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CCI: 25 Years of Swords and Cheese Dip

Sergio Aragonés was greeted by a sea of Groos at Comic-Con International insunny San Diego Thursday afternoon. As attendees entered the room for thepanel celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the cheese dip-loving barbarian,Gary Grossmann of GROO.COM handed them Groo masks with instructions printedon the reverse: "Please don't wave this mask around before the panel starts.Put the mask in front of your face when Sergio is introduced and every timehe starts to talk. (At least the first few times.)" After the initialsurprise of seeing about a hundred Groos in the audience, Sergio whipped outhis camera to capture the moment.

Moderator (and Groo writer) Mark Evanier introduced the panelists, includingletterer Stan (Usagi Yojimbo) Sakai, colorist Tom Luth, and Groo's originalcolorist, Gordon Kent. Evanier said "there are a lot of anniversaries incomics‹the tenth anniversary of this and the 20th anniversary of that‹butwhen is the last time you were at a panel for the 25th anniversary of a bookthat included every damn person who ever worked on it?"

After the applause died down, Evanier continued, "after years of coming herewith excuses for why there's no new Groo, we are very happy to be here todayto announce that there will be more Groo."

The Groo 25th Silver Anniversary Issue will be available in August. Aragonésdescribes it as "a complete story about the Plague." In September, the firstissue of a four-issue miniseries will hit the stands.

"Stan's lettering it upstairs," Evanier laughed. Sakai confirmed that he is, in fact, lettering pages for the miniseries at the convention.

The series will revolve around environmental concerns; Aragonés explained,"the scientists in Groo's time don't know about things like global warming;they don't know why pollution is a problem, but they know it will be one ifthey keep it up." As always, Groo enters the situation and immediately makesit worse. "Groo is not the hero of the book," Aragonés said, "he's the pest.He's the worst thing that can happen!"

Dark Horse is resuming the publication of the Groo collections with "TheGroo Parade." Previous Groo collections have been named alphabeticallybeginning with Groo Adventures and continuing to The Groo Omnibus, with eachbook containing four issues' worth of material. Beginning with the GrooParade, the books will contain eight issues, and the price will increase byabout 50 percent, Evanier explained, "and we're going to keep devaluing the comicsuntil they're damn well free!"

Aragonés discussed the Groo Alphabet book, for which Mark Evanier haswritten an epic poem for the Minstrel to recite, with a groo-relatedcharacter, location or event for each letter of the alphabet, allillustrated, of course, by Sergio Aragonés.

Other upcoming Groo material includes the long-planned Groo/Conan crossover,a Groo/Tarzan crossover, and a Groo Treasury reprinting long-unseen materialfrom the Pacific Comics and Eclipse Comics runs of the character, including"Groo For Sale," a very early appearance that has never before been seen incolor.

Discussing the Groo/Conan book, Aragonés said, "Groo is my hero, I don'twant him to lose; the Conan people don't want him to lose, so who is goingto win if they fight? Then I remembered 'Rashoman', so now we can do it,"suggesting that the Groo-Conan confrontation would be seen from both pointsof view and with differing opinions as to who emerged victorious.

While working on the Groo/Conan project, Dark Horse began lobbying foranother book, this one to feature a meeting with another licensed propertythey currently publish: Tarzan. Aragonés says he's not sure how to make thestory work, but that they will think of something.

"Tarzan is one of my favorite characters, but it's not an easy crossover like Conan. Conan makes sense; they're both barbarians, but Tarzan, I don't know how it fits.

Another long-awaited Groo project that was discussed was the Groo movie,about which Evanier remarks, "we're not dying to do it tomorrow," statingthat they are happy to reject offers that involve making changes to thecharacter or casting inappropriate voices (the film will be CGI). Thecreators recounted several anecdotes regarding casting and productionsuggestions from possible producers, including shooting the film aslive-action with Will Farrell (whom Aragonés described as the least funnyperson on the planet) in the lead role, or turning Groo into an animatedproperty "like Family Guy," to which Aragonés replied "no, no, we want it tobe funny." Aragonés is understandably protective of his character; "I loveGroo. I want [the film] to look like our Groo."

The Groo screenplay has been completed and an elaborate presentationincluding character designs and production art has been created, and theteam is in talks with a studio, which they declined to name.

"We're not supposed to mention the studio, Katzenberg will get mad," said Evanier. He went on to explain the economics of feature film production and the huge commitment a studio has to make to a film, saying "you're talking about 150million dollars; I look at that and think why don't you just give each of us a million and forget the whole thing. You'll be happier, we'll be happier."

Asked who he would cast as the voice of Groo, Aragonés was adamant that itnot be a recognizable celebrity voice. He said that he thought Groo soundedlike the late Aldo Ray; a tough, raspy voice "without a New York accent,"but that he was sure Mark Evanier would cast a talented voice actor who fitthe role and would not distract the audience by being a famous personality.

"Don't ask me to believe Woody Allen is an ant," he said.

In response to a question about possible video-game versions of Groo, thepanel explained that the movie process locks up ancillary uses of theproperty, since movie producers are not going to want to make a film if theycan't generate additional revenue from tie-in products, so any Groo gameswill have to wait until the film is in production.

Stan Sakai, a graduate of the University of Hawaii, is continuing to producehis monthly Usagi Yojimbo comic, as well as working on a special, UsagiYojimbo: War of the Worlds,in which martians attack fuedal Japan. Aside fromUsagi, Sakai is doing an Incredible Hulk comic, of which he says: "They toldme I could do whatever I want, use whatever characters I want, and I thought'Samurai Hulk.'" Marvel has also asked him to do a cover for another comic,which will feature Spider-Man in an oddball classic, the "fish in the face"cover.

"It's Doc Ock hitting Spider-Man in the face with a fish at an aquarium. Scott Shaw! will love it."

Discussing his contribution to Groo, Sakai explains that when he receivesthe pages to letter, they are in rough pencil sketch form, with onlyindicated speech balloons and a script to give him any idea what's going on.

"I don't get to appreciate the beautiful inking that you all get to see,"Sakai remarked to the colorists at the other end of the table. When Tom Luthreplied that he gets to enjoy it when it's published, he responded "but thenthe color ruins it; that's why Usagi is in black and white." Mark Evanierthen asked the two artists if they'd like to take a swing at each other.

An audience member asked "what is that thing on Groo's chest?" AfterAragonés said that it was a buckle, colorist Gordon Kent responded "abuckle? If I'd known it was a buckle, I wouldn't have made it blue!" Evanierjoked that it's a videocassette, and Aragonés laughed about the letters ande-mails that were received when Evanier made that same joke in a letterpage; people wrote to scold them that videocassettes didn't exist in Groo'stime. Evanier remarked that "reading Groo causes people to lose their senseof humor."

Asked which issue is his favorite, Aragonés said that it was issue #100,wherein Groo learns to read.

"I cried when I did the part about the library catching fire; this stupid guy [Groo] began to understand something of the value of learning. I'm very proud of it." Sakai said his favorite issue is the all-pantomime one because he had nothing to do with it and could enjoy it as a fan. Kent said his favorite was the one he worked on. Evanier said his was "probably an issue of Crossfire."

Aside from Groo, Evanier and Aragonés said that there will soon be a collected trade paperback of the Magnor series which they did in the '80s, to be followed by some new Magnor comics, mostly so that he wouldn't have to keep explaining the meaning of his personalized MAGNOR license plates.

"I tell people it's RONGAM spelled backwards, but that doesn't seem to satisfy them."

Evanier concluded the panel by saying that they would continue producingGroo "as long as people buy it."

Photos courtesy of Sergio Aragonés.

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