IDW Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall led the IDW Publishing panel at this weekend’s Comic-Con International. Joining the initial conversation were IDW’s Director of ePublishing Jeff Weber, “Star Trek: Countdown” writers Tim Jones and Mike Johnson, special projects editor Scott Dunbier and, curiously enough, “Fables” writer Bill Willingham. Willingham feigned some confusion himself, asking, “This isn’t the ‘Fables’ panel?”
“Do you see any fairies in the audience?” Ryall shot back, which caused some laughter from the crowd.
Thinly veiled geek attacks out of the way, the panel kicked off with a look at IDW’s recent successes with publishing through the iPhone. Ryall said that IDW had looked at where new technology could take the comics medium, leading to the hiring of Jeff Weber. Ryall emphasized that the goal of IDW’s iPhone initiative was not to only create movie tie-ins ala “Transformers” and “Star Trek,” but also to explore classic comics as well. As an example, he surprised the audience by declaring that old issues of J. Scott Campbell’s “Danger Girl” are coming to IDW, both in print and for the iPhone as well. In fact, there is a special “Danger Girl” #0 issue currently available for download. Dunbier chimed in to say that new issues were being discussed as a possibility, with Campbell returning to provide cover art. At that point, Campbell joined the panel from the audience.
“It seemed like a natural fit for me,” Campbell told the audience of the move. “I had a very enjoyable time at DC Comics with ‘Danger Girl,’ but when the time came for me to renew, it seemed to me that [IDW] was a natural fit … personally, for myself, I feel that IDW represents the old school Wildstorm anyway. I find that I know more of the guys here than I know at DC anymore. I’m very happy about ‘Danger Girl’ being here and I’m looking forward to the future. Hopefully, as time goes on, there’ll be bigger and bigger projects with ‘Danger Girl.'”
Weber said that there are already over 80 IDW titles available for the iPhone, and there’s plenty more to come both in the form of movie tie-ins and classic comics such as “Sable” and “GrimJack.” There was also some recognition by the panelists that comic book purists might feel averse towards the prospect of iPhone comics, with Dunbier himself saying that he initially thought the idea was a horrible one. After seeing the results, he was turned from skeptic to believer.
One of the unique aspects about using the iPhone for comics is its slideshow presentation; rather than focusing on one page every screen, IDW is taking a panel-by-panel approach. As users swipe the screen, they continue onto subsequent panels. According to Ryall, the feedback on the format has been tremendously positive, but readers don’t have to take his word for it. IDW titles have bested “Twilight” in iPhone’s downloadable books category, which Ryall said was a clear indicator of the format’s success.
Moving away from the iPhone, Ryall announced that former DC Comics editor Bob Schreck would join the IDW Publishing team as a senior editor in October. Schreck, whose editor credits include “Sin City” and “All-Star Superman,” joined the panel to discuss the move. “It’s been an interesting four and a half months since my layoff [from DC Comics], and the first e-mail I got was from [Scott Dunbier]. Love from across the country,” he said. “I couldn’t be happier. There’s nothing that I can talk about yet because I don’t start until October 5th, but I have a lot of friends in the business that I’ve been blessed to be able to call my friends and work with over the last 20 – 30 years. I think a few of them are going to follow me on over.”
Finally, attention was paid to the proverbial elephant in the room: Bill Willingham, whose presence was odd given his lack of work with IDW in the past. That’s set to change when Willingham teams up with Gene Ha on a six-issue miniseries titled “Back Roads,” set for debut in 2010. “Gene Ha has been one of my favorite artists for as long as I’ve known him, but we’ve actually been friends for about seven years and we’ve tried for seven years to work together. The big problem with us ever getting a project together was that I was at DC, and he was at DC,” he said half-kiddingly. Dunbier threatened the audience against Twittering the joke.
Willingham said that “Back Roads” is a combination of everything that Ha has always wanted to draw and everything he’s never wanted to draw again. He described the titular roads as “the passageways between all the things that exist; every world that exists, every place that exists have these back roads connecting them. It’s about all the characters that you’re likely to encounter.”
While the series is currently slated as six 22-page issues, Willingham said he’d happily continue the title should readers call for it.
The next project announced was a republication of “Winter World,” a miniseries created in the ’80s by Chuck Dixon and artist Jorge Zaffino, who passed away years after the series came out. Dunbier described the series as having a “Mad Max” quality to it, focusing on “the unlikely alliance” between an adventurer and a young girl in an ice-covered world. But beyond reprinting “Winter World,” Dunbier said that the never-published sequel series “Winter Sea” would also see publication for the first time thanks to IDW.
