This is a true story.
This is how it all happened.
At the beginning of 2011, in January, Dave Bowen — the newly appointed Director of Diamond Digital — said, "We need something big to drive interest in Diamond Digital."
"How big?" I asked.
"Oh, so big that we probably couldn't pull it off. How's that for a challenge?"
"Ok," I said. I sat back in my chair, and folded my hands. "I'll keep my eyes open."
"Good," he said. And then he walked away.
And then I went back to looking at the Nuclear Blast web site on my monitor. Through an online ad, I noticed the longtime record label was setting up shop at this year's San Diego Comic Con. It was going around and around in my head because something told me it was a piece of a puzzle. One I had missed. Or didn't even knew existed. Was Nucler Blast launching a new line of music comic books? They had done a Dimmu Borgir comic. Would they pick up the torch left behind by Revolutionary Comics, and do some sort of ongoing project with their signed bands? Did I miss a press release?
Later, in March, I still had the same questions, but now I was forming those questions into keyword searches on my Mozilla task bar. Ditto for the search box on Facebook. And YouTube. It was late at night, and I had just put the kids to bed. And somewhere in my scattered brain Cradle of Filth came up, because I hadn't heard anything new from those guys, and the last word was that they had ditched black metal as we knew it, and had become this "new thing." A quick keyword search brought up their latest batch of videos on YouTube, but I accidently clicked on a video for something else related to the band as, naturally, I was toggling between 4 and 5 different windows.
Up pops some other music video with some old grandma sitting in a chair, writing in a book. The video's in black-and-white, and I immediately redirect my attention to something else because I don't recognize the band name, and I really needed to finish an article before I went to bed because, as usual, I was behind on the PREVIEWSworld "Upcoming Releases" section.
I let the video play simply because I don't want to do another search, and I thought "What the hell, maybe I'll be surprised for a change."
And I was.
I heard that voice. Sharon Adel. Powerful. Smooth. It woke you up like a hot shot of coffee, and yet it was so smooth it could put you to sleep like a cool glass of wine.
I let the video play.
Then the chorus kicked in.
Then Sharon opened up her lungs, and let out the voices of angels singing in unison from heaven.
My jaw dropped.
Somebody had walked into my den with a big birthday cake, and knew that I liked coconut.
I stopped working on my article. I closed all windows on my desktop, maximized the screen, and re-played the video from the beginning. The song was called "Faster."
It was a monster.
"Oh, man," I said. "Who the hell are these guys?"
I checked out the band's web site from a link on their channel. Due diligence was needed. An open notepad file to cut, paste, and fact check. I went to the band's official website.
The band was called Within Temptation, and they were from the Netherlands.
They had just released the CD which had the "Faster" single. It was their fifth CD release. Within Temptation guitarist Robert Westerholt and vocalist Sharon den Adel formed the band in 1996. In fifteen years, the Dutch rock group had sold over 2.8 million CDs and DVDs throughout 48 countries, earned 30 Gold & Platinum Awards, 2 World Music Awards, 4 Export Awards (NL), and 2 MTV European Music Awards. They were no only Holland's biggest musical export, but they were also one of the biggest rock acts internationally.
How was that for a resume?
I noticed that they were web savvy, and got the word out about the group using social media sites like Last.fm, Twitter, and Facebook.
Then it got better. I checked out their merchandise page, and saw they had produced a comic book that was based off of their new CD. Which (hello!) was a concept album. Each song was written around the narrative of a story, with characters featured in each song.
And the plot was further being supported by music video shorts that fleshed out the story's characters.
The next day I dragged Dave into my office and showed him the video for "Faster." I pointed to the screen and said, "That's the chocalate." Then I clicked onto the band's web site and showed him the comic book. "And that's the peanut butter. What say we make some Reese's peanut butter cups?"
"Make it happen," Dave said. And then he walked back into his office to call i-Verse with the news that we had just found our "big thing."
The following months involved working with Stefan Blonk and Wesley van Os at AT Productions to get the comic into the PREVIEWS catalog.
And then we reached for the highest hanging fruit: for the Diamond Digital version, we had an idea to have the band create an exclusive 2 1/2 minute video that introduced the comic, showed the band in rehearsal, and featured a narration by Sharon to introduce the concept of the comic book. The band agreed. The video was produced. And for the first time in a long time, Dave and I got a decent night's sleep.
Then, later, at the San Diego Comic Con, I was able to personally thank Nuclear Blast Label Manager Gerardo Martinez. His label had got me thinking about music again. And now, Within Temptation's The Unforgiving #1 was going to be our first video-enhanced comic because of an ad that I saw on his company's web site.
