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Fanbase Press Interviews Mad Cave Studios’ Chris Sanchez on the Launch of The YA-Focused Imprint, Maverick

“Find Yourself Within the Pages” is the promise of Mad Cave Studios’ new Young Adult-focused imprint, Maverick. On the eve of the label’s debut, Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp spoke to Mad Cave Editor-in-Chief Chris Sanchez (@YtheLastChris) about all things Maverick, from initial conversations to where he sees the line heading in the future.


Origins and Vision

As mainstream comics have gradually skewed toward an older audience, different publishers — DC, Marvel, Legendary, Skybound, to name but a few — have started or will be starting their own imprints directed at younger readers. Just ask Scholastic, with their wildly successful line of YA and Middle Grade graphic novels, about this enthusiastic fanbase.

Kevin Sharp, Fanbase Press Contributor: Chris, you’re recently quoted as saying,  “I am so thankful to be given the opportunity to create a space in comics that I wish I had growing up.” What space did you feel was missing?

Chris Sanchez: It might surprise you to know that I did not have a ton of friends growing up. So, I spent a lot of time in books and comics, but they never felt real to me. A place to escape and hang out for a few hours then get back to world. Maverick does that, but I think it does something more. They’re stories that feel like you’ve heard them from a close friend, something told to you in confidence. That’s the space that I was looking to build in comics, for all the weird kids who spent their lunch breaks reading in the library looking for a friend.

KS: Why was it best for Maverick to be its own label instead of publishing the titles as part of the regular line?

CS: Mad Cave has a very distinct vibe as a publisher. It’s genre focused, and often very dark. We made the decision early on that we wanted to make the distinction that Maverick was not that, [b]oth for marketing purposes, as well as internally to make sure both the creators and editors know what to look for. We like to think that Maverick still has that Mad Cave imagination in its DNA though.

KS: Other publishers have tried initiatives like this over the years. Did you look at any of those for inspiration… or as cautionary tales?

CS: Of course! We spent a lot of time looking at other publishers and continue to do so. Trying to find patterns, seeing what works, what doesn’t work. Actually, that was how I got brought on to Maverick in the first place, as I read the most YA in the office. I can’t tell you how many meetings we had looking at different books from publishers to figure out trim size or how the spines were gonna look. At the end of the day, you have to take the leap and do your own thing, but if you’re not looking at what others are doing, you’re not doing the work. Also, publishers like First Second and RH Graphic make some of the best comics in the industry, so yeah, read them.

KS: The press release [announcing the imprint] states that Maverick was created “to connect the young adult community with stories they could see themselves in.” How best can publishers reach that YA audience? In other words, how do you get the word out a) that Maverick exists, and then b) bring the readers to the comics — or vice versa?  

CS: I think it first starts off with a story that the audience wants to read. Making a story that’s interesting, but familiar enough that they can see a part of themselves in it. When you have that, then it’s time to hit social media and booksellers. Social media is the game you have to play now, and honestly it’s a great tool to go directly to the specific readers you want. Booksellers want to read your comics and sell them, you just have to know how to get it to them with all the info they need to make that decision.

KS: As the person who reads the most YA in the office, what traits do you see in that genre that makes it connect so strongly to a passionate readership?

CS: I think the main thing that separates YA, especially the best of the genre, is the importance of the characters. Protagonists are the most important part of making a story relatable and YA makes that so clear in making them as defined as they can so the reader knows exactly who we're following. This isn't unique to YA, but I think that the genre revolves around character and that's what makes so many people, whether you're the target audience or not, love reading YA.

The First Wave

From cosplay to soccer, magic pens to video games, the debut Maverick titles spring from a variety of genres under the YA umbrella. Leading off are Needle & Thread by David Pinckney, Ennun Ana Iurov, and Micah Myers (September); followed by Nightmare in Savannah by Lela Gwenn, Rowan MacColl, and Myers (November). The next three books — World Class; Good Game, Well Played; Of Her Own Design — arrive in 2022.

KS: How was the initial group of titles decided on? Was there a plan for a set number to start with?

CS: We knew we wanted about 4-5 titles to be in our first wave, and that was also the bandwidth I had at the time to edit that amount of books, so it worked out. When we had our early pitch meetings for Maverick, which is when our CEO, Publisher, and myself get together and hash out ideas, we had a ton of briefs that got filtered down into the four stories that we felt really good about. Then, we took those to creators and the rest just took off.

KS: Did you approach specific creators to come aboard, or put the word out in the talent community to pitch ideas for this?

CS: All our pitches come in-house, then the creators come on board to add their voice and own ideas to them. For Maverick, we approached it the same way we do with Mad Cave and look for people doing amazing work that we dig and try to get them to work with us. Somehow, it works and we’ve gotten some incredible talent to create alongside us, and it’s a joy to work with them.

KS: The creator lineup includes both familiar comics names alongside newer voices. Was this a conscious balancing act?

CS: In the early days, it felt like a mad scramble to get books off the ground that I don’t [think] I could’ve been that calculated. Really, I just looked for people that matched the vibe of the book we were going for and whose work was really special. Someone like Rowan MacColl, who I read in her Over the Garden Wall work, was immediately someone who I knew would nail the tone of Nightmare, and the same was true when I just saw portfolio work of Ennun Ana Iurov. Basically, I spend a lot of time on Twitter and if I dig your art or work in any way and if it fits, I’ll probably find you.

KS: Did you share any kind of Maverick “mission statement” with the creators who signed up for this initial wave?

CS: I send a sheet along with the pitch that is a combination of the brand statement, imprint background, and some target audience notes. We created it during the onset of the line for people outside the company to get exactly the vibe we want for these books.

KS: Was there a desire for the books to feel… not necessarily similar, but like they’re part of the same family? I’m thinking of '80s/'90s Vertigo, where the individual titles were very different, but were all recognizably Vertigo.

CS: That's a good comparison. I think what we wanted to do with Maverick was similar to that, in that we wanted to create a vibe that all the books are resonating on. Something that you know you can come to Maverick and experience by picking a sports book or a queer horror story. It's kind of the same thing with Mad Cave and that we want to be synonymous with quality and imagination. But at the end of the day, what we really need to do is make comics with care and make sure that at the end of the day, the story is being told in the best possible way.

KS: If Maverick succeeds how you envision it on paper, what might the line look like 2-3 years from now?

CS: With how graphic novel publishing works, I actually know what 2-3 years out generally looks like, but I can say that, first and foremost, I want to create a community with this line. A place where you can find your people and grow into the person you always envisioned yourself being. I also want Maverick to be a place that creators can have fun and tell stories that they would’ve love to read growing up. But most of all, I want Maverick to be a place that makes fun comics for the cool, weird, and different kids that are out there.

Needle & Thread will be available for purchase September 28. Find out more about the full Maverick lineup on Mad Cave’s site or follow them on Twitter.