Interview Giuseppe Pennestri
by Matthew Perryman

Q: Good afternoon, Giuseppe. Please tell us more about the Kickstarter campaign that you are launching.

A: Good afternoon, Matt. Let me start by saying that this is the first of a series of crowd-funding campaigns that we will launch in 2014, to celebrate our second year of activity. The goal of this Kickstarter campaign is to publish, this coming May, the second volume of our Rourke the Hexbuster graphic novel.
We presented the first volume at last October’s MCM London Comic Con, where it received the warm welcome that it deserves. Rourke is an amazing horror fantasy comic by one of the most prolific Italian comic authors – Federico Memola – who was assisted by five skillful illustrators – Cosimo Ferri, Val Romeo, Enza Fontana, Manuela Soriani and Ivan Zoni. Rourke was originally published in Italy in 2009-10 as an eight episode series of 96 pages in black and white. Our English edition will consist of four volumes, each 200 pages and including two episodes. There is also an interview with the author and some original sketches. The black and white scheme enhances the beautiful drawings of this new character, fully realising his dark world.
We have great prizes for all fans of comic books, from casual readers to avid collectors, such as original illustrations and two oil painting by Cosimo Ferri, signed copies, and an invitation to meet us at the London Film & Comic Con in July 2014. We will also have an exclusive, limited prize: a box containing all Rourke the Hexbuster volumes as a deluxe edition. Yes, we want to offer the best to our readers and backers.
But this project is more than that. It will help us further build upon our young independent publishing house, DieGo Comic Publishing. Backers of this project will be creating a new force in the fantasy field, both for literature and comics, a publishing house that will produce quality graphic novels and books by leading non-English authors that feature stellar artworks. Some publishers still choose to refrain from translating European/Italian comics into English, something that we feels deprives the reader of an opportunity to read talented authors.
Too often, comic book publishers uses the excuse that foreign authors do not know their national audience, and that their works might not be understood to a level that makes their publication worthwhile. But we know this is not true. The success of Japanese manga proves that both young and adult audiences are prepared to welcome new works by foreign authors. With the help of crowd-funding, I’d like Diego Comic Publishing to be able to expand our selection of fiction and comic books, more and more widely over the coming years. Even with the resources that me, and my sister Marcella, have managed to invest, we cannot do this on our own. We need the support of people who trust in us, interested members of the global comic community who like what we do and who are willing to back us.

Q: Why have you chosen to take the Kickstarter route? What is it about crowd-funding that seems promising to you?

A. My sister and I started DieGo Comic Publishing by financing it with our savings. In the first year that our company was active, we were able to publish four titles: the fantasy novel Dark Rock Chronicles, two graphic novels – Diego’s Parody and Rourke the Hexbuster vol. I – and three issues of our literary and artistic magazine, Kingdom of Fantasy. The greatest difficulty that we face, as a new and independent publishing house, is to be able to reach enough of the general public. It’s an arduous task to create a niche market, especially when competing against established competitors.

We have participated at MCM London Comic Con and Brighton’s World Fantasy Convention, which allowed us to properly introduce our products and mantra to the public for the first time. Feedback was great and reassured us that we were on the right path – there was a market for this, and people were genuinely interested. How could one not be, with the level of comic writers and artists hidden throughout Europe?

We are also active on several online platforms, and continue the hard work of contacting comic shops and libraries to offer our titles. As of now, we are present at comic stores throughout London and Cardiff, and at Waterstones bookstores. It is our aim to create a base of loyal readers, an aim that we have begun but still have so far to go, so we have now decided to turn to a crowd-founding platform.

The advantage of crowd-founding is that one can easily turn directly to the consumer, presenting a project to interested readers, and show them that their support of the project need not require any large outlay on their part. Backers can, for example, buy the Rourke graphic novel on a pre-sale basis and be rewarded with any of the beautiful prizes we have designed for them.

Moreover, a crowd-funding platform offers us the opportunity to come into contact with those who, although not directly interested in comic books, want to contribute to the success of our business with a symbolic offer. Besides funding our project, we want to establish a trusting, honest relationship with our audience, who have become our first readers and supporters/advocates.

Last but not least, any backer of our project may tomorrow, or any day after that, and seek to launch his or her own project. And DieGo Comic Publishing will be there to provide our own help. After all, my parents educated me to help others, as in the best traditions of neighbourliness. The comic community is a supportive and understanding one, and by standing together we can help promote amazing new material to a global audience.

Q: With DieGo Comic Publishing, you bring us some of the most exciting new names in European fantasy fiction. How do you find these voices?

A. Passion; before I became a publisher and an entrepreneur, I was a reader of comics and books. My personal library, which is still in my parents’ house, stocks thousands of titles. At some point my mother made my choose, saying to me: ‘You or your books.” So then I had to move out!

