Escape Ordinary

A leap above other small press publishers in Vault Comics.

Small press comics are weird and awesome. The possibilities are endless for what stories can come out of small press publishers, and one of my favorites is Vault Comics. Founded in 2016 by brothers Adrian and Damian Wassell, along with friend and cousin Nathan Gooden, Vault has been publishing some of the industry’s best in science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Utilizing new and emerging writers and artists, as well as established and recognizable creators, Vault consistently produces indie hit after hit with a dense and diverse library of titles that range from the serious to the ludicrous, that are always entertaining.

I got the chance to talk with David Dissanayake, a friend of the shop who is Vault’s Director of Sales and Marketing. David used to work for Oni Press and was instrumental in securing an appearance by writer Kyle Starks at Carol and John’s Comic Shop during the Rick Mobile tour a few years ago. David and I recently got to talk about Vault’s current line of books, what’s upcoming, and also the commitment Vault is making to retailers and readers alike.

The biggest new series from Vault is their new epic fantasy series Barbaric. Written by Michael Moreci and drawn by company co-founder Nathan Gooden, Barbaric is not your standard sword and sorcery book. It’s a loving Rick & Morty-esque action-comedy parody perfect for fans of Conan the Barbarian and Marvel’s Thor. Barbaric stars Owen the Barbarian, a barbarian cursed to do good and help those in need. A bit of a contradiction for the character type, and it’s one Owen is well aware of and is not the least bit happy about. Fighting with his talking, blood-thirsty axe (“Get that sweet f***in’ nectar of life, Owen!”), Owen travels the realm in search of adventure and purpose as he crosses paths with all kinds of evildoers.

In the first series, Murderable Offenses, we’re introduced to Owen and his axe as they team up with a necromancer named Soren to defeat an evil force that has overtaken a monastery. There’s a connection between this monastery and Soren that reveals itself later, as all hell breaks loose. Barbaric is billed as Vault’s Hellboy, with plans as far as year five right now, with all future stories planned to be told as interconnecting miniseries and one-shots, but there could certainly be room for more story beyond that.

This first series is a bloody, fast-paced, and comical introduction to the world of Barbaric and Owen, with plenty of mystery and questions to be explored in later series. Some of those questions include what exactly is Owen, is he mortal or immortal and how so, what is Owen’s talking axe all about and how did they meet, and what ultimate purpose does Owen have for his violent quest? Gooden’s art in this series delivers epic, large scale action with plenty of dismemberment and entrails in spectacular splash pages, while Moreci delivers some hilarious one-liners throughout. Barbaric is a lot of fun, and there are some immediate follow-ups fans can expect soon this summer.

Radio Apocalypse is the story of the last radio station of the apocalypse. It’s Good Morning Vietnam meets The Walking Dead. After a meteor has crashed into Earth and spread a sickness that has wiped out the population and left behind monstrous creatures called Xinos, the world is a wasteland turned to dust. The survivors of the apocalypse now huddle around the town of Bakerstown as they struggle to live on, with only the power of music from the past to give them hope.

Radio Apocalypse has become Vault’s best-selling series with issue #1 selling over 50,000 copies, strong numbers for a small press publisher. The series is written by Ram V, who is quickly becoming of one of comics’ biggest writers, with runs on titles like Venom, Swamp Thing, Catwoman, Carnage, and more. Teaming up with Ram V is artist Anand RK, letterer Aditya Bidikar, and colorist Anisha Shankar (an all-Indian creative team that David’s proud to recognize), Radio Apocalypse is a love letter to the strength and comfort of music in the face of despair and hopelessness.

So far only two issues of this series have been released, but plenty is at stake in this world already. There are Reapers who hunt and fight to keep the Xinos at bay (mutated dogs that look straight out of John Carpenter’s The Thing), Daytrippers who carry cargo across the wasteland, and plenty of refugees who follow the radio signal to Bakerstown in search of safety. Inside the walls of Bakerstown, there’s a growing concern with more refugees coming, but dwindling supplies and rations for everyone. This threatens the future of the radio station, as well as everyone’s lives. It’s at times a bleak world, and it’s a never-ending struggle for survival, but “rock ‘n’ roll can never die.” This stylized series is one comic fans should jump on now.

I’ve been a fan of Vault for a few years now, but during my discussion with David, one of the books he consistently mentioned and recommended was These Savage Shores, a book I missed out on initially. I was eager to discover something new from one of my favorite publishers, and after learning that this series was the first work at Vault from Ram V, my excitement grew. We talked about a lot of other books from Vault, but I really wanted to read this series after David told me about it. After our interview, David was kind enough to forward me a PDF copy of the trade paperback and I just dove in without reading a solicit or even the back of the book for a synopsis. By the final panel, I was blown away.

