C2E2: Top Cow's "We Create...Universes" Panel

At the 2011 Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo, Top Cow publisher Filip Sablik and incoming "Artifacts" artist Jeremy Haun joined longtime "The Darkness" writer Phil Hester for the company's "We Create...Universes" panel. Sablik, who moderated the panel, had several announcements that drew rounds of applause from those in attendance -- the first of which was the release of the long-awaited "Artifacts" playing cards.

"When we launched 'Artifacts,' we had this awesome idea," Sablik said, citing Top Cow's desire for an incentive item that went beyond the typical variant cover. "It turns out production-wise, it's a pain."

Though it took a lot longer than originally anticipated, Sablik announced the cards were finally finished, holding up a pack he had on hand to a round of applause from the audience.

Sablik also announced that Top Cow would be matching retailers' qualifying orders for "Artifacts" #2-6 and the cards should begin shipping out in the next week.

"I can't wait to play poker with them," Sablik said.

Each suit's 13 cards features a portrait of an Artifacts bearer by artist John Tyler Christopher. Additionally, fans were informed that one out of every 10 boxes will have rare, gold-stamped cards.

Also in "Artifacts" news, artist Jeremy Haun ("Berserker," "Detective Comics") discussed his newly exclusive status which was heralded by taking over art shores on "Artifacts" with issue 9 before jumping to "The Darkness."

"Nobody's ever really asked me to do anything really big, crazy," Haun said of his upcoming run on "Artifacts" and the challenge it presented him.

Top Cow's next big announcement was the revealing of screenshots from 2K Games' upcoming "The Darkness II" videogame. The sequel to the 2007 hit is being developed by Digital Extremes, the same people behind "Bioshock 2." A new addition sure to get fans itching to get behind the controls of Jackie Estacado salivating is "quad-wielding action" -- the ability to use not only two guns, but two Darkness arms, as well.

"We think it's going to be brilliant," Sablik said, showing off the screenshots.

One of the shots, showing a Darkling apparently in the act of breaking an enemy's neck, received a strong, positive reaction from the crowd. Sablik assured the audience the Darklings have a larger presence in the sequel, adding, "they do some pretty messed up stuff to people in the game."

Also on "The Darkness" front, it was once again brought up that Phil Hester will be leaving the book with issue 100. Hester didn't give too many details out of concern for being "too spoilery," but he did hint that several characters who haven't been seen in a while will be returning in the run-up to his final issue on the book.

"Any old scores that need to be settled are going to be settled in a big way," Hester said.

Top Cow's final big news was the announcement of the "Netherworld" cover contest winner. The series' marketing campaign kicked off with the "We Are All Lost" contest that challenged fans to take the image of that phrase and work it into photography or artwork that incorporated it into an urban setting.

The contest winner was Bozhidar Savov of Bulgaria, whose winning cover was shown on screen and will be featured as a retailer incentive cover for "Netherworld" #1, out April 28 from Top Cow imprint Minotaur Press. Also shown were the runner-up and third place covers.

Sablik also plugged Top Cow's new fan community site, The Barn, where the "Netherworld" promotion was launched, and added that more promotions will be held there in the future.

Before turning the panel over for Q&A, Sablik plugged current Minotaur series "Echoes" and praised writer Joshua Hale Failkov for writing "probably one of the best horror series I've ever read."

"You will not see the end coming," Sablik said.

Also discussed was Minotaur Press series "Last Mortal," which is centered on a "three-time" loser who tried to kill himself only to discover he was immortal."I'm kind of passionate about it because I co-created it [with childhood friend John Mahoney]," Sabilk said. "If a book about a suicidal immortal sounds interesting to you, I highly suggest you check it out."

A few of the fan questions were focused around movie adaptations of Top Cow properties, which all still had no new announcements.

"Until you hear a director, writer and main star, it's just going to be in development," said Divide Pictures' Russ Cundiff, who joined the panel midway through for "color commentary."

Another fan asked Jeremy what made him sign exclusively to Top Cow, to which his reply was the amount of belief the company has in his work and the amount of freedom he has with that work. Phil Hester also reassured a fan that although he is leaving "The Darkness" with issue #100, he has no plans to leave Top Cow.

Finally, a fan asked if the closure of Wildstorm Comics made Top Cow feel even more of a responsibility to push the boundaries in comics. Sablik said there were fewer and fewer places in comics really pushing and stretching the boundaries and trying new ideas.

"We (in independent comics) can do [stuff] that you can't get away with when there's $100 million on the line," Sablik said.

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