Bongo Comics celebrated their 20th anniversary with a panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego that covered both their comics and those made by their partners at United Plankton Pictures. Between the two of them, they’ve brought the animated creations of Matt Groening — “The Simpsons” and “Futurama” — to comics, along with the popular Nickelodeon program “Spongebob Squarepants,” “Sergio Aragones Funnies” and “Mylo Xyloto,” which tells the story behind the Coldplay album of the same name.
The panel was moderated by Terry Delegeane, managing editor of Bongo Comics, and included Nathan Kane, creative director of Bongo; Bill Morrison, digital media director; writer Ian Boothby; artist Alex Fuentes; Max Davison, editorial assistant; and Chris Duffy, managing editor of United Plankton Pictures.
The panel started with Morrison announcing that their “Simpsons Comics” application will soon by joined by a Futurama app, both of which are produced by comiXology.
“First of all, how many of you are aware that you can get digital versions of ‘The Simpsons’ comics?” Morrison asked the crowd, with roughly “72 percent” of the audience raising their hands. “Based on our sales, I think that’s all of you,” Morrison joked. No release date has been announced yet for the second app.
The panelists then went into the history of Bongo, noting that it will celebrate its 20th anniversary this November. Back in 1993, the line kicked off with the first issues of “Simpsons Comics,” “Bartman,” “Itchy & Scratchy Comics” and “Radioactive Man,” which featured a glow-in-the-dark cover. “Simpsons Comics” is the only title to survive to today, having recently reached its 200th issue.
Boothby then spoke about issue #203, which featured a MAD Magazine parody. He said MAD was a huge influence on his work, so it was fun to do a riff on it.
“The idea behind it is that Krusty decides to do a knockoff of MAD Magazine, and needs an Alfred E, Neuman dope, and Homer becomes that dope,” Boothby said. The issue features a MAD-like “Star Trek” parody with Simpsons characters drawn by James Lloyd, “aping the Jack Davis MAD Magazine style,” among other homages. Boothby said the story includes a lot of “chicken fat,” which are visual gags that can be found in the background of panels.
“James Lloyd is amazing,” Boothby said. “He can draw almost any style you can imagine, and he’s a fan of the old MAD Magazine and EC Comics, so this was right up his alley. That was a lot of fun to do.”
Next they showed the cover to “Simpsons Comics” #204, which featured Homer drinking a Buzz Cola rather than his traditional favorite, Duff Beer. “Matt doesn’t like us to depict alcohol on the cover of his comics,” Kane said. “Even though Duff is a huge part of the Simpsons, he still doesn’t want to push it.”
The panelists then shared several stories that would appear in upcoming issues of “Simpsons Comics. Boothby described an upcoming story featuring a villain called Gluten Tag, who uses bread products to commit crimes. Springfield’s Mayor Quimby responds by banning all gluten-based products, which causes Pie Man and Cupcake Kid — the heroic identities of Homer and Bart — to reinvent themselves. Another upcoming story features Bart getting hit by a piñata stick, causing him to only speak Spanish.
The final story they teased Milhouse’s dad comes into some money, buys a candy store and puts Milhouse in charge of it. Bart is the assistant manager and has to come to terms with Milhouse’s success, which “changes the Bongo universe forever,” Kane joked.
Bongo has ended twice-yearly “Simpsons Super Spectacular,” which featured various superhero stories from the “Simpsons” universe, at least for now. They plan to continue doing superhero stories in other comics.
“One of the things I really dislike talking about is the Bongo schedule,” Kane said. “I kind of have a hard time saying we discontinued ‘Super Spectacular’ because really, in my mind, we reserve the right to print something whenever the hell we want to.”
In conjunction with the yearly animated “Treehouse of Horror” episode, Bongo will release another “Treehouse of Horror” comic this fall. This year’s issue includes a Cthulhu story by Len Wein and Dan Brereton, as well as material from Boothby, Tone Rodriguez and Doug Moench.
Bongo has also been releasing one-shots featuring some of the Simpsons characters, including Professor Frink and Mr. Burns. A one-shot featuring Lisa Simpson is in the works.
Turning to “Futurama,” Boothby is working on a “Slaughterhouse Five” parody for “Futurama Comics” called the “Tartarhouse Five.” “Everyone went, ‘Why aren’t you doing more Kurt Vonnegut parodies?’ so that’s what we went with,” Boothby said.
Kane said “Sergio Aragones Funnies,” which had been on hiatus as Aragones recovered from medical issues, is back. “He is kicking ass,” Kane said. “He’s really doing a ton of stuff. He added that ‘Sergio Aragones Funnies’ is now coming out on a bi-monthly schedule, and the next four issues are “in the bag.”
Turning to their compilation strategy, Kane said they plan to start releasing “colossal compendiums” in addition to their regular trades, which will feature “the best of the best” and newer material.
“The problem with… having been working for 20 years, our trade schedule doesn’t keep up with what we do,” Kane said. “A lot of our trades are 10 years old, so we wanted to get some more fun stuff, newer stuff, stuff that hasn’t appeared in ‘Simpsons Comics'” released in a collected form.
The panel then shifted to focus on Bongo’s partners at United Plankton Pictures, and Duffy spoke about their comics line including the recently released “SpongeBob Comics Annual #1: Super-Giant Swimtacular.” He said the annual was “specially tailored” for superhero fans, with a cover by Jacob Chabot that harkens back to Marvel annuals of the 1960s. They plan to do another superhero-inspired annual next year.
Duffy said upcoming issues of “Spongebob Squarepants” would be theme issues, with one spotlighting Mr. Krabs’ love of money. They are also planning a Halloween issue that will feature cartoonist Michael T. Gilbert, who will draw a story featuring Spongebob trick or treating with the crew of the legendary ghost ship the Flying Dutchman.
“We’re also doing our second full-length, or as I like to say, ‘novel-length’ adventure story,” Duffy said. “This is an Arctic Spongebob adventure in the manner of ‘Wash Tubbs’ or ‘Captain Easy’ strips, with maybe an Uncle Scrooge feeling.” The adventure will feature King Crab, an unfrozen Viking monster, inspired by the fact that crabs are bigger in the Arctic sea.
Future issues will also feature more work by Chabot, Israel Sanchez, Scott Roberts, Jerry Ordway and Aaron Reiner. They are also planning more Mermaid Man tales, featuring stories from his “young, adventurous years.”
During the question-and-answer session, one audience member asked if Gary Gianni would be doing any further “Spongebob” work. Duffy said he hopes so, pointing out that they like to work with unexpected artists. Kane added that they try to push the boundaries on the Simpsons comics as well, as Groening likes to bring in new, alternative artists who aren’t always “on model” with the characters.
Someone also asked if Bongo had thought about using Troy McClure, voiced by the late Phil Hartman, in comics, since they wouldn’t require Hartman’s voice to make a comic. Delegeane said no, as they wanted to “leave that legacy to itself.”