ECCC: Skybound's On the Rise Panel Spotlights Up-And-Coming Stars

Friday afternoon at the Emerald City Comicon in Seattle, Skybound editorial director Sean Mackiewicz brought together some of their best new talents to discuss the future of "Walking Dead" creator Robert Kirkman's Image Comics imprint. Panelists included "Glory" and "Tech Jacket" writer Joe Keatinge, "Ghosted" writer Joshua Williamson and "Outcast" artist Paul Azaceta.

Mackiewicz kicked off the panel by going over some of Skybound's upcoming releases. "The Walking Dead" #126 concludes the yearlong "All-Out War" storyline and is in stores next month. Mackiewicz said, "As opposed to most covers of ["The Walking Dead,"] everything that's on that cover actually happens. I think you can prepare to be very surprised by the end."

A variant cover of "The Walking Dead" #1 by Erik Larsen and Dave Stewart was created exclusively for the convention, along with a black-and-white variant featuring the same art.

Moving to next month, "Walking Dead" #127 is a double-sized issue picking up after the events of "All-Out War" and features a brand new band of survivors on the cover.

"There's a lot of new faces on there," said Mackiewicz. "There's a lot of speculation online as to who everybody is and where the regular cast is. All will be answered inside."

Mackiewicz showed off the trade dress for "The Walking Dead en Español" volume 4. The "en Español" series is Skybound's attempt to translate the complete "Walking Dead" to Spanish.

"We've been putting one of these out every quarter, and I think it's a great way to grab new readers, said Mackiewicz. "If you're looking to learn Spanish in a fun way, check it out."

Skybound begins touring "The Walking Dead: Escape," their infamous San Diego zombie obstacle course, around the country this year. "It'll show you how in shape you aren't," joked Mackiewicz. They plan on doing around two events a month.

"Outcast" is a new series by Kirkman and Azaceta about a man who has been plagued by demonic possessions his entire life. "Outcast" is Kirkman's first new horror series since launching "The Walking Dead" a decade ago.

"This is my first real dive into horror. I'm looking forward to really getting into it," Azaceta said. "It's different than the 'Walking Dead' stuff which is more in-your-face- gore scary. This is more moody and more atmospheric... A darker, creepy, unsettling horror."

The panel turned to Keatinge, who announced an ongoing "Tech Jacket" series with artist Khary Randolph. Starting in July, the ongoing series is due to the sales success of their digital-only "Tech Jacket Digital" earlier this year.

Mackiewicz then played a brief video greeting from Randolph, who was hard at work drawing "Tech Jacket" #5 across the country in Brooklyn.

"If you're watching 'The Walking Dead' and you're wondering, 'Where are all the black people?' They're busy drawing books for Robert Kirkman," Randolph joked.

Keatinge said, "The idea with 'Tech Jacket Digital' was, 'Who is this guy and where has he been?' To catch you up with Zach and his situation... Now that we've established his character, we can put him in the largest-scale, sci-fi, blockbuster situation you can. The only budget rule we have is Khary's art."

Williamson complimented Keatinge's recent output, comparing it to Jack Kirby's work, before talking about his own Skybound ongoing series "Ghosted," currently in its second arc. "Ghosted" follows the supernatural adventures of "master heist planner" Jackson Winters after he's broken out of prison.

In the first arc, Winters hunted down and captured an actual ghost for an eccentric collector. In the current arc, Winters investigates a demonic cult that's been kidnapping young women for use in secretive rituals.

"He finds out this cult only kidnaps possessed women," Williamson said. "He thinks it has to be a sex thing because it has to be some sort of twisted fucked-up thing, but he gets there and there's a party. It's like a resort. He finds out [these kidnapped women] are treated like princesses until they start to show signs of possession. Then they make these women write books of the dead, like the Necronomicon, the Book of the Dead, the Codex. All these books have been written by these women in this cult, and when they stop producing, they kill the women and turn their flesh into the book's paper."

Mackiewicz showed off more upcoming Skybound projects, starting with the cover for the second collected edition of writer Christopher Dingess' and artist Matt Roberts' "Manifest Destiny." The book reimagines Lewis and Clark' famous expedition across America as a mission to rid North America of deadly monsters. The first arc dealt with Buffalotaur, a Buffalo version of a Minotaur, and the book's second arc, beginning in June's issue #7, deals with river monsters.

"Sales of this climb every month," Mackiewicz said. "I think it really exemplifies everything that Skybound does, great characters and a lot of surprises every issue."

"Dead Body Road" by writer Justin Jordan and artist Matteo Scalera wraps up in May with issue #6. The book is about a man who sets out to kill every single person involved in the murder of his wife. The collected edition hits in July.

May's "Invincible" #111 is regular series artist Ryan Ottley's 100th issue. To commemorate the event, Ottley was allowed to do anything he wanted for the cover, so he decided to do a pencils-only sketch cover. Mackiewicz said it's like three first issues in one.

"It's the start of a brand-new arc that's basically going to destroy 'Invincible' and turn everything you love about 'Invincible' upside down," Mackiewicz said. "Robert handed me a list of characters about a month ago and I was like, 'So is this who you want to kill?' and he said, 'Yeah, absolutely.'"

Andy Diggle takes over as the ongoing writer "Thief of Thieves" with issue #20. In new arc "The Hitlist," master thief Conrad is out for revenge against people who have crossed him in the past.

Mackiewicz then showed a logo for, but refused to give up any story details about, Skybound's first feature film "Air," currently in production. "Air" stars "The Walking Dead's" Norman Reedus and "Guardians of the Galaxy's" Djimon Hounsou.

Mackiewicz used the closing moments of the panel to take questions from the floor.

A fan asked if "Tech Jacket Digital" would come out in print. Mackiewicz said it'd be in the second collected volume of "Tech Jacket," coming out later this year.

Someone pointed out that "Ghosted" not only shares a lead character name with the hit show "Sons of Anarchy," but it also heavily uses biker imagery. Williamson responded, "I am a 'Sons of Anarchy' fan, and I've been trying to name a character Jackson for my entire career and, for whatever reason, it was always shot down. Even in 'Ghosted' he originally had a different name. He had a different name in all the first five versions of the script. His name was a play on Howard Hughes' secret name [at one point.] So I changed it to Jackson, and finally somebody said I could just call him Jackson. You guys have no idea how happy I was when I got to name him that. So yeah, I am a big 'Sons of Anarchy' fan and that does influence it."

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