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An Interview With Buzz Dixon
posted March 26, 2006
 

imageI met the animation writer, comics scripter and now graphic novel packager Buzz Dizon of RealBuzz Studios at a Comic-Con International panel in which he invited me to speak about my experiences helping write the Christian-themed comic strip Wildwood for King Features. After the panel Buzz showed me a piece of art or two from a project he intended for the Christian youth market called Serenity. A few months ago, that project began to hit the shelves as a series of graphic novels published by major Christian market force Barbour Publishing. I had kept in friendly professional contact with Buzz since that original meeting, and asked to interview him.

I think Buzz would forgive me if I admitted up front that I have less an interest in Serenity as expressive art or its relationship to other manga-style projects and more of an interest in what he's trying to communicate with it and, more broadly, how Serenity fits into the Christian market for comics. Serenity being picked up by Barbour is sort of the Christian market equivalent of Fantagraphics having their books picked up for distribution by WW Norton, at least in terms of something gaining access to a marketplace that until the deal was signed didn't seem to have that opportunity, at least not on that scale. I have a specific fascination with Christian bookstores, which I find more capricious than comic shops, the little old lady's living room to the comic shop's teenager's basement. I was therefore quite eager to learn about the work Buzz has done to negotiate the various pitfalls of making something to sell to his intended audience through those channels. Comics and the American Christian consumer have a strange relationship, many sellers targeting that market regarding the hinted-at sex and stylized violence of most comics as near if not actual pornography, and both buyers and sellers sharing a net of beliefs on what good art can and should do that frequently runs counter to values of readers who don't share certain elements of Christian faith.

Buzz was very up front and friendly with all of my oddly-put questions, which I should point out include his working with Jack Kirby on Destroyer Duck and a question or two about Stan Lee Media. I really enjoyed talking to him, and wish his projects well.

TOM SPURGEON: Let's place this interview in a timeline in case it's a while before it goes up. Where are you with the project right now, as we're speaking?

BUZZ DIXON: There are two out, the third one will be hitting the shelves shortly. We have volume four at the printer, and we're working on number five.

SPURGEON: What kind of rate is that? How many are you doing per month, say?

DIXON: We're trying to bring them out at a rate of one every two months.

SPURGEON: Do you have a projection as to how long the series will go? I understand it's a finite series.

DIXON: Yes. We have enough material to run somewhere between 20 and 24 volumes if we do it all. Which I'm certainly hoping we do.

SPURGEON: Can I ask after your background? You're more from the cartoon end of the business rather than the comics end of things, as I recall.

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DIXON: I started in 1978 working at Filmation Studios, kicked around a whole batch of animation studios in the '70s and '80s. When I was working at Ruby-Spears I met Steve Gerber and Jack Kirby. Steve was the story editor there and Jack was doing art design and whatnot for the Thundarr the Barbarian series, which I wrote for. Steve was suing Marvel at the time for possession of Howard the Duck. He had created a character and comic book called Destroyer Duck, which was among the first independent comics. Steve at one point was running into a little bit of scheduling problems, because he had too much on his plate at the time, and he asked me if I would write a short sequence just to help him get caught up in Destroyer Duck. So I wrote about a two-page fight scene between Destroyer Lawyer and a villain, I forget who the villain was. My first work in comics was illustrated by Jack Kirby!

SPURGEON: Wow.

DIXON: I started at the top.

SPURGEON: What was it like working with Kirby? What was he like in general?

DIXON: Jack was one of the nicest guys I've ever met. Just a great, great person. He and Roz were wonderful people. It was tons of fun. I tell people I was friends with Jack Kirby before I knew he was Jack Kirby. I was obviously aware of who Jack Kirby the creator was, but I had never met him in person or even seen a picture of him. I was working at Ruby-Spears, we were just starting up Thundarr, and this little man with a twinkle in his eye came into one of the conference meetings and before the meeting the artists and the writers were just kind of hanging around and talking and whatnot, and nobody bothered to introduce me to him. So I had no idea who he was, but we started talking, and hit it off, we kind of liked each other, and I thought, "Boy, it's going to be cool to work with this guy. Not only is he a great person as an individual but he has really great ideas." After the meeting he left and Steve Gerber mentioned off-handedly it was Jack Kirby. I went, "That was Jack Kirby!" So I had the advantage of making friends with Jack before the hero worship set in. If I had known it was Jack Kirby, I probably would have been tongue-tied, going, "Nahbahalahbada" the whole time. It was a great experience working Jack on that and a few other projects we did at Ruby-Spears.

