C2E2: Vertigo Panel

The Vertigo panel at Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo featured progress reports on Jill Thompson's all-ages comic, Scott Snyder's "American Vampire" and its first spinoff, and the many facets of Bill Willingham's "Fables," including the final issue of "Jack of Fables," penciled by Tony Akins. Shelly Bond, the editor of the DC Entertainment imprint, moderated the panel and kept the conversation flowing.

Willingham appeared at the panel in a butler's uniform, complete with white gloves and silver platter, having lost a bet to DC Entertainment co-publisher Dan DiDio that required him to be DiDio's butler for the day. Willingham was vague about the details: "I made the bet, I lost, I'm paying the bet," he said. "It was a silly bet and yet, if he had had to be my butler today, that would have been glorious, so the chance was worth it."

The first book announcement was "Delirium's Party," Thompson's companion book to "The Little Endless Storybook," which Bond described as "watercolor and whimsical prose." The story is based in the universe of Neil Gaiman's "Sandman" comics, with the characters known as The Endless presented as small children. In this book, Thompson explained, little Delirium realizes that she has never seen her sister, Despair, smile. "She makes that her most important quest-to put a smile on her face," Thompson said, and the way she does that is to throw a party.

"It's like 'The Little Endless Storybook,' part 2," Thompson said. "It's the same type of silly story, a story I that want you to be able to enjoy in the Sandman universe, be able to read, pass off to little kids that might not have ever read a comic book before, trick people who don't like comics into reading a comic because it's got prose in it."

Snyder was up next, to talk about "American Vampire," and specifically the new story arc that begins with issue 13, which is due out on March 30. Artist Rafael Albuquerque will be listed as a co-creator beginning with this issue, which is set in the Pacific theater during World War II and involves the vampire Pearl Jones, her husband Henry, and Skinner Sweet. Since Pearl became a vampire in the 1920s, she doesn't age any more, but Henry does. "He is beginning to feel old and his own mortality and so he tries to enlist," said Snyder. He is rejected because of previous injuries but then gets an invitation to join a secret society of vampire hunters, The Vassals of the Morningstar. "He gets an invitation to be part of their secret mission to an island off the coast of Japan where there are supposed to be nest of vampires, a new species." Snyder said the book includes a brief recap of the story so far, making it a good jumping-in point for new readers.

With a bit of prodding from Bond, Snyder told the story of how Stephen King became involved in the project. Snyder had written to King asking him to write a blurb about the book, and Snyder said, "he wrote back and he said I really like the character of Skinner enough that maybe sometime, if you want, I'll write an issue. And I was like, well if I tell them you will write an issue, they are going to want you to do it right away. He said no, no, I have never written a comic, I don't think anyone is going to want me to do it." The audience chuckled at this. Initially, King was supposed to write a few pages to go at the end of each issue, working from storylines provided by Snyder, but he soon started going "off the res" and, with Snyder's blessing, he wrote a portion of the first five issues.

Snyder is also launching "Survival of the Fittest," a five-issue "American Vampire" miniseries written by him and drawn by Sean Murphy (who is the artist for Grant Morrison's "Joe the Barbarian"). Snyder said he wanted to do another World War II story that focused on the action in Eastern Europe, so he decided to do this story at the same time as the Pacific story, featuring the characters Cashel McCogan and Felicia Book from the second story arc, which was set in Las Vegas.

"The whole thing is almost like a black case files of the Vassals," Snyder said, "where [Cashel and Felicia] are both members of that organization when this starts, and they are investigating a claim that this scientist in Eastern Europe has developed a cure for vampirism and he is in the occupied Romanian mountains, so they have to go there in disguise and try and sneak in and figure out whether this claim is true."

The panel shifted to a lighter note with a slide of the cover from "Fables" #103, featuring the characters from that series re-creating well-known superhero covers. Writer Bill Willingham began with a disclaimer: "There was actually a rumor going around when we announced that 'Super Team' was going be the upcoming arc that DC forced that on me, that it's not selling well enough, therefore let's put them in capes and tights. And I love that rumor. It's not true, but I love that rumor. No, any forcing them into capes and tights is all on me."

The point was to shake up the story a bit, Willingham said. "We have to fight this guy, and we have all these powerful characters," he said, "and little Pinocchio comes along and says look, a small team of powerful characters fighting the bad guys, I know what this is, I've got my comic collection right here, so this is how we are going to do it. Through some circumstances, the bizarre little fellow manages to talk some people into giving it a shot."

Willingham also talked about his original graphic novel, "Werewolves of the Heartland," in which Bigby goes off on his own. "Almost from issue 1 I was promising Shelly that someday we would let Bigby out and let him have an adventure of his own," he said. "For those who are caught up [with the series], you know that Bigby went on a little mission just recently, and this is what happens on that mission." Willingham said he expected the book would be released before Christmas.

As announced last year, the "Fables" spinoff "Jack of Fables" is coming to an end this month with issue #50, due in stores on March 30. "It's an extra length issue," Bond said. "It's basically the end of an era."

Willingham said his favorite part of the series was the World War II arc, penciled by Tony Akins. "I decided what the hell, I'll put my old army buddies from 30 years ago in," said Willingham. "All I did was provide verbal descriptions of these guys, and [Akins] drew them, and I could recognize guys-he drew what they looked like."

"That's because to be in the military, the screening is, they don't tell you but you have to fit an archetype," Akins said, "so everybody has those same friends over and over again."

As for the final issue, Willingham said, "I seldom brag about work that I have been involved with so much, but I can just about guarantee that no last issue of a series will ever be able to approach what we do in this issue. I think this is probably the most inevitable last issue, considering the characters involved, of any." The last "Jack of Fables" trade will be out this summer, Bond added.

The panel wound up with a look at the cover of another spinoff, "Cinderella: Fables are Forever," the second Cinderella miniseries written by "iZombie" writer Chris Roberson and illustrated with high 1980s big-hair style by Shawn McManus. "In the 'Fables' universe Cinderella is disguised as a flighty blonde party girl who is running a shoe store into the ground but is actually a kickass James Bond type who runs secret missions for Fabletown," Willingham said.

"In this one, Cinderella finally comes against an opponent worthy of her skills, a Moriarty to her Sherlock," he said. "It is an inevitable one, someone who quite by accident in her early childhood turned out to be one of the most efficient and deadly witch killers in the world so of course she was going to grow up and be just a terrible and deadly adversary for Cinderella."

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