Image Comics' new PR and Marketing Cooridinator Sarah deLaine opened the first panel of the Emerald City Comicon, by thanking the fans for coming and introducing the packed lineup of creators in attendance on the stage. John Layman, Nick Spencer, Jim Zubkavich, Kurtis Wiebe, Scott Kowalchuk, Riley Rossmo, Sina Grace, Jay Faerber and Ron Marz were all in attendance to discuss recent and ongoing success stories as well as news and announcements about their respective titles.

First up was John Layman, who, due to the success of his Eisner Award-winning book "Chew," Sarah dubbed "the Julia Child of comics." Layman began by explaining, "['Chew' artist] Rob [Guillory] had a baby, so we knew we were going to be a little late." The writer went on to let readers know "Chew" #18 was well into production and would be on time, closely followed by a special event, exclusively for monthly readers of the series. "After #18, we're jumping ahead and doing issue #27, only for the floppy readers, possibly not even digital. We're going to show you where everything is going to be. It's going to be really funny, then it's going to get dark, suck for a while and then get awesome," he explained as the audience laughed and applauded appreciatively.

Nick Spencer, who made a big splash in comics last year with his Image title, "Morning Glories," gave hints of the path the series would take while sharing news on his new title, "Infinite Vacation."

"Issues #7 [of 'Morning Glories'] just came out, so it makes sense that #8 would come out next," Spencer deadpanned. "This second arc is a chance to get to know these kids a little bit better. Issues #7 through 12 will focus on individual spotlights. First up is Hunter," Spencer told the crowd. "The first trade is out. $9.99 for 102 pages. Me and [cover artist] Rodin [Esquejo] are planning something special for the end of the year, so keep your eyes tuned...did I just say that?" the writer joked before offering the alternative of keeping eyes peeled and ears tuned for news while the panel chuckled at his discomfort.

Spencer continued, offering a bit of news on his latest Image title, "Infinite Vacation." "The second issue is coming out at the end of March, [which will be] the continuing adventures of Mark trying to find out what is happening in all of these infinite realities."

Next, deLaine introduced Jim Zubkavich to the assembled fans as "the mad man behind 'Skullkickers'" while making sure audience members knew about the ECCC exclusive hardcover of the first "Skullkickers" collection.

Zubkavich opened by describing fan response to his book. "We came out in September and surprised a lot of people with the quality of the book. I describe it as a buddy cop movie slams into 'Conan.' We're having a ball with it, playing against type [and producing] a fantasy book in a superhero dominated industry. Our second story arc kicks off in May. 'Five Funerals and a Bucket of Blood' -- it's a riff on urban fantasy." The writer warned readers that he and series artist Edwin Huang were going to take a small break between story arcs and elaborated on his ideal publishing schedule "What I'd like to do is a five-issue story arc and then a jam issue, then a break month to bring out the trade. If I have my druthers, that's how we'll do it."

Kurtis Wiebe and Scott Kowalchuk, the creators of "The Intrepids," took the mic next with Wiebe commenting the good buzz and solid sales on issue #1, describing the series as "kind of like 'The Goonies' meets 'James Bond' -- with big, cybernetic bears." As the audience laughed, Kowalchuk added the caveat, "There is only one bear -- don't get your hopes up." Wiebe laughed, telling the crowd, "There's a more serious tone to it, I just use that to keep the story flowing. Scott draws it so well."

Kowalchuk had his own take on "The Intrepids," describing it as "[a] cross between 'X-Men' and 'Scooby Doo,' so get ready for that. I'm well into issue #4. We've got some baboons! There's monkeys, so stick with it, it's the cats pajamas!"

The next tile discussed was Wiebe's "Green Wake," a marked change of pace from the mad scientist atmosphere of "Intrepids" -- though Kowalchuk was quick to interject, "there are a lot of cybernetic bears in it, though." Wiebe made sure the audience realized "'Green Wake' is a horror book inspired by [the David Lynch TV series] 'Twin Peaks,'" noting his stay in Seattle was roving to be somewhat unsettling. "I started recognizing where 'Twin Peaks' was shot last night, it was intense."

Weibe went on to describe the series in more detail, explaining, "'Green Wake' is the town where [the story] is set. People find themselves there, but they don't know how or why they got there." Wiebe wanted people to know that he felt it was some of Riley Rossmo's best work. Rossmo added, "I'm going to try really hard to offend," to which Weibe added, "He actually did offend our editor! My reaction was [a pantomimed dropping of the jaw]. In the script, I'd very loosely described something. My actual reaction was, 'Oh, God! I don't think we can publish this!"' The audience laughed as Riley assured the writer, "It's all good." Wiebe immediately shot back, "No, it isn't," before telling the audience, "It's some of Riley's best work, so check it out."

Sina Grace, the artist for "Li'l Depressed Boy," or as deLaine described it, "a hip love story," was next. He told the audience, "I draw this book and my friend S. Steven Struble writes it. It's about this ragdoll boy who falls for this manic pixie girl. I have a couple of copies of issue #1 and #2 for sale here at the Image booth, and #3 and #4 are all ready to go on sale on schedule. We can look forward to [the ragdoll boy] going on these really nice dates with the girl. Unfortunately, he realizes that he doesn't know her name, so he and his friend try to figure out her name. And, I swear to God ,there are zombies! In issue #3, they go to a concert. Pick it up!"