Gerardo handed me his card. And so did the guy next to him, Albert Mudrian, from Decibel magazine. I returned the favor. To be continued, as the old saying goes.
Throughout the summer I did more research on the band, and hit paydirt when I came across Aury Monzón's Facebook fan page, InTempty - Within Temptation Venezuela Fan Club.
Through the site I found multiple pictures to use with her permission. You can't beat fans when it comes to getting things at a moment's notice. And this was the case especially for things we needed that helped us launch our initial promotion for the book with Beyond Comics at the 12th annual Baltimore Comic Con, where we helped the store raffle off free CDs and concert tickets to the September 12th show at the Ram's Head Live! venue.
Moving towards our release date in September, the plan was to have the print comic come out first, then the Diamond Digital version because we wanted retailers to see that digital sales supported print sales. We had to support the release with flyers and posters, preferably with QR codes. The last piece of the puzzle was to have the book release timed with the U.S. tour.
In September 2011, Within Temptation came to America to show why The Unforgiving CD and comic book tie-in was their crowning achievement.
We were still hustling on our end getting things together before their plane landed. But because a lot of people worked through the night, we made things happen over the weekend of September 10 through, yes, September 11th.
The plan was to originally cover the concert, and make the most of a few minutes backstage to give some context to the band's tour and further thoughts on the comic book.
But on September 11th, working between The Netherlands and U.S. time schedules and monitoring Facebook chatter from 98 Rock, I was able to learn from 98 Rock's Facebook page and Tour Manager Tommy Winstone's emails that the band was making a last minute stop at Alliance Comics on Light Street in Baltimore.
|Guitarist Robert Westerholt and Tour Manager Tommy Winstone.|
Sharon and Robert wanted to go shopping for comic books before they hit the stage. 98 Rock said Alliance was the payoff. Tommy and Wesley at AT Productions told me to show up with both guns blazing. Purchasing Brand Manager Daria Medved and I then worked together to arrange it so that we could bring along IT Support Manager and professional photographer John Milleker to both the Alliance store and the concert to film what was looking to be a big night with some talented people.
98 Rock Assistant Producer Chris Lycholat promptly arrived at the store at 2:30 pm with Sharon and Robert in tow. Sharon immediately began walking up and down isles looking for books that she had only seen or heard about on the Internet.
I greeted them wearing a Marvel T-shirt lent to me from Jeremy at Alliance as when John and I arrived at the store, armed with all of our equipment, I had trashed my shirt beyond repair because of sweat and coffee stains. I figured, how well would it look for me to say "Welcome to America," and I looked like I had slept in a dumpster.
As Sharon shopped, guitar player Robert Westerholt looked over the history lesson I had prepared for them as a result of my teaching background. I had brought vinyl records dating back to music releases that included the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band, Alice Cooper's Welcome To My Nightmare, Pink Floyd's The Wall, up to Queensryche's Operation Mindcrime to prove a point: this new thing they were doing was actually older than they were, and had been done in conjunction with comics that I had also brought along for show-and-tell.
"Wow!" Robert said. "You brought the classics, man!"
I then produced ancient copies of the KISS and Alice Cooper comic books from Marvel Comics, the Metalocalypse Dethklok comic from Dark Horse, the Cryptic Writings of Megadeth book from Chaos! Comics, and the recent Dimmu Borgir comic from Nuclear Blast.
"You guys are a part of history," I said. "This is your history, man. Check it out."
It was my moment to geek.
Eventually the weight of books Sharon carried around had become to heavy, and she decided she had done enough shopping for the day. She brought the pile of books up to the register and spoke with myself and Robert while she assumed Alliance's Jeremy rang up her order. I turned around, and then produced a package.
"You named your son Logan, after Wolverine. So I did some shopping for you, too. These are for little Logan." I produced a small red Spider-man shirt and a pair of two-pack figures that had Wolverine in different costumes. "And this is for you," I said, and handed her a Facsimile Edition of The Incredible Hulk #181, which (as fans know) is the debut appearance of Wolverine in the Marvel Universe. Sharon was, at first, speechless (her surprise was actually captured in one of John's photos).
She looked at me and said, "You are giving this to me?"
"Yeah," I said.
"Oh, no. You can't do that. This is a very rare comic. You can't get this in The Netherlands."
"Well, then, welcome to America" I replied.
I assured her once again it was hers. She turned to me and said "You come find me after the show tonight. Come to our merchandise stand. I will take care of you." Her words were genuine, and her emotion was real. This was a woman who truly appreciated comic books, and in the above photos you can see how she carefully removed the book from its bag. She treated it as though she were recovering a sacred text from some lost library.
