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EXCLUSIVE: "Witchblade" to End in October, Sejics Now Top Cow-Exclusive

UPDATE 6/26/15 4:15 PM PT: Stjepan Sejic has confirmed via a post on the CBR Community that with the news of his exclusive deal with Top Cow, he is no longer the artist of "Rat Queens," published by fellow Image Comics imprint Shadowline. Sejic cited health issues for delays, and said that while he's leaving "Rat Queens," he'll be replaced by an as-yet unnamed "wonderfully skilled artist."

"Truth is, this was a bad year for me health-wise," Sejic wrote. "As you will soon see in my letter of apology for lateness in "IXth Generation" #4... I ignored my thyroid condition until it threw my liver out of whack and I spent the last two months in perpetual nausea. I believe 'Rat Queens' fans deserve better than a delay after delay on such a wonderful book so I offered to step down. Luckily, I am to be replaced by a wonderfully skilled artist."

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Sejic was announced as the new artist of the Kurtis Wiebe-written series in December 2014, following the departure of original "Rat Queens" artist Roc Upchurch amid allegations of domestic abuse against his estranged wife.

Top Cow Productions is set to celebrate the 20th anniversary of "Witchblade" this October -- by ending the series. CBR has learned that "Witchblade" will come to a close with October's issue #185, and has the exclusive first word from Top Cow President and COO Matt Hawkins on the end of the series, plus more notable developments from Marc Silvestri's slice of Image Comics.

"The end of the ongoing 'Witchblade' series with issue #185 is the end of Sara Pezzini as the Witchblade bearer," Hawkins told CBR News, saying that nothing "cliffhangery-dramatic" is planned for the final issue. "She doesn't die, but has loose ends to wrap up before her 'retirement.' One of her key character traits has always been that she didn't want the Witchblade to fall into the hands of a woman who would use it for evil. Long term fans will be pleased with how her character wraps up. We've been planning for the 20th anniversary for a long time now, and the timing just worked out that we could do it this way."

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"Witchblade" #185 will feature a main story by regular series writer Ron Marz, along with a backup co-written by Hawkins and Silvestri. A variety of "Witchblade" artists past and present will contribute to the issue, including Keu Cha, Stjepan Sejic, Randy Green, Nelson Blake II and Brian Ching.

"We want to give her the proper send off," Hawkins said. "Ron Marz is writing the forward story to wrap up her personal life. I'm writing the back story with Marc Silvestri and this part is about what to do about the Witchblade so that it doesn't fall into wrong hands. This series of 'auditions,' for lack of a better way to say it, is where I've been allowed the luxury of doing a series of short stories with a variety of artists."

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Also included in "Witchblade" #185 is the series' original artist, Michael Turner, who passed away in 2008. The main cover will be an homage to his cover of 1995's "Witchblade" #1, and his work will be represented inside the issue, as well.

"The Michael Turner short is a rescripted short from a scene that he drew 20 years ago," Hawkins said. "It seemed fitting to allow Mike to be involved with the end of the character's story that his creative involvement was so pivotal in."

"Witchblade" debuted in 1995, created by Silvestri, Turner, David Wohl, Brian Haberlin and Christina Z. The series soon became a hit and inspired a TNT television series that ran for two seasons, while also being criticized at times as an example of '90s comic book excess. In recent years, the series moved away from the scantily clad depictions of the main character to generally more covered-up depictions.

Along with the end of "Witchblade," October also brings a new 20th anniversary "Art of" hardcover celebrating the two-decade run of the series.

"This is a carefully selected series of images from the character's 20-year history that we're putting together in this special limited edition hardcover," Hawkins shared. "It will only be printed once and won't be offered as a softcover. Some new pieces, some classic pieces with art by fantastic artists like Michael Turner, Marc Silvestri, Dave Finch, Joe Benitez and many others."

While "Witchblade" is ending, new things are beginning for Top Cow in October, including Stjepan Sejic's "Switch" debuting at the imprint that same month. The series also includes the Witchblade -- the artifact itself -- albeit outside of Top Cow's traditional continuity.

"This series has had millions of views on his deviant art page and it's funny and has a heart," Hawkins said. "After getting hundreds of emails, tweets and people telling me at cons that this should be a regular series we decided to pull the trigger. It's a self-contained series that includes some of the other artifacts and other characters. It doesn't fit into our core 'Top Cow universe,' and locking him into the continuity would have shackled his creativity so we decided to make this its own thing."

CBR has also learned that Stjepan Sejic and his wife, fellow artist Linda Sejic, are now both exclusive with Top Cow. Though primarily associated with Top Cow, Stjepan Sejic has recently delved outside the imprint, with a stint on "Rat Queens."

"This is their home, we're family and we love working together," Hawkins said of the news. "Both of them have a lot of creator-owned ideas and I'm looking forward to helping them all see publication. Writers get most of the credit in comics these days, but it's the artists that make all the magic happen."

And of course, with a book like "Witchblade" ending and the comic industry being what it is, fans will naturally wonder -- how long before it's back with a new #1? According to Hawkins, not any time too soon.

"A relaunch is always possible, but just like when we ended 'The Darkness' almost two years ago, we need to have a strong reason -- new creators, take, whatever -- and give it a little time to breathe."

Here's the first look at solicitation text and covers for Top Cow's October offerings:

SWITCH #1

STORY/ART/COVER: STJEPAN SEJIC

After millions of views on Deviant Art, this popular web comic finally gets its own series. A teenage girl gets a mighty artifact that grants her immense powers...the catch? It's a bit haunted! This self-contained "universe" includes Artifacts and characters from other series (with permission!) in a delectably Stjepan Sejic fashion!

OCTOBER 7, 2015

48 / FC / T+

$3.99

WITCHBLADE 185 SERIES FINALE ISSUE

STORY: RON MARZ, MATT HAWKINS, MARC SILVESTRI

ART: KEU CHA, STJEPAN SEJIC, ABHISHEK MALSUNI

BRIAN CHING, RANDY GREEN, MICHAEL TURNER, ISAAC GOODHART, NELSON BLAKE II, LINDA SEJIC & MARC SILVESTRI

COVER A MICHAEL TURNER MEMORIAL COVER

COVER B KEU CHA

SERIES FINALE! An era comes to a close with the double-sized final issue of Sara Pezzini's twenty-year run. Several previous Witchblade artists return to the title to send her off in style. The story resolves Sara's return to New York and her relationship with Gleason and her attempt to find a suitable bearer to give the Artifact to.

OCTOBER 14, 2015

48pg / FC / T+

$5.99

WITCHBLADE 20th ANNIVERSARY "ART OF" HARDCOVER

ART: MICHAEL TURNER, MARC SILVESTRI, DAVE FINCH, JOE BENITEZ, J. SCOTT CAMPBELL, ADAM HUGHES, TONY DANIEL, LAURA BRAGA, STJEPAN SEJIC, JOHN TYLER CHRISTOPHER, JOSEPH LINSNER

An oversized hardcover (12 x 8) celebrating 20 years of Witchblade with a veritable who's who of comic artists. NOTE - This is an original book and NOT a hardcover reprint of the Art of Witchblade.

OCTOBER 28, 2015

96 / FC / T+

$39.99

WITCHBLADE 20th ANNIVERSARY COMMEMORATIVE LITHOGRAPH

ART: MICHAEL TURNER

Limited to 100 units, allocations may occur.

OCTOBER 28, 2015

$30

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