Starburns Industries Press Comes To PREVIEWS
May 15, 2018
Starburns Industries launched in the summer of 2010, founded by Community creator and Rick and Morty co-creator Dan Harmon, Dino “Starburns” Stamatopoulos (Moral Orel), Joe Russo II, James Fino and Duke Johnson, in order to create a workspace that gives the support and freedom to original and creative people to make content that is funny, strange, sad, and beautiful. In addition to developing original content, Starburns Industries creates groundbreaking animation… and now comic books and graphic novels via their SBI Press imprint.
With SBI Press making their debut in PREVIEWS this month, we spoke with SBI Press President Simon Ore, Dino “Starburns” Stamatopoulos (Starburns co-Founder, and author of Trent), and Eric Esquivel (co-writer with Dan Harmon on Gregory Graves) about their path to print.
PREVIEWS: For starters, could you tell us a bit about what inspired Starburns Industries to break into comics?
Simon Ore: The idea was simple. It takes a long time to make a TV show, and even then, you don’t get to keep the IP. It takes a lot less time to make a comic, and when you do you get to own the IP. We have lots of stories we want to tell and lots of characters we want to bring to life and we don’t want to wait, so publishing comics seemed like the way to do that. Also, and this is something we haven’t looked into much yet, but we’re assuming comic books and cassette tapes (which we are also making) are still as popular as they were in the ’80s.
PREVIEWS: While Starburns already has a diverse list of TV shows and comics to boast, they all seem to have an essential connective tissue that makes them feel so “Starburns.” Are there elements you look for in a story when looking for new projects to develop that have helped establish the Starburns brand?
Simon Ore: Starburns has the mandate to always include four magical and essential ingredients into every story it tells. To get a list of the four ingredients, please send a self-addressed stamped envelope to our office address in Burbank, along with a two dollar bill. Or read the rest of this sentence, which tells you that the four ingredients to making something special and universal is to make it Sad, Funny, Strange and Beautiful. We are a creator-driven, story-oriented studio. We just want to help tell good stories.
PREVIEWS: What about Starburns Industries, and by extension SBI Press, stands apart from other similar companies out there?
Simon Ore: We can’t speak for other companies, but we can say that we are all about trying to make things exist that probably wouldn’t have existed without us, but should exist.
Our first graphic novel is a musical about a family tragedy, our second book is a horror anthology for children. We want to remember the time where comics were strange and dark and you felt like you were discovering something special when you stumbled upon a great book. I’m sure most places think about things that they could sell to others, we want to make things we would buy for ourselves.
PREVIEWS: What has been the coolest part of watching SBI Press come to fruition so far?
Simon Ore: Making our first few books, holding them in our hands and seeing the positive reactions of readers.
PREVIEWS: Can you tell us about some of those first few books?
Simon Ore: We’ve got Trent from Dino Stamatopolous, who played “Starburns” on Community, was the lead writer on Mr. Show, and created Moral Orel — we’ve been calling that book “Moral Orel Season 3”. We also have Hellicious, which is basically Calvin and Hobbes set in Hell, except Calvin is the Devil’s granddaughter and her Hobbes is a wayward soul she befriended. And we have Gregory Graves, written by Dan Harmon and Eric Esquivel, which is basically Dan and Eric saying “What if Lex Luthor was the good guy all along and Superman was the monster?”
PREVIEWS: Eric, you co-wrote Gregory Graves with Dan Harmon. The story of how that came together is pretty great, will you tell us a bit about how that?
Eric Esquivel: Back when Dan’s podcast, “Harmontown” recorded in the back of Meltdown Comics (R.I.P.), I used to attend religiously. As a huge fan of Scud: The Disposable Assassin, La Cosa Nostroid and Community — and as a comic book writer slowly making his way into writing TV and film — I related to Dan in a big, bad way. I actually credit him with being the reason I moved to Los Angeles to pursue a writing career.
So, when Dan opened up one of his Harmontown episodes with an epic rant about how much he hated Superman — the only role model I’ve had longer than Dan himself — something in my head exploded.
Hearing my real-life hero talk smack about my favorite fictional hero caused something in my head to short-circuit, and smoke started pouring out of my ears! Harmon and I had never spoken before. But when he glimpsed out into the audience and saw that aforementioned ear-smoke, he brought me up on stage. And we each argued on behalf of our respective heroes.
That weird argument — with Dan basically in-character as Lex and me as Clark — continued FOR MONTHS after the podcast wrapped, and eventually mutated into a given free reign with the characters.
I work at DC occasionally, and was able to land us an in-person pitch meeting. Dan and I did our song and dance, got a swift “thanks, but no thanks.” It was the best thing that could have happened to us! Because now we’re free to explore our ideas unfettered by continuity, or restrictions against naughty words… which is why SBI Press rules.
PREVIEWS: Dino, how about you. Tell us about the origin of Trent. What inspired you to want to do a graphic novel?
Dino Stamatopoulos: I wrote the stage musical version of Trent back in 1990 and since I had an animation studio, I thought the only way to do this story in a palatable way was in stop-motion animation. Of course, I thought it would be a tough sell to get money for it, so I had the idea to do it as a graphic novel first to help sell it. I found Leah Tiscione as an artist and she was really talented. Plus, she wanted to do it for free on spec. Everything fell into place.
PREVIEWS: What led to you publishing in-house through Starburns?
Dino Stamatopoulos: Simon started SBI Press when I was well into working with Leah, and he offered to pay her and publish it. Remember when I said “Everything fell into place” before? Well, it turns out that there were more things to fall into place, and Simon was the one who dropped them into place.
PREVIEWS: Do you have plans to do another “musical graphic novel”?
Dino Stamatopoulos: I’d like to do a musical graphic novel about a lot of things falling into one particular place. Not sure what I’ll call it. Give me a second...
PREVIEWS: What’s next for you at SBI Press?
Dino Stamatopoulos: “Place Fallers! (the musical)”
PREVIEWS: Eric, what about you?
Eric Esquivel: Simon Ore and I are developing a gothy adventure book in the style of Invader Zim and Lenore, starring the daughter of one of History’s most legendary monsters. It’s going to rule! And we are still in the early planning stages of Gregory Graves Vol. 2!
PREVIEWS: And Simon, what’s next for SBI Press?
Simon Ore: Next we have Crawling King, sort of a handmade, dark fantasy “Necronomicon” for kids. We have a fantasy adventure with a twist called Oddwell: The Frog of War, and not long after that will be Comics Comics, a book that teams up comedians like Patton Oswalt with comic industry artists. Plus, a ton of other stuff!
PREVIEWS: Do you have any hopes or goals for Starburns in the coming year?
Simon Ore: That people buy our books.