Comics

The Dream Factory Part 1: PopMatters' Exclusive with BOOM! CEO Ross Richie

An unexpected, but hardly improbable success story, publisher BOOM! Studios finds themselves in the position to both care for popculture of established legacy, and build new stories and settings. In an exclusive interview, BOOM! CEO Ross Richie talks frankly about how the stakes have never been higher.

"It's dialing into outer space," Ross says, doing a pretty good impression of a punchline from comic Louis C. K.'s standup routine. Our phone connection had gone down and just as we picked it up again, Ross retells the joke about Louis C. K.'s confusion at why people get annoyed at cellphones taking so long to work properly sometimes. It's dialing into space.

Ross is Ross Richie, CEO of BOOM! Studios, and front man for an unexpected, but hardly improbable success story. With this year seeing the company's sixth anniversary, BOOM! has racked up a string of successes. Not least of which is securing deals with as diverse a group of partners as Disney, Jim Henson's Workshop, Pixar, Electric Sheep Productions (the current owners of sci-fi legened Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep), Peanuts (yes that Peanuts) and industry giant Stan Lee.

The success, as I've come to discover, was unexpected. Ross himself had not plotted this course for his life. But the success was also hardly improbable. What I found in talking to BOOM! is a concerted and focused work ethic by all involved. But mostly what I found is Ross. Passionate and accessible, personable and a fan of popculture at heart, Ross is brings a bright-eyed optimism to comics.

Pop culture should be the culture that finds you, and at BOOM! Studios, hard work is put in everyday to be the publisher that brings you that culture on demand. Unexpectedly, Ross finds himself in the position of steward of pop culture. He's charting a new course for the fictions that defined our imaginative lives when we were younger, and he's creating the environment that will bring new ones into this world.

In this three-part PopMatters exclusive with Ross Richie, the Iconographies looks at what it means to build stories and settings that will give dreams long after their own time. For traditional modes of transmission of pop culture, the stakes have never been higher. But with Ross, and with the culture he's building at BOOM!, the answer is always to build something that will sustain your interest.

In this edition, Act One.

The Dream Factory, Act One: Friends on Facebook

"You friended me, first. That was strange to see a CEO so accessible, so personable, I begin by referencing the frenetic back-and-forth on both Twitter and Facebook around the time of Clive Barker's surprising return to his signature popcultural work, Hellraiser. The conversation played out between myself and BOOM!, and ultimately between myself and Ross. Before getting a chance to friend, my handheld buzzed with an alert. Ross Richie wanted to be my friend.

It was a shock. Friending publishers and CEOs held a different dynamic to friending creators. And deep down, it's sometimes hard to forego the cynicism. Was this simply a functional friending… out of a sense of professional necessity?

What ever cynicism might have exploited the opportunity cracked after my L.A. morning-long conversation with Ross. What began as an interview ended up as an honest exchange. There was a sense of shared values, a deep-held belief in significance of popculture as a formative influence. And ultimately, there was a sense of optimism for the comics medium itself.

When Ross responds to my observation, it comes from that grounded cheerfulness that makes him easy to interact with, approachable.

"Chip (Mosher, BOOM!'s Marketing Director) and I were just talking about this just yesterday," Ross says in a way that's hard to not imagine him smiling. "I was certainly unaware of this. I've certainly never been a CEO before, and I never published a comicbook before his, and never edited one. And I started of not even knowing what to do. But it's really just my nascent personality. But also in the comicbook business people are super-passionate and also, people can get really negative. Especially on the Net. I love comics, I've loved them since I was seven years old when I bought Fantastic Four #178. It seems that reaching out to people is the way ensure that comics culture thrives."

There's a kind of raw openness to Ross' response. An non-jaded honesty. Comics is something to navigate life by, in part because of the confusing, garish nature of their stories that require the kind of work by young readers that fosters psychological fortitude. A first comicbook is a milestone. And the opportunity to ask Ross about his milestone proves too much of a siren song to resist. Could he speak about that issue of Fantastic Four?

There's a booming chuckle on the other end of the line. It was actually part of an Easter basket Ross had gotten when he was seven. "Inside the Easter basket was a copy of Captain America from (Jack) Kirby's run, the second time, in the late '70s. And I'm probably going to get this wrong, but it was 207 or 208, somewhere around there. And the Fantastic Four, it was #178. It was a real interesting duality between the two. I'm a huge Kirby fan… back then I was not. And the artwork… Jack is so dynamic, especially back then. There's these really bold lines. Kirby's almost has this systemic where his heroes are almost built up of stone. They're these towering figures, and to a little kid's sensibilities, it's just a huge punch in the face."

Even now decades later, Ross' emotions run high, and it's hard to tell when he's taking a breath. "In this issue Cap was fighting Nazis there's a sequence with these Nazis where they take him prisoner and put him in a room that's basically a gigantic oven. I was just so horrified at the notion of taking human beings and putting them in ovens… And of course Jack is making a holocaust reference. But for a little kid who didn't know anything about that, it's so horrifying. Meanwhile with Fantastic Four…."

Ross pauses. More to drawn up a memory than to draw breath. It's clear we've hit a point where some thought is moving beneath the surface. Something profound. Something deeply meaningful and personal.

"If that had been the only comic in that Easter basket…," I know where's he's going but Ross doesn't finish the sentence. With the sheer human horror on parade in that issue of Captain America, it might have been hard to get into comics. "That Fantastic Four was the first entry-point… if you're ever concerned about a first reader-friendly comicbook this is the one. It was right in the middle of a gigantic Counter-Earth saga that had the Frightful Five in it, it had Tigra and it had Reed Richards from Counter-Earth who's actually The Brute. It couldn't get any more confusing. Not only do you have Reed Richards the hero, but you have Reed Richards, who's called Reed Richards and whose name is Reed Richards… he's just the evil Reed Richards. He's basically the evil twin. This was all just confusing, but I was not confused at all. I understood everything. And I just really got the evil twin stuff. And the parallel universe, and I got all these characters with bright costumes and science fiction which I loved. I had loved it as a little kid even before then, since the age of four.

"And I never wanted to go home."

It's that last line that hits from left field. There's more at work here than just sharing a personal story. Its a deep and working knowledge of what it means to grow up wrapped in the safety of something older than ourselves, larger than ourselves. Something we had to decode for by our own hand before we could see how the pieces work together.

Decades ago Ross closes the book and looks at the front cover again. He looks at the corner box and sees #178. "It's such a sharp memory," Ross continues, "it's so vivid to me even still. I remember thinking: 'That actually means there's a 177 before this… I have to have every single one.'"

In a large part, the story of BOOM! Studios is Ross's story. It's the story of our he's managed to surround himself with talented individuals and properties that reach back into time. But it's also the story of a kid just a little more curious than terrified. A kid who had the fortitude to pull together disparate fragments and form a cohesive story.

And when we read a medium that is fractionated, as comics is, that relies on each of us to sew together image-sequence with text-sequence and make our own unique vision of the moment-to-moment that comics depicts for us, then that kid is each of us.

If BOOM! is riding the crest of a publishing wave right now, it's because Ross's story has leaked into every part of the company's ethic. 'Build this ourselves' easily translates into both success and joy. It's a simple equation. If BOOM! is successful, it's because we are. It's because BOOM! has tapped that primary human impulse to construct safety for the self, rather than simply anticipate it will appear.

* * *

The Dream Factory, PopMatters' exclusive interview with BOOM! Studios CEO Ross Richie, continues in an upcoming edition of the Iconographies.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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