Written by: Matt Hutaff · April 01, 2008
Jeff Gomez joined Acclaim Comics so long ago it was still called Valiant Comics. A self-confessed comics junkie, Gomez has grown from “a fascination I had with dinosaurs and monster movies” to the CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment, a content development and production studio based in New York City.
He’s created fictional worlds of his own and worked with Fox, Coca-Cola, Disney, Mattel, and Hasbro on such properties as Turok, Dinosaur Hunter, Magic: The Gathering, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but he made his bones overseeing the production of Sliders comics.
Marvel and DC Comics were very much a part of my childhood. I reconnected with them in the late 1980s, with books like The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen. I got a job in the adventure gaming industry that led to work with Valiant Comics in the early ’90s. Although I loved the super hero stuff, I found myself gravitating to licensed books like Magic: The Gathering and Sliders in part because I wanted to connect with the rest of the entertainment industry and learn how things worked.
When I became a comic book editor greats like Bob Layton, Don Perlin, Bob Hall and Kevin VanHook taught me the finer points of the comic book production process and comic art appraisal. It’s a skill I cherish to this day.
I joined Valiant in 1992. The company was purchased by Acclaim Entertainment and we were encouraged to expand our publishing line in a variety of ways. The licensed stuff was brought in and the powers that be asked me to supervise it.
One of our first targets for licensed comics was with Paramount Pictures, actually. We wanted to pick up Star Trek and some of their other properties but couldn’t arrive at a deal. Next up was Universal and Saban, both of which we landed. I was given a list of Universal properties and happened to be a Sliders fan at the time, so it was a no-brainer — especially after I learned that Tracy Tormé was a comic book fan and we could have a close relationship with the production team.
I was Sliders mission control at Acclaim’s Armada imprint. Editor-in-Chief Bob Layton often gave me recommendations on what artists might be best for the series (hence Dick Giordano, Jackson Guice and Bernard Chang), but the entire look and feel and direction of the series was mine to arbitrate.
The most brilliant thing about working with Sliders and Tracy was his desire to intertwine the continuity of the comic with that of the TV show. He considered the comic stories to be “canon.” One of his main complaints about the first season of Sliders was that Fox wanted a very family oriented series and held the reigns tight on darker elements Tracy wanted to play with. Also, elements such as recurring villains were initially frowned upon.
So Tracy (and by extension Jerry) brought those elements to the comic books, experimenting with some concepts that eventually Fox would allow into the series, such as the Zercurvians and Kromaggs.
“Sliders” offered me the chance to really jump outside of the comic book box, especially where Acclaim was concerned, and work with people I hadn’t had the opportunity to work with before. A lot of the writers were fans of the show, and of course Tracy and Jerry were miracles in the making.
Dan Chichester had done a bunch of Marvel stuff, and had the misfortune of following up Frank Miller on the Daredevil series. I had worked with Dan on some of the Magic: The Gathering comic books; he was a fun guy, excellent storyteller and fast as lightning. He knew Sliders inside out. We were in a hurry to get to market with the series, so he was a natural. All the guys on those early issues were very fast.
Production was very open to a variety of artistic interpretations of their characters, which made it easy to work with the artists I wanted, all of whom were terrifically talented, but all of whom had an array of styles. I did try to match artists to the look and tone of the stories; I’m especially proud of Rags Morales’s work on The Lost Episode — superb illustrator!
Initially, both Tracy and Robert were generous with their time, and I spoke with both at length about the comics. Bob even wrote some material for the comic book back matter, which I think we used. Eventually, Bob got caught up in production work, so we lost touch, but Tracy stayed through to the end. It seems as soon as the production realized they could trust us to handle the characters and storylines well, they left us alone and granted us enormous freedom. The notes that we did get were mostly helpful because they gave us tidbits from the show’s upcoming episodes we could seed into the books.
There were indeed a few books that were based on TV episode pitches and/or scripts that would not be made for one reason or another (mostly because of budget or darkness of tone). Blood and Splendor was based on a treatment by Tracy, I believe, and Narcotica was a pitch for the series by Jerry which could not be made because it was impossibly downbeat.
One of the most spectacular Sliders projects we were preparing was something of an alternate series finale conceived by Tracy about how the gang found themselves on an Earth where the sun was about to burn out, ending the world. In order for others to escape the dimension, Quinn was forced to remain behind, sacrificing himself in a truly touching and noble way. We were definitely going to do that one!
Unfortunately, Sliders came out in the midst of an industry-wide comic book implosion. While we initially posted respectable numbers, the series was not a hit and, like most of Acclaim’s other books, numbers slid. It was definitely a niche audience, but boy were they fanatics! Fans of the Sliders comics have been some of the most loyal and vocal fans of anything I’ve ever done — and that’s saying a lot!
I’m afraid the answer is a bit cynical. In the comic book business, an issue #1 tends to sell more than an issue #5 or #15 or #22. Because times were tough in the industry, the powers that be decided to produce a series of Sliders mini-series and “specials” so that we would have a whole bunch of #1’s!
Of course my greatest moment on the series was when Jerry and his brother Charlie came to the Acclaim offices to hang with us, talk about Narcotica and shoot hoops with the staff over lunch. If you could have a fantasy of what those guys are really like, this would be it. Jerry was warm and friendly and tremendously enthusiastic. Often when we get “celebrity” writers, we groan because we know we’re going to be doing most of the writing. But after only a few quick lessons on comic book scripting, Jerry was aces and turned in a draft that I hardly had to edit at all. He was a big comic book fan and a natural writer; I’m surprised he hasn’t done more writing since. Charlie was very striking looking, and I knew he would be a star, even though at the time he had no intention of going into acting. What a truly fun day!
One other great moment was the time I called Jerry’s home in Manhattan to ask him about some Narcotica stuff and got his Mom on the phone. We had a rollicking talk. She’s so proud of her boys! I could see how they both could have such a great sense of humor and have remained so grounded in that crazy Hollywood world.
To this day, I’m a fan of the work of Tracy, Bob, Jerry and Charlie and go out of my way to watch what they do. What a trip it would be to work with any one of them at least one more time!
From a creative standpoint, it was paradise, really; we were only limited by the fact that we were always in a rush. There was never a time where I differed with Universal or the Sliders production on the book.
There were only two major problems I had in the series’ history. The first was on Narcotica, when penciller Jackson Guice had to bail on me halfway through the book for personal reasons. I adored his work, so it really killed me when that happened — especially on Jerry’s book! We brought on artist Dennis Calero to finish the book, which was a controversial move. My feeling was, Jackson left right at the point in the story where Wade’s addiction kicks in, so instead of finding an artist to mimic Jackson, why not get an artist whose style reflected her downward spiral? So I think the book works to this day. Some of my bosses at the company didn’t like Dennis’s style at all and were disappointed with the result.
The second major problem is that just when the series was really about to hit its stride, we had the plug pulled, leaving some hilarious and spectacular stories stranded on the runway. Andy Mangell’s Get a Life and Tracy’s “The End” were heartbreakers for not being published.
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