C2E2: First Comics Is Back in Action

First Comics celebrated both its 30th anniversary and its relaunch with a Saturday afternoon panel at the Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo that featured both new projects and revivals of classic material.

The anniversary is a bit premature, as the Chicago-based publisher actually opened its doors in 1983. At various times in its history, First published Howard Chaykin's "American Flagg!", John Ostrander and Tim Truman' "Grimjack" (later picked up by IDW Publishing), and Mike Baron and Steve Rude's "Nexus." The company's varied line also included the first American edition of "Lone Wolf and Cub" (with covers by Frank Miller), Eric Shanower's "Adventures in Oz," and even some "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" reprints. The publisher folded in 1991, but at last year's Comic-Con International: San Diego First Comics Co-Publisher Ken Levin announced the company's plans to return with a lineup of new and old comics. Saturday's panel at C2E2 updated that news with more information, new title announcements, and a discussion of First's plans to bypass Diamond Comics Distributors and distribute their comics directly to retailers.

According to Levin, First has two comic book series, three collected editions, two new graphic novels featuring First-era characters, and nine original graphic novels in currently in production and scheduled for release in 2012-13. The lineup will include a new edition of Nick Cuti and Joe Staton's "E-Man" that will be completely recolored. First also has four children's books in the works, but they will not be released until 2013, and Levin gave no further details save for noting two were by professional illustrators who don't usually do children's books.

Levin started the panel by introducing Bill Willingham, the writer of "Fables," which Levin described, with a bit of hyperbole, as "the best-selling title in the world."

"I apologize," Willingham said. "This sentence is going to be hard for me to get into and almost impossible to get out of, but: My first comics work for First Comics was their first comic, which was a thing called 'Warp,' based on the stage play that Neal Adams designed the costumes and, substantially, the characters for, and I am chiefly known at First Comics for being one of the reasons that First debated whether or not to be more honest they should change their name to 'Comics Eventually.'"

"Warp" was a science fiction play written by Stuart Gordon and Lenny Kleinfeld and adapted into comics form by writer Peter Gillis, penciller Frank Brunner, and inker Bruce Patterson. Levin announced that the company will publish a collected edition of "Warp," with the proceeds going to the non-profit Hero Initiative, which helps comics creators in need. First Comics co-founder Mike Gold will edit the book, and Brunner will do a new cover.

Matt and Shawn Fillbach, who illustrated the "Clone Wars" comics for Dark Horse, took the stage to discuss their plans with First. Their first book, "Frickin' Butt-Kickin' Zombie Ants," written by Steve Stern, is already out, and they are working on a sequel to their 2008 graphic novel "Roadkill," which features "paranormal trucker" Joe Kowalski, whose job is to clean up the messes left by the adventures of other heroes.

Next came Daniel Merlin Goodbrey and Sean Azzopardi, two British creators who have collaborated on a horror book, "Necessary Monsters," which Goodbrey described as a "Mission: Impossible" style team-up of '80s-style horror characters who work together to police the other monsters. "It's really a book about a horrible world run by evil people for other evil people," Goodbrey said, "But it's very funny, and for some reason the characters are very likeable." Levin said Goodbrey and Azzopardi have another book in the works that he couldn't discuss yet.

Levin then announced that First will publish collected editions of "Zen: Intergalactic Ninja," which was originally published under the Zen Comics imprint in the late 1980s and was briefly licensed by Archie Comics before moving to Entity Comics in the 1990s. Zen artist Dan Cote took the stage to discuss the 3-D Zen comic that was available at the First Comics table. "It's artwork that was all pen and ink, done originally about a decade ago," he said. "It took about a year to make that book, but then I figured out how to make it 3-D and that took another year to tear it apart -- why it works so well is because they are full page illustrations and it's all pen and ink and it just sucks you right in."

With the lineup in place, Levin turned to the question of distribution. First Comics will not go through Diamond Comics Distributors. "We felt going through Diamond, we are going to get buried," Levin explained. "This is a time when retailers really need publisher support, and they are not getting it for the most part. They face a lot of adversity economically that they didn't really bargain for, and there are things publishers can do to try and help. One of the things we're doing is we are selling to them directly, and the points that Diamond would have gotten, were we through Diamond, we are giving to retailers. Retailers will make more money on First Comics books than they will on anybody else's books."

Jeremy Cote (Dan Cote's son) will be the retail coordinator for First Comics. "What I have said to people in the press who are sort of shocked that we are doing this is we are fully capable of screwing things up as much as Diamond is, we don't need special training in that," Levin said. "The difference is retailers will have somebody they can actually get on the phone, get on the e-mail, and get it corrected the next day. We won't be perfect, but they won't have better service than they will from Jeremy and his people."

This prompted a question from the audience as to how customers could get their comics shops to order First comics. "The website will be up the week after next," Levin said. "You would have the retailer call Jeremy or write Jeremy and hopefully, if Jeremy has done his job, that retailer already has his contact info and they are best friends at the moment."

As for the future, Levin said he has had discussions with nearly all of the former First Comics creators regarding bringing back their work. Levin said he spoke with Mike Baron and "I can almost assure you there will be a new 'Badger' that Mike will write, probably in 2013." In other instances, Levin said he would only be willing to revisit a property if all the creators were available. Two titles that are off the table are "American Flagg," which Levin said was a "closed property," and "Nexus," because First Comics has already given it back to Baron and Rude.

Stay tuned to CBR News for more on First Comics and its upcoming titles.

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