CCI: Avatar Press Panel

To a welcoming crowd at Saturday's Comic-Con International in San Diego, Avatar Press's editor, owner, and CEO William Christensen bounded on stage, greeting the room with a hearty, "Howdy everybody! My name's William." He then quickly introduced panelists Jacen Burrows (artist, "Crossed", Alan Moore's "Neocomican"), Brian Pulido (writer, "Lady Death"), and Mike Wolfer (co-writer, "Wolfskin," Gravel").

"The panel is in two parts," Christensen began. "First, our Avatar announcements; then, in twenty minutes Max Brooks will join me. For those who are new and unfamiliar with us, Avatar Press is known for our writer-driven, mature readers books. Currently, Wednesday we launched Alan Moore's new series, 'Neonomicon,' what Alan currently claims will be his last graphic novel. Alan's retiring from comics. 'Neonomicon' is a sequel to 'Courtyard.' Alan really enjoyed 'Courtyard' and wrote 'Neonomicon' specifically for Jacen. A most amazing form of flattery you can give an artist, because that has happened like three times in history. So that's a four issue series coming out monthly."

Christensen announced the formation of a new publishing imprint, Boundless Comics, which will publish Pulido's "Lady Death." "Mike [Wolfer] will be co-writing 'Lady Death' with Brian Pulido," Christensen said. "They will be tweeking slightly, re-inventing but not invalidating previous 'Lady Death' stuff. The first issue will be available for free in every comics shop in September. The back issues of Lady Death will be in trade paperback in October under the title 'Lady Death: Origins,' and will come out every six months collecting all 'Lady Death' material in a an 144 page format. "

Lady Death first debuted in the early 1990s and, along with Evil Ernie, was a staple of Pulido's Chaos! Comics line. The comic tells a medieval horror story about a girl named Hope who renounces her humanity to save her mother's soul from hell. "In our story, in our relaunch, we jump to 1351-50 years into Hope's future," Pulido said. "We will not be invalidating anything-her friends are her friends and family, her foes remain her foes but we won't be focusing on them so much. When we say we're relaunching 'Lady Death' we're not really; we're just covering a new chapter. In this book Lady Death gets her ass kicked by someone we don't know but is already her arch foe. So obviously the story is about her climb back."

Pulido went on to describe 'Lady Death' as "heavy metal music come to life'"

Then it was time to talk about Avatar's biggest hit: "Crossed." The series, created by Garth Ennis and Jacen Burrows, sees a zombie-like infestation change those infected into debauched maniacs. The current miniseries, "Crossed Family Values," is written by Eisner Award winner David Lapham of "Stray Bullets" and "Young Liars" fame with art by Javier Barreno.

"If you guys are looking for an intense horror book check out 'Crossed,'" Burrows told the audience.

Brian Pulido explained the differences between Max Brook's zombies and the ones in "Crossed." "They're not dead. They're humans who've been infected with a virus. They're alive but have been turned into pure evil," Pulido said. "It's an extremely bleak world. They really do horrific shit. These 'crossed' want to do evil to normal people. Each of the 'crossed' are individuals. What comes out is what is most evil in you. But they have full intelligence."

Christansen then announced a new "Crossed" project for Halloween. "We couldn't find a way to make it more disgusting so we went to another dimension," he said. "'Crossed 3-D' comes with a pair of 3-D glasses bound into it." The original graphic novel will be written by Lapham with art by Gianluca Pagliarani, and will see "all of New York going to hell with all new characters."

"And after 'Crossed 3-D' next year there will be a new 'Crossed' ongoing monthly series," Christansen added.

Pulido shouted, "'Crossed' monthly. are you people crazy?"

Christansen responded, "Yes we are! Its called 'Crossed: Badlands.' The first story arc reunites Garth Ennis and Jacen Burrows for an all new arc. The second story arc is by [early 'Hellblazer' writer] Jamie Delano. We're holding to getting the best of the best writers in the industry and then having them pull the most depraved shit out of them."

The floor was then opened to questions.

One man asked whether Warren Ellis is planning to finish "Ignition City." "Yup!" Christensen said. "Warren has loads of plans for a lot of stuff. Warren is a little jammed up in his scheduled but 'SuperGod #4' will be out in comic shops in 2 weeks."