She and Robert then both posed for several pictures, and then Sharon made her way back to the counter to hear from Jeremy what she owed him for the books. Jeremy waved at her. The books were presents. Once again, she had been told "Welcome to Baltimore. Welcome to America."
Sharon stuttered, and then almost blushed. Christmas had come early that year.
After a few more goodbyes and last minute fan talk, they left with Chris Lycholat.
John and I were already running late. Both of us had to get back to the home office before we left for the concert. We quickly packed our gear and got back to headquarters in time to do the things we needed to do before we hooked up with Daria, made a dash for last minute eats at Burger King, and then headed down I-83 to hit Ram's Head Live in time for the show.
The band 3 opened for the evening, and, to put it lightly, the group was good enough to headline their own show. They played very technical progressive metal that I have never heard before. And I'm 43 so that's saying something.
I managed to meet their frontman, Joey Eppard, and he gave me a CD of their previous release, The End is Begun. He also told me that he, too, was into comics, and had some pages he could show me.
John and I finally met up with Tommy Winstone, and I gave him the posters he needed for the rest of the band's tour that would end in Europe.
He assured me that Sharon wanted to know if John and I had come to the show, and if so she wanted us both to come backstage so that she and the band could give us a proper goodbye. No sooner than I assured Tommy we would hang around after the show, the lights went out and the crowd started to scream.
Let me describe last minute communication from security staff that competes with a booming PA system. It goes like this: although we were granted press access right in front of the stage, we could only shoot/film for the first 3 songs, with no flash. Those were the rules. Don't break them.
During the band's first three songs, John flew back and forth in front of the stage like a fly on steroids. I don't know how the man moved so fast. He was a blur. The man was practically The Flash, and I eventually just stepped out of the way to let the real professional do his job without the bald guy getting in the way. He was that good, and the pictures will do the talking for me later (be sure to check the PREVIEWSworld Facebook page to see when we'll announced the pix are uploaded to the "photos" section).
Now I could tell you how well the band played, but of course you'd expect to hear that anyway. So what I will say instead is what actually happened at the show. And it's this: if you didn't get close enough to the stage to see the band before they started playing, you didn't get any closer to the stage for the rest of the night. People didn't move. They stayed planted in one spot for the entire show. I saw it with my own eyes, because after John and I had been escorted away from the front of the stage for our photo shoot, I had to fight like mad to get close enough just to hold my Flip Cam over my head. Point. Click. Hope.
To my surprise, in the middle of the show, Sharon thanked me from the stage between songs for the Hulk comic that I gave her at the Alliance store. She didn't know where I stood in the crowd, but she said out loud to the audience that she had been to a comic shop that day, and she was touched. "I got this present today, and it was really beautiful. Thank you so much."
John elbowed me.
What really touched me, though, was how Robert called out the tenth anniversary of September 11th, and how he said that they had felt the reverberations of that day even in the Netherlands. He dedicated the band's next number, he said, "to those who are still standing strong."
When the show ended, John and I headed backstage with Daria and her husband and we were gracefully led into a room with food and plenty of adult beverages, which Robert assured us was just as much for us as they were for the band. Martijn (keyboards) and new drummer Mike both came over to us, shook our hands, and encouraged us to hang out. So, over some eats and drinks, we talked about our fascination with the comics biz, new smart phone technology, and the ideas we could bounce off of each other as The Unforgiving comic book was just rolling out, as only issue #2 had been been listed in the September issue of the PREVIEWS catalog. Daria was kind enough to give away her Red Sonja comic from Dynamite Entertaiment to guitar player, Ruud, who exclaimed after he saw the book's cover, "Now this is what a comic is supposed to be."
At the end of the night, John was filming Daria and myself with Sharon and Robert kicking our legs showgirls-style as we were saying our goodbyes. Sharon told us they were planning to come back to Baltimore the following year.
I said, "That's a good thing!"
Honestly, I can't remember having such a good time with such warm, friendly people. We had that good of a time, folks. And we could have talked for hours. But there was a tour bus waiting outside for the band to hit Philadelphia the following night. The time came to say our goodbyes.
And there you have it, folks. The story behind how a major rock band put together a comic, how it got listed in PREVIEWS, and how it got to be the centerpiece for what is soon to be the first video-enhanced comic from Diamond Digital. Special thanks to everyone who supported this effort, including my boss, the Director of Marketing, Dan Manser, Production Manager Cindy Anderson, designers Fred Rohlfing and Elena Byerly, and, of course, Director of Diamond Digital, Dave Bowen.
It was a fun ride, gang.
Keep the faith.
September 16, 2011
Concert photos are © John Milleker Photography.