imageI ended up taking over the last two issues of Destroyer Duck when I think it was Pacific Comics that picked it up -- not 100 percent sure on that. Then I started doing a variety of comics for various people. I think I wrote for Tales of Terror and Alien Encounters. I did some stuff for Marvel on a hit and miss basis. I was one of the writers on NFL SuperPro. The reason I got that gig was it turned out that I was the only person that anybody at Marvel knew who had ever played oraganized football.

SPURGEON: [laughs] When did you play football?

DIXON: I had played for four years in high school. So I at least knew which way the helmet goes on. [laughter]

SPURGEON: It's a rare thing in comics, to find someone that played organized sports.

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DIXON: So I kicked around. I worked at a variety of different comic book companies. I was with the TSR line when they were up and running. I either wrote or adapted most of the Buck Rogers stories that they did. Which was a thrill for me, because Buck Rogers is one of the things I can point to as specifically putting me on the path to becoming a writer. Even before I could read, I'd go over the funny pages. And Buck Rogers was one of my favorites because there were like spaceships and stuff. At age five I saw a Buck Rogers Sunday page where Buck and his friends were playing water polo against some aliens that looked like the creature from the black lagoon. So playing water polo, Buck and these humans are wearing fishbowl helmets so they can breathe underwater during the game. Then after the game, they get out of the pool, but the aliens put on the fishbowl helmets so they've got water circulating around their gills! At five years of age, I looked at it and went "Yeah! That's right! That's the way it should be!" That cemented my interest in science fiction and they got me interested in writing.

SPURGEON: I think of you as later getting back into cartoons, am I right?

DIXON: I've had three feature films produced off of scripts I've either written or co-written. I've worked on a number of videogames and role-playing games. I've worked in comics, I've worked in animation, I've done short stories, and now I'm branching out as a packager. I'm putting together not only Serenity, but I'm also in discussion to do more stuff with Barbour.

SPURGEON: Before we get into Serenity let me be self-indulgent with a question that has nothing to do with that.

DIXON: Go ahead!

SPURGEON: You're a Stan Lee Media survivor.

DIXON: I sure am.

SPURGEON: It still pops up in the news because of the Clinton fundraising allegations. That has to be weird. My former workplaces never show up in the front section of the New York Times.

DIXON: [laughs] It will never go away.

SPURGEON: Do you remember that as a good period?

DIXON: I remember it as a vivid period, let's put it that way. Serenity actually started at Stan Lee Media.

SPURGEON: This I did not know.

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DIXON: I'll give you the back story here. Somebody suggested to Stan he do a Christian comic. I was vice-president of creative affairs at Stan Lee Media at the time. Someone suggested this, and Stan looked around, and the only recognizeable Christian in the crowd was me. So Stan said, "Do this."

I began doing market research. This would have been about 2000. I began doing preliminary market research. Stan made his fame and fortune from superheroes; he was quite literally expecting me to come back with the equivalent of Spider-Man at home, reading the Bible, the bad guy shows up and they fight. But there are certain ideas... for example, that only God can give power. So the first thing I did was change superpowers to supertalents. This got me thinking that superhero stories had mostly degenerated into stories about two people with superpowers beating the crap out of each other. And that's kind of antithetical to the Christian message.

So I began developing other ideas, other concepts. One of them was kind of a Little Rascals- or Our Gang- type comedy about a group of kids who were in a children's choir in church. The unifying factor would be they were all in the children's choir, but the story would focus on the kids. I was doing this thing up, and I was looking at one of the characters and I thought to myself, "Boy, she's going to be quite a handful when she's a teenager." And all of the sudden this floodgate opened in my head. Literally in the space of two days I'd say 80 percent of everything in Serenity came rushing out in a torrent. I was writing as fast as I could just to jot it all down. I cannot say I was creating it, channeling it would be the better term. It came out in a huge rush, like two days time. We have added or changed very, very little. We've done some fine tuning, but not significant changes from original concept and direction.