Jay Faerber, the creator and writer of "Noble Causes" and "Dynamo 5," took the spotlight next in order to discuss his new title, "Near Death," set to come out in the Fall. Faerber said, "It's totally unlike anything I've ever written. A straight crime book, nothing fantastic about it. Pure crime. It's about a hit man who has a near death experience, and in that time he sees the hell that awaits him, so when he's revived, he decides he will try to balance the scales. He goes around saving people, but not because he likes them. He's still an asshole, he just wants to save himself. It's drawn by Simone Guglielmini, who draws it in a dark, noir, Sean Philips style. We're not launching the book until later in the year so we can make sure the book comes out on schedule."

Ron Marz, the writer of "Witchblade" "Artifacts" and numerous other titles, was on the panel to announce "Deadlands," a series of four one-shots based on the popular RPG. "When I was offered the chance to edit these four one-shots, I leapt at the chance to work on a western. Now, there aren't many Westerns in comics anymore, and even though I don't play these role playing games, I wanted to take this chance and hire the teams I thought would do the best job. Creators include David Gallaher and Steve Ellis in June, Lee Moder, Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray in July, Bart Sears and me in August, Steve Niles and Franceso Francavilla in September. Chuck Sellner and Oscar Capritsto are doing a back up story that spans all four one-shots. The chief thing to take away from this is, you don't have to know anything about the RPG world. If you're not a gamer, it doesn't matter -- these are just cool stories."

With that, deLaine opened the floor up to questions from the audience.

The first question went back to the first topic of the panel, the teaser from the far future issue that John Layman hinted at. The fan asked, "Can you tell us anything about what we'll see in 'Chew' #27?"

Layman laughed and said, "It's the psychedelic frogs issue. People are licking frogs and tripping out."

The next audience member had a statement rather than a question, but it was an unintentionally contentious one. "I really appreciate that [your] focus is on the art and the writing, and not making a bundle of money."

The entire panel laughed, but they were quick to comment with Marz immediately responding, "To be honest, no one is making a bundle on these books. No one gets paid to make a book. When you put down your three dollars -- not four dollars! -- you're paying these guys directly. There is a direct correlation between what you buy and what these guys get paid. The big publishers aren't going to make these books, so it's great that you support this. If you want new and exciting stuff, it isn't going to come from Warner Brothers or Disney, it's going to come from us. When you buy an Image book, that's a vote for more of that kind of stuff."

The next audience member simply asked, "What is the intent of an issue #0?"

deLaine explained they could happen in the instance of an origin story or a prelude, but Marz joked, "The real reason is that you can't publish #1 twice."

Jim Zubkavich commented, explaining, "It was a way for us to propagate some stuff that wasn't in print, to raise the profile of the book and put out intro from the 'Popgun' [anthology short story.]"

Next up was a question from a local fan who felt that the choice of inspiration for "Green Wake" was close to home, so he inquired, "Kurtis and Riley; Do both of you live in Washington state?"

Wiebe replied in the negative, and Rossmo added, "The more we worked on it and the more we talked about it, we both independently came to 'Twin Peaks' as a reference and took what we thought was important out of it." Wiebe continued "I like the theme of 'Twin Peaks,' that on the surface of it everything seems so normal, but the further in we go, the creepier it gets. We're both really open to it and seeing how the story develops and comes through."

The next question was another very simple and direct one: "Whatever happened to 'Cyberforce?'"

After a brief pause, Marz replied, "And everyone looks at me! 'Cyberforce' is appearing in 'Artifacts.' Not everyone will make it out of that. Top Cow is talking about doing another series, but I'm not writing because they have to let some other people write something. I love those characters, I know who will be drawing it and he's the right man. The 'Cyberforce' team is there, they're vital to the Top Cow Universe, but taking the plunge and doing a monthly series isn't something you can just jump into. We don't want late issues, so the best thing is to have it in the can for months."

The next question returned the focus to "Green Wake," saying the series "sounds pretty creepy. I was curious about something dark and scary like 'Green Wake.' What is the message and what is the point?

Rossmo responded, "We're building a world, but the main themes are guilt and the baggage that people carry with them --and then really gross shit. Think 'Saw' meets 'Let the Right One In.'"

The next question was a follow-up to Rossmo's answer, asking, "Why do we love that?"

Rossmo speculated that, perhaps "we like to feel bad, it gives you a sense of emotional fulfillment. I like to hurt?" he half asked himself and the audience. Wiebe joked that Rossmo "also likes to hurt me too," before continuing in a more serious vein. "For me, it's really like, guilt holds it all together. On the website, there's a five page preview where [the main character] Morely is narrating, his whole monologue is talking about loss, how we carry that with us, how we deal with it and how we move on." Rossmo wanted the audience to understand, despite these larger plot points, "There is a beginning, a middle and an end [to the story]." Wiebe elaborated that despite the finite storyline for the current "Green Wake" series, there would still be opportunities for more "We plan to maybe follow it up, but there is a definite end."

With that, Sarah deLaine thanked the creators and the audience for attending the first panel of the convention and invited people to visit the comic book creators at the Image booth as the panel wrapped.

Tags: image comics, nick spencer, jim zubkavich, ron marz, riley rossmo, kurtis j wiebe, john layman, sina grace, chew, jay faerber, skullkickers, morning glories, scott kowalchuk, infinite vacation, the intrepids, eccc2011, green wake, li'l depressed bo

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