Featured Publisher: Champion Comics

By Carlos Raphael

All roads have a starting point. Regardless of how long or short they are, there’s a beginning, middle, and end, much like a comic story itself. My story in comics started in 1974. Christmas Day, 1974. My parents, Frank & Nereida, bought me a Fisher Price record player and the Hulk at Bay Power Records Book & Record set. It was a 45-vinyl record that featured Stan Lee as the narrator of the story. The story was a reprint of Marvel Comics’ Incredible Hulk #171. I had just turned 7 years old, and I was transfixed by the exciting and commanding voice of Stan “The Man” Lee as he pulled this little boy into this new world called “comic books.” I was transfixed!

Now, it would be a few months before I built up the guts to walk into my local Stop ‘N Go convenience store in Milpitas, CA to plunk down my lunch money on comic books. That day finally came when I walked to the spinner rack, marveled over all the fantastical colors and covers, and settled on Incredible Hulk #183. I recognized the Hulk from my Power Records book. It had Hulk on the cover fighting some lightning guy called “Zzzzax!” Herb Trimpe was the same artist from that Power Records comic, so the choice was an easy one, made out of familiarity with the subject and art style. This would continue for several years, as my collection grew to include Werewolf by Night, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Living Mummy, Classics Illustrated, and a bunch of Silver Surfer comics my mom picked up at a yard sale in the mid-70s. Yeah, it was all monster comics for me at that time.

This fever continued until 1978 when my family moved to Michigan. My dad was a Naval veteran, so we moved quite a bit. During this particular move, the movers hired to take our stuff from New Orleans, Louisiana, to Michigan decided they wanted to take possession of this impending 11-year-old’s collection of comic books. By the time we arrived at our new locale, well… there were no comics waiting for me at the other end of the road. Swiped. Gone. As you might imagine, I was extremely upset by this. Those comics never did turn up. So, I dealt with it like any other 11-year-old… I quit reading comics! From 1978-1982, I focused my attention on buying and collecting sports cards and left comics behind. That is, until it was time to move again.

The road continued to branch in late 1982 when my dad was stationed at NAS Whidbey in Washington State. Right before we left, one of my best friends gave me a comic book to read for the road. It happened to be a Marvel Two-in-One that featured Thing and She-Hulk. My younger brother, Ernesto, picked up a bunch of comic books for reading while I was off collecting baseball and football cards. Among those were X-Men, Spider-Man, and Marvel Contest of Champions. I dove right in during the road trip to Washington State, borrowed my brother’s stash, and my love of comics suddenly rekindled! I went out and bought X-Men #167, New Mutants #1, among others, and began creating my own, homemade comic book with my brother from scratch. Made from typing paper folded in half, ink pens, number 2 pencils, colored pencils, and a stapler, 3 Brothers Comics Publishing was born! It was during this time that Electron Brothers (now called Metalmorph and The Royal Breed), Viking (now Thorvald the Viking), Black Death, The Super Legion, and many other comics were born. My brother and I would work in tandem, pumping out these characters and books, and sharing them with the neighborhood kids. This was our distribution network.

This was how we got the word out and got feedback. This would continue for several years. In 1985, my brother and I had a falling out, creatively. He didn’t include any of my characters in a new book he was creating, and I was upset by his seeming lack of interest in any of my creations, so we decided to “break up” 3 Brothers Comics in our bedroom office and make our own comic books. At that moment, Champion Comics was born—a new fork in the road.

From 1985-1988, I would write my own comics while drawing less and less. I started writing full scripts with the goal of getting them in front of editors at Marvel and DC and hopefully writing for the “Big 2”. As most sane people could figure out, this didn’t happen. Not even close. I did get my scripts into the hands of a couple of editors, mostly in 1987 and 1988, but as you might expect, they were rejected. I was told to keep working on my craft. Now, it was around this time that I became aware of Dark Horse Comics. I picked up a few books from the LCS and fell in love with not only the books but also the notion that I could do my own thing, separate from the big two, and get published! Indie comics existed!

I read Black Cross by Chris Warner, Concrete by Paul Chadwick, Trekker by Ron Randall, etc. A whole new world of possibilities had opened up. I immediately began working with a local artist named Richard Davis on the first Champion Comics title that was worked on for professional submission: Hellfire Prophet. This supernatural action-adventure thriller was a step up from the standard 80s superhero fare I’d been compelled to write and draw in the early days. We worked on it extensively through 1989. Then I moved again, but not because of my dad; because I was suffering from some mental health issues during this time.

My oldest daughter was born the year before, and the relationship with her mother didn’t work out. So, I experienced a downturn in my mental health as I navigated yet another fork in this winding road. I ended up in Tampa, Florida, living with my aunt. That was short-lived, but fairly effective in getting my head straight. I moved back to Washington State and soon after, decided to follow my brother into art school.

It was during my art school period in 1990 that I took a sequential art course with instructor Dev Madan and I met Saul Orozco. He was a talented artist from Los Angeles, and we teamed up to work on the class project together. This would be Hawkwynd vs Mannekill, the next Champion Comics production submission sample. Saul and I worked on 12 pages of superhero action, and we saw rejection after rejection (this was before the Image revolution and the superhero explosion). The indie marketplace was not welcoming to any of us yet, so I dropped out of art school, got married, had more kids, and found myself at Central Washington University.

