When the Groo Crew took the stage for their panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego, writer Mark Evanier’s microphone was not turned on. He and artist Sergio Aragones tested the various mics until they found the ones that were on, until finally Aragones grabbed the unused mic from the Moderator’s podium and discovered that it was on. Turning to Evanier, he asked, “You’ve never done a panel before, have you?”
Once the microphone situation was solved, Evanier set the tone for the panel, remarking, “as befitting a Groo panel, we have begun with a display of absolute incompetence.” He then went on to introduce the panelists, beginning with himself, “I am probably Mark Evanier…” before introducing past and present colorists Gordon Kent and Tom Luth, letterer Stan Sakai (writer/artist of “Usagi Yojimbo”), and finally Aragones, to rousing applause.
Evanier began by declaring, “We’re not going to sit here and lie to you and say we have no new Groo material. Sergio has finished the first issue of ‘Groo vs. Conan.’ We’re almost finished with issue 2.” He then explained that their editor had resigned, saying that being editor of “Groo” is like “the drummer in Spinal Tap.” Evanier said that the book has had about six editors at Dark Horse and five at Marvel, to which Aragones added that the reason for the turnover is that the editor has nothing to do on the book; “They aren’t allowed to change anything.” This prompted Evanier to tell a story about an incident when the editor at Marvel called up to hesitantly discuss a problem in one panel, which turned out to be a mistake; Aragones had neglected to draw a character’s beard in one panel. The editor nervously expressed concern that this might be confusing, until Evanier stated that it was in fact a mistake and they could have permission to fix it.
Some time later, the same editor called with another problem. “Whose beard is missing this time?” Evanier asked, only to be told that the problem was more serious than that. Aragones had drawn Groo in the nude in one panel, shown from the back, adjacent to the credits box, in such a way that it appeared the warrior was mooning Shooter’s credit. Marvel insisted that the panel be changed, ostensibly because Groo’s naked rear violated their standards. Evanier told the editor that they refused to change the page, and Marvel responded that they could not publish the story as it was. When Evanier informed Aragones of the situation, the artist was outraged and immediately began to formulate plans for a massive protest involving buttons and flyers featuring the slogan “Save Groo’s Ass!” He immediately prepared several drawings and mockups, then set out on the two-hour drive from his home to Evanier’s. While Aragones was en route, Evanier spoke to the editor at Marvel again, and by the time Aragones arrived, the situation had been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. Everyone, that is, but Aragones. “But I did all these drawings!” he lamented.
Aragones and Evanier stated firmly that “there will be a Groo treasury” collecting all of the now-rare early appearances of the character. Aragones explained why the Treasury has not yet been published: he can’t find the films from which the stories were originally printed. He explained that he has a very disorganized storage space, which he compared to the warehouse in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” saying, “The films and art are in there somewhere, but I can’t find them.”
Evanier added that the big problem is that if they can’t find the film, they will have to have the stories re-colored, which would be prohibitively expensive. Aragones elaborates, “I could redraw them, it would be no problem; they don’t want to pay Tom.”
Addressing the status of the ever-in-development Groo movie, Evanier suggested, “if you would all chip in about $100,000…” He elaborated that they are continuing to talk to various producers and studios, but they are very protective of the project and don’t want to see it ruined. “We haven’t wanted to let people maul it.” He said they keep being approached by producers whose pitch invariably comes down to, as Evanier describes it, “you give us the rights and then we’ll tell you what we want to do with it.” He and Aragones don’t want to surrender any creative control, so they continue to wait for the right offer. “we want to do it,” they say, “but we can’t tell you where or when that will be.”
Aragones in particular has a very firm idea about what the Groo movie ought to be like; he states, “I don’t want it to be live action, with real actors, because I remember ‘the Flintstones.'”
Years ago, the two were approached with a proposal that would have starred the late Chris Farley. During a meeting at a restaurant, Harvey Korman happened to overhear the discussion, and leaned over into the booth and offered to play a number of different roles. Evanier noted that the passing of both actors seems to suggest that “wanting to be in a Groo movie apparently is lethal.”
Evanier dismised the idea of a computer-generated Groo, saying “I will not be satisfied with CGI until they can take George Lazenby out of ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ and put Sean Connery in.”
The other panelists were then asked about their careers apart from Groo. Gordon Kent, the first colorist on the Groo series, has worked in animation for many years in various capacities, currently working primarily as a timing director, working on “pretty much every [superhero] DVD DC puts out,” including the new “Young Justice” series and “Brave and the Bold.” He also works for Film Roman, timing the animated Marvel superhero movies and the TV program, “Superhero Squad.”
Aragones lavished effusive praise on current colorist Tom Luth, suggesting he is unfairly overlooked in award nominations because his work is mainly on humor books. “When you think of awards for colorists, think humor; think Tom Luth.” When asked about his other projects, Luth explained that he also colors pages that Aragones does for “Mad Magazine” and covers for “Usagi Yojimbo,” and, when not working in comics, creates motion graphics.
Letterer Stan Sakai was described as “slumming” when he letters “Groo,” since he is also the creator, writer and artist of the popular “Usagi Yojimbo” series. Evanier remarked, “It takes four people to produce Groo, it takes Stan to produce Usagi. Pretty much everybody who reads Groo reads Usagi, but a lot of people who read Usagi don’t even bother with Groo.”
