In my high school years I was lucky enough to know a man named Bradley Walton, my high school library secretary, who had some background in the comics industry, having worked as a writer and artist on the Cavewoman series, published by Basement Comics. During our friendship he turned my attention towards a series of comics all sharing a common mythos known as CrossGen comics. While not all of these comics were carried by our school, due to mature themes or simply availability, I was able to read through the vast majority of Sojourn, Way of the Rat, and Negation. However as I hungrily clamored for more, Mr. Walton kindly informed me that there might not be anymore coming out as the comic publisher was having some “issues” of their own.
The kind of issues where their freelancers hadn’t been paid for their work.
It all begins with Mark Alessi, the founder of CrossGen Comics. Alessi was something of a wunderkind, founding his first major company Technical Resource Connection Inc. in 1986. The company performed so well that ten short years later it was sold off to Perot Systems Corporation, headed by H. Ross Perot. Yes, the same H. Ross Perot that ran an independent bid for the presidency in 1992.
Using the substantial $44 million windfall, Alessi set to work laying the foundation for his dream – a comics enterprise which he dubbed CrossGen Comics, which he founded in 1998. Shortly after his startup he acquired the fan-convention “MegaCon” from its founder James Breitbel in 1999. (5) Breitbel then served as the Marketing and Distribution Director for CrossGen. Working with a slew of talent Alessi was a bit avant garde in how he treated his employees. As Borys Kit of The HollyWood Reporter observes:
“He had pencillers, inkers, colorists and letterers working side by side, as opposed to the industry norm of having creators email work from all over. Even more unorthodox, he paid his workers a salary and offered health benefits and a pension plan, then unheard of in the comics business.” (1)
In 2003 Alessi changed the name of the business to CrossGen Entertainment, Inc. Up until then, things had run like the proverbial well-oiled machine, with comics appearing in a timely manner, save for one delay attributed to a shipping error (2). But sadly things would soon begin to fall apart. Freelancers working for CrossGen weren’t getting paid and the company was undergoing crippling financials issues. Part of this likely began when book seller Barnes&Nobles stopped stocking their trade paperbacks and returned for refund their unsold stock. This created an unexpected financial strain on an already tight-fisted company whose market strategy was to lose money its first six years before making a return on investment in its seventh from TV & Movie deals. (6)
The company was forced to sell MegaCon in 2003 before finally filing for bankruptcy in 2004. The timing was nothing short of devastating considering Disney had plans for collaborations but upon hearing of their bankruptcy chose instead to buy out the various assets. Despite a personal loan from Alessi of $75,000 the takeover was inevitable. Many of the CrossGen comic series, such as Sojourn and Negation War remain to this day incomplete.
Some criticize Alessi, saying his should have used his own personal wealth to meet the financial demands of the company. Alessi responded as thus to CBR.
“Well, this extraordinarily wealthy guy is a media fiction. Was I a multi-millionaire when I started this company? Yes. The only way you can start a company of this size and substance, stay in business this long, is to have a reasonable amount of money in order to get started.” (3)
He also expressed his sincere regret at the financial stakes of the company:
“I think everybody here at CrossGen, maybe myself in particular, feels tremendously apologetic that we put a lot of incredibly high quality and ethical people through some difficult times. We’ve been in a tough time for 90 days. They’ve acted with tremendous honor and restraint and obviously, in this kind of a situation, you feel terrible when the fact that you have to tighten your fiscal belt affects other people that are meeting the commitments that they’ve made to you.”
Various assets of the crumbling CrossGen empire were piece-mealed out to various others, such as a deal with Checker Books in 2006. However, the company laid essentially dormant until 2010, when Joe Quesada, editor-in- chief of Marvel Comics announced at the San Diego Comicon intentions to revive a number of CrossGen Comics. Of course it’s worth noting that, by now, Marvel was owned by Disney. Despite a few short spurts of activity from this such as the completion of Ruse and Sigil, the new comics Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Route 666 weren’t well received.
Though relatively short-lived in comic years, CrossGen Comics left their mark on the industry, for better or worse. As Catherine Aird once observed “If you can’t be a good example, you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.” And CrossGen comics certainly serves as a “horrible warning” that it is far easier to dream the dream than to live it.
(1) Kit, Borys. “The Other Marvel: CrossGen Comics’ Short, Sad Life.” The Hollywood Reporter. The Hollywood Reporter, 20 July 2016. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.
(2) @ICv2. “Interview with CrossGen CEO Mark Alessi.”; ICv2: The Business of Geek Culture. ICv2, 24 Aug. 2003. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.
(3) Yarbrough, Beau. “CrossGen CEO Mark Alessi Addresses Company Financial Issues.” CBR.com. CBR.com, 20 Aug. 2003. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.
(4) Ching, Albert. “Former CROSSGEN Creators Speak Out on Marvel’s Announcement.”; Newsarama. Newsarama, 6 Aug. 2010. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.
(5) Staff, CBR. “Battling Conventions? Talking with the NY Comic Con and MegaCon Organizers.” CBR.com. CBR.com, 06 Oct. 2005. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.
(6) “Episode 355: Interview with Mark Alessi.” Dollar Bin Comics. The Dollar Bin, 09 Mar. 2016.