Someone asked whether a "Crossed" movie could ever be done. Kevin Spacey's production company has optioned "Crossed" with a script by Garth Ennis, Christensen said.

A lady asked, "Will you be putting out more merchandise for 'Crossed?'" Christansen answered, "There will be. 'Crossed' field bags have been a big hit. But yeah, we will do more. But T-shirts by Jacen would be great."

Then the other panelists went off to their signings, leaving Christansen momentarily alone onstage before announcing his next guest. "Without further ado let me introduce the one the only. The legend-- Max Brooks!" Brooks, author of "the Zombie Survival Guide", "World War Z" and "the Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks" entered to enthusiastic applause.

Brooks took a seat next to Christansen, "What did they tell you to expect?" Brooks said.

Someone shouted, "Zombies!"

In classic dead pan, Brooks replied, "Yes. They're really scary." Brooks began his appearance by discussing plans for the film version of "World War Z." "Basically, a few weeks ago I had a meeting with Paramount, because Paramount suddenly wanted to buy the movie rights to 'The Zombie Survival Guide' and 'The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks.' So very nice. Hurray. Then they told me what was in the pipeline for 'World War Z.' They told me that the writer, Matt Carnahan, had finished the newest draft and that Brad Pitt liked it so much he wanted to be in the movie. And I said, 'Yeah. Sure he does.' And they said, 'No. No. He really does.' And I said 'Yeah? Can I tell the world?' You see, that's how you keep movie executives honest. Because they will tell you anything. Brad Pitt loves it and he's going come to your house and wash your car."

But according to Brooks Paramount assured him Mr. Pitt really is interested. "Which doesn't mean the film will get made--but it certainly helps."

Then Mr. Brooks took questions from the audience.

A young woman asked, "How long did you spend developing and writing 'World War Z' Years? Months? Days?"

"The writing of 'World War Z' took months. The research took years, because I'm very OCD. That's Obssessive Compulsive Disorder. I like to know a lot about what I'm doing," Brooks said. "So there was a lot of library research, internet, yeah, but the internet has to be confirmed. So it almost makes your job harder, because once you find something it makes you go back again.

"For those who've never read, it's a book of interviews about a zombie plague, and in order to do those fake interviews I then had to do a bunch of real interviews and was very lucky to know people with real jobs," Brooks continued. "If an interview was with a doctor, I called my friend who's a doctor. And I know people in the military and have friends who are scientists, I know economists and I know people in the intelligence community. I know those people who can confirm or deny certain things. So it was a lot of research. If the FBI ever broke into my office, I was renting a one-room in Manhattan, they would think its a terror cell. It's literally a desk a chair and a book shelf full of nothing but weapons manuals and maps and tactics. And because I had some lines from the Koran. They would come in and think, 'Hey, we've got somebody!'"

After the laughter subsided another fan asked about the famous people who bite it in "World War Z." "You have a lot of celebrity cameos, some people would be honored and some not so much, like [REM singer] Michael Stipe. Do they call you up to complain?"

"Someone said I put Michael Stipe in but here's the deal, I said there was someone in the book who looks like Michael Stipe, but I could never get him to admit it. So it could just be a really skinny bald guy," Brooks said. "As far as celebrities calling me to complain. No, they don't. They have much better things to do with their lives. They have mounds of cocaine to go through."

Brooks was later asked about plans for his next project. "What's next? Well, I have not gone into retirement. A couple of things. In about a year, maybe, I have a 240-page graphic novel coming out," he said. "It's not zombies but its big! It's a war story and a true story so I can't talk about, because it would be too easy for someone to run off and do something else with it. But it's a monster based on an idea I've been working on since '96, '97. So that's what I have in the long term. In the short term--"

Turning to Christensen, Brooks said, "You want to cover your ears," with the editor complying."I have an IDW project. I'm working for G.I. Joe right now on a G.I. Joe mini-series called 'Hearts and Minds.' It's limited, it's like five issues. It's a character study, a look into certain G.I. Joe characters. What are their motivations, what are their issues. What's a day in the life for them."

Another young lady asked, "If you could design a structure to protect you from zombies, what would it be?"

"You mean a zombie-proof structure? Funny you should ask," Brooks said. "I've designed one."

While the audience laughed at this, editor Christensen, said "No, no. He really has! Blueprints and everything! Should I publish it?"

"Yeah!" shouted the crowd.

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