As Udon Entertainment Marketing Director Christopher Butcher introduced the publisher's panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego, a ninja slipped in and sat up at the table to his left.
The not-so-stealthy ninja was soon revealed to be Long Vo, the creator of the game Go Ninja, a free app for Android and iOS. Vo had some news about his game: Mythbusters team member Grant Imahara is now an unlockable character.
That guest appearance was completely in the spirit of Udon, best known for its video game comics and artbooks, but the panel revealed some new directions for the Toronto-based publisher, as well as a revitalized lineup of artbooks and manga.
In a series of announcements often greeted by applause, marketing director Christopher Butcher revealed several new video game artbooks, a new line of anime artbooks, and two new "Street Fighter" graphic novels, and then he told the audience that as of that moment, Udon would be serializing its older Street Fighter graphic novels on the web, at Street Fighter Comics Online, for free.
Udon's limited edition hardcover "Marvel vs. Capcom" book sold out quickly at their booth, despite the $100 price tag. The book has never been released in Japan and contains materials never-before-published on either side of the Pacific. Because of the demand, Udon is pushing up the release of its softcover edition (priced at $44.99) and will have a limited number of copies available for pre-order through their online store and at their booth at Penny Arcade Expo in September.
At the outset of the panel, Butcher noted that when he came on board, some of the books were running late. "We might have had a bit of a reputation for stuff getting pushed back," he said, "but we promised we weren't going to solicit any new books or announce any books until they were ready to go. Seeing as it's almost August, we are happy to say that as of next month we will have completely cleared our backlist, everything will be on time and all of our new projects have been on time and will continue to be on time throughout the year."
After that, the announcements came thick and fast. After highlighting the fall lineup, Butcher launched into new title announcements.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of "Street Fighter," and Butcher had four "Street Fighter" projects to announce. "Street Fighter vs. Tekken Artworks" is an artbook featuring behind-the-scenes interviews with people who worked on the series. "If you want to know why Guile's hair is like that, there is an explanation in there," said Udon CEO Erik Ko, adding that the Tekken team contributed notes as to how they came up with the character designs.
Udon will also publish two Street Fighter graphic novels. "We have been away from Street Fighter comics for a bit," said managing editor Matt Moylan, "and we're bringing them back. Rather than doing monthly floppy comics, we are doing full sized original graphic novels, hard cover, oversized like our art books, 100 to 150 pages each." The first volume of "Super Street Fighter: New Generation," due out in November, is part of a new anthology series that will feature Udon creators drawing Street Fighter stories. "This is the continuation of our main Street Fighter story," said Moylan. "We are jumping ahead to the 'Street Fighter 3' era, but it is not going to be just 'Street Fighter 3'; there's going to be all the characters from every era in this story." The lead story will be drawn by Jeffrey "Chamba" Cruz, and the creative team also includes Udon project manager Jim Zubkavich (writer of "Skullkickers"), "Girl Seven" artist Omar Dogan, Vo, "Skullkickers" artist Edwin Huang and writer Chris Sims.
"The big group of seemingly random characters that are on the cover, every one of them is going to be in the book," said Moylan. "Every cover is going to have a bunch of seemingly random characters, but they all tie in."
The other Street Fighter graphic novel is "Akuma: Origins," which focuses on the early life of the character.
The final Street Fighter announcement was that Udon is serializing the early Street Fighter comics online. "When we signed our original contract with Capcom in 2003, there were no digital rights," said Butcher. "No one worried about online comics; that's crazy talk. When we renegotiated our contract, we had a deep understanding of digital now, so all of our comics are going to be available digitally."
"For free," added Ko.
Issues #0 and #1 went up right away and issue #2 is being serialized one page at a time.
Butcher also announced that Udon's launch for a line of anime artbooks in the fall, starting with several "Neon Genesis Evangelion" tie-ins.
The first is "The Evangelion Chronicles," based on a monthly magazine that adds a lot of detail to the backgrounds of the TV shows, Butcher said. "It's material that didn't appear in the animated series, didn't appear in the magazines, it was created exclusively for 'The Evangelion Chronicles' by the creators of 'Evangelion,'" he said. While two books by character designer Yoshiyuki Sadamoto have been published in English, this is the first English-language chronicle of the series, and Butcher said it will be a hybrid of artbook and guide to the series. "Basically if you're a fan of 'Evangelion,' it's like reliving the series from scratch," he said.
Two more artbooks are based on the magazine series as well including "Evangelion Chronicle: Side A," which covers the first 13 episodes of the TV show, and "Evangelion Chronicle: Side B," which covers the last 13 episodes plus the movies.
Besides the three "Evangelion" books, Udon will publish two more anime artbooks, "The Read or Die: R.O.D. Official Archive" and "The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya: Haruhi-ism," featuring the original character illustrations by Noizi Ito. Butcher said that more Haruhi artbooks will follow.
Ko urged the audience to let him know via Facebook if there were particular artbooks they would like to see Udon publish. Zubkavich added, "We did 'Valkyrie, Book 1,' and seriously, the amount of Tweets and the Facebook posts we got about Book 2 -- We were not originally going to grab Book 2, but Erik was overwhelmed by the response from the fans online and so he looked into getting the license and we tracked it down. So it does make a difference. We're a much smaller company than I think people realize and we love interacting with you guys and hearing what you think."
The panel also included announcements of new video game artbooks. "The History of Sonic the Hedgehog" was actually announced before SDCC and is the first Sonic artbook published in English. "Shining Hearts: Collection of Visual Materials" continues a series of artbooks based on the Shining world with artwork by illustrator Tony Taka. "There's an awesome section at the end which is four pages dedicated to different types of bread," Moylan said. "All nice, awesome pinup girls and a loaf of bread." "The Art of Darksiders 2" is a companion volume to the game "Darksiders 2" and the first "Darksiders" artbook and will feature art by Joe Madureira.
Scott Campbell of Double Fine Studios introduced "The Art of BrÃ¼tal Legend," based the video game starring Jack Black as Eddie Riggs, a roadie who travels back in time to a Middle Ages inspired by heavy-metal album covers.
"When this guy wakes up, back in the Middle Ages, it looks amazing," he said. "Chrome volcanoes and demons with writhing backs of muscle and beautiful women and barbarians battling, things like that, and there's rock stars and metal growing out of the environments and hot rods you can harvest, you could harvest the chrome from the bamboo forest and things like that."
In addition to the Marvel vs. Capcom book, Udon had two other video game artbooks at the show, "DISGAEArt!! Disgaea Official Illustration Collection" and "Shining Force Feather: Design Works."
Other books featured at the panel included the first volume of Zubkavich's graphic novel "Makeshift Miracle," currently serialized online; "Apple Selection," a collection of comics and pinup art from Korea, and two new manga, vol. 1 of "Captain Commando" (described by Butcher as " old school beat 'em up manga, about a legion of really weird dudes") and vol. 2 of "Sengoku Basara."
The panel ended shortly after, leaving the audience to anticipate the new release from Udon in the coming year.