SPURGEON: Did you see it in a manga-reminiscent style from the start?

DIXON: I saw it in a kind of a manga style, because the original idea was to do it as a magazine. My argument for doing it was at the time, the year 2000, there were no comics for girls on the market period. None whatsover. With the exception of Archie. I didn't want to go Archie-style. There were a couple of ideas we experimented with -- when I say experimented, we did research into what the art would look like and had samples with which to talk to people. One idea was to go in the fashion magazine illustration direction. But more and more we kept seeming to gravitate towards manga, because Sailor Moon was gaining real traction with female audience in the young audience -- that's what really kicked off the big manga boom in the U.S. So maybe at the beginning, manga was one of a couple of style we were considering, but definitely by the time our first artist came on board we had solidified what it was going to look like.

SPURGEON:I think when I saw samples a few years later, it was as part of a magazine package.

DIXON: The idea was to launch a magazine called Serenity, that would have been a monthly magazine, that would have had Serenity as the primary story but would have had three back-up stories -- one of which would have been a serial, one a regular but not serialized story, and then various stand-alones. When my business partner Marlon Schulman joined RealBuzz Studios -- I'll explain how I got to know him -- when Marlon came in he looked at the business plan and said, "Do you want to publish Christian comics, or do you want to chase advertisers?" I said, "I'd rather publish Christian Comics." He said let's dump the magazine idea, because you spend all your time chasing advertisers if you do a magazine. We shifted our emphasis over to graphic novels, which is what got us some traction, got us moving forward at that point.

In retrospect I know the magazine industry is telling people they're going to be around for a long time, and I suspect in some form they will, but this is really not the healthiest time to launch a new magazine.

SPURGEON: How did you meet Mr. Schulman?

DIXON: I had been doing some research on animation production costs. Someone had asked me about how much it would cost to produce a Serenity animated series. I was introduced to an animation director, and he said I ought to talk to Marlon Schulman; he had worked with Marlon on a variety of projects and found him pretty knowledgeable on marketing and whatnot. He introduced me to Marlon. Marlon was the guy who had helped found Anime Village for Bandai about five or six years ago, maybe eight years ago, somewhere in that time frame, I can't remember. He had essentially set up Bandai's operation in the United States, gotten it up and running, and then for a variety of reasons left the company -- in a nutshell the Japanese wanted to bring their own team in once it had been established. So they bought Marlon out, and Marlon had been involved in a variety of other projects. When I was first introduced to him, because Marlon is Jewish, he had no interest in doing a Christian comic per se [laughter], but he agreed to have a meeting with me and look the material over, and give me some pointers just as kind of a favor. But the more he looked at the material, the more he saw what we had been developing, he realized there's an enormous potential here. So he came on board. He's now a partner in RealBuzz Studios. In a very rough sense he handles the business end and I handle the artistic end, but in reality we are both very much aware of what each other is doing. It's not a clean, divisive line down the middle there.

When he came on board, one of the first things he suggested was drop the magazine concept and concentrate on graphic novels. So we put all of our attention into graphic novels, and that's when we began getting some traction with publishers.

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SPURGEON: I don't remember the name of the young artist you're using from New Jersey.

DIXON: Min Kwon.

SPURGEON: Now at what point did Miss Kwon come aboard?

DIXON: We lost our original artist. Our original artist was a young Filipino student that my daughter was going to school with at the University of Santa Monica. She introduced me to him. He's a phenomenally talented artist. He's really good. His name is Drigz Abrot. Drigz was phenomenally good. He did cover-mock-ups -- the line art for mock-ups for three magazines we were trying to launch. He later went in and did model sheets for the characters in Serenity and he did a two-page story that we had colored and printed up to use as a promotional item to get people interested in the magazine. When we shifted over to doing it as a graphic novel, one of the major manga publishers in the United States expressed interest in it, and wanted to put Serenity in their pipeline and start doing it as one of their books. Just about the time they expressed interest in doing this, we had a scheduling conflict with Drigz and he had to drop out of the project. We were in the middle of active negotiations with this publisher, and at the same time trying to find an artist.

