Chicago’s “X-Force” panel got off to an interesting start. Following a singing scheduling conflict, the team of Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost and Mike Choi arrived a few minutes late, followed by a line of fans still wanting books signed. After a few unruly minutes, Wizard’s Mike Cotton addressed the situation, which was resolved by the creators continuing to sign comics from throughout the discussion.
After about 15 minutes, the line started to thin out and become manageable. It was then the panel began to answer questions, starting with a discussion about the creation of Wolverine’s female clone, X-23. Kyle explained that he and Yost got together to write the origin story of X-23 for the animated series “X-Men: Evolution.” There was a call for a teenage version of Wolverine and the writers decided X-23 was the best way to accomplish a younger take on Wolverine’s abilities without affecting what made Wolverine himself work. The team agreed that the basic concept of a “teenage female clone of Wolverine” sounds stupid when you say it out loud, but they’ve grown to love the character as it’s been developed beyond her animated origins as part of the mainstream Marvel universe.
“Fortunately [bringing X-23 into the main universe] did work out and she’s been very good to us ever since,” said Kyle.
The panel then transitioned to discussing the origins of their careers, specifically Mike Choi, who along with Sonia Oback illustrates “X-Force.” “I told this story yesterday, and I’m afraid I’m going to contradict myself by making something up,” said Choi, prefacing his origin story by saying he didn’t really get into comics until late in college, starting with Kevin Smith’s run on “Daredevil.” Choi explained that after graduating, he worked for several years at IBM but sought work in comics and worked his way from a Top Cow staffer to a full-fledged artist on “Witchblade.” Eventually through Top Cow’s partnership with Marvel, Choi was offered work.
“Editorial asked me if I’d like to do work for Marvel and I said ‘I want to work on Witchblade’ and they gave me a Marvel book anyway,” joked Choi. “And I said, ‘Oh yeah, the girl Wolverine, that’s going to be awesome. Now X-23 is my favorite Marvel character – I’m just saying that because [Kyle and Yost] are here.”
Moving on to the subject of creativity, a fan asked the panel how they got into the mood to write. Yost said that he had time to think while he drove, and that there was nothing worse than staring at a blank screen.”Think about what you love – about the stuff you love, not just comics, just stories in general, books, TV, movies, everything you love and think about what you want to say,” said Yost. “Think about the kinds of characters you like and how that character can propel a story – I won’t lie, it’s tricky. Getting into comics is incredibly hard, so the best thing you can do is come out with your own original idea and try to get it out there. Unfortunately there’s just no easy way.”
The next fan asked about the villain Selene and her role in the upcoming “Necrosha” story arc, which will see the resurrection of dead mutants. “It’s kind of Selene’s big play,” said Yost. “There’s definitely a reason, it’s not resurrecting for resurrection’s sake. She’s got a plan behind it.”
Kyle added that their goal with the “Necrosha” storyline is to elevate Selene the way Grant Morrison elevated Emma during his time on “New X-Men.”
Other than their comics work, a fan wanted clarification on the animated projects Kyle and Yost were each working on. Yost explained that he was working on the upcoming “Avengers” animated series, which will star its original lineup of Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man and The Wasp, with others to be announced as the series develops and finds a network home.
“As a fan, I love this show,” said Yost.
Kyle has begun to transition out of animation, but will continue to work on Marvel’s multimedia properties – namely as a producer on 2011’s live-action Thor film, which he said he can’t talk about, but was willing to characterize. “It’s going to kick all kinds of ass and we’re very proud of it,” said Kyle.
A fan next brought up the contrast between many of the X-Men’s cuter characters and the deadly X-Force they join – namely Wolfsbane, who has gone into much darker territory during her time on the team. “The way we look at it, being on X-force is the worst possible thing for a person,” said Yost to audience laughter.
Yost assured fans that Wolfsbane’s recent troubles in the title’s storyline would be looked at more closely in upcoming issues and that the entire team would be undergoing some roster changes soon.
Now that “X-Men: Evolution” can be streamed for free on the video site Hulu, one fan wanted to know if Yost and Kyle felt proud to have their work archived as an on-demand program for potential new audiences. Kyle and Yost said they were proud of their work on the show, especially because they had a lot of creative control on the series. Now that they’ve expanded to work on multiple direct-to-DVD projects as well as other series like “Iron Man: Armored Adventures,” their philosophy on writing for television remains the same. “It’s about making new fans and entertaining the ones who are out there now,” said Kyle.