This would be where I saw another fortunate fork in the road. This fork would create a lasting friendship and collaboration that would influence Champion Comics for the next 30 years. I was introduced to Jason Metcalf. Jason was an incredibly talented, aspiring comic book artist. Brought together by the local comic shop retailer, Ritch Braman, we hit it off creatively and commenced to create page after page of Champion Comics art and characters. Soon, we had created Lawless and The Vanguardians.

We sold out of all our merch at comic cons and got a little buzz. Enough to attract the attention of Echo Entertainment, Dagger Comics, and Hot Comics. The latter two had indie superhero comics on shelves. They all offered us deals, and we were excited that our dreams were finally able to come true! We were both on the cusp of seeing our creations make their way to comic book shelves worldwide! Then… the comic book bubble burst.

Hundreds of comic shops closed. Hundreds of indie publishers folded, and this included all three of the publishers who were looking to give us a chance. By 1998, the dream was over. Jason and I both graduated from college and went our separate ways. Jason stuck with the business and eventually carved a niche for himself in the industry, working for Image, IDW, Marvel, Valiant, and Zenescope. I quit the business. I’m sure most of you are tired of reading about my long and winding road with no results to show for it, so I’ll fast-forward over a decade and two divorces later. Champion Comics is truly born, and the first Champion title hits the public!

So it’s 2013, and I’ve now been working on Champion Comics’ American Revere #0 for about four years. It took that long because this was before crowdfunding revolutionized indie comics. American Revere, the great world hope, had to be produced out of my own pocket, page by page. Comic production isn’t cheap! It’s rather expensive when you think about it. So I had to piece together the $2,000 it cost me a decade ago to bring this book to life, but with the help of my brother (you remember him!), artists Armin Ozdic, Federico Matta, Tomek Witas, and Exequiel Fernandez Roel, I was able to debut the first full-color, full-length Champion Comics release. American Revere #0 appeared at Rose City Comic Con 2013 in Portland, Oregon! This fork in the road led to victory! Finally!

Over the next three years, I would slog and piece together pages for American Revere #1. As with American Revere #0, it was a slow process. I put together pages paid for out of my own pocket, then in 2016, I discovered Kickstarter! This platform was the game changer! The revolution the indie comics community had wished and prayed for, and we got it. Suddenly, I was able to take those pages I had produced out of pocket, show and promote them, and raise the funds to speed up the production process. I was able to pay my art team to produce the pages all at once instead of piecemeal! So from 2016-2023, I’ve been able to release these Champion Comics titles: American Revere #1, Team SupremUS #0 and Clash of Champions Edition, Thorvald the Viking vs Taranis the Thunderlord #1, the new Remarkables #1, and the recently completed campaign for she is… Black Dahlia #1.

Kickstarter also helped facilitate the production of Hell Machine #1, The Night Demon #1, Thorvald the Viking FAN Edition, and more. There’s also Coalition Comics, the Power Company publications, which I wrote, and are released by my partners and I at Coalition Comics. These include Power Company 1-3, 1/2, King Size Annual #1, and the 5th Anniversary TPB, as well as the soon-to-be-released Shadow Kings #1, a Champion Comics/Iron Gate Comics joint with my Coalition Comics partner, Rodney Lockett.

So, the long and winding road finally led to an indie boom for Champion Comics. It took 40 years, but I never gave up. I never gave in. I might have taken a few time outs and time offs over those years to reset, but I never truly gave in. I just kept hitting the pavement, pushing through the disappointments (and there were many along the way), but I never took my eyes off the prize. And the reward? In September of 2023, my creations, the new Remarkables, hit comic shops worldwide as part of Exciting Comics #38 by Antarctic Press. This feat would repeat itself in October with issue #39. If you haven’t purchased your copy, you can request them from your local comic shop or order them online today! As for the Champion Comics mentioned earlier, all of them can be purchased directly from Champion Comics by reaching out to me personally.

Until my storefront on my websites www.championcomicsgroup.com and www.facebook.com/championcomicsgroup is complete, you can reach out by email at americanrevere@gmail.com or DM me at www.facebook.com/writercarlosraphael for pricing and details. We at Champion Comics love the direct-to-consumer approach to sales and marketing! 2024 will be a busy one for Champion Comics as we continue to grow and expand. We have the release of She is… Black Dahlia #1, The Night Demon #1, Shadow Kings #1, our first all-ages graphic novel Pandora’s Army, Champion Comics Presents #1, Hell Machine #1, and several other fantastic titles! There will be more announcements for Kickstarter launches and features, so stay tuned for all of that and more. You can find us on Instagram at @championcomicsgroup and on X at @CarlosFRaphael.

The long and winding road has led to this place. Right here, right now. Think about it: if I could make my dreams come true, then anyone can make it. Anyone with hard work and drive can see their creations sit side-by-side with Ghost Rider and Batman on comic book shelves. I did!

It takes perseverance, hard work, sacrifice, and razor-sharp focus. It takes being honest and open to communication with your teams. It takes being humble, but also being aggressive with marketing and promotion. It takes respecting the indie community and not trying to take shortcuts, cheat, or rip off creatives or fans. It takes unwavering commitment. When you approach your business in this way, you can have success in the indie comics community. You can live your dreams. You can make an impact, just like you envision it in your head. It’s possible! It’s attainable! Just remember, though, nothing is achievable without those first steps on the long and winding road.

Pack smart, and be prepared, because whether it’s 100 steps or 100,000 steps, it’s a process with the potential for painful blisters on your feet. At the end of the road? Gratification and ultimately, success. To what degree? That’s entirely up to you.

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