imageWe began a mad scramble. We were looking everywhere. We asked lots of people, we saw lots of samples. A lot of very good, talented artists. But nobody seemed to have quite "it," if you know what I mean. Nobody seemed to connect with the material in the way we were hoping for. We had boiled it down to two artists that if we had absolutely to we would go with them. They were not bad, but they didn't seem to get what it was we were striving for. I was asking people everywhere that if they knew any people that worked in the manga style to please point me in their direction. I belong to a group called the Biola Task Force. This is a group of Christians in the entertainment and publishing industries who support Biola Christian University here in Southern California. Not only financially, but serving as mentors, and coming in to speak to classes, things like this. About three or four times a year they have a task force dinner, which is actually a wonderful opportunity for people to network as well as keep up on what's going on at Biola. While I was there I put the word to everybody. I said we were looking for a new artist, and if anybody knows anybody, please tell us; we'll consider anybody at this point.

One of the students came up and said, "I have a friend that works in the manga style and I think he would be good for you." I went to his friend's web site, guy was a very good, top notch artist, and I sent him an e-mail describing what the Serenity project was and asking if he would like to become involved in it. Or if he would like to discuss this. But at the same time I went through all of the links he had. It's been my experience if you find a web site that you like, check the links, because they're linked to other sites you'll end up liking.

I went through his links and found a web site where a number of other artists congregated. I looked through their various on-line portfolios and found several there I thought had potential and sent all of them e-mails as well. I followed the links from that web site. From that web site I found a third web site where there was a batch of artists. Again, I found several artists there whose styles I liked. I sent e-mailed inquiries to them. And one of those artists was Min Kwon.

imageThe thing is everybody turned me down, including Min. The very first guy turned me down because he already had a job lined up and wouldn't have time for it. Most of the other people didn't even bother returning their e-mails and the few that did basically said I'm either too buy or they thought the material wasn't a good match for them. Min said, "I'm not able to do it, I don't have the time, but I'd like to know a little bit more about it." So I sent her a little more information, and she said, "Maybe I can try something." She did a three-page sequence that we showed to the publishers we were talking with, and they said, "Yeah, we like her." So we went back to Min, had her do an entire chapter to see how well she can tell a story. She did really well with the chapter, so the decision was to plunge ahead and use Min. The problem was she was going to school at the time, and would not be able to devote full time to drawing Serenity until she graduated. So we had a six-month wait for Min to graduate school. [laughs] We were commited to waiting, and in the meantime we wanted to hammer out the contract with the publisher.

We were getting an excellent deal -- I cannot fault them for the money they were willing to put on the table. They were going to financially support this title very much. The thing was, we were telling them we had to be involved in the marketing of it. We told them they couldn't market this like any other title they had. It's a specialized market. You have to. in effect, "know the language." You can't for example carry ads for some of your other books in Serenity. You can't have an ad for a demon girl in the back of Serenity. That wasn't going to fly with the target audience. But they didn't want to hear that. They did not want us to have any input, even advisory input, into their marketing plans. Every time we asked for more input into marketing, they threw more money at us. We kept telling them, "This is nice, but that's not what we're asking about."

This is where the story gets very interesting. We were at the San Diego Comic-Con of 2004. At the 2004 Comic-Con we were introduced to a man named Jason Rovenstine. Jason Rovenstine is the direct of new product development at Barbour Publishing. He saw the sample, the two-page sample art that Drigz had done for the flyer, and said, "This is great. Could you develop something just like this for Barbour Publishing?" We said, "Absolutely. We'll be happy to develop something for you." We made arrangements to get in touch with one another after San Diego. After the San Diego Comic-Con the negotiation with the other publisher was dragging on. We asked for some very minor changes. They agreed to them and then sent a contract back without those changes in them. Marlon and I looked at it and said, "You know what? We'll send it back one more time and remind them they agreed to make these changes," and if they say no we'll sign the contract anyway. We were ready to sign the contract if they refused to make the changes. We sent it back and we got a terse e-mail saying they decided not to pursue this project anymore. They dropped out of negotiations completely. We waited a week or two because we thought it was maybe a negotiating ploy on their point. [Spurgeon laughs] And they didn't. So after two weeks I got on the phone with Jason Rovenstine and said, "You know that thing you wanted us to develop like Serenity? How would you like to have Serenity?" And in three weeks time we had a contract in place with Barbour.

