C2E2: Aspen Comic Panel

At last weekend's Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo, Aspen announced that they will be the home to artist Joe Benitz's first solo-written series by the end of 2010 when they launch his steampunk-infused mystery comic "Lady Mechanika." The new title will join Aspen's family of titles that already includes J.T. Krul's "Mindfield," "Dellec" and Michael Turner's "Fathom" and "Soulfire" comics, both of which have film adaptations in development. Aspen President Frank Mastromauro and colorist Peter Steigerwald moderated most of the discussion, which also teased unannounced plans for digital distribution.

"He's in the middle of prepping all of the stories," Mastromauro announced about Benitez's progress on his new title. "All of the design work has been turned in. It's out of this world. I think you guys are going to be blown away."

Benitez explained the concept behind his supernatural steampunk title, which he said would include occult mystery-style plots.

"The book is going to take place at the turn of the century, and I guess the best way to describe it is a female Sherlock Holmes meets 'X-Files,'" Benitez explained.

The titular heroine has steampunk-style cybernetic enhancements, and part of story will revolve around her own discovery of exactly how much of body is human.

"She's not totally mechanical," Benitez revealed. "That's why she's called Lady Mechanika. She's not sure herself whether or not she's all mechanical or just parts of her. She doesn't have any history, she doesn't know where she came from. We'll get into that in the first few issues."

Mastromauro predicted an October launch for "Lady Mechanika," with plans to coincide with New York Comic Con while offering a zero issue at this summer's Comic-Con International in San Diego.

Aspen's slideshow for their panel previewed covers from upcoming issues of "Mindfield" and "Executive Assistant," as well as "The Scourge" and a "Shrugged" compilation, the second volume of which may begin as soon as sometime next year.

When asked about the status of the film adaptation for Michael Turner's "Fathom" series, Mastromauro didn't offer any new developments, but he did clarify where the project sits while the search for a director goes on.

"The way stuff goes, it's always green light, yellow light," the Aspen head described. "You always hate to see a red light, because that's when things get completely stalled, and that happened a lot during the early 'Fathom' development, because it's supposed to come in, and then it would just be terrible. Mike would be so excited when they would come through. Then the story would be completely different and his heart would just sink again."

Megan Fox's interesting the movie attracted new attention, however, and the Aspen reps credited her for reviving the process.

"Recently, these last couple years, once we met up with Megan and met the producers and got things rolling again, they were completely in tune and so confident in the story that they just kept pushing the same way that Mike [Turner] had always wanted it to be pushed," Mastromauro explained. "Then, when we met Jordan Mechner, who wrote the screenplay for it, he just floored us."

Though a director hasn't been named yet, he pointed out that the movie is as far along as it's ever been and that things may be in motion again.

"We were at the point where we were talking to directors and getting things moving, and a few things just occurred within FOX Studios that put up the yellow light for little while," Mastromauro said. "Now, the light's kind of blinking yellow, it's starting to move again, we're starting to look at directors, and that's the next logical step."

The cautious optimism in his voice came with a veiled nod to one other property that Aspen currently has in development for an adaptation - apparently in secret.

"It's easily the furthest along of any of our properties, even though one of our other properties might actually see the big screen before 'Fathom,' so things are looking really awesome right now," he stated.

One candidate that may be out of the running for the first-place slot is "Soulfire," which didn't get nearly as promising an overview.

"Currently, we're looking at different writers," Mastromauro said. "That's going to be probably one of our tougher properties to bring to film. Once it's done, I see it being gigantic and turned into multi-movies and whatnot. The story's so big and expansive, it's just taken a little while to find the right person who's capable of coming in, taking all of that information and bringing it down to one cohesive story that works well."

Two commitments he was willing to make during the panel, were a revamped website and a host of new digital platforms, which will soon be home to Aspen content.

"Within the next couple of months, you'll be able to find Aspen comics on a whole bunch of different platforms, for iPhone, iPad, Kindle, you name it," Mastromauro said. He didn't specify when, but a pre-San Diego announcement may have been implied.

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