Rich Koslowski is best known by some as the creator of Three Fingers, The List and The King, three graphic novels released in the 2000s that showed off not only his creativity and wit, but also his skill as an artist. Others know him as the creator of The 3 Geeks, which later became Geeksville and was published by Image Comics. And still others likely know him from his long-running work at Archie Comics, where he has drawn or inked everyone from Jughead to Sonic the Hedgehog to the rock band KISS, among many others.
It’s been several years now since we’ve seen him write and draw an original graphic novel, but he’s back at Top Shelf with a new project, F.A.R.M. System, which arrives in stores Nov. 8. Like Three Fingers and The King, it’s a satire that mashes together the world of superheroes with baseball farm teams, as new heroes vie for spots in the Big Leagues.
Koslowski was kind enough to answer some questions about the project, his love of baseball and what else he has in the works.
First off, I’m happy to have something coming out that I can put on my bookshelf next to Three Fingers, The List and The King, which I’ve always thought were wonderful. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a new graphic novel that you’ve written and drawn; what was it that brought you back to them and working with Top Shelf again?
First of all, Thank You for your kind words regarding my previous books. I sincerely appreciate it.
It has been a while since my last graphic novel was released by Top Shelf in 2010. There was a long stretch there where I was working quite a bit with my manager in Los Angeles on developing my Illustrated Novel, The List, into a screenplay; that took an enormous amount of time and energy. There has been some serious interest in developing that, but nothing concrete yet—we shall see what we shall see on that front!
Unfortunately, working on the screenplay didn’t leave me a lot of free time to work on other projects––during that time I was always tinkering with my idea for F.A.R.M. System, though…sketching, writing segments that would pop into my head here and there…
I actually pitched the idea to Chris Staros at Top Shelf somewhere around 2009, and he was all for it, but then I was hired by JD Arnold to illustrate his script for a new book which did end up also getting published by Top Shelf, BB WOLF AND THE THREE L.P.s.
So F.A.R.M. System was delayed a couple years while BB Wolf was being worked on.
Finally, a few years ago, I said, “enough is enough” regarding all my other side projects and jobs! It was “s#!t or get off the pot” time! F.A.R.M. System was, in my eyes, my creme de le creme of a project and I just absolutely had to get this book done! I have about 25 pages fully illustrated, the entire script was ready (in sections), and I wasn’t getting any younger! And, literally, the day before I decided to call Chris Staros to tell him I was ready to roll, IDW Publishing purchased Top Shelf!!! With the contingency that Chris stays on as publisher. I couldn’t believe it! The stars had aligned!
The call went great, we signed the contracts, and here we are, October 2022 and the book is, at last, complete!
In addition to being great stories, your previous original graphic novels are also pop culture satires, where you have some fun in the worlds of animation, music and the corporate Christmas industrial complex, for lack of a better term. Can you talk about the connection to baseball, in particular the minor leagues — is this something you follow and are a fan of?
In addition to being a lifelong fan of comics, and music and movies, I am also a fan of sports. I love the fact that we watch these “stories” that don’t have scripted endings! I have also always played sports. My favorite has always been baseball. I am not one of those “stat nuts,” but I do appreciate the depth of the history of baseball; it’s teams and players, and their achievements. I absolutely love the documentaries like Ken Burns’ Baseball. That was amazing!
Anyway, I always find myself sympathizing with the “underdog.” I sympathize with those players that never make it to the Big Leagues…the players that flounder for years and years in the minor leagues never fully realizing their dreams. Maybe it’s because they’re just not talented enough…maybe not marketable enough…got injured…or maybe, for whatever, reason, they’re timing was never right? Whatever the reason might have been, I find it sad. I want to know some of their stories as well as the stories of Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron.
So, one day, it occurred to me that if super-heroes were real, they’d probably have a system like baseball has…A system run by agents, trainers, marketers that take in these young, powerful recruits and train and nurture them, developing them under the protective umbrella of the minor league farm system until they’re ready for the “Big Leagues.” And, of course, get them as much money as possible! Let’s face it, not every super-hero is a billionaire like Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne—they need to get paid! And they SHOULD! If they’re out there risking their lives to save others, they deserve some sort of compensation.
In preparing the story, what sort of research did you do into the world of baseball farm teams?
Not a ton, actually. I already had a pretty good idea how a farm system in baseball worked from all my years as a fan and watching the documentaries. But I did extensive research on the one man attributed with creating the system that all other teams eventually developed, Branch Rickey. He was the guy that developed it and revolutionized baseball. He was the guy that contracted Jackie Robinson, the very first African-American player in the major leagues. His story is fascinating. I make mention and pay homage to Branch Rickey on page 1 of my book, summarizing exactly what a “farm system” is for the readers before they dive in. It’s such a simple yet brilliant structure and makes so much sense!
4. In addition to the baseball angle, this is also a superhero story, with some fun new superheroes in a completely new superhero universe. Can you talk about what was going through your head as you built out this world and designed the characters?
RICH: It was important to me that I introduce a bunch of fun, interesting new characters but also “ground them” in our current, familiar universe of heroes like Superman and Wolverine, etc. I am a lifelong fan of Marvel and DC, and their characters (deservedly) dominate the comic book landscape. To create the idea/illusion that my characters exist alongside these other popular, established characters we all already love so much, was important to me. To try and create an entirely “new,” stand-alone universe would be challenging—to get readers “hooked in” and engaged. So, even though I cannot legally illustrate trademarked characters from other publishers, you can make verbal mention of them. I had a lot of fun with this! And it gives my readers the idea that my characters are aspiring to make it onto one of those established teams out there like the Justice League.
It was equally important to me that I focus, primarily, on those heroes who never quite make it to the Big Leagues. Their stories are often sad, but incredibly interesting. Seeing how they must train, undergo all the costume designing, branding, naming rights, sensitivity training and physical and psychological evaluations…How they must compete against the other candidates for those jobs out there, often having to settle for a job as a glorified bodyguard for some corporate bigwig. Because, y’know, there is only so much call for the seemingly endless plethora of overachieving “hand-to-hand combat specialists who are also acrobatic and show strong leadership abilities.” In my universe, in my F.A.R.M. System, there aren’t too many recruits on the “Superman” level.
5. You put a lot of “story” into this story, but the concept does feel like it’s something that could keep going. Did you consider at all doing this as an ongoing or doing a sequel?
Boy, am I glad that you think so! Because, yes, I do have Book 2 planned and already started. The script is outlined, and I have about 12 pages illustrated thus far! Now we just wait (and hope) for the numbers on Book 1…if FS Book 1 does well enough Book 2 is a definite GO! Obviously, I firmly believe it will be (praying to the comic book gods, Stan and Jack, every night, too, can’t hurt) as I’m illustrating new pages every day…
6. What are you working on next?
I have a 150-page illustrated horror/comedy novella titled Mercy that is completed! This is another project that I’ve been working on, sporadically, over the course of the past 10 years. This will also have a sequel that is about 1/4 finished right now. I’m currently fishing for a publisher, but Illustrated novellas are a bit tougher sell than sequential graphic novels these days. But I am determined, so I’ll eventually run a Kickstarter and self-publish if need be. I have a lot of experience self-publishing and have always enjoyed doing it, so the idea doesn’t intimidate me so much. I’m targeting Mercy for a Halloween of 2023 release date!!!