C2E2: DC All Access: "Before Watchmen"

After its New 52 panel, DC Comics continued running full speed ahead with its special "Before Watchmen" All Access panel, dedicated to bringing full details on the upcoming series of prequel comics to Alan Moore's classic graphic novel "Watchmen." With a panel including DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio, Vice President Art Direction and Design Mark Chiarello, Senior Editor Will Dennis and creators Brian Azzarello, Lee Bermejo, Amanda Conner, Adam Hughes, Len Wein and J. Michael Straczynski, the publisher prepared to drop some "Before Watchmen" knowledge and announcements on the filled-to-the-brim panel room.

The panel began with a look at the online promotional New Frontiersman, which will last now until the publishing of "Before Watchmen," the printed version of which is currently available on the show floor.

Dan DiDio kicked off the panelist discussion, detailing the reasons for bringing a "Watchmen" prequel to the stands. "We believe they still had stories that could be told," said DiDio. "We've done several things, but the reality is that we found out people want to see more 'Watchmen' material."

"I'm happy to say that every single person sitting on this stage right now was at the top of the wish list," he continued, saying he had "complete faith" in executing the series. DiDio also said he expected "more of a negative reaction" to the initial announcement. "What happened was incredible. Everyone I talked to was excited about it," saying "all the concerns went away" when people heard about the creative talent.

After calling up a "mildly skeptical" fan to meet with Senior Vice President of Sales Bob Wayne, Wayne began showing the fan some material shown at the Diamond Retailer Summit.

"It tells it from his early childhood and becoming the Owl, his partnership with Rorschach and how that went badly," said Straczynski, who specifically referenced the moment in "Watchmen" where the Silk Spectre found a signed picture of the Twilight Lady.

For "Minutemen," DiDio said he felt Darwyn Cooke was the best choice for the book before Joe Kubert made a surprise appearance as a late addition to the panel.

Straczynski, characterized working with the Kuberts as "extraordinary." "The work has just been phenomenal," he said. "It's so tight, you see such emotion in the characters, it's just an awful lot of fun. What tickles me enormously is I get to see everyone else's stuff and you guys have no idea what's coming at you."

The mildly skeptical fan was brought onto the stage after Wayne's mini-presentation and said, "My skepticism has been put to rest and the artwork is beautiful."

Joe Kubert talked about his experience working on "Nite Owl." "To begin this, I wasn't really as knowledgeable about the characters [as my son, Andy]," he said. "Working with Andy was both a blessing and a little difficult." Kubert talked about his responsibilities as an inker for Carmine Infantino in order to make the art look as good as possible and how Infantino understood changes on the inker's end was part of the creative process. "With my son, it was just a little bit different."

"Any variation of any line and you see creases lining his face!"

Len Wein took the stage next, speaking about his work on "Ozymandias," who the writer said he was very excited to explore. "Exploring what made him want to almost end the world in order to save it was a lot of fun to work with," he said.

Wein also spoke about Jae Lee's work on the book saying, "It's almost fine art."

Azzarello had only one thing to say about his work on "Comedian" -- "Ozymandias is the spine of the story. Eddie's the balls."

Adam Hughes was on hand to talk about his past experience with the original "Watchmen," when he worked in a comic book store and sold each of the original issues as they came out. He also expressed how he was hoping to draw Nite Owl for "Before Watchmen," but was happy with the work he was doing on "Dr. Manhattan." "It wasn't a dream come true, but it is becoming something really, really interesting I wasn't expecting," he said.

Straczynski addressed the online criticism of Alan Moore and said he got it on an emotional level. "Alan Moore is a genius. No question," said Straczynski. "On the other hand, he's been using characters like the Invisible Man, Peter Pan, Jekyl and Hyde in what one fan basically called fan fiction -- in ways their original creators probably wouldn't have approved of. ... You stand on a slippery slope when you use the moral high ground."