Ryall then showed slides from IDW’s upcoming “Rocketeer” publications, which showcased the new coloring work from Laura Martin, handpicked by creator Dave Stevens before he passed away. Ryall said that a deluxe edition of IDW’s “Rocketeer” hardcover would feature an extra 140 pages of preliminary pencil drawings and sketches from Stevens, most of which are unpublished and never-before-seen.
It was then announced that “Star Trek: Countdown” creators Tim Jones and Mike Johnson would collaborate on a six-issue adaptation of the recent “Star Trek” film, set to debut in January of next year. Illustrated by “Countdown” artist David Messina, the miniseries will add new elements to the movie’s story that were originally in the script but were ultimately left out of the final cut. “There were a lot of requests for an actual adaptation, and we thought about how we could do it a little differently,” said Jones. “There’s going to be things from drafts of the script, different moments and beats that weren’t in the movie that will work alongside of the movie. We’re working with [‘Star Trek’ screenwriters] Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. We’re working with them on making an adaptation that’s not just taking the script and cutting and pasting over David Messina’s incredible art.”
A quartet of projects from comic book outsiders was also announced. Clive Barker is co-writing “Seduth,” a horror one-shot with art from Gabriel Rodriguez. The October-released comic features 3D effects that become more and more prominent as the story progresses.
Jennifer Love Hewitt has created and plotted “The Music Box” for IDW, written by Scott Lobdell and set for a November debut. Ryall was the first to admit that entertainment professionals coming from outside of comic books often provoke cynicism from fans, but he defended Hewitt’s pitch. “She had this idea for an anthology series. ‘Twilight Zone’ is sort of a way to cheaply describe it,” he said. “There’s a thing that revolves around the music box in every issue, and strange things happen. She had ten different stories that are all unrelated, all one-shots. They all are connected by this music box, but otherwise they’re ten different worlds, ten different time periods. It really felt clever and fully formed at the start.”
Next to be announced was a new title called “Vitriol The Hunter,” created by writer Brent Allen and “Good Charlotte” guitarist Billy Martin. Martin is not only co-writing the 2010-releasing “Vitriol,” he is also illustrating the book as well. The story focuses on a monster hunter who seeks vengeance on the creatures that killed his parents. “He’s really doing this for the love of art and the love of comics,” Ryall attested. “Not to just put his name on something.”
The fourth and final “celebrity” project comes from “Heroes” actress Brea Grant, her brother Zane Austin and artist Kyle Strahm. The comic is called “We Will Bury You,” a zombie epic set in 1920s New York City. “It’s taking a familiar idea and turning it on its side,” he described. “It’s a very smart, very literate idea. I was very won over by the title.”
Ryall had a new project of his own to announce: “The Weekly World News,” a new monthly title debuting in January 2010 with art from Alan Robinson. The Ryall-penned series is based on the supermarket tabloid, which caused a substantial chunk of the audience to erupt with laughter. The book features characters like freakish-looking Bat Boy, uber-conservative Ed Anger, an alligator-human hybrid called Mangator and a psychologist ape named PhD Ape. “I couldn’t not write this one,” he laughed. “Hopefully it’ll be as insane as these characters would lead you to believe.”
Dunbier described “The Weekly World News” as Ryall’s dream project. “It’s true and it’s ridiculous,” Ryall laughingly admitted. “It says a lot about my dreams.”
IDW is also publishing comic books based on acclaimed author Peter Beagle’s “The Last Unicorn” and “A Fine and Private Place,” as well as a 2010-launching adaptation of Harlan Ellison’s “Phoenix without Ashes.”
The panel then took some questions from the audience:
Asked what IDW’s strategy was in terms of producing film adaptations of their comic books, Ryall said: “We’ve always said from the start, we’re a comic book publisher, not idea developers trying to get movies made. We’re not just trying to throw something out there that hopefully gets picked up. It’s gotta be a damn good comic for us to consider it.”
Are there any new projects from Ashley Wood? “We’re going to be doing a lot more art books from him, another ‘Swallow’ book,” said Ryall. “There’s always going to be art books from Ash.”
Is the iPhone a different style of storytelling? “It definitely changes the way you read the story as a panel-by-panel slideshow,” said Weber. “More and more as you get people thinking creatively about how to tell a story [on the iPhone], you’ll see it evolve. It’s a fun challenge.”
With “The Weekly World News” in the works, are there any chances of a “National Enquirer” comic book from IDW? “Let’s not get silly,” Ryall said to laughs, closing out the panel.