RIP Mark Alessi, CrossGen Founder

CrossGen logo

Ron Marz has reported on Twitter that CrossGen founder Mark Alessi passed away yesterday.

CrossGen published comics from 2000-2004, when they went bankrupt. Marz wrote their titles Scion (fantasy adventure about a guy with a sword), Mystic (scantily clad sorceress), Sojourn (fantasy adventure about a gal with a bow), and The Path (samurai). Their other main writers were Tony Bedard, Chuck Dixon, Mark Waid, and Barbara Kesel, while artists included Joshua Middleton, Steve McNiven, Jim Cheung, Bart Sears, Brandon Peterson, Greg Land, and the Lai Brothers. The publisher also owned the Florida MegaCon from 1999-2003.

CrossGen was different because, reportedly spurred by mistaken understanding of the glory days of the Marvel Bullpen, Alessi, a tech millionaire, brought those who worked for him in-house for a salary and benefits. Creators moved to Tampa, Florida, to work at CrossGen instead of freelancing from wherever.

The first titles — Sigil, Scion, Mystic, Meridian, and CrossGen Chronicles — launched a connected universe where each character had a sigil, a mystical brand that granted powers. Later series varied more in genre, including mystery and horror.

CrossGen was a leader in selling comics online with their Comics on the Web subscription product. As a company, they were hoping for media investment, which never substantially materialized, and word began circulating in 2003 that freelancers (as they had moved away from the employee model, they began operating more like other corporate American comic publishers) weren’t getting paid. The company filed for bankruptcy in June 2004, and Disney bought their assets in December of that year. Marvel, by then a Disney company, put out a few miniseries based on CrossGen properties in 2011 but none were particularly successful. A lot of the reporting on their rise and fall is no longer available online, based on my search of my archives and what I had linked to, but there is a short retrospective here.

My main CrossGen memory comes from the last time I went to the San Diego Comic-Con (I think it was 2002 or 2003). I had been reviewing CrossGen’s titles unfavorably because I thought they were pretty generic. Alessi wasn’t a fan, understandably. Then Randy Lander and Don MacPherson took me to the CrossGen party. Apparently, between doing a few tequila shots and looking good in the dress I was wearing, Alessi’s opinion of me became more favorable. Never underestimate the personal connection, kids.



7 comments

  • James Schee

    Sad to hear, CrossGen and I have some history. Due to my working for DC Online on AOL with you then your successors I made a lot of comic pro friends. Some of whom went to work for CrossGen and put my name in to their PR people. So I got an email from their PR guy asking me for my address, and for addresses of other *influential* comic fans that were on at the time. Which was odd, as it was a different time in comics social media back then, they wanted me to get their addresses without telling them what it was for which was….. odd and I ignored that. lol

    I actually still have their original PR kit, complete with information pages on their characters, their worlds, history and even their first comic. I pull it out to look at every now and again, as I liked CG at the time they started there wasn’t a lot of comics that weren’t superheroes or snobby art comics. So they filled a gap that was missing at the time.

    I won a trip to CrossGen HQ through a Previews catalog contest, asking me to describe what about their comics appealed to me. Got a free trip to FLorida along with my comic shop owner to tour the facility. I arrived the night before and oen of my friends and the PR guy took me out for dinner, next day I toured their HQ before heading back home.

    I got to meet a bunch of different folks, from Brandon Peterson, to Barbara Kesel, to Steve McNiven who was in their art training program at the time. He and I talked a bit about his quitting school teacher job to pursue this, and given name he’s made for himself now it seems to have worked out well.

    It was a great, if at times odd trip. Mark was very nice but also very much a salesman. I had already bought in The attention they paid to online media was far ahead of the time as well. DC and Marvel didn’t seem to give a hoot, but they had reviews printed up and on walls in breakrooms (stocked with a fridge of alcohol) for people to read.

