Another great question for ASK THE DWO this week, this one focusing on Dale Keown and Aircel Comics.
Dave. I was going through some original artwork and I fell across some original Dragonforce Dale Keown pages, wondered what ever happened to Aircel Comics out of Canada and a wikipedia search or two later and read that Mailibu Comics were gained the Aircel titles through some financial troubles with Barry Blair. What can you tell me about the Aircel books? Dragonforce/Dale Keown (at the time) was one of the main reasons that I wanted to become a comic illustrator. Do you think Samauri or any of those titles will ever see daylight again?
Early in its history, a year or so before Malibu began publishing, Aircel Comics were doing quite well. The books weren’t exactly my personal cup of tea, but they definitely had some loyal and reasonably numerous fans. If memory serves, the books for the most part were doing respectable numbers, but weren’t really burning up the charts until Warlock 5 grabbed the attention and imagination of the collectors/back issue/price guide buyers that dominated the market at the time. That book succeeded on the strength of the art of Canadian Denis Beauvais. It was really a time in the late 1980s when the tale was wagging the dog in the comic book business.
Trivia: Based on the success of Warlock 5, Denis Beauvais went on to provide art for the second ALIENS mini-series for Dark Horse Comics in 1989. The first color series produced by Dark Horse.
The two guys behind Aircel Comics were Ken Campbell and Barry Blair. Campbell was the owner of Aircel Insulation who, as you read on the Wikipedia page, turned to comics publishing after losing his government contract for insulation installation. Barry Blair was the editor/writer/artist in charge of making the editorial side of the business work. The financial problems weren’t Barry’s … at least not directly. The company and Ken Campbell were suffering difficulties that came to the attention of Malibu President Scott Rosenberg.
A business deal was worked out that handed the reigns of Aircel over to Malibu, that allowed Barry Blair to remain and produce books for Malibu. I don’t really know much about the books published by Aircel before Barry and Co. arrived. I’m reasonably sure that the rights to those titles remained with the creators, so it would be possible for them to return if the creators/owners wanted to do something.
The financial problems that faced Campbell/Aircel before Malibu’s intervention continued afterward and all of the original titles died out pretty quickly due to low sales. Much of the sales loss were the result of the shrinking/competition in the market at the time, but another contributing factor was the loss of artists due to decreasing royalty payments and better job offers from other publishers.
Ultimately the Aircel Comics imprint changed its identity a number of times while at Malibu, depending on the shifting sands of the comic industry beneath “our” feet. Eventually, it essentially became our “adult” imprint because Barry Blair had moved in that direction chasing sales and we went that direction as well. The money wasn’t great, but it helped to keep the lights on and the rent paid.
Trivia: Malibu’s MEN IN BLACK comic that became the famous movie franchise was originally published under the Aircel imprint.
Arguably the most successful creator to come from the “original” Aircel Comics was artist Dale Keown. Dale did memorable work for Marvel (Hulk) and for Image (Pitt). Back in the day, Dale did a number of guest covers for Malibu, include two very memorable ones for Tom Mason’s Dinosaurs For Hire. He was always absolutely fun and terrific. While I haven’t kept in touch with Dale, the legend from the rumor mill is that Dale used his Hulk/Pitt money to build a high-tech recording studio at his house in Canada, because ultimately no matter how well he drew or how well he got paid for it, his primary interest was playing rock-n-roll guitar.
Recently, most of Dale’s work can be found with an Image/Top Cow logo on it. But I’m pretty sure I saw a Keown RED HULK cover recently as well.
That’s my version of the story.
— Dave Olbrich (DWO) Fri. Dec. 26, 2008