ECCC12: Vertigo: New Blood Panel

Saturday's Vertigo:New Blood panel at Emerald City Comicon began the same as it ended - with someone singing David Bowie's "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide." In between the singing, the fate of "iZombie" was revealed, the new crop of Vertigo books were discussed, and Bill Willingham was asked a couple times if he thought other creators were ripping him off.

Joining Vertigo Group Editor Shelly Bond on the panel were Mike Allred ("iZombie"); Bill Willingham ("Fables," "Fairest"); the creative team behind Vertigo's newest original graphic novel "Shooters," Eric Trautmann, Brandon Jerwa and Steve Lieber; and Dustin Nguyen, who was there to talk about the new "American Vampire" mini-series he's currently illustrating.

It was Mike Allred who tried to inspire the panel with some Bowie-esque crooning before the panel started, with the first few lines of the Bowie classic. The dark lyrics also worked pretty well foreshadowing the imminent demise of "iZombie" discussed during the panel.

But the panel began with talking about "Shooters," which is being released in April. Writer Trautmann talked about the contemporary military drama, set in the last decade, during the last Iraq War.

"I'm sorry I'm going to bring the room down right away, it is loosely -- very loosely -- based the events surrounding my brother-in-law's death in combat," Trautmann said, adding that "Shooters" is a character piece with some pretty emotionally-heavy subjects, following a special forces soldier who suffers post-traumatic stress disorder and a collapsing marriage after he returns from Iraq, then works for a private military company.

Artist Steve Lieber said he took on the project because "I like drawing violence with consequences" and very real fallout. He cited a scene featuring a friendly fire incident that's "grueling, heartbreaking and really, really tough to read because it actually happened."

The panel then turned to Willingham who dished on his new "Fables" spinoff, "Fairest."

"'Fairest' is not 'Fables Lite,' or 'Fables Also,' or 'Fables Part 2,'" said Willingham, who explained that the series is a chance to tell some of the smaller-scale, more personal stories involving the Fables - something he admitted has dropped off since the stories in "Fables" tend to skew towards the epic and juggle the sprawling cast of characters.

Willingham teased that the first arc of "Fairest" came from his desire to tell a love triangle, bedroom farce. He said he would not reveal who the love triangle is between, mentioning Sleeping Beauty, Ali Baba, the Snow Queen and possibly even the d'jinn as candidates, but saying that "it's definitely up in the air as to exactly whose story this first arc is."

After Willingham's "Fairest" arc ends, Matt Sturges will write an issue before Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning sci-fi author Lauren Beukes ("Zoo City") makes her debut writing the Fables, telling a Rapunzel story that takes place in Japan. Then Hollywood import Sean Williams will write a character from India, and Chris Roberson and Shawn McManus will return with a Cinderella story.

Then the discussion shifted, as Bond and Allred discussed the looming conclusion to "iZombie."

"We've got a lot of exciting months ahead of us. We're working towards an absolutely dynamic conclusion to the book," said Bond, confirming the book will end with issue #28 in August.

"I'm just excited that I heard we can tell people it's reaching its awesome conclusion," said Allred, who talked about how much fun it's been for him to bring the eclectic cast of monsters to his current hometown Eugene, Oregon, his favorite place in the world - next to Seattle, he said, playing to the home crowd.

He teased the upcoming galactic climax that the series is already building towards.

"It's really thrilling to be able to put all of these events into my backyard, and so when the sky opens up and space monsters come spilling out into my neighborhood, it's something I've never been able to do before," he said with a chuckle. "So, it's a lot of fun."

Dustin Nguyen talked about his new "American Vampire" mini-series, sub-titled "Lord of Nightmares." The Scott Snyder-written series will pick up where the last mini-series, "Survival of the Fittest," left off, focusing on Felicia in the 1950s.

The first issue of "American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares" will drop in June, and feature painted covers by Nguyen, who will also be inking himself. "If you come to Vertigo, you have to be a real artist," he said.

