by Kevin Schaefer
With a line of books ranging from the critically acclaimed children’s fantasy Princeless, to the bizarre B-movie-esque horror series Ehmm Theory from NC Comicon creative director Brockton McKinney, Action Lab is a major force within the world of comics. Founded in 2010 by Shawn Pryor, Dave Dwonch and Shawn Gabborin, the company continues to put out new creator-owned books on a regular basis.
Dwonch, who also serves as Action Lab’s President, is both a lifelong comic book fan as well as a creator. Between writing, illustrating and lettering, he has produced books like Double Jumpers, Ghost Town, Cyrus Perkins, Haunted Taxi Cab, as well as co-writing the all-ages hit series Vamplets with creator Gayle Middleton. When I called him he had just gotten back from a con, and in November he will be a guest at this year’s NC Comicon, so be sure to stop by his table.
Kevin Schaefer: Action Lab is known for putting out a diverse range of comics, from kid friendly books to cult horror. Is this the vision you had for the company when it began?
Dave Dwonch: Initially at the start, I wanted something that was as diverse as possible, and I feel like there are still stories to be told in other genres. It’s interesting because it’s definitely evolving too. What we were doing five years ago, and what we are doing now, and what we are going to be doing five years from now is completely different. As this business grows and we refine what we are trying to do, things are going to change; hopefully for the best.
KS: With that, the two subsets: Action Lab Entertainment and Action Lab Danger Zone, was that planned from the beginning as well?
DD: That was an interesting transition for us. We started the company with three books, really. It was Fracture, Princeless, and Double Jumpers. These three books couldn’t have been more different, but when we got the NFL License we needed to make sure there was a divide between those rated-R comics and the all ages books, that’s where we included the Danger Zone.
KS: Recently you’ve done the partnership with Full Moon Features to do books like Gingerdead Man and Puppet Master. How did that deal come about?
DD: Shawn Gabborin, our editor, is a super fanboy, he had ideas for what he wanted to do with Puppet Master. He wanted to pitch out to Charles Band, and then everything kind of evolved after that. People kept coming out of the woodwork saying they wanted to work on Full Moon stuff, so we just asked Charles if we could expand the line and that’s how that went. We have a lot of great talent working on it, and it’s interesting that the fandom is there on the professional side as well.
KS: Looking at how you broke into the industry, could you talk about how you got started as a creator?
DD: I always wanted to be an artist. Back as a kid I wanted to draw X-Men. As I continued to draw and went to art school, I realized that the reason I drew was because I wanted to tell my own stories. I started with a couple very little known graphic novels and I was doing web comics. After that, I started Action Lab with the guys back in 2009, and by 2010 we were making books. I kind of shifted over to management and became president of the company, but I try to put out a book a year. Right now I’ve got about three books I’m working on.
KS: You said you always wanted to be an artist, so is art still your favorite part of making a comic, or is it the writing?
DD: You know, at this point it’s the writing; but at a certain point it’s getting the pages back from the artist. As an artist I write my scripts and I have an idea, visually, of what I want to do with them. And I’ve been able to work with artists that are much better than I am, so when I get those pages back I’m like “wow, it’s better than I ever thought”. So getting those pages back is the most exciting thing for me. Of course, getting them colored and lettering them, that’s the joy and where it becomes a comic book. Before that it’s just words and drawings, and when you do the lettering and coloring that’s where it becomes what we all want.
KS: With that, as a kid growing up reading comics, were there any creators or books that really influenced you?
DD: For sure. For me it was Frank Miller’s Daredevil, especially the run he did with Dave Mazzucchelli. I love extremely dark comic books and extremely funny comic books, and if you read my stuff, you can see that at work.
KS: With all of the submissions you get, what is the process like of trying to pick which books to publish?
DD: We get about five to ten submissions per week, so it’s intense, especially around convention season. There is a group of five of us, and we have to vote on them. It’s checks and balances and it’s also trying to gauge the level of creators. So for us, it’s finding that happy balance of finding someone who is professional and innovative, and something we can all agree on.
KS: Looking at the industry today, would you say that the medium itself has expanded to incorporate new genres and new material?
DD: Yeah, I’m excited to be a part of that. Pretty much anything can happen in comic books, you’ve always heard that. I feel like today it’s actually true that writers and artists are pushing themselves harder to be more original. I hate to say it, but we’ve seen a lot and it’s difficult to come up with something new; people are pushing harder to get there.
KS: What advice do you have for aspiring creators?
DD: Just do it! The entire process, it’s about creating it, it’s printing it, it’s going to shows and getting feedback. A lot of people think it ends with getting the publisher, but really that’s just the beginning. You’ve got to build your network of people, you have to get feedback. For me, there are four or five levels of success. The first one is just getting out there and doing it.
KS: Is there anything else you’d like to plug?
DD: A good place for writers and artists to start getting feedback, is the NC Comicon. I’ll be there and will gladly review any portfolio or pitch.