The past two years have been explosive for the independent comic book publisher Action Lab Entertainment. Titles like Princeless (written by Jeremy Whittley, illustrated by Mia Goodwin) and Fight Like a Girl (written by David Pinckney, Illustrated by Soo Lee) are gaining recognition for their black female main characters – something that many comic book fans have been waiting for.
Those fans have Brentwood resident Dave Dwonch to thank. As the Creative Director of Action Lab it’s his job to decide if submissions are worth publishing.
But if you ask Dwonch, Action Lab isn’t aiming to make some grand gesture about the lack of diversity and female role models in comics. They just want to put out quality comics. It appears to be working. Princeless has been nominated for two Eisner awards and has won multiple Glyph awards and Double Jumpers (written by Dwonch, illustrated by Bill Blankenship) is now being reprinted because of high demand.
“When we get submissions I am not looking for characters of color or creators of color. I am just looking for good characters,” said Dwonch, who is Filipino and Italian.
What does a good character or storyline look like? Dwonch explains that if the storyline and characters bring him back to the feeling that comics gave him when he was a kid – it’s probably worth a second look.
Dwonch’s eye has helped create a catalog of 30 titles with a wide range of genres and reader levels. While kids can flip through Princeless or Molly Danger, parents could sink their teeth into Pirate Eye or Night of the 80s Undead. Action Lab’s catalog is so varied that they created different logos to distinguish their mature comics from the ones for all ages.
While most people are a fan of a single series, it is the selection of storylines published by Action Lab has gained the attention of not only readers, but sellers as well.
“They certainly have a unique voice as an independent publisher,” said James Sime, owner of Isatope in San Francisco.
Dwonch attributes Action Lab’s growth to how it got started. Action Lab was started by a collection of illustrators, writers, and letterers who met up one night after a convention to commiserate about how hard it was to get a publisher. The end result of that meet-up is a group of people from all over the U.S. who play off each other’s strengths.
Their first act as Action Lab was to set up a KickStarter to help raise funds for a digital printer and they were off and running. They have grown so much that they now have to outsource their printing. Along the way they have picked up a few awards, national distribution, and gained a whole bunch of super fans.
There is a lot on the horizon Action Lab. Their new series Vamplets (a story about a girl who takes over a creepy nursery filled with baby vampires and werewolves), based on the plush toys by artist Gail Middleton (G-Ra) of My Little Pony, will be making its way into elementary schools nationwide with a joint effort by Scholastic. Then there is Social Dog, a story about a boy in the South who is infected by a werewolf bite.
Dwonch will be working on expanding his own comic Cyrus Perkins, about a cabbie who helps solve the murder of a boy who dies in his cab.
And there are always the submissions.
“We are about finding new creators who want to get into the industry,” Dwonch said.
Where to find Action Lab Titles
Concord: Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff, Oak Grove Plaza Shopping Center, 2980 Treat Blvd., (925) 825-5410.
Oakland: Dr. Comics & Mr. Games, 4014 Piedmont Ave., (510) 601-7800.
Editor’s Note: While we try to keep the Work section of BringThemAlong.com about parents Dave Dwonch does not fit this criteria – we still think his job is pretty cool even if he isn’t a parent.