Some of Image Comics’ hottest talent gathered at Emerald City Comicon for a general discussion about genre in comics. Although none of the creators stick to one genre in particular, each one on the panel had an ongoing series with roots in fantasy, crime, Western or horror. David Brothers, Image’s Content Manager, opened the discussion by having the creators catch the audience up on their current projects.
Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick spoke first, discussing her and artist Emma Rios’s Image title. “Pretty Deadly” follows Deathface Ginny, a mythical gunslinger and the daughter of Death himself. Filled with Western and fantasy elements, it’s not easily pigeonholed into a single genre.
“It’s a weird little book,” DeConnick said. “The first two issues you will probably be completely lost. We start to tip our hands in the third issue and the fourth a little more, and by the fifth all the cards are on the table. When you see the art, it’s insanely beautifulm so this is not, unfortunately, a book where we can produce 24 pages in 30 days.”
With Issue #5 of “Pretty Deadly” just released, and the trade paperback arriving soon, DeConnick shared her thoughts on the overwhelmingly positive reception of the series. “Emma and I literally thought six people would buy this book. We really did not think we would get the reception we have. Six on the first issue became 60,000, which was huge — literally three times my dream number. Because of that, we’re going to be able to continue into a second arc, and if things continue to go as they have, our ideal is that we will get four arcs.”
Conversation turned to the upcoming series written by Jason Aaron with art from Jason Latour — “Southern Bastards,” a crime story set in rural Alabama. “It’s autobiographical,” Aaron joked. “They say write what you know, and that’s what I know. We both grew up in the South, we both know lots of bastards that live in the South, so for me, this is the story about what I love and what I hate from where I was born.”
Next up was Joe Keatinge and Leila del Duca, whose stunning fantasy/adventure series “Shutter” debuts April 9. “We’re almost there!” Keatinge shouted. “I’ve seen copies! Phone calls and emails have manifested into this physical thing, and it’s pretty cool.”
Frank Barbiere spoke about his Image title, co-created with artists Chris Mooneyham and Garry Brown. “We just celebrated our first year of ‘Five Ghosts’ and we’re really excited about that. We debuted the book at Emerald City last year. We’re so happy to be at Image and we’re so happy many of you are still reading the book. Our second collection is coming out in June. It’ll have seven issues in it, and it’s going to be a nice, thick collection — around 200 pages for $14.99. Our first collection is out now, and we billed it as a ‘literary pulp adventure.’ We stuck to that pretty well.”
Next up was Joshua Williamson, whose current series “Ghosted” just hit issue #8. He described it as, “‘Ocean’s 11’ in a haunted house instead of a casino. It’s now the second arc; Jackson has survived the haunted house and has a new mission with the Cult of the Closed book. They kidnap possessed people, and Jackson is assigned to find one of the possessed people and bring them back. One of my favorite characters was Anderson, who died in the fifth issue, and I liked her so much that I brought her back as a ghost. Her whole thing is that she hates Jackson and she blames him for her death. She keeps protecting him because she wants to make sure that when he finally dies, it’s glorious. That it’s horrible and brutal, the worst death a person can have.”
Williamson announced that artist Dan Panosian would be taking over cover duty from Matteo Scalera as of issue #11, before Brothers addressed the audience with a sly smile on this face. “You guys wanna see something gross?” he asked.
The cover art for Williamson’s next Image series, “Nailbiter,” appeared as the audience clapped and cringed in equal measure. And the cover is, frankly, something to behold. Done by Mike Henderson, who Williamson previously collaborated with on “Masks and Mobsters,” it evokes an involuntary shudder — especially after you hear the backstory.
“This is serial killer Charles Edward Warren, who kidnaps people that chew their nails. He chews their nails for them and then he kills them,” Williamson explained, gesturing to the bloody artwork of Warren with a gnawed hand in his mouth.
“So, its family entertainment,” DeConnick joked.
Brothers circled back to Aaron and Latour, wondering how dark they expected “Southern Bastards” to get.
“How dark does crime get?” Latour answered. “I don’t want to put words in Jason’s mouth but — are you familiar with his work on ‘Scalped?’ That’s a really dark book. One of the things that’s appealing about the subject matter to me, aside from the personal relationship, is in growing up and coping with some of the things that have made me angry and conflicted about the South. One of the things I find interesting about it is, oftentimes the people I find the scariest are also the funniest, so I think that there’s a certain absurdity to a lot of violence, inherently. When you filter it through broken people, there’s something funny about it. I think that will balance however dark it may get.”
Aaron weighed in, “It’s definitely funnier than ‘Scalped.’ The first action scene in the first issue takes place in the kitchen of a barbecue joint. It’s dark, it’s mean, it’s gritty and it’s ugly, but there are also people for you to laugh at.”
Asked by an audience member if his will his killer be chewing toenails as well, Williamson responded, “No, he doesn’t. When Mike and I sat down to come up with MOs for sixteen serial killers, we wanted them all unique, but after coming up with eight, we were screwed — so maybe we can include that if there’s still space! The concept of Charles Edward Warren started because I’m a lifelong nail biter.”
The next question was also for Williamson, as the audience was captivated by the art and premise for “Nailbiter.” What had his research on serial killers been like?
“Really depressing. I read a lot of stuff about serial killers, and it really bummed me out. I have this encyclopedia of serial killers, and I read through that. Mike and I were able to come up with our own personal code. There were certain things we didn’t want to show. Actual serial killers stuff is much more mundane — it’s not Batman’s rogues gallery. It’s sad and ugly. Once we figured out what our limits were, it was easier figuring out what we were going to do. It’s really horrible, what’s out there.
“I grew up in Riverside, California, which is a horrible place and also full of serial killers,” Williamson continued. “I found out that the Zodiac lived there in the ’80s, and there were also two other different serial killers operating from Riverside in the ’80s. It was so crazy to think that in my little town, there were three serial killers.”