"Did Alan Moore get a crummy contract? Yes. So has everyone at this table. Worse was Segal and Shuster, worse was a lot of people." The writer went on to credit Dan DiDio for pushing the project through, despite the fact that most would not touch it.

Amanda Conner spoke about her collaboration with Darwyn Cooke on "Silk Spectre." "It is completely different than a lot of the other stuff the others are doing," she said. "It's a little like a romance comic but with beatings. We are trying to keep a little bit of that tone, not make it too dark and angst-ridden. That's just the direction Darwyn and I wanted to go in. I don't know if I can make it blend seamlessly into the original book, but I'm trying my damnedest."

Bermejo teased the direction and feel of "Rorschach" beginning with the first issue. "We're going to do a grindhouse movie," he said. "There's some porn theaters knocking around. What's better than '70s porn?" The artist also said the story takes place in the year he was born. "It's interesting to draw something I have a connection to and that I don't have a question to at the same time."

Wein once again took center stage to speak about his experience crafting the "Crimson Corsair" backup story that will run throughout "Before Watchmen." "DC supposedly put out a whole line of pirate comics [in the 'Watchmen' universe] ... why don't I do another book and we can do that?" he recalled. "It seemed like a great idea until I realized there were 35 cliffhangers I had to do. ... It's an interesting challenge to play in a world where you assume this is kind of commonplace and touches where it can on the elements of the other stories."

The panel also revealed the black and white pages from "Before Watchmen" that will be available on the New Frontiersman website later today. These will be the only black and white pages released in anticipation of the series.

"I get more excited every time a page comes in," said DiDio. "June can't get here fast enough for me."

The panel then opened things up for questions.

DiDio talked about the ability of each miniseries on its own two feet. "You can read each one of the miniseries as themselves and you get a complete series with it," said DiDio. "Each story is its own story."

"This crossover event was designed to serve the characters," said Straczynski.

Azzarello was asked to clarify his remarks on a radio interview where the audience member thought Azzarello implied he enjoyed writing the Comedian more than Rorschach. "I don't like writing the Comedian more than I like writing Rorschach, I like the Comedian as a person more than I like Rorschach."

"You people like that character? Well, you're going to get it exactly the way you like it," he said, to uproarious applause.

Hughes spoke a bit about having to draw the Dr. Manhattan's entire anatomy. "Just last week I had to make a decision for Christ and draw...it," said Hughes. "I took the Hemingway approach and got really liquored up."

A fan asked about his favorite "Watchmen" character, Richard Nixon. "He's my favorite, too. I wanted to draw Nixon," said Bermejo. Azzarello did confirm Nixon would be in the book.

Connor spoke about putting a lot of her own personal experience into "Silk Spectre." "I think it helps that being a comic book artist was my second career choice and actually being a superhero was my first career choice," said Conner "Back when I was Laurie's age -- the age she is in this book -- I'm bringing that to the book. ... When I was a teenager, my mother and I had a contentious relationship, so I'm bringing that to the table a little bit. I'm just trying to remember all that stuff from when I was a teenager."

Straczynski addressed the myriad of themes that were present in the original "Watchmen" and bringing them to the individual series in "Before Watchmen." "I took the opportunity in this book ... to ask the question of free will in a quantum universe," he said. "It's a pretty scary area. That's stuff in my books and there's other stuff you might like in the other books as well."

Another question had to do with the backstory Wein was developing for "Ozymandias." "One of the things I'm trying to address is being the smartest man in the world is not easy," said Wein. "Part of this story is explaining [limitations] and discovering them."

The creators were asked about the "defining moment" when they knew the series would actually happen. "For me, the defining moment came last week when 'Rorschach was being lettered," said Azzarello.

"For me, it's when I hold that first issue in my hand," said DiDio. "These guys have been working so hard. We're waiting for June and it's all systems go."

The panel ended with a question about the Silk Spectre Tijuana Bible in the "Watchmen" universe, which Conner said, "You might see it."

With that, the panel wrapped. Stay tuned to CBR for more coverage of C2E2 2012.

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