CCI: Oni Press RevolutiONIzes Comics Panel

The RevolutiONIze Comics panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego was hosted by Oni Press editor-in-chief, James Lucas Jones, and played to a small crowd of around a dozen when it commenced but filled out over time. The panelists, some of whom arrived late, included a lineup of the company's hottest up and coming creators: Brahm Revel of "Guerillas," Matt Dembicki of "XOC," Scott C. of "Double Fine Action Comics," Rich Stevens of "Diesel Sweeties" and Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt the writer/artist team on the supernatural-western hit, "The Sixth Gun."

Feeling out the room, Jones asked the crowd what their favorite part of Comic-Con has been so far, to which Stevens set the tone for his words to come, saying, "The giant Power Ranger statue. And his giant package. I got a picture."

Jones forewarned the crowd he's not Cory Casoni, Oni's prior marketing guru and frequent panel moderator of the Comic-Con panel, who has since moved on to work with the up and coming ShiftyLook, suggesting the crowd should not expect Casoni's wit and personality.

True to his warning, the panel began very dryly, with Jones clicking through slides showing Oni books slated for release in the coming months. It felt more like a sales pitch than being involved in a discussion. But that all changed when the exclusive "Scott Pilgrim Evil Edition" hardcovers were brought up by Jones.

"Is that the [comic book] adaptation of that movie?" Stevens joked when the slide appeared onscreen.

The "Evil Editions," like their non-Evil Edition counterparts, present the "Scott Pilgrim" story in full-color for the first time, but each of these editions feature one of Scott Pilgrim's main squeeze Ramona Flowers' evil ex boyfriends on the cover instead of Scott and his crew. These slick editions are available in retail stores next month -- but can only be ordered exclusively through Oni, not comics distribution juggernaut Diamond Comics Distributors, Inc.

Jones then announced new Oni titles slated for 2013 release including the second Oni "Penny Arcade" collection through the publisher (volume 9 overall in the series) and print collections of "Bad Machinery," a web cartoon whose creator has been working on it since 1998. Said Jones, "We're excited to work with people who have started by publishing their comics on the web."

The buck was successfully passed to the panelists and instantly the room became more lively, the passion of the creators coloring the atmosphere.

Sticking to the webcomic theme and a 2013 release date, Jones announced new print collections for "Diesel Sweeties" by Stevens.

"I wanted to make a couple hundred pages of pixel kittens and they let me do it," Stevens said of his strip. "I was going to jump off a building if they didn't let me -- I'm psyched." His cast is large, packed with a smorgasbord of characters. "I don't know any of their names -- there are so many! They're all jerks except the kittens," Stevens added.

He has been working on "Sweeties" digitally for 12 years, saying, "I really can't wait to make real books. Oni picks the best paper."

"On a scale of 1 to 100, how great is bacon?" Jones asked Stevens.

"Bacon is incredibly delicious and it will crawl out of your chest much like a great dark god," Stevens responded.

The question came in reaction to a Kickstarter gag pledge for "Sweeties," where if a "backer" pledged $666, Stevens would eat 2 pounds of bacon in one sitting. Not very monumental on its own, but when you factor in Stevens is a vegetarian -- or was until the pledge was made -- it's pretty hilarious. His soon to be wife "thinks he's going to die" so he's holding off until his wedding date to eat the tasty pork product. "When I get married, then I get health insurance and I can eat the bacon." Stevens insists he's been training. Another gag pledge made during his Kickstarter campaign was he can't drink coffee for a month and has to document the process.

This reporter would be lying if he said Stevens' wacky sense of humor wasn't infectious, piquing curiosity of his work.

2013 also sees the release of Scott C.'s "Double Fine Action Comics" volumes 1-3. "Double Fine" features a zany cast of characters including Knight, Muscle Man, two spacemen named Captain and Thompson, and a flying, two-headed baby.

"Knight is into slashing things, obviously. He's a knight," Scott C. said of his characters. "Muscle Man is very into heavy lifting -- he's always working out. But they all do fun things together like collect rocks and have parties and stuff."

"We were making a video [game], 'Psychonauts,' but in the morning before we got started we made these comics," the creator said of the book's origins. "The stories progressed and grew and these [comics] were produced."

Asked which spaceman he'd rather be trapped on a spaceship with, Scott C. replied with his dry wit, "Thompson really helps you out. It's hard to choose. Captain is good for DJ-ing, but Knight would be really cool to hang out with."

Brahm Revel spoke about "Guerillas," informing the audience that volume 2 of the series is now available. "Guerillas," a blending of "Elephantmen" and "Planet of the Apes," is "the story of this one human going along with a bunch of U.S. trained chimp soldiers gone AWOL, fighting through the jungles of Vietnam. It's a platoon of chimps -- not a whole army," Revel said.