Then, a slide presentation showed off some upcoming Vertigo art, including the four brand new Vertigo series that premiered in March, "Fairest," "Dominique Laveau: Voodoo Child," "Saucer Country" and "The New Deadwardians."

When one of "Fairest" covers was shown, Mike Allred asked how Adam Hughes was brought aboard as the series cover artist.

Willingham revealed that Hughes told him a while back that he had been doing a lot of convention sketches of the Fables characters, so Hughes picked up the book and quickly got into it, asking Willingham if there was any chance he could do the series' covers.

They weren't going to fire James Jean, the then-cover artist, but Willingham had proposed he create a new series for Hughes, to which Hughes instantly agreed, much to Willingham's surprise.

"We were like daring each other into it, so he kind of just requested the gig and he got it."

Bond then wished Willingham a happy anniversary, referencing the upcoming 10 year anniversary of "Fables."

"Thank you. We are coming up on 10 years of continuous publication, and those of you that know anything about my career, the words 'continuous publication" doesn't arise often in it," said the writer.

The conversation turned to the current "Cubs in Toyland" arc, to which Willingham gave a parental advisory, warning any that parents in the audience are going to want to keep a close watch on their kids after reading this story.

"Toyland is not exactly the Toyland you expect," hinting at the some sinister things to come, potentially involving balloons.

More art was shown, including a Mark Buckingham-illustrated double-page spread that got applause from the crowd, a splash page of the cub Therese and a new painted wraparound cover from Buckingham that will be part of a new reprinting of the first volume of "Fables."

Then a trippy, cosmic variant cover by Mike Allred to the upcoming "Mystery In Space" anthology was shown. The anthology will feature Paul Pope, Andy Diggle, and lots of newcomers, said Bond.

Allred talked about the story that connects to his cover.

"The story that goes with this, that I wrote and drew, is the scariest thing I could think of. I suffer from existential anxiety. And the six-page story in there wraps that up in a nutshell."

The panel opened questions from the audience, and it was only a matter of time before someone asked Willingham about a certain prime-time ABC fantasy series featuring fairy tales.

"When 'Once Upon A Time' came out, did you feel they changed your story just enough?" asked the audience member.

"This is such a thing for people, and I'll tell you when I first heard about it, I was a little worried. We had been shopping 'Fables' around for 10 years, and I'm thinking well, have we missed the boat, have we missed our opportunity... and now these different type of fairy tale-related things are coming out," Willingham said.

"So, I was a little concerned, but I'm happy to say that looking at the show, and talking to the creators in advance, my fears were eased."

Willingham, who was written about the comparisons before, acknowledged he wasn't the first, or second, or third person to draw from the fairy tale well. He also added there's been an advantage to the show.

"Yeah, we've gotten readers from 'Once Upon A Time' and 'Grimm.' I'm very pro- anything that gets the idea out there that this is the age of this kind of stuff," he said.

Then Allred was asked that if there will be a chance of seeing The Dead Presidents, the eclectic supernatural government agents, after "iZombie" wraps up. Bond said that the last two storylines will form a complete ending to the series, and Allred said that "there are no plans. But I would be interested in that because I love those characters."

Speaking of fan-favorite characters, Willingham was asked if there were plans to cure a fan's Blue Ox withdrawal.

"Yeah," Willingham, said of Babe the Blue Ox's return. "There will be more unless those 'Once Upon A Time' guys rip him off, too," Willingham said to audience laughter.

Then someone asked Willingham is he thinks Neil Gaiman was inspired to write "American Gods" after reading his "Proposition Player."

"Yes. Neil Gaiman ripped off every idea I've ever had. He built a career on it. His riches are mine. His really adorable fans are mine," Willingham said to even more laughter from the crowd, before adding tongue-in-cheek that there was also a chance Gaiman was inspired to write "American Gods" by reading something outside comics.

The panel ended with trivia, prizes and a sing-off, including two very different takes on "Rock 'N' Roll Suicide."

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