Comic book shop owner and author Michael Tierney is celebrating the 35th Anniversary of his Wild Stars universe with the release of a new book, Wild Star Rising. Not only is Tierney, a finalist of the Will Eisner Spirit of the Comics Retailer Award and an Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide Advisor, releasing a his new book, but he’s also recently released an uncovered Tarzan story from the legendary Edgar Rice Burroughs. To celebrate this 35th Anniversary, Michael Tierney has teamed with Cirsova Publishing for Cirsova Presents – Wild Stars IV: Wild Star Rising KickStarter campaign. I got the chance to chat with Michael Tierney about his IndieGoGo campaign, his experience as a retailer, and his Tarzan story based off the uncovered fragment from Edgar Rice Burroughs. Michael was joined by Cirsova Publishing’s editor P. “Alex” Alexander.
Bounding Into Comics (BIC): You are working on a 35th Anniversary Edition for your Wild Stars series that includes a brand new novel Wild Star Rising. First off, what can you tell me about Wild Star? What is it about?
Michael Tierney (Michael): The concept behind the Wild Stars is that 75,000 ago mankind made our first migration into the stars and colonized planets circling the brightest stars in the night sky. These are the Wild Stars. Every story ever told about UFOs and Space Gods have just been incidents from when our distant cousins stopped by for a visit.
What hasn’t been explained before in the 35 year publishing history of the Wild Stars is WHY that migration happened.
BIC: Where does this novel fall within the Wild Stars universe? And What can we expect from the novel?
Michael: Wild Stars 4: Wild Star Rising is a prequel/sequel that finally reveals the story behind the exodus and what ancient Earth was like. The Ancient Warrior returns to the Atlantean era to recruit a sailor who is one of the last remaining humans that can instinctively read magnetic lines. Only that lost genetic trait can help the Ancient Warrior recover the one ship in all the universe that can survive a voyage inside the black hole where his lost love, Phaedra, has been imprisoned. But this ship is hidden inside a quasar cluster where only a blind man can decipher the magnetic lines for a passage between. But when he returns to the past to recruit this sailor, the Ancient Warrior is too late. He is already dead. Since the Ancient Warrior has already tried multiple times, he cannot try again without creating a paradox. Will he find another option?
BIC: One of the books you are offering on the IndieGoGo is Wild Stars II: Force Majuere. From the description it seems rather unique as a novel that also includes comic pages as well as flashback illustrations. How does that work? Are the comics part of the story or do they adapt part of the story?
Michael: The bonus Glossary in the back of Wild Stars 4 reveals the mechanics of why certain sections are text and others are graphics.
Wild Stars 1: Book of Circles collects the knowledge that the telepath Daestar gleaned from the people she encountered on her journey and imparted to the Ancient Warrior during their brief psychic connection.
In Wild Stars 2: Force Majeure all the graphics shown are excerpts from the court martial of Supreme Mars Commander Cinceno. That the video evidence has been tampered with is evident by the missing footage showing the encounter between Cinceno and the lady Atlanta in the Prairie Bay bar. All the viewer knows is that the next time he is seen, Cinceno has a black eye and a grudge against Atlanta. What transpired in Stew Stu’s Studio is finally revealed in the prelude of Wild Stars 3: Time Warmageddon.
BIC: If someone was just jumping into Wild Stars, where should they start?
Alex: I’ll also let Michael answer this with his own thoughts, but as for where to start, the beginning is always good, though one cool thing about the newest book is that the first half takes place in one of the earliest part of the Wild Stars timelines–what happens here has ramifications felt across all of the other comics and novels set in the Wild Stars universe and I think makes them even better.
I’d almost recommend a “machete” read order, where you read the first half of Wild Star Rising, go back and read the Wild Stars comics, read the Force Majeure and Time Warmageddon novels, then come back and finish Wild Star Rising. It’s kind of crazy, but since we’re putting out all four volumes so you could try it!
Michael: When I made the Wild Stars comics it was with a concentrated effort to make each issue a standalone story that gave you a larger story when strung together.
I’ve tried to do the same thing with each volume of the Wild Stars Books. Each one has it’s own major theme, but at the same time evolves the larger back stories.
It’s like water dripping into the center of a pond. With each successive drop more new ripples are created that combine with the previous to expand ever farther out from the center. I’ve got such a huge backstory that involves the ancient, present, and future histories of the Wild Stars, that each new book illuminates a little more of that history. It’s been great working with Alex and Cirsova, who’ve allowed me to tell more of these stories that have been kicking around in my head for decades.
