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CCI: First Comics Returns to its Roots — and Branches Out

by  in Comic News Comment
CCI: First Comics Returns to its Roots — and Branches Out

Pioneering 1980s publisher First Comics announced its return at Comic-Con International in San Diego last year, and this year’s panel continued an ambitious series of announcements including reissues, continuations of older comics, and brand new work.

First Comics publisher Ken F. Levin introduced “Ms. Tree,” by Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty, as a property he would have liked to have for First Comics when it was first published. Originally published in the early 1980s by Eclipse Comics, “Ms. Tree” is the story of a widowed single mother who runs a one-person detective agency.”

Now that First has acquired the rights they will be reprinting the older “Ms. Tree” comics as well as publishing Collins’ updated version. Collins said rather than rebooting the comic or ignoring the passage he decided to age Ms. Tree in real time. “Toward the end of the previous incarnation of ‘Ms. Tree’ she had a little baby, and now this baby will be ready to go to college — and Ms. Tree will have snow white hair, when her little girl goes through the door she will go into the bathroom, get the hair dye out, she will go to the closet, take out the gun, take out the trenchcoat, and tell her son, who has taken over the agency, to clear out of his office, basically,” Collins said. “Remember, she is going to be a little bit older, so the story will be called ‘Hot Flash.’ Ms. Tree with PMS and Ms. Tree and menopause, these are things you really don’t want to be around. Except — you do.”

Despite focusing on the new “Ms. Tree” material, Collins isn’t taking his eye off the ball when it comes to the reprints. “We’re hoping that Ken and First will bring out the stuff we did for DC first, because the ten graphic novellas we did at DC comics are the work we are proudest of. I think it’s the most immediately accessible for the current audience. And then we will go back to the beginning, which goes back to about 1981,” Collins said.

Larry Young, of AiT/Planet Lar, is wrapping up work on “Hemogoblin,” a project he has been working on for a while — the opening pages are part of his “Proof of Concept” anthology. Matt and Shawn Fillbach, best known for their work on Dark Horse’s Star Wars Clone Wars graphic novels, will illustrate the graphic novel, which is the story of the last vampire. Lettering the 127-page book “made me love comics again,” Young said.

Matt Sturges, who co-wrote “Jack of Fables” with another once and future First Comics creator, Bill Willingham, is working on two brand new series for First. According to Levin, both titles will be published as individual comics in November. One will be illustrated by John Lucas, the other by David Hahn. (While Levin didn’t mention the titles, Lucas lists his series on his website as “Four Norsemen of the Apocalypse.”)

First will also publish “Drude,” a new comic by “Holmes” creator Omaha Perez. Levin described it as “sort of like Timothy Olyphant’s ‘Justified’ by Thomas Pynchon and some really good acid.” The graphic novel is due out next year, but Perez had an ashcan edition available at the convention.

“Love and Capes” creator Thom Zahler is handling production for First Comics, and Levin said that both a brand-new project and a reissue of his “Raider” are in the works.

Levin wound up the panel with the announcement of two movie-related projects: a graphic novel based on a film by Jan and Sylvia Soska, who were at CCI promoting their new movie, “American Mary,” and a “director’s cut” of Dan Schaffer’s graphic novel “The Scribbler,” the basis for the movie of the same name.

“Fables” creator Bill Willingham visited the panel to discuss First Comics’ reissue of his first comics work, the backup stories for “Warp!” Willingham reminisced about how he got his first comics gig, saying that he tagged along on Levin’s business lunches with Mike Gustovich, whom Levin was trying to woo for the First Comics stable. “[First Comics co-founder] Mike Gold said, ‘We have to give you a little work because the money guy kept asking who is this other guy you keep buying lunches for,'” Willingham said. “That’s how I got my first job in comics, to pay back some lunches.”

Current plans call for First Comics to publish a trade paperback edition of Willingham’s “Warp!” stories next year and donate the proceeds to charity, with Willingham’s preference being the Hero Initiative.

Levin also touched on several other projects that have been announced in recent months, including a collected edition of Steve Stern and Dan Cote’s “Zen: Intergalactic Ninja.” The first volume of the collected edition and the newest “Zen” book, a 3-D comic, were available at the First booth.

First is also publishing a re-colored collected edition of Joe Staton and Nic Cuti’s “E-Man.” “The color is extraordinary,” Levin said. “It drove the price per unit up to $33, which is difficult when it’s a $27 book, but that’s consistent with the First ethos, which is you guys come first.”

In addition to illustrating “Hemogoblin,” the Fillbach Brothers have completed the second Jim Kowalski graphic novel, a followup to “Roadkill,” which will be published in October.

Lastly, Levin mentioned several film projects that are in the works, including one based on Collins’ “Johnny Dynamite” graphic novel. “If you promise not to tell anybody, I can tell you that we set that up at Overbrook, which is Will Smith’s company, for a film,” he said, drawing applause from the crowd. “Johnny Dynamite” was originally created in the 1950s, and Collins purchased the rights from Charlton Comics and reinvented the character for his own graphic novel.

Stay tuned to CBR News for more on First Comics’ upcoming projects and continued coverage of Comic-Con International.

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