Interview - Rob Salkowitz

Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture is a labor of love, marrying a love of comics with a love of looking how the industry is changing in the face of technology and transmedia. It's written by Rob Salkowitz, a man with a great perspective on the comic book industry, and told through the eyes of a visit to Comic-Con.

Salkowitz was awesome enough to sit down for an interview amidst a slew of other appearances and interviews. Check out what he has to say. Fair warning...he doesn't give as much dirt on the Dead Dog party as you'd like.

Omnicomic: I want to start by asking which part of your inner nerd showed first: comics or business analysis/consulting?

Salkowitz: Oh, comics for sure. I was reading comics when I was four.

I arrived at the business consulting position after a long and torturous path that included launching a bunch of tech-multimedia-Web companies in the 1990s, starting a communications consulting firm in Seattle, and doing projects for companies like Microsoft.

Sadly, there’s very little nerdy about that part of my life. That’s why I was so happy to get my teeth into a project like Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture.

Omnicomic: Where did you get the idea to write Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture?

Salkowitz: My wife and I have become friends with Denis Kitchen, the cartoonist and former publisher (Kitchen Sink Press). He knew I was a futurist and had been writing these books about social trends, technology and business, and he kept asking when I was going to “use my powers for good” by writing about comics.

I finally said, “look, if you can find a publisher, I’ll write the book.” I got the idea to set it at Comic-Con right after last year’s show, revised the proposal, and we found a publisher at light speed.

Omnicomic: In your book you mention transmedia a lot. Can you elaborate on what that means to you? What does that mean to the comic industry?

Salkowitz: I use the term “transmedia” to mean telling a coherent story across different formats (e.g., books, comics, movies, videogames, etc.): not just creating different versions, but making a single coherent experience for the audience.

Now that we’re getting digital devices like tablets and iPads that let you consume many different media on the same device and in the same context, transmedia is starting to play an important part not just in comics, but all across the communications-high tech-publishing-entertainment spectrum.

Omnicomic: Should comics look to transmedia as salvation? Or just another arrow in the proverbial quiver?

Salkowitz: My personal opinion is that story is most important. If the media capabilities add to the storytelling and enrich the user experience, that’s great. If not, it’s just a gimmick.

Omnicomic: Do you think moving comics into the transmedia space dilutes their purity as a medium?

Salkowitz: Comics and sequential art will always be their own medium, and there will always be people who prefer to practice the pure form. What we’re expanding are the different channels for bringing those stories and characters to life.

Omnicomic: Does Disney and Time Warner's respective ownerships of Marvel and DC stifle creativity in the industry? Or do you think they help the transmedia cause?

Salkowitz: The first duty of any corporation is to maximize returns for its shareholders. Is that mission consistent with creativity, innovation, treating creators fairly, treating fans with respect, and being good shepherds of the properties they control?

I think everyone can make their own judgments about that based on how these companies behave. For the moment, I think the market is happy with what, say, Marvel has been doing in terms of transmedia.

Omnicomic: There seems to be three distinct eras of comic based movies: Pre X-Men/Spider-man, the X-Men/Spider-man era and then the Batman Begins era (which will conclude with The Dark Knight Rises). That's definitely oversimplifying it, but do you think we'll see an era that doesn't rely so heavily on marquis characters and tentpole films? We all need more Scott Pilgrim!

Salkowitz: I loved Scott Pilgrim! But I think you and I were in the minority on that one.

The problem is that it takes a huge amount of money to even attempt to bring a super-hero or fantasy film to the screen, and then it’s always a crapshoot about whether the fans will like it, whether a mass audience will like it. It’s ok for an indie film or a low budget buddy comedy movie to not set the world on fire, as long as it makes money.

You can do Ghost World or American Splendor as a cult film, no problem. But it’s not ok for Watchmen to break even, or Scott Pilgrim to go down in flames. There’s too much at stake.

Omnicomic: Sometimes it feels like Hollywood is typically lazy when it comes to stories, tapping into existing properties for film treatment. Battleship is a great example of this and Variety reports that the mobile game Draw Something will be a game show this fall produced by Ryan Seacrest. Clearly they're tapping into comics as an idea source, but how long do you expect that to last? We're going on ten years now of comic book inspired films in their heyday.

Salkowitz: It’s starting to seem inevitable to me that the pendulum will swing back toward other genres and other styles besides those inspired by comics. Some will be good, some will be terrible. But for the moment, when The Avengers makes $1.5 billion worldwide, I expect the party will continue for a while.

Omnicomic: In all your visits to Comic-Con, is there one particular encounter or sight that stands out the most?

Salkowitz: There are a bunch, but here’s one of my favorites.

At my first Con in 1997, I bought a sketch attributed to Jack Kirby from a dealer and took it over to show my friends at the TwoMorrows booth (publishers of The Jack Kirby Collector fanzine). Jack’s widow Roz, attending her last Comic-Con, happened to be at the booth. She looked at the art, shook her head and said “that’s a fake. It’s lightboxed.”

I went back to the dealer to get my money back. The dealer denied it and didn’t want to give me a refund, so Roz rolled up in her wheelchair and said, “Do you know who I am? I’m telling you, that’s not my husband’s work, so please give this young man his money back and don’t let me see you selling that piece again!” Ka-POW! Justice traps the guilty!

That was the first of many “only-at-Comic-Con” moments.

Omnicomic: Be honest. The Dead Dog Party at Comic-Con is pretty awesome right?

Salkowitz: The first rule of Dead Dog Party is “do not discuss Dead Dog Party.”

Omnicomic: What's on your pull list right now?

Salkowitz: The Goon, The Shadow, All-Star Western, Glamorpuss, Alabaster Wolves and Locke and Key.

My wife is digging Luthor Strode, Buffy and Batgirl among others.

Omnicomic: Anything you want to plug while you have the floor?

Salkowitz: I’m just happy that people seem to enjoy the book, both from the business side and the comics side. I’m looking forward to this year’s Con and am always happy to chat if anyone catches me on the show floor or in a bar.


  1. That was an awesome interview. I could see why business consultancy firms would be lucky to have Rob on their side.


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