BCC: The Image Comics Show

The Image Comics Show at Baltimore Comic-Con featured spotlights on many different Image creators including Richard Starkings ("Elephantmen"), Jeff Parker ("Underground"), Frank Cho ("50Girls50"), A.J. Lieberman ("Cowboy Ninja Viking"), Michael Avon Oeming ("Mice Templar") and Robert Kirkman ("The Walking Dead," "Invincible," "Haunt"). But before these creators had the opportunity to highlight their own various titles, Image's PR & Marketing Coordinator Joe Keatinge revealed two brand new comic books that will join Image's catalog in 2010.

First, writer-artist Paul Grist will begin a new chapter in his creator-owned superhero series "Jack Staff" this January in "The Weird World of Jack Staff." The re-branded series will highlight several different characters involved in previous Jack Staff books, and Keatinge indicated that "Weird World" would be a great place for an all-new audience to hop aboard the "Jack Staff" train. To further entice new readers, Richard Starkings declared: "'Jack Staff' is actually my favorite book from Image Comics."

The second new title from Image is "Orc Stain," which is written and illustrated by "Wonton Soup" creator James Stokoe. Keatinge showed a slideshow of art from "Orc Stain," which features a young orc that can crack any safe with one tap of his trusty hammer. "Orc Stain" will be Stokoe's first full-color ongoing series.

Following the announcements, Keatinge turned the floor over to Richard Starkings, the writer and creator of Image's "Elephantmen." Starkings recounted an amusing story about how regular "Elephantmen" artist, Moritat, will start doing some work for DC Comics. Starkings said that when DC contacted him about the news, they described Starkings as a "great talent scout," though he'd prefer to be known as "a talent magnet."

Starkings hyped up the work of his various artists, including Marian Churchland who will be releasing her first graphic novel titled "Beast" at the end of October through Image. He also mentioned that Stokoe would provide a fill-in issue of "Elephantmen" at some point in the near future.

"My approach to 'Elephantmen' is different than many other Image Comics," Starkings said. "I like to work with a lot of different artists. I grew up reading '2000AD,' a science fiction anthology comic. In one way, in my mind, 'Elephantmen' is kind of like a science fiction anthology comic."

Starkings announced an upcoming arc titled "Questionable Things" which will address many of the lingering questions posed thus far in "Elephantmen." The writer described it as a seven-issue action-oriented story arc that Moritat will illustrate. For readers unfamiliar with "Elephantmen," Starkings recommended issue #21 as "a great place to jump on."

Jeff Parker, who co-created Image's currently running "Underground" alongside Steve Lieber, took to the microphone next, saying that he decided to write for Image because they "promised not to take any of my rights away! So I said, 'Image, here I come!'"

Parker said that "Underground" came to being thanks to Lieber's continued interest in adventure stories after working on "Whiteout." "He was getting into caves and was reading a lot about them," he said. "He kept telling me about all this research he'd been doing and I said, 'Yeah, good luck with that!' After a while he came up to me and asked what I thought about the story. Typically, I get tricked into a lot of stories like that."

The writer spoke about "Underground's" plot, which focuses on a duo of park rangers that get caught in a dangerous situation in an underground cavern. "It essentially ends up being people chasing and shooting their way deeper into this cave system, but the real threat is always the environment itself," he described. "Caves are a very treacherous place to be in - it's cold, it's dark. And we don't have any mole men or exploding bat people coming into it, so prepare yourself for that."

Parker provided two copies of "Underground" #1 to two randomly chosen panel attendees.

Up next was Frank Cho, who announced his upcoming Image title "50Girls50" at San Diego Comic-Con earlier this year. Cho is co-writing the four issue series as well as providing covers and the overall design, but he will not be providing interior art due to other commitments - which is why he announced a talent search earlier this year at San Diego.

Keatinge announced that the ten finalists for "50Girls50's" prospective artist job are Alex Medelin, Allan Otero, Andrew Paul, Brett Barkley, Dagu Yu, Erich Owen, Joel Carpenter, Kame House, MILX [a user name] and Tommaso Renieri. The winner will be announced at the end of the month.

"It's kind of like 'Star Trek,'" Cho described of the plot as he showed each of the prospective artists' try-out pages. "The earth is dying and an all-female crew is looking for different planets for resources to save earth. They've found a wormhole that only women can go through - guys with the Y chromosome die during the trip - so that's why all the crew are women. Hence, '50Girls50.'"

Cho said that the book would most likely launch in the spring of 2010.

Creator A.J. Lieberman was now up to discuss his new Image Comics title,"Cowboy Ninja Viking." Featuring art from "Proof's" Riley Rossmo, "Cowboy Ninja Viking" focuses on a series of scientific experiments on "useless people" to become vicious assassins known as "triplets" - in other words, killers that encompass three distinct skill sets, such as the titular cowboy ninja viking. There are other triplets of course, including a gladiator pirate oceanographer combination that doesn't quite work as well.

Lieberman offered free copies of the first issue to several of the panel's many attendees, noting that the issue will officially hit stands on October 14.

