A comic juggernaut in our midst

Meet Chris Pitzer and his brainchild, AdHouse Books.

(Interview conduct with Richard Lucyshyn)

The world of comics can be overwhelming. It’s a medium that ranges from the funny pages to X-Men to Persepolis. Graphic novels and serial comics have been the go-to for film adaptations for years. It’s a strong narrative form and is only getting more popular – and a few of those voices are getting a push into the industry with help of Chris Pitzer, founder of AdHouse Books.

A small publishing house headquartered in Richmond, AdHouse began in 2002 with the release of friend Joel Priddy’s Pulpatoon Pilgrimage. Priddy had created the dreamy graphic novel, and Pitzer thought it was good enough to get published.

Pitzer, who works full time as a graphic designer, had contacts from his previous job as senior designer at the now-defunct Eclipse Comics (The Rocketeer). No one was interested enough to help get it published, so Pitzer and Priddy took the book to the SPX (Small Press Expo) where it won an award for Best Debut. That helped to get AdHouse noticed, and the submissions started to arrive.

Since then AdHouse has produced a library of eclectic and attractive books, graphic novels, anthologies, and single issue comics (the industry refers to a single issue as a floppy, copy, or periodical – “comics” are generally referred to something that a big brand like Marvel puts out).

AdHouse has a multi-functional name. The “AD” stands for his job – art director. “I like the idea of creators under one house to create something,” he said, though slyly mentioned that alphabetically it puts them on the top of ordering lists. AdHouse titles include the adventures of the accidental, reluctant hero Johnny Hiro by Fred Chao, the surreal and unsettlingly amusing Skyscrapers of the Mind by Joshua Cotter, and the elegant and bizarre The Aviary by Jamie Tanner.

2007 was the biggest year for AdHouse, but 2008 continues to be notable. AdHouse was nominated for seven Eisner Awards (the industry’s top prize, akin to the Oscars). Though not the first time they’ve been nominated, it was a record number for AdHouse and the first time for a win. Pitzer and James Jean shared the Best Publication Design award for Process Recess 2, and Jean also won the Best Cover Artist award for Process Recess 2, Superior Showcase 2 (also AdHouse), Fables (Vertigo) and The Umbrella Academy (Darkhorse). The Eisner Awards are presented at Comic-Con in San Diego, which Pitzer usually attends every other year. Unfortunately, he attended last year’s big exposition, but posted his “thank you” speech on the AdHouse Web site.

Pitzer estimates that there are about 3,000 comic book stores in the country, and 100 will order their titles. Local places like Velocity will order directly from AdHouse, but other vendors have to participate in the complicated, monopoly-ish system of Diamond Comic Distributors, which is the primary distributor.

Getting a comic sold is, “all about displayability and racking,” Pitzer said. Artists might want to have an odd and eyecatching style to their book, but it has to be able to fit in racks for a store to be able to display it. He gets a lot of submissions and currently is not accepting new titles, but what he does print “essentially comes down to if I like the comic.”

Pitzer’s role as a publisher is to “bring new voices to the party, making people aware of them.” He considers himself a step above self-publishing and has various relationships with the artists who he works with. He can be as useful as designing the work with them, or just simply acts as a middle man to help them get their work printed and into stores.

Pitzer’s current favorite read is All Star Superman (DC Comics), a re-imagining of the myth of Superman. He jokes that he has been “reading regular comics so much I need something new to get me high” and looks for his fix further from the norm.

He isn’t a big fan of reading comics online, though mentioned that one of AdHouse’s books, Salamander Dream by Hope Larson, began as a web comic and has been one of their best-selling titles.

“People got it for free and they wanted the book.”

Though Pitzer often designs the covers and layouts for different books and comics, his first official entry into the narrative section is the short “Pillow Talk,” created for AdHouse’s third anthology Project: Romantic. He provided the visuals and his wife handled the words. Pitzer said that his life has been represented in a way by themes of the anthologies: outer space (Project: Telstar), Project: Superior (superheroes) and romance – his interests as they’ve developed through the years, accompanied by beautifully designed books.

Pitzer is currently working out another project with flagship artist Priddy. The most recent AdHouse releases are the Skyscrapers of the Midwest hardcover edition and Superior Showcase 3.

For more information about AdHouse and its contributors, visit www.adhousebooks.com.

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Kelly Gerow

Kelly Gerow lives and writes in Richmond. She probably does other stuff in Richmond, too.

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