    The weekend I got to visit was one when, Don MacPherson I believe it was, had posted a review of their young adult fantasy focused series Meridian. He had taken issue with seeing the female lead’s panties as she climbed a wall in the issue. There were closed door meetings going on at time about it and other things while I visited.

    Still it was neat to have a trip to Florida and seeing the actual process in person of how comics got made was really something exciting for me. They had created a nice community of fans, with message boards, emails and the like. they were a very responsive company to fan interaction. My attention for them lessoned over time as the company grew and other comics started up that appealed to my tastes more, but it is something I remember well.

    (I think they also may have been among the first to do motion comics as well, teaming with Blockbuster Video to have motion version of their comics in their stores.)

  • Thanks for sharing those memories, James. They were leaders in reaching out online. Amazing to think how much things have changed since then.

  • So much about CrossGen was ahead of its time, sometimes by a little and sometimes by a lot. They had a whole division devoted to creating material to accompany the comics in educational situations. I’m not sure how many schools they got into with that, but they had a program for it.

    They had those motion and animated comics they made with the help of a local college’s animation program. (“The Dave School,” was it?)

    They made all their material available in single issues, in trade paperbacks, and in smaller paperback anthologies. (“Forge” and “Edge.”)

    I wonder if they had an active presence in courting libraries. That seems to be the only thing missing that I can remember….

    COW — Comics on the Web — gave you access to the entire CrossGen catalog older than six months, I think it was, for a buck a month.

    And they went out of business chasing Hollywood money. They were a few years too early for that. If CrossGen launched today, some Hollywood studio would buy them, or they’d at least have multiple deals in the works.

    As I recall, Brandon Peterson also programmed an entire internal website system to handle tracking the production pipeline. I’m sure you can just use Trello or Google spreadsheets now, but I’m sure it beat the whiteboard of the editor’s office for tracking purposes.

    And, yes, they paid attention to the then-nascent world of on-line comics journalism. They were very friendly to us, including meals at major cons and lots of free comics. I don’t think review PDFs were a thing yet, even for CrossGen….

    Of course, it also made stars of many creators, too. Marvel scooped up a bunch of colorists and artists, in particular.

    They didn’t miss a single publishing deadline for years, until the financial crunches started. They didn’t reboot their books. Creators stayed on books and pledged to do five out of every six issues. Imagine that!

    The books were also, physically, of super high quality. While other publishers were trying to find ways to print books cheaper — including coverless comics and slightly smaller page sizes, CrossGen had the heaviest comics in the industry. I have a long box filled with them that I curse at whenever I have to move it. The darn thing weight at least 50% more than a longbox of any other publishers’ comics.

    I remain convinced that CrossGen was a worthy experiment and one which was just slightly ahead of the curve. Seriously, if everything that had happened there happened five years later, I bet they’d still be going today.

  • Thank you for that detailed analysis. It’s true, they set the stage for a lot of what we take for granted these days.

  • Randy and I brought you to that party? I don’t recall that. I remember us all being there, at that long table, Alessia plied us critics with booze and food (which, in retrospect, perhaps wasn’t the right move on our part :-) ). That dinner was one of my two main CrossGen memories – the other being the Usenet hullabaloo over my review of Meridian #1 (which had drawn the ire of the writer and Alessi himself).

    CrossGen’s legacy is still felt today, given the creators Alessi introduced to the marketplace and the sharp leaps forward in computer coloring. I suspect it would still be around today if Alessi hadn’t committed so much capital to overhead for his bullpen model and had chosen to grow it more organically instead of trying to build a Marvel/DC-like universe right out of the gate.

  • I don’t have a personal history with Crossgen like the other commenters here, but I do remember that some of those early Crossgen comics, particularly, Mystic, Scion and Meridian were particularly helpful for me when I was a teenager learning English. I don’t recall any of their series as being particularly good, but I remember them as a formative experience as I was improving my language skills a lot back then and these were some of the first comics I remember actually reading front to back and understanding every word from.

    I’ll dust off these comics tonight and read them again for old time’s sake.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.