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HeroesCon ’11: Hickman, Epting on Retooling the FF

by  in Comic News Comment

“Structurally, I looked at what Geoff Johns did with ‘Green Lantern’ and how he made it a relevant property again, because part of my job when I got hired was to make this worth something again. I looked at what Geoff did on ‘Green Lantern’ and how he made it an interesting re-introduction to the character and the re-imagining of all that stuff,” he said. “We got a new, fresh look at the FF. Then, we took that and we re-injected that into the Marvel Universe.” After firmly integrating the title into the Marvel Universe through the additon of Spider-Man, Hickman’s final part of the plan was to make it become a book that wasn’t just integrated, but integral to the Marvel U. “The third part of which is that [“FF”] becomes a Marvel Universe book where you postulate what goes on, everything else revolves around it. That’s what we’re doing structurally.”

After answering a few more questions, Hickman told the panel room that a face notably missing from “Fantastic Four” in recent years would be making a return. “Wyatt Wingfoot will be back,” Hickman said. “There is a reason Wyatt wasn’t at Johnny’s funeral. Again — we have plans.”

Understandably, many questions revolved around Hickman’s creative decision to kill Johnny Storm in “Three.” Much of the writer’s responses came back to the event as a linchpin to tell the best story possible. One of his other points came with the reveal that Fantastic Four is Tom Brevoort’s favorite book — and the death of Johnny Storm was in Hickman’s original “FF” pitch to Brevoort. “He wouldn’t have let me do that if we didn’t have a really, really great story to tell,” Hickman said.

After the Johnny Storm question was answered by Hickman, Doug Merkle asked Epting if he only worked on books where characters died. After some scattered chuckles, Epting commented on how “The Death of Captain America” was marketed. “I guess it hit at the right time, a slow news day or whatever it was,” the artist said. “We didn’t go in trying to make this a big deal. It was just another issue when we worked on it.” As for “FF,” Epting echoed Hickman’s sentiments. “I’m trying to tell the story as best I can no matter what’s going on. I’m glad to be a part of it. It’s getting attention and it’s nice.”

Moving on, Hickman commented on his process for writing “Fantastic Four” and “FF.” “I feel like our mandate is almost always to try to do it like Jack [Kirby] and Stan [Lee] and try to preserve the integrity of what they created,” he said, again in response to a question about the death of Johnny Storm. “I think we’re telling a story that matters a lot right now, and I think it outweighs the short term of people being upset.”

As the panel began to wind down, one fan asked the creators’ opinions on digital comics. “Until everybody has an iPad, which maybe half the people I know have one, I guess it’s eventually going that way.” While Epting also said he believes there could be some cool opportunities for digital comics, he continued, saying, “I love the print stuff and I go to my comic store every week.”

“Digital? Who knows,” said Hickman. “We support our stores, we’ll continue to do that, we’ll continue to make printed comics. Would it be great if we had a million new readers? Sure. You could sell more trades in your store.” Hickman drove home the point, stating that physical books aren’t going away. “I don’t think that’s going to change. Especially books that [readers] love.”

Finally, Hickman fielded a query from a longtime “Fantastic Four” reader about the quicker, more condensed pacing of the Silver and Golden Age versus that of the Modern Age. “If you look back, the ‘Death of Johnny Storm’ arc was five issues and that was the longest story arc that we told,” Hickman said. “Fantastic Four” is, in many ways, a blast to the past where story arcs were concrete and somewhat compressed. Until “Three,” the longest arc was Hickman’s first, “Solve Everything,” which was deliberately told at a Lee/Kirby pace. As a result, the impact of the longer arcs like “Three” have a bigger impact due to their length. “I think perfect comics are the juxtaposition of the two [lengths].”

Before the panel wrapped, Hickman mentioned his new book from Image,