He touched on his visual research for soldier gear and weaponry, and the challenge of keeping the visuals legit but still managing to give everyone's gear its own uniqueness in order to be individually identified. "I didn't go crazy. I purchased a couple of good books with good visual references," Revel said. "I used the internet. That was enough for me. What I didn't know was put in shadow. A major influence was Tim O'Brien's memoir, 'The Things They Carried.'

"'Apocalypse Now' is how i would characterize 'Guerillas' in that it's not a comic about Vietnam -- it's a story taking place in Vietnam. I wasn't in Vietnam -- it's not my story to tell," Revel continued. "'Platoon' is more of a great reference to feel what it was like to be in Vietnam."

Matt Dembicki's "XOC" is about "things a Great White shark encounters as it crosses the Pacific Ocean to give birth to its baby; other natural things and creatures, but also manmade things like pollution and other ecological issues. It's told as a narrative." Along the way the shark finds companionship in a sea turtle and the two "do talk to each other as a story moving device."

Stevens joked, "It's like a murderous 'Finding Nemo.'"

Dembicki has been working on "XOC" since 2008 when it began as a black and white mini-comic. He'd wake up at 4am when his kids were still asleep and pound out each chapter before work in the [later] morning, deciding "to just flow with it." He later shifted to color since it makes the book pop. He used the Mayan word for 'shark' to title his National Geographic-esque story, and getting deeper into the origins of "XOC," revealed a fascination for sharks since he was a kid.

Being out of the comics scene for some time, Dembicki's wife got him back into it with Neil Gaiman's "Sandman," and he returned to the stories he read in high school, such as Stephen R. Bissette's "Swamp Thing." This refueled his creative spirit, and he created a book called "Mr. Big" starring a snapping turtle in a pond environment. Out of that came "XOC."

"I did a lot of research for 'XOC' -- talked to researchers, National Geographic, shark experts. Everything in the book is research based," Dembicki said.

The biggest challenge for Dembicki was how to create a compelling narrative in comic book form about a non-anthropomorphic animal. "I tried to make it look interesting. It just kind of flowed out. Drawing the same shark and the same environment -- it was a challenge. An acceptable challenge," he said.

To close the panel, Jones saved the best for last as writer Cullen Bunn and artist Brian Hurtt spoke about their supernatural-western hit, "The Sixth Gun."

"'Sixth Gun' is an epic fantasy set in the old west," Bunn said with his southern twang. "It's the story of six pistols -- each has its own unique magical power. The most powerful has fallen into the hands of this innocent girl, and it's the story of her. She's a great gunslinger in her own right."

"The Sixth Gun" #24 marks a turning point in the series and begins the roller coaster ride towards the series' conclusion which, according to Bunn, is around #50.

"[Issue #24] is where Drake and Becky stand with each other since neither one of them trusts the other at this point. A number of characters are returning to the series who have been out for awhile. Gord Cantrell is coming back, but not coming back alone," Bunn said.

A fan asked if there are plans for any spinoffs once the series concludes. "That's an interesting question we'll answer in some time. There's been discussions about lots of things 'Sixth Gun' and beyond," Bunn answered. Hurtt had to put the brakes on, teasing Bunn to "not give away the whole series. People still need to buy it."

To date, all 24 issues of "The Sixth Gun" have shipped without missing a deadline and Jones, Bunn and Hurtt guarantee the trend will continue. Part of the reason why it's been on time is Bunn maintains a strict work schedule, keeping pace with his deadlines and allowing Hurtt adequate time to draw.

Asked how he can keep up with "Sixth Gun" and his growing work load over at Marvel Comics, Bunn answered, "It looks like it's all coming out at once but I've been working on those stories for a long time. I work nine to five straight through every day, take a three hour break and work at night, too. I say to myself I'm actually going to sit down and work... And I made a pledge to not do late comics. I don't do late comics.

"At one point I was six or seven issues ahead [with 'Sixth Gun'], but now I'm one or two. We're still well ahead, but with not as much of a cushion as it used to be," Bunn continued.

Bunn closed by pointing out "The Sixth Gun" #21 was an homage to Marvel's original "G.I. Joe" #21, the infamous silent issue. "That was my easiest issue to write," he said, looking at Hurtt with a smile.

Jones concluded the panel by announcing two titles slated for a January 2013 release, teasing that more details would be available coming at this year's New York Comic-Con: "Buzz" by Ananth Panagariya ("AppleGeeks") and cartoonist Tessa Stone ("Hannah Is Not A Boy's Name"), and "A Boy and a Girl" by Jamie S. Rich and artist Natalie Nourigat ("Between Gears").

He confirmed a new installment of "Blue Monday" is not on the schedule at this point, but is still in production. Creator Chynna Clugston has been cartooning full-time for the last 10 months and is now "getting back into a groove." When Oni has material they'll get it on the schedule. And finally, Jen Van Meter's "Hopeless Savages" has something new in development and production to be released in late 2013/early 2014.

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