A Conversation with Brett Warnock of Top Shelf Productions

Top Shelf Productions logo

Even if you’ve unfamiliar with the books published by Top Shelf Productions, odds are very strong that you’re familiar with big-budget Hollywood movies based on some of their books.  Mind you, I don’t think that anybody in their right mind would argue that those movies are the equal of their source material, but it’s worth noting for the uninitiated that both the Johnny Depp-starring From Hell and the Bruce Willis-starring The Surrogates were originally published as comics by Top Shelf.  And the fact that the former of those works was produced by a pair of comics veterans (and certified geniuses, if I may be so bold), and the latter was produced by a pair of relative newcomers is a pretty good representation of the breadth of the aptly named Top Shelf Productions’ high quality offerings.

Brett Warnock of Top Shelf ProductionsNote: Regular readers may recall that I mentioned in my last post that I had dinner with my friend Brett Warnock, co-publisher of Top Shelf (along with his business partner Chris Staros, who is also a friend) while vacationing in Oregon last week, so I make no claims as to objectivity with regard to Top Shelf  but, for what it’s worth, I was already an admirer of Top Shelf (and Chris Staros’ The StarHouse, which you’ll see referenced below) before I ever had the pleasure of meeting and becoming friends with Brett and Chris.

But enough with the prelude, right?  Let’s get to the interview…

Since SPX is taking place this weekend in Bethesda North, MD, and since Top Shelf has a long and happy history with that most excellent celebration / showcase of indie comics, SPX seems like a natural starting place.  It occurs to me that in addition to an unbroken streak of …what is it now, a streak of a dozen or more annual SPX appearances as an exhibitor?…  that it was at one of the famous post-SPX Sunday pig roasts of yore at then-Executive Director Chris Oarr’s house that you and Chris Staros first talked about joining forces and expanding the Top Shelf brand, wasn’t it?

Well, yeah, we’ve been at every SPX (either me and/or Chris) since 1996.  And that year (1996), me and David Lasky were the only two people from the West Coast to attend.  Chris Oarr worked me hard, but he knew he had a good thing going, and he also seemed to sense that I was heading somewhere myself.

And yes, it was that same year, while I was staying at Chris Oarr’s house (up all night stuffing bags and menial labor), that Staros approached me about partnering up.  Since at the time I was essentially out of money, it took me all of ten seconds to respond with a resounding YES!

(That’s also when I met you, Ian Sattler, and Greg Bennett.  I remember chatting it up with Greg at the pig roast, while we all beat up on a piñata.  Shannon Wheeler was there, as was Jeff Smith.)

Ha!  I’d forgotten the piñata!  Good times.  I understand that you won’t be in attendance personally this year, but Top Shelf will be well represented by Chris, along with Leigh Walton.  What’s on the docket for this year’s show?  Which artists will be appearing in the Top Shelf booth this weekend?

Since I won’t be there, I’m going to crib from Leigh Walton’s blog on our SPX 2010 slate:

BB Wolf and the 3 LPs cover“This year Team Top Shelf has a healthy blend of creators, both Top Shelf veterans and those who are new to the family this year, but all have been in comics for years!  Writer and retailer Johnnie “JD” Arnold is coming out to sign his debut graphic novel with art by Rich Koslowski, BB Wolf and the 3 LPs, as well as the awesome new soundtrack album of blues-rock songs written by the BB Wolf himself!  SPX vet (and award-winning minicomic auteur) Will Dinski joins us to sign his cool, clean, and creepy Top Shelf debut Fingerprints! And Eisner-Award-winner Nate Powell joins the party as well, guaranteeing some karaoke stardom as well as signed copies of his masterpiece Swallow Me Whole.  Rounding out the team are Chris Staros and Leigh Walton, ready to see old friends and make new ones.

All this PLUS Eddie Campbell’s nomination for the Ignatz Award for Outstanding Artist! Will he win? We’ll find out Saturday night.”

Moving on from SPX (while at the same time looking forward to it … that’s the Small Press Expo, taking place this Saturday and Sunday, September 11-12 at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel & Conference Center, kids, and as always, all proceeds benefit the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund!), let’s look back at another important annual event for Top Shelf: Comic-Con International in San Diego.  I trust that, as always, it was all-hands-on-deck for the Top Shelf gang at The Big Show.  How was this year’s show for you?  What were the big Top Shelf premieres and announcements at the show?  Any fond (or not-so-fond, for that matter) memories of Comic-Con 2010 you’d care to share?

The show seemed to start off slowly.  All of Hollywood’s events and panels are starting to suck people off the floor.  But lo and behold, by the end of the day on Sunday, we’d done alright.

We had several debuts, and a fleet of our authors were on hand pimping their wares.  New books included:

BB WAX: A Collection of Alternative Manga coverolf and the 3 LPs, written by Johnnie Arnold and drawn by Rich Koslowski (both present)

Fingerprints, by Will Dinski (not present)

The Playwright, written by Daren White and drawn by Eddie Campbell (not present)

Johnny Boo volume 4 and Dragon Puncher, by James Kochalka (present)

AX: A Collection of Alternative Manga, edited by Sean Michael Wilson (present)

Other authors working the table included: Jeffrey Brown, Stuart and Kathryn Immonen, Matt Kindt, Jeff Lemire, Nate Powell, Kevin Cannon, and Andy Runton.

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One of the most terrifying things you will see on the internet today

Two words: “Sexy Elmo

This brings a whole new meaning to “Tickle me Elmo…”