The audience chuckled as Aragones described the trips he has taken with Sakai to conventions and signings around the world, remarking on Sakai’s peculiar habit; “he takes a picture of every dish he eats.” Aragones marveled at Sakai’s willingness to eat anything, exclaiming, “Whatever dish they put in front of him, he eats it. They served him rabbit in Spain and he ate it.”
“You wanted me to eat it!” Sakai interjected.
“Yes, I wanted you to eat Usagi!” Aragones replied.
Then it was Sakia’s turn to marvel, commenting, “You’re the only person I’ve ever met who would ink on a train!” Aragones admitted that he did in fact ink a page of “Groo” while on the train from Bergen to Oslo in Europe, mentioning that, “If you check the pages, a the bottom you will see the name of the place where I drew it,” noting that occasionally Groo pages will carry a notation of a city name, country, or note such as “in flight, in train, on bicycle.”
Responding to a question from the audience, the panelists discussed the fact that the main character in the CGI film “Despicable Me” is named Gru. Evanier stated that when the promotional materials were originally released, the character was named Groo, but it was quickly changed to Gru, so apparently somebody noticed that the name was in already use.
When asked who he would cast to do the voice of Groo in a hypothetical animated version, Aragones demurred, explaining, “He speaks Spanish in my head, so I’m a bad one to ask,” later saying that he thinks the late actor Aldo Ray had the right gruff “tough guy” sound for the barbarian. Evanier addressed the same question by flatly stating “I have no idea.” He revealed that they had done a short sample of Groo animation a few years ago as a demonstration, and they had Howard Morris as Rufferto the dog and Frank Welker as Groo. Evanier explained that this was entirely because “they were friends; they did it for free.”
Discussing the possibility of a Groo/Usagi crossover, Aragones said that it would probably never happen, explaining, “I don’t like anachronisms.” He noted that they are careful to avoid contemporary humor and dialog, keeping Groo in a distant past, and all the situations rooted in a naturalistic reality; “the problem with doing a crossover with Usagi is, he’s a rabbit.”
“He is?” said Sakai.
Going on to talk about the “Groo Vs. Conan” miniseries, Aragones explains that the only way it could work was if the story was outside the normal world of Groo; he pointed to the special issues he and Evanier had done, in which he wreaks havoc on the DC and Marvel Universes, elaborating that since he and Evanier were characters in the story, it couldn’t possibly be considered to be within continuity. He says they are using the same device in this series; the whole thing is a hallucination; “I am so doped up, I think I’m Conan.” Aragones is collaborating with artist Tom Yeates on the project; Yeates is drawing Conan into the pages that Aragones is creating. “It looks amazing. They fit together; it looks wonderful.”
Sakai spoke about another proposed crossover; he and Aragones had once worked out a plot for a six-issue story in which Usagi meets another Aragones character, Cat Nippon.
When asked about his early career, Aragones said that he would be on another panel covering “Mad” in the ’60s, and that people should come to that panel. He nonetheless explained that some Mad staffers were surprised and puzzled that he was doing comics. Many of them had worked in comics earlier in their careers and found the working conditions “dismal.” They asked him why when he was already in magazines, which they considered a superior field. However, Aragones said that Bill Gaines loved Groo. Aragones then told how he modeled a character after his friend Al Jaffee. The character was named “La Mocosa” (basically, “the snot-nosed little girl”). He was then told that Jaffee has a new book coming out, and “about a week ago, he asked me if I could do a blurb for it. I wrote it, and he sent me a ‘thank you’ note; he signed it ‘La Mocosa!'”
An audience member asked about the fact that the last miniseries, “The Hogs of Horder,” was political. Aragones sarcastically denied it, asserting that the story had nothing to do with the current political and economic climate; “The story is about how the people of Horder lose their jobs and face economic catastrophe because they exported all their manufacturing to Khitan. Certainly nothing like that could happen now!” Evanier took a more direct approach, agreeing that some people don’t like the political allegory, and others do, but occasionally both sides accuse them of expressing views that they did not intend and do not hold. He describes “Groo” as “something of a Rorschach test; what you see in it often reflects what you bring to it.”
Continuing on the theme, they explained that, “Sometimes we don’t see eye to eye,” that the creators disagree on various subjects and they try to make sure that both their views are represented. “I’m not attacking anybody, we’re not attacking anybody,” Aragones asserts, while Evanier countered, “I’m attacking a lot of people. ” Aragones retorted, “So am I! We agree!”
Evanier explained that they are writing comedy based in things they care about; “it’s not social commentary, it’s comedy.” the writer asserted that “Groo” has always tackled serious topics, including immigration, modern art, religion, gurus and corrupt governments of one sort or another. The more recent Groo arcs are no different, although Evanier acknowledges that with the miniseries format, “You want to do a story that’s important enough to be worthy of the format.”
Concluding the panel, Evanier urged attendees to return for next year’s panel, promising, “We’ll tell how ‘Groo Vs. Conan’ will be out soon!” Aragones disputed that, defiantly declaring, “It will be out by then.”