CCI: The Image Comics Panel

PR and Marketing Coordinator Joe Keatinge moderated the Image Comics Show at Comic-Con International this Friday. A whole host of Image notables were on the panel alongside him, including "Invincible" and "The Walking Dead" writer Robert Kirkman, "Youngblood" creator Rob Liefeld, "Liberty Meadows" creator Frank Cho and "Mayhem" creator Tyrese Gibson. There were also some seemingly out-of-place figures like Ben Templesmith and other surprise guests.

The first announcement made was that Image Comics and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund are reuniting once more for "Liberty Comics" #2, as previously reported on CBR News. He listed some of the collaborations in the comic, including a story from Neil Gaiman and Jim Lee.

Keatinge mentioned several other new titles, including "One Model Nation" from Mike Allred, "Doc Bizarre, M.D." by Joe Casey and Andy Suriano, "Existence 3.0" by Nick Spencer and Ron Salas (which is a sequel miniseries to their currently-releasing "Existence 2.0") and a trio of new titles from the Frazetta Comics line, including more "Dark Kingdom" comics, a one-shot called "Invaders" and a Joe Hill-penned one-shot titled "Kodiak." It was also revealed that Alan Martin and Rufus Dayglo are bringing new installments of "Tank Girl" to Image Comics. Their first contribution is a one-shot titled "Dark Nuggets" that's releasing in December.

Next, Ben Templesmith's involvement in the panel was explained in gruesome detail. Before speaking about his new project at Image Comics, he assured fans that there would be more "Fell" from himself and Warren Ellis in the future. He then explained the concept of his new series "Choker," co-created and written by comics scribe Ben McCool. Templesmith described it as "a crime noir with a bit of a twist in an odd setting. Warren Ellis has given me permission to say that it's going to be a bit like 'Fell,' but with its face ripped off and with a bad case of gonorrhea."

Templesmith went slide-by-slide through the main characters of "Choker," including tough female cop Flynn "Dick Puncher" Walker, a Rick Moranis-like secretary Seaton "Worm" Price, demeaning police chief Milton Ellis and, of course, Johnny "Choker" Jackson, the protagonist of the series. A tagline was attached to the slide of Choker's image, revealing: "I once had an erection in a brothel. There were no survivors."

"If you like 'Twilight' and you're a tween, [Choker] is perfect for you," Templesmith joked.

The discussion then turned to Frank Cho's new comic book, "50 Girls 50," which he's writing alongside Doug Murray. Cho couldn't speak too much about the plot, but he did mention something that aspiring comic book artists should be interested in. "The big announcement is we're looking for an artist for it," he said. "We'll have a big announcement soon about the talent search for the artist, which we'll do after San Diego." Near the end of the panel, Cho's partner Murray added that the talent search would include both existing published artists as well as undiscovered ones. The one criterion for artists is they have to be good.

The proverbial spotlight was soon on Tyrese Gibson, though the literal lack of light was a problem for the creator. "Joe, we have a bit of a problem here," he said to Keatinge. "I'm the darkest guy on the panel and I don't think anyone can see me." After the joke, Gibson went on to praise his "Mayhem" team - co-writers Mike Le and Will Wilson, marketing guru Percy Carrey and artist Tone Rodriguez. He also praised Jim Lee as a big influence and announced that Lee will provide a wrap-around cover for "Mayhem."

"He put his blood, sweat and tears into this," Gibson described.

Gibson went on to detail the world of "Mayhem," which is about "a modern-day gunslinging vigilante who seeks refuge in the basement of a church." He also added that despite "Mayhem's" initial three-issue run, there would be more of the series.

"It's not going to be three books and we're gone," he said. "We're here to stay, baby."

As Gibson continued discussing "Mayhem," a new guest entered the panel - Todd McFarlane, the "Spawn" creator and one of many artists on "Image United." McFarlane and Gibson talked about their mutual affection for one another, which was fostered further by a recent trip that Gibson made to McFarlane's hometown of Phoenix, Arizona.

The focus then shifted to Robert Kirkman as he discussed the future of three of his projects. "It's a bold, new era for Invincible," he exclaimed, revealing a David Finch-illustrated cover to "Invincible Returns" #1, a special one-shot issue that sees Mark Grayson returning to his original yellow costume.

Kirkman then broke the news that "The Astounding Wolf-Man" would end after its 25th issue. "There's absolutely nothing we can do to top this story arc," he defended. "We're going to wrap this thing up, then Jason Howard and I are moving onto something new that's very exciting." Kirkman debuted the cover to the final issue of "Wolf-Man," and Gibson asked if one of the many wolves seen in the image was wearing a "Thunder Cats" shirt. Kirkman leapt to his feet and put Gibson in a chokehold, before turning the aggressive move into a friendly hug.

"That's called a Kirkman sandwich," Gibson laughed.

Kirkman moved onto "The Walking Dead," revealing that after a year of hinting at it, the cast of the series was finally headed to Washington, D.C. in a new story-arc called "Hope." The move is a significant one for the book and its characters, as Rick and company finally discover a pocket of civilization. "They're going to find civilization. The entire status quo is shifting. It's a very big change for us. There's going to be dinner parties, play dates, ice cream cones," he joked. "They encounter a safe zone. It's basically our characters have lived in this hellish world for so long and now they're forced to live in civilization. Some of them are not prepared to go back to what they once were. There's a lot of conflict, and this is the next evolution of the series."