You can start anywhere with any book, but if you want the full, immersive Wild Stars experience, you’ll want to start with Volume One: The Book of Circles. It’s titled that way because, once you finish it, you can immediately go back to the first page and start seeing things you didn’t the first time through. It’s that multi-layered. I had one fan read it five times, and I could still show him details that he’d missed. This applies to the full saga–because there are many sub-plots set up in Volume One that don’t get resolved until the later Volumes, some of which I’ve yet to write. With Five you’ll learn the mysteries behind Daestar, who was introduced in the earliest pages of the first 1984 comic book, and in Six you’ll finally learn the lost history of the Ancient Warrior. In Seven… well, I shouldn’t tease too far ahead. But I would add that there is more to be learned about the Ancient Warrior’s daughter, Toridian, during the exodus 75,000 years ago, and in present time I’ve got a lot of adventures dealing with Carlton MacKanaly still to tell. You’ll see a lot of teasers in the Glossary that is included with Wild Stars 4.
BIC: You previously crowdfunded on KickStarter, but you’ve switched over to IndieGoGo. Why the change?
Michael: I’ll let Alex field that question.
Alex: Cirsova Publishing has run several successful Kickstarters in the past, including one for Wild Stars last year. The experience with Wild Stars showed that it would be beneficial to use a platform like IndieGoGo that allows backers to pick and choose whatever perks they want for various items they may want to mix and match. This seemed like a better idea than trying to create all sorts of crazy tier levels to cover every possible combination.
The allegations of Kickstarter leaking communications it had with Richard Meyer about his Jawbreakers campaign [which was ultimately blocked on the platform] to a 3rd party without his knowledge or consent soured us a bit on Kickstarter. IndieGoGo turned some folk off, too, when they cancelled one of Chuck Dixon’s campaigns out of the blue after it had funded simply because of Vox Day’s involvement. We’ve had people say they wouldn’t back on one platform and others say they wouldn’t back on the other. So, it ultimately came down to whether the platform met our technical needs.
Edgar Rice Burroughs
BIC: You recently got to work on a “lost” story fragment from Edgar Rice Burroughs. What was that like? How was the story found?
Michael: I’d purchased books directly from Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. with my paperboy money while in grade school back in the 1960s.
In the 90s I tried to make a purchase for my stores, and Danton Burroughs called to explain how they did not sell directly to retailers. We struck up a friendship that lasted until his untimely death in 2008.
Danton really liked my Wild Stars comics from 2001-2002, and asked if I’d like to take a crack at finishing a Tarzan fragment that was one of the “discoveries in the safe” in the early 1960s, when Tarzan and the Madman and other manuscripts were discovered. Other writers weren’t sure what to do with this fragment.
Danton sent me a digital file and I instantly knew how to finish the story. There were what I thought to be inconsistencies in Tarzan’s behavior during the time he had amnesia during Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar. To me it made no sense that Tarzan, with no recollection of Jane, would turn down gorgeous La of Opar so flatly. But, after one look at blond-haired Jane, he immediately charged directly into gunfire. With Young Tarzan there was a chance to explain the reasons behind all that.
After I completed the story, Danton informed me that Ballantine owned all the print Tarzan rights at the time, but he was going to pitch the idea to Dark Horse as a comic with illustrations by Thomas Yeates. I don’t remember if it was Danton or Thomas, but one of them told me how Mike Richardson felt that a Tarzan story wouldn’t sell in the market at that time unless it was written by Alan Moore and drawn by Frank Miller. So the story sat with Danton until his tragic death in 2008. I lost all contact with ERB, Inc. after that.
A few years back, I pitched the idea for the Edgar Rice Burroughs 100 Year Art Chronology to new ERB, Inc. President Jim Sullos. As the project was wrapping up in the production phase, I asked Jim if there was anything that he’d like to do with the Young Tarzan story. What I didn’t realize at the time was that he thought this was a story entirely of my own making. With Danton’s death, all knowledge of the fragment was lost. It was thought that the fragment itself had been lost in the fire that contributed to Danton’s demise. It was only on the day of signing the contracts with Cirsova that all the pieces of the mystery finally fell into place.
Not long after all this, the fragment was discovered in the possession of ERB-enthusiast Bill Hillman, who had typed up the electronic file that Danton originally sent me. At this time, Jim Sullos is talking with Mike Richardson of Dark Horse Comics about the possibility of a comics adaption once again.
BIC: Do you have plans or ideas for any other stories based off Edgar Rice Burrough’s tales?
Michael: In addition to the weekly Beyond the Farthest Star comic strip that I write, color, and letter each week for their online subscription service, I’ve contracted with Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. to write a new Tarzan novel. It started as a pitch for a movie concept, but when they saw the synopsis they like it so much that they decided they wanted it done as a novel. I’m working on that now.
