Classic Comics For The 21st Century

Yes, it's true, Jim Salicrup is secretly Papa Smurf.

A legendary Marvel Comics editor, Jim Salicrup arrived during the famed company’s classic period, and his career has been going full steam ever since. He was only 15 years old when he began as a messenger there in 1972, and he worked his way up to editor and tackled such titanic titles as The Uncanny X-Men, Fantastic Four, Mighty Avengers and Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man remake, not to mention writing for Transformers, Sledge Hammer!, The A-Team and others. In 1992 he left Marvel for a six-year tenure at Topps Comics, then spent two years at Stan Lee Media as senior writer/editor, even writing and voicing the Stan Lee’s Evil Clone cartoons, before joining Papercutz as editor-in-chief in 2002.

I first heard about Papercutz because they brought Tales From The Crypt back from the dead. I was skeptical at first because the original EC line was truly classic and special, and while I was expecting vintage style art, the modern approach to the title gradually won me over. I’ve bought many issues since. Then I learned that Papercutz was reviving many older comic book and literary franchises and updating them for a young, modern audience. With my interest piqued, I decided to interrogate Salicrup about his latest publishing venture, his career and the future of my beloved comic book medium.

One of the most famous Marvel titles edited by Salicrup: Spider-Man #1 by Todd McFarlane.

Can you give us the Cliff Notes version of how you came to Papercutz and how it has grown?
How about the Classics Illustrated version, Bryan? In a nutshell, Terry Nantier, pioneering NBM graphic novel publisher and I, got together and decided to start a new company that would create comics and graphic novels for all ages. We both grew up reading graphic novels such as Tintin by Hergé and thought there was a need for such material for today’s kids. So the basic concept was for us to get the rights to popular characters and create great comics and graphic novels for all ages.

As superhero comics still take up a lion’s share of the market, what challenges have you faced in resurrecting titles like Tales From The Crypt, Classics Illustrated and Nancy Drew?
I guess it depends on how you look at it. Superhero comics are really a market unto themselves. Manga is another, and graphic novels for kids is now emerging as the latest new market. Tales From The Crypt Graphic Novel #8, “Diary of a Stinky Dead Kid,” has become a surprise hit for Papercutz. It’s in its fourth printing already, and I suspect there will be many more printings to come. I believe it succeeded because we finally connected with the huge kid’s comics market out there, and they love the parodies we’re running of pop culture hits like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Twilight. Obviously, a book such as this isn’t competing directly with any superhero comics.

A page from Classics Illustrated issue #5.

We revived Classics Illustrated because we were doing well with our Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys graphic novels in schools and libraries, and Classics Illustrated seemed like a natural for that market. Of course, I’m a huge comics fan and couldn’t resist the chance to bring back such world-famous titles as Tales From The Crypt and Classics Illustrated. We’re actually publishing two Classics Illustrated series — one is re-presenting the Classics created in the Nineties by First Comics. They were simply way ahead of their time with these books, as bookstores back then didn’t understand what to do with graphic novels. We’re thrilled to be able to publish them in hardcover for the very first time. And what a line-up of talent — Kyle Baker, Gahan Wilson, Rick Geary, Jill Thompson, P. Craig Russell, Peter Kuper, Peter David, Steven Grant and so many more!
We’re also publishing Classics Illustrated Deluxe, which is running all-new adaptations of stories by the world’s greatest authors. Basically, these adaptations are at least three times longer than adaptations done in the past by Classics Illustrated. That gives the stories more room to breath, and our writers and artists are able to better capture the feel of the original novels. Newsweek called Michel Plessix’s adaptation of The Wind in the Willows a “visual masterpiece,” and I couldn’t agree more. We’re delighted to see that book in its third printing. Other Deluxe titles include Frankenstein, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Treasure Island. I can rave about the merits of each one, but it’s best for people to see these books for themselves.

You can call Jim Salicrup many things, but hatchet man is not one of them.

Even though the art is completely different, I am enjoying the new Tales From The Crypt. What was the inspiration for the reboot and how have people responded to it?
Thanks, Bryan. Terry suggested that we do a horror comic series, and I couldn’t resist reviving Tales From The Crypt. For folks who wanted a copy of the original series, they weren’t thrilled with the direction we went in. Some of the older fans forget that they were kids when they read Tales From The Crypt back in the Fifties, and we’re doing a Tales From The Crypt series to appeal to kids today, not from over 50 years ago. I mean, can you name another comic book that looks exactly as it did over 50 years ago? So we’re getting positive feedback from a new generation of readers, and that’s fantastic. We have eight volumes of Tales From The Crypt in stores now, and we tackle everything — reality TV, drugs, comic book fans, starving fashion models, virtual reality, suicide bombers. We’ve had some straight horror tales by Joe R. Lansdale and John L. Lansdale and plenty of twisted parodies. And there’s much more to come.

Cultural conservatives will
never stop complaining.

The Sarah Palin cover was inspired. Do you see comic book censorship becoming an issue ever again like it was in the Fifties?
Well, we have to be very careful with what we do with Crypt and all our graphic novels because they’re all shelved in the kids sections of bookstores. That’s not a problem for us because our plan for Papercutz is to create comics and graphic novels for a young audience. Almost every comic book was suitable for kids when I was growing up in the Sixties, so I don’t have a problem with “censorship” per se. Nor do I have a problem with comics for adults. I just believe there should be comics for everyone, not just adults. What a radical concept, eh?