SPURGEON: Was there a developmental process with Barbour, any back and forth?

DIXON: There was some back and forth. Serenity with the other publisher would have been a black and white book to fit in with their line. Barbour felt they should go for color. And we agreed because that would be yet another thing that would help us stand out in the crowd, so to speak.

SPURGEON: Did you receive any backlash on the color?

DIXON: Yeah. This is the funny thing. We've gotten some hate mail, and we've gotten some critical mail. The critical mail is usually from manga fans saying, "How dare you call this manga! It's not produced in Japan, it isn't printed backwords, and it isn't in black and white." They have a very fixed idea of what manga is and anything outside of it they get very outraged at people who call something manga. We will never be able to please them. We're not going to sway them. On the other hand, we've got about six or eight pieces of genuine hate mail, from people who hate the fact we're doing anything Christian at all. They send us these really nasty letters, as if we would read them and go, "Oh my goodness, we're offending people, we better stop." [laughs] It's going to take a little more than that.

So we have had some diehard people who say it can't be manga because it's printed in black and white, and we've also received a lot of feedback from people buying and reading and enjoying the book that they like the color. Manga is printed in color in Japan, but only a very small percentage. Most manga is in black and white because it's cheap and manga's a fast and inexpensive medium.

SPURGEON: Do you have a sense of where you're selling? You're penetrating Christian bookstores as well.

DIXON: Yes.
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SPURGEON: That is a very, very unique market.

DIXON: We made the bestseller list for January, the Christian Booksellers Association of America's list for Young Adult titles in January.

SPURGEON: Now I would guess there's not a lot of fiction on that list, and certainly no comics.

DIXON: We were the only graphic novel, and there were only two other fiction books on the list. Somebody commented to us that it was a very unusual month because they rarely if ever have a fiction title on the bestseller list, and they have three fiction titles at once, which is surprising.

SPURGEON: Christian comics have a peculiar history, and a strange relationship with the Christian bookstore market, even. There are some very set ideas those sellers have, some of which can be incompatible with stories that comics choose to tell and the way they tell them. Have you received any feedback from those sellers?

DIXON: Absolutely.

SPURGEON: What are they telling you?

DIXON: It varies on the particular chain. Obviously there are some chains, some store owners who have a more socially conservative outlook than others. We've gotten a number of people commenting on the "censored dialouge" in the first book. If you remember --

SPURGEON: It's covered over.

DIXON: -- we put what looks like labeling tape over wherever Serenity is supposedly saying something bad. The truth is is that in the original script this was written this way. This was the way it was meant from the beginning. Partly this was a joke, to make it look like we were covering something up. We had several people comment, "Kids can figure out what she's saying." Well, yeah... your point? You know?

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We also had one person, and I guess we pushed this person's button. Serenity tries to seduce Derek in volume one. There's one panel where we have a close-up of her foot stepping into a pair of cut-off jeans. And that one panel just pushed this guy's buttons and he really did not like the fact that we had this picture of a foot going into a pair of cut-off jeans. I suspect we found something that he deep down inside found a little racy too himself for whatever reason and he got off on it.

Just to step back for a moment to Min. One of the great advantages of having Min on this project is she brings a feminine eye to it. Drigz is a tremendous artist and was very, very good, but you look at what Drigz was drawing and what Min is drawing and you realize that Drigz is drawing what a guy would like to see in the story. And Min is drawing it the way a girl would like to see it. And Min draws things -- I'm not going to use the word innocently or naively, that's the wrong word -- she draws them without the same implications in her drawings a guy might have. One time, and I cannot even remember the specific example, but I looked at something she drew from a guy's point of view, and I said, "Min, you realize when she's sitting in this position..." and Min was horrified. "I never realized that! I'm sorry!" A guy could look at it and say one thing, and a woman might draw innocuous meaning from it. It's interesting to work with Min because she's very good at telling the story the way a woman would like to see the story told.