The next fan expressed his appreciation for “Iron Man: Armored Adventures,” which he initially expected to hate given its differences from the Iron Man comic book and films with a teenage cast. Yost and Kyle admitted that they came into the project with concerns of their own, noting that de-aging Tony Stark presented major challenges. The team said they worked to find a way to make the transformation without making people go insane, eventually accepting that, “there’s more to Tony Stark than women and booze and boardrooms.”
“It was making sure we focused on all the things that make Tony Stark Tony Stark that we can show,” said Yost, noting that bringing in other elements of the Marvel universe like SHIELD and Hydra helped define the characters.
The next fan brought up the live-action Thor movie again, in an attempt to get more information from Kyle. While reluctant to reveal any details for fear of being fired, Kyle did sum up his experience on the project so far: “It’s an amazing group of people we’re putting together. It’s an honor to be on the project but that’s about all I can say about it.”
Returning to the subject of “X-Force,” a fan asked the panelists which comics influenced their current work. “Without Claremont I wouldn’t be a comic writer. For me, that era is what defines the X-Men,” said Kyle, who listed Neal Adams’ artwork as another major influence. Yost agreed with Kyle’s picks, but also noted ‘The New Mutants’ was a personal favorite and that his favorite X-Men storyline was “Morlock Massacre.”
One fan wanted to know how the “X-Force” team, known for being the darkest book in the X-Universe, approached the tone of the book and its inherent violence. Choi noted that his last piece of submitted artwork actually had too much blood in it and his co-artist Oback had to stay home from the convention to wrap up editorial corrections for the art to get printed on time, which the team joked was due in part to their newest editor, who had previously worked on Marvel’s more kid-friendly Marvel Adventures line.
“We only make our stories as dark as they need to be,” said Kyle. “We take this stuff real seriously, we don’t screw around. When we put people in the crosshairs you know people could die”
“We try to think about [the violence in the book] as realistically as possible,” said Choi. “Craig and Chris might have a reputation for killing kids, but they don’t do it in real life.”
The next fan asked if the “X-Force” team would ever bring Nightcrawler into its ranks, specifically to use his teleportation powers to kill enemies in interesting ways. Yost said that the team already had a teleporter in the character of Vanisher and that he was more likely to do those kinds of things than Nightcrawler, but didn’t rule out using the character at some point.
Given both Yost and Kyle’s writing pedigrees, a fan wanted to pick their brains for insights into breaking into writing. Yost and Kyle agreed that there was no easy way and kept the message simple. “Have an amazing writing sample,” said Yost. “Work on that writing sample and make it shine because you’re going to get one shot. It’s gotta freakin’ shine.”
Kyle emphasized that writers should prepare as much as possible before considering having people look at their work, because the people hiring are not willing to take risks on those they don’t feel are ready and that opportunity only matters if a writer is prepared. “It’s important, you need to be ready, read samples, read animation scripts, watch shows, scrutinize what’s on the page vs. what’s on the show,” said Kyle. “You’ve just got to blow them away when the opportunity happens.”
Yost also emphasized that those wanting to become television writers need to understand that it’s a work-for-hire situation and a job like any other. “Make [your writing sample] sound like the show [you’re trying to write for], if you’re going to write a script for ‘Buffy,’ make it sound like Joss Whedon wrote it,” said Yost.
In addition to his “X-Force” and animation chores, Yost also wrote the Marvel adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game,” which an attending fan asked about. Yost said that his collaboration with the author was limited, and his understanding of the source material resulted in a comic he thought was pretty faithful to the book, especially since he said he didn’t want to change anything, but rather show what was in the novel.
After several questions specifically for Yost and Kyle, the next fan wanted to know which character’s that Choi enjoyed drawing the most.
While trying not to suck up in front of his writing tem, Choi said X-23 was his favorite character to draw because he could do it instinctually.
“While X-23 is my favorite character, I probably wouldn’t want to draw her if anyone else was writing her,” said Choi, who noted that writing affected his ability to feel characters in the same way – especially when characters like Wolverine appear out of costume “For me it’s all about what the writing is.”
The last fan to ask a question targeted Yost and Kyle for an update on upcoming Marvel animated projects. Kyle pinpointed the upcoming “Planet Hulk,” which will be released in early 2010, praising the efforts of Madhouse Studios for their animation. Additionally, Kyle mentioned “Thor: Tales of Asgard,” saying that even though it will be a few years before it’s released that “beginning to end it’s one of the strongest stories we’ve ever done [in direct-to-DVD format].”
The panel concluded with the “X-Force” team thanking their fans and wrapping up a few autographs.