Brothers expanded the question to the other panelists, asking how much research they had done for their various titles.
“None at all,” DeConnick answered. “You laugh, but I mean that, absolutely and completely sincerely. In fact, I got into a fight with my editor early on. She’s phenomenal and I love her to death — I chose her — but she was, you know, being editorial. She said I needed to tell her what year it was set in, and I was like, no. It is not a history. There is a talking bunny. It is not a history. This is the myth, and I don’t want people coming up to me telling me about the real gunslingers — I don’t care. You know what also didn’t happen? A dude with a giant skull for a head. I have only done the research that is re-watching beloved Western films, which are also highly inaccurate.”
Barbiere agreed with DeConnick, saying, “We’re in the same boat. We really screwed ourselves by having pirates and Nazis appear in the same timeline. We say we’re in the amorphous 1930s, but — you know, giant crab. We just try to capture the aesthetic and the spirit of the time. We have literary characters, but they’re archetypal. They’re not the actual characters, because I didn’t want people to be like, ‘Oh, Sherlock Holmes would never do that, asshole.’ We just took everything we loved and put it together. It’s not a history.”
Noting how the writer had spoken about being inspired by grand over-the-top stories in myth and opera for her other work, including “Captain Marvel,” the question was asked whether DeConnick had drawn on any of the same sources for “Pretty Deadly.”
“We started out wanting to do a very straightforward Sergio Leone homage,” she began. “And then, the talking bunny made of bones. I can’t tell you where that came from, I have no idea, but the bunny and the butterfly walked on panel and started talking. I do know how crazy and pretentious that sounds, and I apologize, but it’s a fact. This came into my head, and I couldn’t make it go away. I tried to force the story to go more straightforward, and it just died. And Emma, who is so great, kept telling me to let the magic happen, so we let the monsters come in. Charlie Houston found this quote for me, where Leone says, ‘The myth is everything.’ I got goose bumps. I ended up feeling like we came around the other side, to doing a Leone story, anyway. There’s definitely a Grimm’s Fairy Tales influence as well.”
Brothers commented on the panelists, saying, “One thing I like about this panel is that it goes bastards, death dealers, ghosts and then Joe and Leila — you have a sci-fi story about someone who is tired of all the sci-fi aspects in it, right?”
“When I came up with this idea years and years ago, it was sort of similar to what Kelly Sue was saying,” Keatinge answered. “I wanted to do Tintin. I wanted to do my world-traveling adventurer — no robots, no rocket ships and — spoiler! There’s a rocket ship in it, now. What that came out of was meeting Leila and thinking, holy crap, she can draw anything. I asked her to give me a list of what she wanted to draw, and her answer was ‘Everything.'”
“Except superheroes and zombies,” del Duca clarified with a smile.
“The core of this book is this woman named Kate, who is the last in the line of this family of explorers,” Keatinge continued. “Ten years ago, she left it all behind, and then something happens with a family secret getting out that draws her back. Her journey is both personal and actual.”
del Duca agreed, adding, “People might think it’s sci-fi from the first few pages because it takes place on the moon in a flashback, but then it quickly goes to this very fantastical version of Earth, where mythological beings have always existed and it’s not that big of a deal to anyone, because it’s always been that way. So it’s set in this fantastic realm, but it’s really about family, including who you make into your family, and how you deal with your blood relations if you don’t like them.”
A Southerner himself, another audience member shared with Aaron and Latour that it had taken him moving away from the South to appreciate some of the more beautiful things about it, and he wondered if the creators had a similar experience.
“I moved out of the South and into Kansas 14 years ago,” Aaron responded. “I still have family in Alabama, and I still go back there and visit a lot. Going back does remind me of the things I really like, but it’s also a stark reminder of the things I don’t really like.”
“I did a really dumb thing when I first decided that I was ready to run away,” Latour said. “I went deeper into the South. I grew up in North Carolina, then I lived in Atlanta for a while, then Florida. It took me moving to New York City to really miss it. Even though I really loved New York, part of me felt like I needed to go home and stare it in the face for real as an adult. I’m glad that happened because now I’m able to laugh at things a bit and appreciate things that, as a kid, maybe I looked past. There’s a lot of anger in the book, but there’s also a lot of love.”
Looking toward another upcoming series, DeConnick teased a little bit about the highly anticipated “Bitch Planet” with artist Valentine De Landro.
Williamson chimed in, relating his reaction to the catchy title. “Right before Image Expo, I went to the Image FTP site to upload ‘Nailbiter’ stuff and I was looking at all the titles and I saw ‘Bitch Planet.’ I was like, who thinks they’re gonna do a book called that?”
The audience cheered for DeConnick, who quipped that her entire life had been research for the series. “Bitch Planet” was born from DeConnick’s love for the exploitation films of the ’70s. The series is set on an all-female penal colony planet, and the cover to the first issue is a massive floating hand giving a proud middle-finger salute.
DeConnick on seeing the cover art: “The bummer is that the first sketch Val did of the cover, he did this one with a full-facing middle finger. Then the finished art came in, and he’d angled the hand a bit, and it’s beautiful, but it’s not quiet, as you know — I was like, not subtle! Not subtle!”
Brothers noted the salty diversity among recent Image titles: “I guess we’ve published ‘Sex,’ ‘Sex Criminals,’ ‘Southern Bastards’ and ‘Bitch Planet.’ It’s all down hill from here.”
“My next book is ‘Motherfuckers,” DeConnick joked.
“Can we do some kind of ‘Crisis on Infinite Earths?'” Aaron asked. “With bitches and sex criminals?”
Latour had the last word, though, with the suggested title of “Age of Fuckpocalypse.”