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Avatar Press is one of the most underrated comic publishers that is still chugging along at this moment. Not that it hasn’t deserved to be overlooked now and again, as Avatar Press made its name riding the wave of turn of the century gore and horror comics. Series that either placed shock value before story, or at least made the shock a prominent part of the story. Stuff that wouldn’t capture a mainstream audience, and if they were around to look back then, they wouldn’t have been impressed at all.
Of course, that is not to say that there haven’t been gems here and there. If there weren’t, then there’s no real way to call them underrated. They would just be trash, but that is half of what we are here to discuss. Despite the apparent companywide mandate that each series has at least a 60/40 share of titillation and exploitation, when you are able to wrangle big name writers with considerable critical acclaim then you are liable to strike gold. A feat that was made with impressive names like Garth Ennis, Si Spurrier, Warren Ellis, and Alan Moore.
Sure, they haven’t all made hits when working with Avatar Press, and each has made a fair share of series/one-shots that are exactly what people think of when they see the pyramid-style logo on a comic cover. Yes, this is a direct calling out of series like The Chronicles of Wormwood, Neonomicon, and even Black Gas. They just don’t bring anything to the table. Yet, each has proven capable of mixing style and substance with series like Black Summer, (some) arcs of Crossed, and the new classic Providence. So it is possible and each is something that has actual appeal.
So, in a time where Avatar Press has more skillful books out than it has ever had at one time, it strikes me as strange that they have seemingly pulled back a lot of their presence. Not even last year they had a handful of new releases a month, but that has been scaled way back in the second half of this year. For example, all that they have solicited for the month of January 2017 is Uber: Invasion and a single trade. Taken in contrast with how it would have at least been buttressed with Mercury Heat, War Stories, Crossed: Badlands, and even Code Pru, plus any other mini-series it had cooked up in the past.
Sure, one might just think they don’t have any irons in the fire, which is completely alright. Yet, this comes off the heels of two different kickstarters to fund comics they should have been able to easily find funding for before, given that they were riding high on fan interest. This is coupled with how they cut one of their biggest cash-cows: Crossed. Avatar Press hasn’t ever had as much mileage as they got out of that series. Over 130 issues, not including webseries, and it is insane to think that it would have been thought impossible before it was announced. With one glaring oddity – there is still no sign of the final arc by Garth Ennis that was promised almost two years ago.
In fact, it was an arc that was supposed to start with Badlands #100, which was then repurposed to being the final issue. No announcement or anything about the other series and still nothing in sight. Meanwhile, Ennis is off doing intermittent arcs of War Stories, and a short in the equally puzzling Cinema Purgatorio. The latter is confusing because it basically takes four ongoings that Avatar would usually be putting out, but puts them together in a format that does none of them justice. The short by Max Brooks in particular feels like they had made a comic and are now just taking out five pages of it at a time.
So what we end up with is a publisher that only has three series on the stands, and no real growth in any other sector. Cinema Purgatorio doesn’t have longevity and Providence is ending soon, so what plans does Avatar Press have? What is going on internally? My only guess is financial problems that are leading them to restrict publishing to a small handful, and ante up on the variants. I can only hope otherwise though. Things were just getting juicy.