Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta wrangled up a pretty sizable crowd for the “East of West” panel at New York Comic Con on Saturday afternoon. The packed room piled in to listen to the writer and artist of the Image Comics series discuss the birth of the book, their collaborative process and their plans for the future.
Dragotta and Hickman first worked together when the artist came on as a fill-in for “Fantastic Four” #588, but that soon lead to talk of a creator-owned book.
“Very early on, we kind of got each other, and I saw that there was a whole lot more there and some amazing talent,” Hickman said. They then got together at Image Expo and after Dragotta shot down the idea of a Western in favor of something with more of a sci-fi flare, Hickman started rearranging his story and “East of West” was born.
“The tide was turning for creator-owned at the time,” Dragotta said, explaining why he wanted to make the jump to an Image comic.
The mash-up feel of the book also includes cultural and supernatural elements. A theme that came up several times throughout the panel was that Hickman likes to keep himself entertained, which is what lead to a lot of these unique elements coming together. Art-wise, Dragotta’s influences include everything from 1960s Marvel books and European comics to Manga and anime, so a lot of that comes through.
In addition to following their bliss when it comes to content, Hickman and Dragotta have also figured out a solid collaboration process. When it comes to dramatic, emotional scenes, Hickman will plot the script out beat-by-beat, but when they’re dealing with a huge action scene, he gives Dragotta room to do his thing.
“I don’t need art direction from Jonathan to draw a fight scene,” Dragotta said.
“My job is to give Nick things in the script that make him excited to draw a page,” Hickman added.
Both creators also praised their colorist Frank Martin, who will occasionally get a chance to just let loose and do his own thing. “He is just phenomenal,” Dragotta said. “We’re so lucky to have him. He finishes my art.”
When it comes to the covers, which have a very distinct format and iconography to them, Dragotta said the idea was Hickman’s. “I thought it looked cool,” Hickman simply stated. Dragotta added that it also saved time by only having one image, essentially.
Back to what goes on between the covers, the topic turned to the book’s villains, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse who look like children, but certainly don’t act like innocent cherubs.
“We decided very early on that they would be manifestations of who they were, but they would have individual personalities,” Hickman said. A lot of why they did what they did will be covered in upcoming issues. Eventually readers will find out why Death left the group.
“When you see why all that happened, it will all click into place a little bit more. That’s the beauty of being able to tell the story the way we want to. We’re really working from the middle out in both ways,” Hickman said.
Hickman also let the audience in on the reason “East of West” kicked off pretty deep into the ongoing story. He said that he basically started with the second act, which will allow him to get into the content of the first act in the middle of the story and then move right into the big bang ending, which will either go to issue #35 or #50, depending on the book’s popularity and the creators.
The writer said that he plays with story elements like this because he hates getting bored and tries to keep himself entertained with his own projects. He even does that with his Avengers work at Marvel, noting that the current storyline might seem like it’s all plot and no character development, but that’s because he’s going to come back in the third act and cover those elements. “That’s a stupid way to tell the story,” Hickman said, but reiterated that he just wants to keep himself entertained.
As the panel moved into the question and answer portion, the first person asked how much work Hickman and Dragotta had done before pitching it to Image. Hickman said that, since he had a long-standing relationship with Image publisher Eric Stephenson, and they’d already been working on “The Manhattan Projects,” it was a pretty easy pick up.
Both creators also talked about wanting to get more into work that they would write and draw themselves. Hickman also gave an update on “Feel Better Now,” which he is writing and drawing. He’s roughly 40 pages in and intends to finish it once his Marvel work has slowed down, which he says is coming up soon.
The duo also said that they don’t have plans for an adaptation of any kind at this point, but would definitely talk about it. Dragotta said that he focuses on doing the comic and wants to draw things that would be really difficult and expensive for a Hollywood studio to put on the screen.
“I just want to do whatever the fuck I want to do,” Hickman said regarding this and his other creator-owned work. “I’ve been waiting to write a book like this, and I think it shows.”
The panel ended with talk of aging up the Horsemen. Hickman originally wanted to have them age as the series went, but Dragotta said he didn’t have a consistent enough style for that. They will age, but it will most likely happen in bursts, not gradually.
The plan for now is to release 10 issues a year, doing a five-issue arc, then releasing the trade and coming right back with another arc. “East of West” #7 from Jonathan Hickman, Nick Dragotta and Image Comics hits on Oct. 30.