Despite the huge success of comic book movies, comic book sales are not on a major upswing. Do you see this changing in the near future? Or do you see the industry being driven more by graphic novels, reprint collections and back issue sales?
The reason for that, I believe, is distribution. We lost a lot of comic book stores in the last 20 years, and I believe that accounts for the loss in sales. It’s amazing how good sales are, with so few stores today. Add a few thousand comic book stores, and watch sales skyrocket! It’s great to see new stores opening that are embracing indie comics and graphic novels, and rejecting the old “Android Dungeon” model. These stores are far more inviting to potential new comics readers, and the more the better for everyone, even the superhero comics.

What do you miss most about your days at Marvel and Topps Comics?
Other than the people, nothing! I’m hoping I can apply whatever I learned during my 20 years at Marvel to building Papercutz into a successful comics and graphic novel publisher. I’m still working with some of the greatest writers and artists in comics. Artists like Christian Zanier, Stuart Sayger, Sho Murase, Paulo Henrique, Steven Mannion and the rest are simply awesome. I’ll put ’em up against the best any of the big guys have to offer — they’re all that good. In fact, that’s part of what’s really exciting about editing comics — seeing such incredible new talents come along. So I’m having as much fun now, if not more, at Papercutz as I’ve had at anywhere in the past.

Salicrup (left) with "DieLite" artist Miran Kim and "Stinky Dead Kid" writer Stefan Petrucha.

It has been argued that the comics industry is starting to go back to the collector’s edition chicanery of the early ’90s, when multiple covers and editions of issues made people think they were investing in something that would be worth more later. Do you see this as being the case?
So far, we’ve only done one alternate cover: the Sarah Palin Tales From The Crypt comic book cover you called inspired. It’s possible we may do more in the future, but generally we want it to be really special and not just a sales gimmick.  You know, I doubt if most comic book store customers are even aware of what we’re publishing at Papercutz. The customers at most comic book stores are just too old. Mostly we’re focused on our titles such as Bionicle, which is based on the hit LEGO toys. I believe these are the Transformers of today’s kids. Every 10 year-old boy knows about Bionicle, but most adults, unless they have kids, are unaware of this huge property. Another good example: Geronimo Stilton. There are about 35 Geronimo Stilton books out there that have sold an average of 185,000 copies each! That outsells virtually every comic book published today. So it’s no surprise that we’re going back to press, yet again, on our Geronimo Stilton graphic novels. As you can tell, most of our sales come from booksellers, schools and libraries. Comic book stores that wish to attract kids as customers, which can be their future customers, can simply order our books, rather than support more of the same old stuff from the same old comics publishers.

These aren't your dad's Hardy Boys.

What do you think are your most underrated stories as a writer?
Probably the A-Team and Sledge Hammer comics I wrote for Marvel. They were a lot of fun. I don’t really have time to write that much anymore, but I do enjoy writing the intro pages for Tales From The Crypt featuring The Old Witch, The Vault-Keeper and The Crypt-Keeper. Ricko “the Sicko” Parker draws ’em, and it’s always fun to work with Rick. These days, if I come up with an idea, it’s easier to assign it to a writer. But that happens rarely, and these writers all have brilliant ideas of their own anyway. It’s great working with Stefan Petrucha, Sarah Kinney, Scott Lobdell, Greg Farshtey, Fred Van Lente, Rob Vollmar and so many others.

What is in the future for you and Papercutz?
We’ll be publishing a series of graphic novels based on one of Disney’s hottest and most beloved properties — Disney Fairies starring Tinker Bell — and I can’t tell you how excited I am about that. We’re also planning to publish another huge property in the fall of 2010, but that’s still a big secret, so I can’t say anymore about that.

What does being a trustee at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art entail?
MoCCA was founded by Lawrence Klein, and he asked me to help out in any way I could. Since I love comics, New York City and museums, I couldn’t possibly resist since those are all things I love. Chairman/President Ellen Abramowitz and Director Karl Erickson are doing an unbelievable job of running MoCCA these days, and I still basically help in any way I can. Mainly I simply offer my advice and try to answer any questions that come up. Most importantly, a non-profit comic art museum needs as much support as possible just to survive. The annual MoCCA Art Fest is our major fund-raiser, but in these tough times we need more help than ever before. People can help by becoming a volunteer, becoming a member of the museum, or by donating money. For more information go to With so many museums in New York City, how could they not have one devoted to comic art and animation?

Jim Salicrup (center) and Stinky Dead Kid
artist Rick Parker (right).

Have you spoken with Stan Lee lately?
December 28th was Stan’s Birthday, and I wished him a happy 87th birthday. The man is my hero and a true living legend. He’s also my biggest inspiration. Every day at Papercutz we’re doing our best to create the very best comics we possibly can. Stan always respected the intelligence of his audience, and never wrote down to them. That certainly holds true at Papercutz — comics for kids shouldn’t be watered-down versions of comics for adults. Stan created comics that were acceptable for kids, but still sophisticated enough for college students and adults. As Stan would say, Excelsior!

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