At Comic-Con International in San Diego, “Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman and Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson held a panel focusing on creator-owned comics. Joining them onstage are Jonathan Hickman, Jonathan Ross, Frank Cho, Brian K. Vaughn, and Fiona Staples, all of whom had new projects to announce.
Kirkman began by speaking of his passion for creator-owned comics then launched into a slide show. Kirkman and Charlie Adlard will be a series of GNs called “Album” concurrently with “Walking Dead,” because “I’m fast and Charlie’s faster.” The books will be released roughly 18 months apart, 60 pages long, with different themes each year, with the first being “Passenger.” It’s copublished with Delcourt in France and will be available simultaneously in English and France.
Kirkman said his “Walking Dead” characters will soon be encountering “other pockets of survivors,” not all of them friendly, “and this will allow us to tell a different type of story.”
Hickman and Nicky Pitarra’s next project is “The Manhattan Projects,” which he described as “the Thunderbolts of Science,” with characters like Oppenheimer and “drunk Einstein.”
Hickman is also doing “Secret” with Ryan Godenheim, which is a corporate espionage story. Both projects will be “a bit longer” than a six-issue miniseries, perhaps 15 issues or perhaps ongoing.
Frank Cho described “Guns and Dinos” as “what ‘Jurassic Park 3’ should have been.” A team of scientists are trapped in the past, and though they’ve found a way home, their method will take 11 months. “The first few months are killing anything that moves,” he said, but soon the team will need to resort to more primitive weapons.
“Brutal” is about “an assassin who will kill good guys and bad guys alike for $500 million,” Cho said, “and she’s not the bad guy!” Cho is drawing both series, and he showed pencilled pages of “Brutal kicking Superman’s ass, because Superman’s a giant pussy.”
Ross described “Golden Age” as “about a retirement home for superheroes, who the government forces to retire but they just won’t give up.” He joked that the Iron Man analogue “came back from Vietnam, started smoking a lot of dope and changed his name to Steely Dan.” The series is illustrated by Tommy Lee Edwards. It is ongoing, and Matthew Vaughn is attached to a film version representing the first six issues.
“Home Life,” again from Ross, is a reverse-Superman story in which a baby from Earth is sent to another planet. “You’re publishing that next year!” Ross said, to Kirkman’s surprise.
Vaughn described “Saga” as a “balls to the walls sci-fi epic that I created with Fiona Staples.” “It’s about one young family struggling to survive an intergalactic war. It’s family-oriented, but not family friendly.”
Stephenson also mentioned Howard Chaykin’s “Black Kiss II,” a return to one of his most famous characters.
The floor was then opened to questions.
Asked where he’s been, Vaughn said, “I’ve been making babies, I guess. I’m getting better at it.” He added that his new family is what made him want to tell this story. “I hope it’s my longest ongoing series-it’s epic,” he said.
But, he said, “you’ll get a taste of how ‘Saga’ is going to end in the very first issue, and it’s somewhat more happy than ‘Y’ or ‘Ex Machina.'”
On the question of whether he’d taken any flack for “the Carl situation in ‘Walking Dead,'” Kirkman said, “It’s mostly fat, but I’m pretty big; people are pretty nice to me in person.”
Kirkman said that fans interested in doing comics have to create some material, but Hickman added that “you don’t need to finish a whole issue-that’s really dumb. Just do five pages.”
Stephenson noted that self-publishing shows that a creator is dedicated to doing a book, and Kirkman noted that he’d been self-publishing “Battle Pope” while also submitting it to publishers.
Vaughn said he loved working with Marvel and DC, which he described as “the divorced parents who raised me,” and likened Image to “going off to some weird community college,” saying that “it felt like the right home for this book.” Kirkman’s analogy compared Marvel and DC to McDonald’s, while creator-owned work was like owning your own restaurant.