SPURGEON: Balancing all these concerns, some of them quite specific to your audience, is it hard as a writer to negotiate all of these landmines? Or do you merely trust your impulses when it comes to storytelling that might offend and walking the line between interest and offense? You're telling a story ostensibly in the real world, but you don't want to include salacious aspects of that given your audience. How do you negotiate that as a writer?

DIXON: I try to apply common sense and my own background to it. As I was developing the story and going through it -- and we have a tremendous amount of material plotted out and outlined -- there's certain things at certain stages, we will be doing stories that touch on certain topics. I look at it, and the first thing is I don't want any topic to be taboo, that we can't discuss. At the same time, I want to be able to discuss it open and frankly but not in a titillating fashion. We've got things coming up where I very carefully try to skirt that in the sense of... going back to the seduction scene, the instructions I gave Min that what Serenity was to wear in the scene was to look like something a real girl could wear to the beach on a sunny day. Very, very cute but not itself overtly sexual.

The original way we had it, she was holding a condom pack in her hand. She was saying to herself that the boy, Derek, she was trying to seduce, since he was a Christian he might not have protection but she would make sure he wouldn't have that excuse. Barbour said, "We think actually showing the condom pack is a step too far." So I looked at it, and maybe could we mention that she had protection...? And they said, "Yeah, you could mention it." So instead of holding it in her hand, she's looking in her purse, and her thought balloon is, "He may not bring protection, but I've already got that covered." So we get that idea across. The kids know full well what we're talking about. But somebody who might have had their particular button pushed by seeing a condom pack, that button doesn't get pushed this time.

imageWe are experiencing a certain amount of give and take. We are trying to get certain ideas and concepts across, and for the most part the concepts and themes aren't the problem but the actual depiction is. We're right now going through a sequence where Serenity... I don't want to give the details away -- if Barbour read this I don't want them to feel I'm talking out of school -- we're going through a sequence where Serenity has a mistaken idea, where she assumes something is happening that isn't happening. The original way we were approaching it, it was kind of funny and it was nothing that would have been out of place in an old I Love Lucy or Dick Van Dyke episode. But they felt on the response the foot in the cut-off panel got, they thought they might receive a response from it, that some people may not like it. We're trying to hammer out exactly what we can say or show in this. We're hoping we can convince them we can do it the way we originally intended. I wouldn't say it's an innocent mistake she makes, but it's an innocuous -- not even innocuous -- it's a non-offensive mistake she makes. But if we have to, we can adjust it and try to cope with it.

My concern is that I want to be able to tackle really tough things, things we'll be tackling in the future, and we need to build a certain amount of trust with the retailers so they'll know we're not being salacious and that we have a point, and at the same time I don't want to be hemmed in, being told that we can't even go in a certain direction. It's an ongoing concern with us.

SPURGEON: I imagine you might be more psychologically set up to handle that kind of give and take relationship, coming from your background in animation, as supposed to someone who's worked in comics all their lives where there seems to be a bigger premium on the cartoonist doing what they want to do.

DIXON: I've made that comment to people. I've told them I'm paying for all my sins as a writer. All of the agony I inflicted on my story editors and producers is now being visited on me. I'm on the other side of the desk now, and I'm looking at this stuff, and I'm trying to find that right balance between what it is we're trying to do and not going an unecessary step too far.

SPURGEON: One thing about Christian media that fascinates me is there's a "safe harbor" response that a lot of audience members have, especially young readers who feel for reasons of faith they shouldn't be negotiating certain types of secular material and are therefore happy to find there is Christian-themed stuff in the general style or format they like. Have you received response from kids that are manga fans that are just happy to find Christian-themed manga?

DIXON: We've had a lot of kids and parents respond to this by saying "Thank you for doing something with good, sollid Christian values that we can feel comfortable with our kids reading." We have not yet as far as I can remember heard complaints about a specific element in the first book from a parent or from a reader. We've had a couple people who have said, "All manga is sinful, how dare you try to do Christian manga." You're never going to convert those, so if they think that, fine, go ahead.