Another Kirkman-penned series was the next topic of discussion, this time the long-awaited "Image United," a six-issue series that reunites six of the seven founding fathers of Image Comics slated for a November release. Rob Liefeld, silent until this point, turned to Tyrese Gibson with a challenge. "Tyrese, Jim has posted more work in one week for you than in an entire year," Liefeld said. "I think we should employ [Tyrese] and get Jim Lee involved in this." Keatinge asked the audience if they'd like to see Jim Lee on "Image United," which was met with uproarious applause. Tyrese proceeded to text message Lee right away.

McFarlane and Liefeld discussed the art process of "Image United," with Liefeld saying, "The correspondence between us would be a best-seller." In order to draw "Image United," the six artists constantly rotate pages between their locations across the country. McFarlane said that he typically gets the pages last, which affords him the opportunity to ink over some of the other creators' work and create a visual consistency across the book. Liefeld said that if McFarlane hadn't entered the comics industry as a penciler, he'd be "the best inker that's ever worked in comics."

Next, Keatinge highlighted a McFarlane-penciled cover for "Haunt" #2, which is coming out in October. Kirkman described the plot as about a secret agent who dies in the midst of a globally important mission. His ghost comes to haunt his loathed brother, a down-on-his-luck priest, and the two embark on high-stakes missions with one another despite their mutual sibling rivalry.

"It's been an exciting collaborative process for me, because I honestly didn't know exactly how involved Todd would be when we started out on this," Kirkman said. "Todd and I developed the concept together, and just the story input he's had alone has improved the book a great deal."

As Kirkman finished discussing "Haunt," the fruit of Tyrese Gibson's text messaging labor presented itself - Jim Lee, the seventh and absent Image Comics founder, joined the panel at Gibson's request. Liefeld asked Lee point blank if he'd be willing to get involved in "Image United," but Lee was non-committal due to his WildStorm obligations. Nonetheless, McFarlane praised Lee as one of the pivotal reasons that Image Comics was started in the first place. Lee was happy to return the compliments.

"It feels like I have six brothers at Image Comics, so it's a pleasure to be back here even for just a few minutes," he said, before leaving for a signing.

Lee's surprise visit was a tough act to follow, but McFarlane managed to ante up. The artist spoke about "Spawn" #200, which by his count is the longest running independent comic book in history. "The number in and of itself is the biggest part," he said. As the icing on the cake, McFarlane announced that he would fully illustrate "Spawn" #200 himself, with some fill-in flashbacks from other artists.

"I want to put a couple little flashbacks [in the issue]. What I'm hoping for is seeing if I can actually bug Rob [Liefeld] and Jim [Lee] and Whilce [Portacio] - everybody, sort of the founders - and see if I can get them to do it," he explained. "I'm going to start stretching my artistic reach a little deeper. You'll start seeing it in the covers and the 'Spawn' comic books leading up to #200."

That was the final announcement, which paved the way for some fan questions.

Kirkman was asked when Allen the Alien and Omni Man would return in "Invincible." He pointed towards issues #66 and #67, two special issues that focus on those characters that are fully illustrated by "Invincible" co-creator Cory Walker. Kirkman said he'd have more to say on that front during his Kirkmania! Panel later in the day.

Kirkman was also asked if there was any chance of a "Walking Dead" film. The writer said he'd prefer to see it as a television series, and that there might be some news on that front soon - though he admitted, "Hollywood is a fickle beast."

One audience member asked McFarlane if he could draw a "My Little Pony" sketch for his wife, as several other Image creators - including Kirkman - have already contributed. "I might be able to do it, but you must realize that Todd's 'My Little Pony' is slightly different than everybody else's," he joked. "Dark form with the big thorns coming in, then you take that big stretchy tail and strangle people... 'My Little Pony,' this!"

Another fan asked if McFarlane had any news on the "Spawn" film front. Kirkman immediately suggested Tyrese Gibson for the role of Al Simmons, which prompted the muscled Gibson to stand and strike a pose. "I had Mel Gibson in mind," McFarlane quipped. He added that he's getting phone calls from studios nearly every day, and he's currently weighing whether or not to go with a big studio that would let him produce the film, or a smaller studio that would let him write, direct and produce it.

"They don't want to negotiate anything away," he said of the smaller studios. "They're going, 'Whatever you want, we'll do it, when can you start and when can we put it on the schedule? When, when, when, when, when?' The only thing that's slowing it down is ... trying to put the toy company in order, my entertainment company in order, and the comic book company in order. Just so I can say 'Good, it's in the place that I want,' so I can walk away and devote six, seven or eight months of my life to do that movie the way that I want."

Lastly, Kirkman was asked if he'd ever return to "Battle Pope." He said that he plans on getting back to it eventually, but his docket is a little full at present. "I started my career on 'Battle Pope,' so it'd be cool to end my career on 'Battle Pope,'" he said. "So... maybe next year?"

Jeff Lemire's New Image Series Promises Body Horror, Family Drama

More in Comics