This year marks the 25th anniversary of Image Comics, and with it, one of its most famous partner studios: Jim Lee’s WildStorm, which spawned series including “WildC.A.T.S.,” “Stormwatch,” “The Authority,” “Planetary” and “Gen 13.” Of course, WildStorm has been a part of DC Comics since 1999, and the publisher is celebrating WildStorm’s history with a panel midday Saturday at WonderCon in Anaheim.
On the panel: Jim Lee, along with Scott Williams, Alex Sinclair, Ryan Benjamin, Carlos D’Anda, Richard Friend, Mark Irwin, Dustin Nguyen and Ben Abernathy.
Lee started by telling the crowd some anecdotes about each panelist, including that he’s worked with Williams (Lee as penciller and Williams as inker) since 1987, and he met both Williams and While Portacio at his first Comic-Con in San Diego. Lee told the crowd he “wrestled Ryan [Benjamin] on the beach” once, and won.
Lee also took time to discuss WildStorm artist Oliver Nome, who recently passed away. “He was a guy that was equally adept and drawing figures, backgrounds, cars, all sorts of stuff,” Lee said, offering his condolences.
Flashing all the way back to “WildC.A.T.S.” #1, Williams discussed his involvement in its launch. “It was a bit of a leap of faith,” Williams said. “We kind of had a steady gig up to this point. But Jim tends to be a risk-taker, in the best possible way.”
Lee said he was inspired to create the WildStorm studio by The Studio, the ’70s artistic commune formed by Barry Windsor-Smith, Jeff Jones, Michael William Kaluta and Bernie Wrightson.
Abernathy talked the major impact “WildC.A.T.S.” had him as a reader. “It was a universe and characters I could identify with, and get on board with from issue #1,” he said. Discussing the founding of Image Comics, Abernathy said, “It was life-altering, almost, for a comic book series and a publisher. These were the rock stars from Marvel. It’s incredible.”
“Jim just led by example,” Friend said of the WildStorm community. “It was very much a family, collegial atmosphere,” Lee added.
Benjamin said after he finished college, he went back to school, because he didn’t know what to do next. After getting some encouraging words on his art, “I quit school, I just sat at home and practiced for six months. After six months, I got the phone call from Jim. That freaked me out.”
Williams talked the legacy that WildStorm has had on comic book coloring. “A lot of that stuff was developed and seen for the first time — and perfected — [at WildStorm].”
Friend told a story that someone who came into an interview and stole a Fairchild standee from the studio as a joke. Lee said he sent him a simple message: “If you ever want to work in this business, you’ll return it right now.” (They got it back.)
“For the most part, studios tend to have a bit of a house style,” D’Anda told the crowd. “But somehow, Jim made it worked so that at the studio, everybody kind of brought their own thing. If you look at the variety of artwork that was going on in the same space, it was insane. It doesn’t really make sense.”
Nguyen said he was on the “night shift,” coming into work at around 11 at night. “There was no traffic,” Nguyen said. “I did it for almost a year.” Nguyen eventually moved to Ohio with his girlfriend, without knowing that he was expected to show up still at the WildStorm office, until he got a call from his then editor, John Layman (now known as the writer of “Chew”). “So I drove back and worked in-house for some time,” he said.
Abernathy broke some news at the panel, that DC will publish a WildStorm 25th anniversary hardcover collection, including work from creators such as Fiona Staples, Sean Phillips and Lee Bermejo.
“The title features some new stories, for instance Brandon Choi and Jim Lee are going to revisit their classic creation WildC.A.T.S.,” Abernathy said. “Jeff Scott Campbell’s going to join us briefly for a new Gen 13 story. Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch will have a new Authority story. Brett Booth is going to revisit Backlash. It’s going to be a really great lineup.” Nguyen will contribute a Wildcats 3.0 story.
Lee said the original idea was just to use material “from the vault,” but quickly creators wanted to get involved with new material. Lee said he was surprised by the “enthusiasm and passion” creators had for the WildStorm characters and concepts. “It actually has a fair amount of new stuff in it,” Lee said of the book.
“If you’re a fan, this is a book you’ll want to pick up,” Abernathy said. “It’s 200 pages of WildStorm excellence.”
First fan question asked the panels what WildStorm concepts they’d like to see integrated into the DC Universe. “We integrated them into the DC Universe with the New 52, and that worked somewhat,” Lee said. “I think for the characters to really shine, it’s hard to live in the shadows of te Justice League.” Lee talked about how the current, Warren Ellis-led WildStorm revival is separate from the DCU. “For the time being, they’re going to exist in their own universe, but at the same time, there are characters like Midnighter and Apollo running around in the DC Universe. That’ll still happen, but less so.”
Next question: Was there ever serious consideration of a WildC.A.T.S. movie? “We pitched it several times,” Lee answered. “I don’t think it ever got beyond the pitch stage. I think at the time, it would have been too large of a budget, especially in that era, because it had so many characters.” Lee said it would be great to see a film project based on the current WildStorm revival — and that like the comics, it should be separate from the DC superheroes. “It’s nice to maybe take a different tact, maybe do a more sci-fi angle on the superhero concept.”
Chance of new “Planetary”? “[John] Cassaday is doing a ‘Planetary’ piece in the book,” Abernathy said, but there are no plans for a new series.