I understand and approve of the concept of the safe harbor. I would not say Serenity is that safe a harbor. [Spurgeon laughs] She's probably safer than a secular book that would be covering the same topic, but we're going to be going into areas that some people will find edgy or uncomfortable. But we'll do it with good values and hopefully good taste. We're developing some projects that we hope to be announcing fairly soon, where two of them are going to be more of those safe harbor type books. They are designed from the get-go to be about stories without edgy themes. Serenity is a troubled kid, she's been in trouble with the law, she's in a very dysfunctional relationship with her mother, she's had drug problems, she's got a lot on her plate. To be able to address that, with a little more depth than a typical tract where in the first panel she's a drug addict and in the last panel she's saved and there's only like eight panel in the tract, to do it with a little more depth than that takes a little more time, and we have to be able to explore the characters, their feelings and their realtionships a bit more.

SPURGEON: Where are you ideally a few years from now, Buzz? Would you like to continue in this vein?

DIXON: We absolutely intend to continue. Right now we're trying to get the i's dotted and t's crossed on two new series. We tell people Serenity is the flagship of a vast fleet that's ready to sail. We have a couple dozen properties, many for the Christian market, others that would be not specifically Christian in content, but Christian compatible if you follow me. There would not be anything in there Christians would find offensive. The thrust of our company, the territory we're staking out, is that we're going to be doing morally and spiritually uplifting stories and material. You would not see a Spawn from us.

SPURGEON: Do you see bringing more people in? Do you see a larger enterprise in the future?

DIXON: Oh, a much larger enterprise, yes. It's our intention to grow RealBuzz Studios from a virtual company as it exists now, to a genuinely large, full-scale company in the next couple of years. We're mindful of growing at the proper pace so that expenditures outstrip our income. Also, to develop a reputation for delivery. We're very happy with the fact we've met all of our deadlines to this point and we are striving mightily to continue meeting deadlines. I think one of the worst things that can happen to a company is to get a reputaiton, deserved or undeserved, as being indifferent to deadlines. If the fans don't think they can find you in the bookstores, then they'll stop looking. We want people to feel like clockwork they come and find a Serenity title in the bookstore.

SPURGEON: I probably should have asked this earlier, but are there rival books for Serenity? How are your books racked?

DIXON: They're being racked in the young adult fiction section. There are... some comic book rivals like Powermark, Archangels and a few like that, published mostly in traditional comic book form but then put into graphic novel form.

From what we have heard, two other major Christian publishers are actively developing their own manga lines right now.

SPURGEON: I wanted to ask you if you saw that happening.

DIXON: I don't see, I know they're actively developing stuff. They have not made official announcements yet. The Christian Comics community is, as you can imagine, a relatively small and well-interconnected band. Word gets out fairly quickly. We know who has been talked to, who has been approached, and who is doing what for whom.

SPURGEON: Do you think the market will bear additional titles?

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DIXON: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. First off... I don't want to use the word niche market, but every other manga publisher in the United States is trying to carve a piece out of the bigger manga pie, if you can imagine. What we've done is said we're not going to be competing for a portion of that pie, we're not about that at all, we're competing for the inspirational and Christian-themed piece. We can make a lot of headway in that area. The analogy I give people is soft drinks. If you want to introduce a new cola, good luck. You've got Coke and Pepsi duking it out for the number one and number two position, you drop way down to Diet Rite or RC Cola for #3, then you're down to niche brands past that. But if you want to introduce the uncola, 7-Up, you've got a whole new market just for yourself. You have the soft drink for the people who don't like colas. You have Snapple, you have all these other drinks, where people have taken things and figured out a way to sell it as "If you don't like what's out there, here's something you may like."

It would be suicidal for us to go up against the main publishers. We could never hope to compete head to head across the board with Viz or Tokyopop, for instance. But we can pick out one corner and say "We will dominate this corner." Go in there and create really good, entertaining properties, and establish that brand identity. So people think "Manga in general... Viz or Tokyopop. Inspirational managa... RealBuzz Studios."