These Savage Shores is an epic and cinematic series, rich in cultural and historical lore. Set during 1766 in the city of Calicut along the Malabar Coast, the western coast of India, These Savage Shores is a blend of horror, romance, and war and is one of the best series from Vault. Aboard a ship set sail from London to India with the East India Trade Company, there is an evil that will clash with another kind of force in Calicut that will spark a war between nations and kingdoms, with a romance hanging in the balance at the center of it all. I don’t want to give away too much for readers, because this series is just that good and was such an awesome experience to read without knowing much about. It’s another example of Ram V’s excellence in comic storytelling, complimented by artist Sumit Kumar and colorist Vittorio Astone’s beautiful pages featuring lush jungles and temples, battlefields and armies, and intimate character moments. This is an era and setting not often explored in comics today, and I can see why David was so high on this series, and I’m right there with him. “Along these savage shores, where the days are scorched and the nights are full of teeth;” readers really should check out this book to see what Ram V and Vault can deliver together.

Vault doesn’t publish superhero books, but the only one they really do is The Blue Flame. The Blue Flame is a superhero book, but not like many others. It’s a book that is at odds itself and its ideals. It’s a comic that struggles with what being a hero is, and understanding what humanity means and the cost of it.

Written by rising star Christopher Cantwell and drawn by Adam Gorham, The Blue Flame is the superhero name of Sam Brausam, an HVAC repairman by day and masked vigilante by night. Together as the Night Brigade, Sam and other costumed heroes protect the streets of Milwaukee. The Night Brigade aren’t superhuman though, they are just ordinary citizens who have donned masks and secret identities to fight for justice. But after a horrific tragedy strikes, a shocking event that leaves scores of innocent dead, including the other members of the Night Brigade, Sam is left alone and broken, both physically and mentally. While he struggles to come to grips with his new reality after the fact, there is another reality at play too. Across the galaxy, a healed and whole Blue Flame stands before a galactic trial, defending humankind from total annihilation. This is the Tribunal Consensus, and Sam has been tasked to be the final defender of Earth, set to prove our case and reasoning for survival.

There are two Sam’s in this book; The one crippled at home on Earth, and the other on the planet Exilos defending the human race. At home, Sam is being cared for by his pregnant sister Dee and her fiancé Mateo. They too are struggling, struggling financially to make ends meet and preparing for the birth of their daughter. Sam and Dee are siblings, but have been living their own separate lives and haven’t been close since the tragic death of their parents. There’s anger and resentment between them, but ultimately still love. On the planet Exilos, Sam is pitted against the alien Yarix, the prosecutor for the Tribunal Consensus and surviving member of his race after his planet was annihilated and found guilty years ago. It isn’t clear just how real the events of this galactic trial are yet, but they mirror the events ongoing at home on Earth, and they are very real inside Sam’s head. Through this trial, Sam is trying to piece together what happened, why it happened, and if humanity really is worth saving.

The Blue Flame is a touching and thought-provoking look at humanity and what it means to be a hero. There are moments of great cynicism, but also moments of optimism and hope. Currently on issue #7, this 10-issue series has been consistently one of the best books on my pull list, growing and exploring deeper and heavier topics and themes, such as race and immigration, disability and mental health, and poverty and privilege. The upcoming final arc is one of my most anticipated endings of the year, and I’m excited to see the final verdict to the trial of mankind later this summer.

Money Shot is one of the most unconventional hits from Vault Comics. It’s an adult, sci-fi comedy that’s sexy and weird. It’s a book that co-writers Tim Seeley and Sarah Beattie had pitched to several other small press publishers before and had only heard back “no” from… that is, every other publisher except Vault. Vault said yes to the story of Christine Ocampo and her team of XXX-plorers, scientists-cum-pornstars, who traverse the galaxy on a mission to explore new worlds, search for advanced power sources, untold knowledge, and “aliens to f***.” Or in other words; Sciencing.

Co-writers Seeley and Beattie, along with artists Rebekah Isaacs and Caroline Leigh Layne, have turned Money Shot from a rejected series that is silly and absurd into one of comics’ newest guilty pleasures. The series has even been featured in GQ and Playboy magazines and has had a growing cult popularity ever since its debut in 2019.