“There are very good reasons to work for those companies,” Hickman said, with one being the “stabilizing factors” and the ability to bring attention to creator owned work. Then, “Buy ‘Fantastic Four.'” To which Kirkman asked, “Isn’t it called ‘FF’ now?”
“Man, I’m going to get fired already.”
A police officer asked Kirkman whether some of his depictions of the force in “Walking Dead” were inspired by bad experiences, and he said no. He recounted a story, however, about “a time I was pulled over and thought I was going to be shot in the face by a cop.” “They pulled me over, and they thought I had drugs in the car or something. I bought that car from a police auction, it had been confiscated, so as they were pulling back panels I was sure there was a place the car dealership missed and I was going to get my brains blown out.”
Vaughn said that Steve Niles introduced him to Staples, after their work together on “Mystery Society.” “There’s so many younger artists whose influences are on their sleeves, but I’d never seen anything like her stuff.”
Staples said “Saga” is “the kind of book I’ve always wanted to do.”
Asked about time management, Kirkman said “the truth is, I don’t do a lot” besides writing. “I do hang out with my family, that’s fun, don’t read too much into that,” he said. Kirkman did have a day job while doing “Battle Pope,” though, and would do the comic after work sometimes until 4 a.m. Sometimes, he would work on it during work hours, “so I was basically stealing money because they were paying me to do their work.”
“It was an old folks’ home,” Hickman joked, “those people were dying.”
Kirkman quipped, “It was actually an orphanage.”
The writer did say his friendships suffered in those early years, and “I didn’t play video games for ten years.”
Ross said “I have a television show, which is not a demanding day job.”
Vaughn asked whether Kirkman worked on “Super Dinosaur” at the “Walking Dead” TV series’ office. “You know the answer to that!” Kirkman said. “Why would you do that to me?”
Kirkman joked, though, that Frank Darabont would sometimes come in late, telling a story about why, and ask, “does that ever happen to you?” Which made Kirkman think, “I’ve been working for four hours already!”
To support creator-owned comics, Kirkman said, “read what you like.” “If you don’t enjoy reading ‘Walking Dead,’ stop. Pick up ‘Saga,” he said, adding that this also helps to spark creativity in aspiring creators.
Vaughn added that “the comic should be the destination,” not “a blueprint for the movie.” He said “Saga” will likely only ever be a comic.
Stephenson said that “I love Marvel, I love DC, I grew up reading nothing but Marvel comics,” but at those companies there’s always a consideration of “how it will be sold.” At Image, Vaughn added, creators are allowed to do what they want to do and “we’ll find a way to back your play.”
Kirkman said that, for AMC’s “Walking Dead,” he needed to learn to talk about stories before he wrote them, which he doesn’t enjoy doing. “In a writer’s room, you have to be out in the open, throwing every idea that comes into your head,” he said.
Vaughn agreed. “It is oppressively lonely writing comics,” he said. “Being forced to be in a room with other writers is a different muscle.”
Ross said “I have several writing rooms,” to which Kirkman taunted, “ooh, you’re so fancy and British!” Ross said he enjoys working in comics because of the collaboration with artists like Tommy Lee Edwards. “But it’s hard work, and the money’s awful, nobody told me how awful it was. Stan Lee has a lot of money…”
“Stan Lee took everybody’s money,” Kirkman joked, leading to a lot of laughter and crosstalk banter on stage.
Asked if it was obnoxious to give thumbnails to artists, Kirkman said he didn’t know how to write a script when he was doing “Battle Pope.” “I would just draw really bad versions of the characters,” he said. “If it offends them, they’ll tell you.”
Hickman said, though, that writers shouldn’t obstruct the artist. “They’re more important than you are in comics, they’re way more important,” he said. He said he didn’t know this when he started in Marvel and, given a graphic presentation of how his book would look, “I completely re-did it and gave it to them, saying, ‘this is what we’re going to do, not knowing I was insulting like five people. We did it my way, it looked better, but I should have been nicer about it.”