Baltimore: Image Comics Panel

Today in Room 307, or Earth 53, as it is known, some of comics’ heaviest hitters met to host Image Comics’ annual panel at the Baltimore Comic-Con. Those in attendance included Richard Starkings, the legendary letterer/designer and also the writer of “Elephantmen”; Robert Kirkman, writer of “Invicible” and “The Walking Dead”; Erik Larsen, writer/artist of “The Savage Dragon”; and Jimmy Palmiotti, co-creator of “Back to Brooklyn.”

The common thread among the panelists was revolution, it seemed. Nearly every creator had done something in an effort to change the face of comics entirely: Richard Starkings, when he began the digital lettering movement; Larsen, when he co-founded Image Comics; Kirkman, in his recent efforts to lead the industry towards creator-owned work; and Jimmy Palmiotti, who began a creative renaissance at Marvel with his friend and collaborator Joe Quesada beginning with the Marvel Knights line.

The biggest subject tackled by the panel was undoubtedly the upcoming “Image United” book, written by Robert Kirkman and featuring art from all the original Image founders (minus Jim Lee): Larsen, Marc Silvestri, Todd McFarlane, Whilce Portacio, Jim Valentino and Rob Liefeld. The book’s genesis came from Erik Larsen, who explained that fans have wanted a crossover of its kind since the first days of Image. Though a few have happened over the years, “Image United” is the first time the original creators will be coming in to draw each other’s characters.

“I was at a Free Comic Book Day thing with all the Image guys together,” Larsen said. “And I just thought — yeah, this could be a pretty cool idea.”

The idea didn’t gestate for long before Kirkman was brought in. After pitching it to the other Image founders, Larsen immediately called Kirkman, who was also at a Free Comic Book Day event. “I was at Zeus Comics with this whole line of people in front of me,” Kirkman said. “And Larsen was like — ‘Hey, we’re doing this crossover and everybody’s gonna draw it, you want to write it?’ So I had to be all cool like ‘Yeah, yeah, no brainer’ and then sign everybody’s comics without freaking out about it.”

The next major announcement of the panel came from Kirkman. A cover of an upcoming issue of “The Walking Dead” was shown, featuring the White House lawn strewn with corpses. Kirkman announced that starting in January, each of his three creator-owned books — “Invincible,” “The Walking Dead” and “The Astounding Wolf-Man” -- would be adopting a rigid monthly schedule and that an editor was hired to keep the books on track. “I’ve finally decided it’s time to be a little more responsible than I have been,” Kirkman said. “I’ve got my head in the game and from now on we’re going to be On Time in 2009. Late in 2008 didn’t work out for me too well.”

The panel then turned to the subject of the unique position comics enjoy today in relation to Hollywood. Jimmy Palmiotti, whose comic “Painkiller Jane” was adapted into an unsuccessful television series for the Sci Fi Channel, had direct experience with the question. He admitted he was dissatisfied with the show, which diverged wildly from Palmiotti and Joe Quesada’s original comics, even though he was able to write his own episode, which was a little closer to the original material. Still, Palmiotti was happy with the experience as a whole. “I learned a lot,” he said. “I learned how not to make a TV show.”

Palmiotti also remarked that it was an ego-trip for any creator to see so many people working on something he’s created. “At one point, as many as three hundred people were running around doing a scene for the show,” he said. “I thought — oh my god, this is just a thing I made up in the shower.”

The Hollywood theme was carried through in the first of the projects Image teased for the new year. Darwyn Cooke is collaborating with Mike Allred on a book entitled “Madman: The Movie.”

The panel had another auspicious announcement regarding creator-owned properties: Next year marks the 20th anniversary of Joseph Michael Linsner's “Dawn,” one of the first creator-owned properties to achieve success. The panel pointed out that it was big deal for a creator-owned property to sustain itself for twenty years.

The panel then showed upcoming covers of Jay Faerber’s “Dynamo 5” and announced that they would be publishing a 99-cent issue #0 for those fans who had not yet checked the book out.

At this point, the floor was opened to questions. Kirkman was asked if he’d read Max Brook’s popular zombie book, “World War Z.” Kirkman said that he hadn’t and absolutely could not so long as he was working on “The Walking Dead.” “I met Max Brooks and actually told him that,” Kirkman said. “He told me he couldn’t read ‘The Walking Dead’ until he was done with ‘World War Z’ but he really liked it when he did. But I’m not going to finish ‘The Walking Dead’ any time soon, so I’m never going read his book.”

Another fan asked how Kirkman could produce all three of his monthly books and hope to keep to a schedule. “It all stems from my assistants,” he joked. “I have each one write one book for me and it works out alright.”

Jimmy Palmiotti explained that in addition to bouncing problems off his collaborator Justin Gray, he finds that if he goes to bed trying to work out a story problem, he usually wakes up with the answer. This then lead to a conversation on what a lame character Sleepwalker was. “He doesn’t just sleep, he walks! That’s the combination of the two least exciting things ever,” Palmiotti said.

“I love Sleepwalker,” Kirkman argued. “Because he’s the guy that when he’s walking down the street and a plane is crashing or aliens are invading he goes ‘I gotta go take a nap!’”

This lead to Starkings and Palmiotti rescuing the conversation by asking fans how they get their comics; whether they read comics digitally, and if their stores carry Image books. Palmiotti stressed how important it was to make sure customers tell stores often what they want them to carry. He also shared on his feelings about downloading comics illegally. “It’s funny, because the Brooklyn in me says — steal everything. But on the other hand, it kind of hurts. You know, this is actually taking money out of your pocket. One hundred books hurts. Even just a hundred.”

Starkings had an important message for the audience on the subject of illegally downloading as well. “Remember,” he said. “If you’re going to steal comics online, please make sure you steal Marvel, DC or Dark Horse comics.”

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