerous conversation to have with anybody. You never know where anyone’s political stance, you never know anyone’s religious stance, but we’re definitely going to make a stance in Doc Frankenstein.”

As Lamm mentioned, each series will be published bi-monthly, with Doc Frankenstein launching in November, and Shaolin Cowboy in December. If sales and demand is there, trades will collect the first six issues of the respective series after one year.

“We’ll have an eight-page preview, showing the covers and a two-page spread from each book, for the August retailer packs,” Lamm said. “We’ll have tons of those at San Diego as well. We’re doing stickers, hats, and posters too…all the fun stuff.”

And yes, Lamm knows the conversations that will start bubbling…are the Wachowskis indirectly announcing two of their new productions through the two comic series? After all, they still have the ear of Hollywood…

“Other media is not the goal,” Lamm emphasized. “There are no current pre-production plans for a Shaolin Cowboy or Doc Frankenstein movie or any other media. Comics are the primary reason to be doing this. To take a quick digression, and it may come off as high falootin’, but there are a lot of people who start their own comic book companies with the right motivation, and I respect them and their motivations, but you can often find companies starting up that don’t respect the medium they’re trying to establish themselves in. I’ve sat in on meetings where the sole purpose of starting a comic company was to make properties which they can then turn into films and other media. That drives me insane.

“I’ve met too many people who think comics are the greatest thing every because they can be set up to churn out properties that are fully visualized for a relatively low cost. They look at the comics with no respect for the product itself – instead, they’re looking at it only with the idea of, ‘will this work in a pitch meeting?’ What the early ‘90s were to collecting comics because people were buying 10 copies, we’ve got just as bad a dilemma now with the success of some great movies. It’s awful – comics being created simply because it’s an easy way to literally transport an idea in front of a producer. The lack of respect for the medium and lack of judgment is awful.

“I’d like to think that Larry, Andy, Steve, Geoff and I are grounded a little bit, and are pretty united in our view that we’re making comics for the sole purpose of making comics. That’s why I’m excited to be involved in any way – it’s comics as comics should be, and these are creators at the top of their game. If something else develops in another medium – awesome. There’s nothing wrong if that happens by itself. It’s when that other medium is the goal of comics is when it gets ugly.”

Hand in hand with seeing the two series exploited in other media, Doc Frankenstein and Shaolin Cowboy are it for Burlyman’s foreseeable future. Sorry for the buzzkill, but stop putting those pages into the FedEx envelope.

“This isn’t just our first year’s worth of books,” Lamm said. “These are our books. If they succeed wildly, who knows what the next step will be, but since it’s about the books, if we’re not making money or working the way we want it too, we’re not going to keep our hand in the flame. The response seems to indicate that we’re headed in the right direction, but we want to be realistic, not cocky. It’s going to continue as long as people want us around as Burlyman Entertainment as these two titles.”

And there’s that name again…”Burlyman.” What’s it all about? If you think it’s a reference to the Matrix films, you’re right…but maybe not in the way you thought (if you were thinking it went back to the “Burly Brawl” fight sequence in Reloaded).

“Man, I don’t know if I want to say,” Lamm said when asked about where the name came from. “I’d love to hear why people think we chose it. Without going into the actual origin of the term, we started using ‘Burlyman’ as the production name of Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions. If you were in Alameda at a certain point during some of the freeway chase shooting, the signage we put up to get actors and extras would say ‘Burlyman’ and have an arrow instead of saying ‘Matrix sequels filming this way.’

“I love the whole need for secrecy, and there were literally crowds of people that showed up for the one shot I’m thinking of. It was early morning, and the word had gotten out to just enough people that Burlyman was the Matrix. That’s insane when you consider just two years before, to get comics creators to do short stories set in the world of the Matrix, I was sending the full script of the first movie and barely getting calls back. I had to explain to these people what the Matrix was, the scope of the movie, and then tell them Keanu Reeves was starring in it…when I didn’t get hung up on after that, I knew I had a chance. But the times change, so much to the point that we needed to go cloak and dagger with our shooting name. And now we’ve come full circle.”

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