In the year 2027, mankind makes first contact with extraterrestrial life and is offered membership to the greater civilized universe, but after getting to know humans and their nonsense a little more, they rescind the offer and leave us to our own devices. Now five years later, it’s 2032 and humanity is bored. They aren’t explorers anymore, no longer believing in the values of science and new ideas. But in a hilarious comic montage in the first volume, it’s explained how porn leads innovation, and the scientists behind the Star Shot program use its power to explore new worlds to solve Earth’s problems. With each member of the team hailing from another field of science, including physics, astrophysics, epidemiology, and biochemistry, (and with their own porn names like Supermassive Blackhole and Tesla Coyle of course), the Star Shot program is rebranded into Money Shot.

It’s a mature book, not just in content obviously, but also in how it examines the complexities of sex. Not just with the aliens they encounter, but also how it affects their relationships as a team. Co-writers Seeley and Beattie aren’t writing for a strictly male or female audience either, just anybody who’s ever experienced intimacy. This Star Trek parody is really funny, with plenty of sexual innuendos and sexual in-your-face-o’s, but is also heartfelt and honest. It’s a book about relationships and exploration, both of your partners and yourself. This series has been running for three volumes now, with the third volume set to be released in trade paperback later this April, with more on the way.

What’s to come from Vault Comics this year?

Vault prides itself on a focused publishing line, not bombarding readers and retailers with multiple #1’s each month. David stresses that with each new Vault #1 released, about once a month, that this book is the next Barbaric, and then this book is too.

The newest series from Vault is West of Sundown, by co-writers Tim Seeley and Aaron Campbell and artist Jim Terry. West of Sundown is the newest entry in Vault’s Nightfall horror imprint (joining the likes of other great horror series such as The Plot, Autumnal, The RUSH, and I Walk With Monsters) and follows vampire Contance der Abend and her loyal assistant Dooley as they’re forced to flee New York City during the 1870’s and venture out west to the town of Sangre de Moro, the ancestral soil of Constance that can restore her undead flesh. But the town of Sangre de Moro has changed since she last was here, with plenty more danger as monsters and ghouls now hide in the shadows of this rough frontier town. Issue #1 is out now and the series looks to be the next big book from Vault, but there are plenty more on the way.

“A skeleton, an apprentice mage, and an exiled princess walk into a bar… for another shift at Quests Aside, the local watering hole run by once legendary, now retired adventurer Barrow. When the King privately explains that he plans to shut the place down, Barrow must find a way to hold onto his business and the family he’s built around it.” New this spring from creators Brian Schirmer and Elena Gogou, it’s Quests Aside, a new fantasy comedy series perfect for fans of Critical Role that promises “it’s always sunny in the realms.”

Barbaric returns with more this summer! Barbaric’s first issue will be reprinted for Free Comic Book Day, followed by a new one-shot called The Harvest Blades, before the second series begins with the Axe to Grind storyline this July.

Mindset is set to be released early this summer from writer Zack Kaplan and artist John Pearson. The early solicit sets up a sci-fi thriller, something we haven’t quite seen yet from Vault. “When an introverted tech geek accidentally discovers mind control, he and his friends do something unexpected – they put the science into an app to help users break their technology addiction. But as their Mindset app achieves a dangerous cult following, lies, conspiracies, and murder come to light. Are they helping people or controlling them?” Each issue will also feature variant covers from Martin Simmonds of Image’s Department of Truth.

And Vault recently secured major financing (from the likes of Metallica no less) that’ll help the company grow its publishing efforts and create more opportunities for new and exciting titles and IP growth. Readers and retailers can expect many great things coming from Vault, including a Vault Retailer Program that could highlight your local comic shop.

How can retailers order and get more from Vault?

Retailers can order single issues and trade collections through both Diamond and now Lunar Distribution. There is no difference in discount between distributors. David says this gives retailers the choice to order through whichever distributor they prefer without pressure from Vault one way or the other. Another major tip David has for retailers is to order big on Vault, since each series is promised to be the next big title from the publisher, while also featuring full returnability on first issues highlighting Vault’s status as a no-risk publisher.

Announced during ComicsPRO this year, Vault will be formally introducing their Retailer Program later this year. Perks of the Vault Retailer Program include being recognized as a flagship Vault store with benefits such as exclusive #1 Thank You variants, increased discount on frontlist and backlist titles, a Vault Comics display along with other point-of-purchase merchandise and memorabilia, and store highlights with each enrolled retailer being listed in the back of every issue and one store winner chosen per month for an exclusive interview inside Vault books. Signup will be free with more enrollment details coming later this summer.