Here’s a link for more information on Beyond the Farthest Star: http://thewildstars.com/BeyondTheFarthestStar.html
Michael Tierney on the Comic Book Retail Industry
BIC: You’ve been working in the comic book industry for over 35 years primarily as a retailer. How has the comic book industry changed over that time from a retailer perspective?
Michael: One thing that I’ve always said about the comics industry is that you’ve got to wear roller skates to keep rolling with the constant changes. A lot of things have improved over my 38 years in the industry, but a lot of things have devolved as well.
In the Eighties there was a partnership between retailers and the publishers, with the common goal of selling more comics to more readers.
Nowadays the publisher’s goal seems to be more focussed on creating instant collectibility than satisfying the readers. When Superman’s death was announced for issue #75, I ordered an insane number of copies–and still sold out in two hours. That will never happen again because in today’s market if there is a major event, there won’t be a hint given to retailers. We’ll find out at the same time as the readers.
If the publishers do tout that an event is going to happen, it’s always hyperbole or a non-event. When it was announced that Catwoman would marry Batman in issue #50, I ordered normal numbers, and that was still too much after it was discovered that she jilted him at the altar–two days before the book shipped.
BIC: Have you had to adapt and change your business model as a comic book retailer over your 35 years in business?
Michael: The main thing that I’ve had to change is stop believing a word that the publishers tell me (see the above comments). Other than that, I’m still operating on the same model that I originally did. I’ve always carried a massive back issue selection. So, when publishers won’t give the customers the stories they want, I already have a huge selection of time-proven best sellers.
BIC: What is one piece of advice you would offer publishers that would benefit you as a retailer?
Michael: The thing I wish the major publishers would remember is that they’re partners with retailers–with the common goal of satisfying the customer.
That’s easily accomplished with the simple formula of good stories and good art. It has nothing to do with gimmicks, because those are detrimental in the long run.
I’ll go back to the subject of trading cards for a perfect example. Previously, I discussed how making the chase trading cards so difficult to collect essentially destroyed what was a boom market in the 1990s. Now I’ll give you an example of trading cards done right. The best selling cards I ever saw was the X-Men Series II trading cards by Jim Lee. If you bought a box you not only got an entire set of the regular cards, you got TWO complete sets of the chase cards. Customers were so satisfied that they bought multiple boxes! A satisfied customer gets enthusiastic, while one who knows he’s being held upside down and shaken until every nickel drops out will avoid future shakedowns.
And please let retailers know when you’ve got a big event or are introducing a new character. That gets the fans excited, and when they come in and can buy that key new book on the day of release, their excitement is rewarded. Stop frustrating them with, “Sorry, we had no idea that was going to happen, and the publisher didn’t print any extra.”
Like with those X-Men Series II trading cards, satisfied customers will buy so much more than one who knows he or she is being gamed for the secondary market–and isn’t it a publisher’s goal to sell more comics in the first place? Artificially creating instant collectibility shouldn’t even be in the equation.
BIC: We’ve seen a lot of retailers shut down over the past couple of years, why do you think that is?
Michael: Back in the 1990s it became a fad to drop back issues from inventory. For new comics they slashed and burned all their inventory after so many weeks. That built a dependency of new comics sales, and when the publishers are not connecting with readers, they have no other revenue streams to fall back on.
Michael Tierney on the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide
BIC: You’ve been an advisor for the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, what’s one comic that really shocked you when it comes to its value?
Michael: Ultimate Fallout #4, featuring the first appearance of Miles Morales, consistently sells over Guide. Right now we’re selling NM copies for $100, and guide shows them valued at $30. That could change when the new guide is released. It’s the only book in the entire Ultimate line that still sells.
BIC: What exactly goes into putting the prices for the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide. Is there a lot of research done on eBay and Amazon looking at older issues and how much they are selling for?
Michael: My contribution to Overstreet is much the same as what I was doing while writing a monthly Trendwatcher column for the Comic Buyer’s Guide when it was in a monthly magazine format. I report on what’s hot and what’s not in my market. Every market is different, so I think the different perspectives on the industry around the country are essential for a better overall view of the marketplace.
For prices, I report my actual sales. Being in a state that has a lower per capita income that Puerto Rico, and ranks only above Mississippi in literacy, I always joke with my customers that I’m the fellow who keeps the prices down in the price guide. But to date, no one has ever said “Let me pay a little more to bump those values on up!”
**Editor’s Note** If you are interested in checking out Cirsova Publishing and Michael Tierney’s IndieGoGo project for Wild Stars IV: Wild Star Rising celebrating the 35th Anniversary of the series, you can do so right here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/wild-stars-iv/cirsova-presents-wild-stars-iv-wild-star-rising?ref=project_link&fbclid=IwAR1A6wQadZoq_M7Nf_WywGcJlrpmJ_-zleKjaWgFj074kftdjWEVmyqMD60