The spotlight soon shifted to Michael Avon Oeming, who was not only celebrating his tenth consecutive appearance at the Baltimore Comic-Con, but also the tenth anniversary of "Powers," his Image Comics-turned-Icon series co-created by Brian Michael Bendis. For the purpose of this panel, however, he discussed his work on "Mice Templar," currently in the midst of its second arc.

"For the second series of 'Mice Templar,' the art has been taken over by Victor Santos," Oeming said. "As I get older, I can only draw two books a month as opposed to three or four. But I enjoy life now, so I want to do other things. Victor has done a great job at picking up the look and feel of 'Mice Templar.' I'm still doing covers and working closely with [writer Bryan J.L. Glass] on the story."

The writer-artist said that Santos can not only draw the book on a monthly schedule, but his art ends up looking very similar to Oeming's thanks to their shared influences.

Oeming also has a new comic book in the works titled "God Complex," which he co-created alongside "Six" collaborator Dan Berman. The series focuses on a modern incarnation of Apollo, who now lives in hiding from his godly contemporaries - a fact that isn't looked kindly upon by his big bad daddy, Zeus.

"If you enjoy 'Mice Templar' or my work on 'Thor' and 'Hammer of the Gods,' this is an extension of the love that I have for mythology," he said. "[Berman] is one of the partners that I really enjoy working with, and after we did 'Six,' our producers wanted us to do something else. I've always loved the mixture of modern day settings with mythology, so we created this thing."

Finally, attention shifted to Robert Kirkman and his many titles, kicking off with "Haunt." The writer recounted the now infamous story of how he confronted Todd McFarlane at San Diego's Comic-Con International in 2006, which paved the way for "Haunt's" recent release. Kirkman praised all of the members of the "Haunt" creative team - including McFarlane, penciler Ryan Ottley and layout artist Greg Capullo - though he conspicuously downplayed the importance of his letterer, who is none other than fellow panelist Richard Starkings.

"I don't even know his name - he's a letterer, why would I know?" Kirkman joked. "We outsource to some foreign party. He looks like Colonel Sanders - I don't really know."

The focus then shifted to "The Astounding Wolf-Man," which ends with the upcoming 25th issue. "We had a good ending point," Kirkman defended. "The book is doing really well and Jason [Howard] and I are having a lot of fun with it, but as I plotted the series out, I wasn't sure I'd be able to top this. So we're bringing it to a close."

Kirkman said that he and Howard would have announcements about a new project together in the near future.

The writer's ever-popular "The Walking Dead" will soon shift into a new phase with "Hope," an arc that sees the cast of the book finding a pocket of civilization near Washington, D.C. "Everything is going to be vastly different in the series," Kirkman said. "It's going to be a lot of fun. There's going to be dinner parties and car pools - no, there won't be car pools, but you get the idea. It's going to be awesome. There will be zombie attacks and explosions, still. But I'm really excited. After so many issues of traveling, it's cool to have a change in the book."

As for "Invincible," the 70th issue sees the return of the vicious sequids. Following that reemergence, Mark Grayson will return to his original costume in "Invincible Returns" #1, which features a cover by David Finch and two variant covers from Darwyn Cooke and Erik Larsen. Additionally, "Invincible" co-creator Cory Walker will illustrate a back-up story that recounts all of the important Viltrumite moments in the series to date, serving as a primer of sorts for the impending "Viltrumite War" kicking off in #75.

Kirkman briefly touched on "Image United," the upcoming six-issue crossover event illustrated by Image Comics founders Erik Larsen, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Whilce Portacio, Marc Silvestri and Jim Valentino. A specific "Image United" panel scheduled for the next day would go into much greater detail on the highly anticipated miniseries.

The panel was promptly turned over to fan questions, almost all of which focused on Kirkman. When asked which character he was most eager to get his hands on for "Image United," Kirkman said that he was very excited to see Todd illustrating Spawn again, but he pointed out that he's a fan of all the featured characters.

A fan asked when Kirkman would have time to return to "Battle Pope," but the writer's response was less than optimistic. "I would like to do more at some point but I have so much other stuff that I'm doing," he said. "I don't know when I'll have time."

Another fan bestowed Kirkman with an amazing T-shirt that read: "Zombies Hate That I Am So Awesome." Kirkman, who agreed with the sentiment, promptly revealed a surprisingly serious announcement: "The Walking Dead" #75 would feature an out-of-continuity backup story based on the 50th issue's alternate cover, which famously featured the book's cast as superheroes armed with lightsabers and other assorted weaponry.

The topic stayed on "Walking Dead" but in a different incarnation - namely, the upcoming AMC television series. Kirkman said that there are three stages to the process: optioning the book, shooting a pilot, and waiting for the network to decide whether or not to take it to series. So far, the first hurtle is passed, but nothing else is a certainty. Kirkman joked that while he doesn't have a dream cast in mind, he'd like to see "Married With Children's" Ed O'Neill in every role.

Finally, Kirkman was asked about "Brit," which he said would be back in some way, shape or form very soon.

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