Anyway, the invention of the internet has facilitated communications and, over the years, it has given me the opportunity to receive news from my favourites authors via blogs, websites, Facebook pages and more. So when I decided to devote myself to publishing, I began contacting some of these authors, those who I used to read myself, and my relationship with them turned from geek to entrepreneur and spokesperson.

Then I started to participate in various exhibitions across Europe, which led me to meet the authors who I had been in contact with via the web. Soon, I had established many new contacts. I try to meet in person all of the authors and illustrators who wish to work with me, although modern technology makes it possible to talk, write and sign contracts over great distance. However, I still consider it very important to shake the hand of the man or woman I am entering into partnership with.

Q: You are originally from Italy – what pushed you to approach the English-speaking fantasy market with translations and adaptations?

A: Although I was born and raised in Italy, August 2014 will see me light my twentieth candle of living abroad. I lived in Denmark, and then Hungary, before I moved to London six years ago. The United Kingdom offers good opportunities to start-ups, so basing DieGo Comic Publishing in London was the result of marketing strategy. After all, London is an important economic and cultural junction, a gateway between Europe and the rest of the world – more so than any other European city.

I shall give you an example. If you translate an author in German or French, they will be introduced only to that specific market. Translating a title in English doesn’t only open the door to its success in the UK, but to every other country that speaks English. And there are a lot of them! Moreover, if I wanted to licence our titles to, for example, a Bulgarian publisher, an English translation would have an advantage over an Italian one.

Q: As you are now based in London – how do you find the English fantasy market, in comparison to the Italian one that you grew up reading?

A. The English fantasy genre and market includes huge names like J. R. R. Tolkien, Terry Pratchett, J. K. Rowling, Stan Nichols and G. R. R. Martin, to name just a few. Many titles are published every year. At the WFC last year, I had the opportunity to meet a lot of renowned authors, emerging ones, established publishers (and small ones as myself), but also an incredible number of passionate readers from all over the world. I have to admit that several told me I am mad to venture into such a market. But then again, Columbus and Marco Polo were also considered mad in their time. When they left for their ventures, none of their contemporaries believed in their passion -.but without the courage, or madness, of these pioneers, the earth would still be flat and, perhaps most important of all, we would not have spaghetti!

Back to your question: the Italian fantasy market is rich with authors, some of whom have been influenced by the authors I have named above – how could it be otherwise? – but they also use the rich Italian folk traditions to create their own stories. Consequently, I am sure, those Italians authors can make some spectacular impacts in the international fantasy scene.

I am currently looking at a series of witch tales written by young Italian authors. You, Matthew, are familiar with the witch figure as it is represented in Anglo-Saxon literature, a characterization originated from Celtic-Germanic-Anglo-Saxon tradition. You, as the average English speaking reader, are surely familiar with the Salem witch hunts and holiday of Halloween. But how much do you know about the witch figure in the popular traditions of Sicily? Traditions that have formed themselves through centuries of influence by Greeks, Phoenicians, Arabs, Turks, Normans, Spanish, and many more. Subsequently, I believe that what we’re doing will feed the mind of our readers.

Things are different if we talk about comics in the UK, which has an output of zero. The real comics have disappeared from the shops, and often the only comic books left are those of the educational variety, the ones for young children that come with free toys. There are not many new comics aimed at a teenage audience, with the exception of American comics and manga . The adolescent and adult audience is DieGo’s target market, and our titles are aimed at this audience as they are the most in need of a refreshing rejuvenation in comic and novel form.

Q: What do you see for DieGo Comic Publishing’s future, beyond the completion of your Kickstarter campaign?

A: As I said earlier, this is our first crowd-founding. We are willing, hard workers, and we believe in what we do. We aim to increase our selection of titles, and we have several other projects that we would like to start. Our February campaign will see the second volume of the Rourke the Hexbuster graphic novel come to life, and much more will follow.

In March, we’ll launch a new crowd-funding to translate and publish Clockwork, the first book in Augusto Chiarle’s Shadow of Mars steampunk series. In April, we will launch Sleepless, a 15 episode graphic novel that we want to present at July 2014’s London Film & Comic Con. We are also starting three contests: the first will be to select the next hilarious comic book to be included in our Diego’s Parody November volume; the other two to select short stories for our upcoming anthologies, which will include both Italian and native English authors. The last of DieGo’s goals for the near future is attendance of the World Fantasy Convention in Virgina, USA next Autumn. This is where we aim to present our steampunk and fantasy authors to an American audience. And once we are there, who knows – maybe we will also visit the New York Comic Con.

Are we ambitious? In a word, yes. How else can anything be achieved unless drastic chances are taken and a constant belief maintained? At DieGo Comic Publishing, we believe in what we do and we work hard to accomplish our goals.

This interview was originally published on the DieGo Comics Publishing website (http://www.diegopublishing.co.uk) and is hereby being re-published with their consent.

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