Hickman, del Luca, Berger & More Talk Horror, Magic and Medicine at Image

After a morning full of announcements, Image Expo 2016 continued to entertain in Seattle by gathering several of its creators to talk about their new books and their answer questions from fans. David Brothers from Image Comics moderated the panel and kept things lively for all the participants, which included Leila del Duca, Ron Wimberly, Jim Zub, Bryan Hill, Sara Kenney, Karen Berger and Jonathan Hickman.

Leila del Duca started things off by talking about her newly announced YA graphic novel "Afar," with art by Kit Seaton. She said the story is about a girl named Boetema who suddenly develops the ability to astrally project to other worlds, unintentionally possessing the bodies of people light years away.

Although del Duca is currently the artist on another Image comic -- "Shutter," written by Joe Keatinge -- "Afar" will mark her writing debut. She admitted having to adjust her mindset when working in this role. "I do understand what Joe goes through now and why certain scripts take longer. I feel like I should probably take it easier on him."

Ron Wimberly was next and began by talking about Image Comics' upcoming rerelease of his graphic novel, "Prince of Cats." The book was actually first released by Vertigo in Summer 2012, but went out of print within a year. He said the new release will be the definitive, remastered author's edition. For those unfamiliar with the story, Wimberly described it as "the B-side of Romeo and Juliet," with some samurai fun in a '70s/'80s setting. The tale follows the tragic story of Tybalt, the Prince of Cats.

In light of the mention of Vertigo, it seemed appropriate that one of the next guests to speak was Karen Berger, former Executive Editor of Vertigo who worked at the publisher when "Prince of Cats" first came out. She was present with writer Sara Kenney to talk about their new book, "Surgeon X."

The history of how the book came to be is quite interesting. Kenney is a documentary filmmaker, and had covered several topics dealing with health and science. She had an idea for a story and decided to apply for the Society Award grant from Wellcome Trust, an independent global charitable foundation dedicated to improving health. As she was unfamiliar with writing comics, she used LinkedIn to reach out to someone who did -- Karen Berger.

Berger listened to her story, read some of Kenney's writing and watched her films. She encouraged her to move forward with her comic plans, even if she didn't win the grant. Fortunately, Kenney received the award which allowed Berger to come aboard as editor and hire John Watkiss to do the art. The story involves a future where diseases become resistant to antibiotics. Because of this, a brilliant and obsessive surgeon named Rosa Scott becomes Surgeon X, a vigilante doctor who uses experimental surgery and black market drugs. With Kenney's background as a documentarian, the story is informed by hundreds of talks with scientists, physicians, historians, economists, ethicists and philosophers to create a disturbing yet authentic future world.

This scary idea was followed by another one from writer Jim Zub, who joined the panel to talk about his new project "Glitterbomb." He was very excited to discuss the comic as it belongs to a genre he's never worked in before: Hollywood horror. Zub explained the book is about failed fame and how it can twist people's minds. The art is by a newcomer named Djibril Morissette who Zub described as "an amazing 21 year-old who will rock your brains out." The book will be out in late summer.

After this, Bryan Hill talked about his new Top Cow book "Romulus," drawn by Nelson Blake II. The plot involves a secret society behind all the evil in the world. He explained the society is made up of women, because they're smarter and internally stronger than men. One of the society's assassins, a woman named Ashlar, experiences a change of heart after tragedy occurs and her new goal becomes killing the other members of the society at any cost.

The final guest to discuss their Image Comics announcement was Jonathan Hickman. His newest offering is a book titled, "The Black Monday Murders" with art by Tomm Coker. The way the two creators partnered up on the book shows the power of social media. Hickman had an idea for the story and remembered Coker's work from other comics he'd read. He tweeted at his followers to see if they knew what Coker was up to. Someone told Coker about the tweet, he reached out to Hickman, and a book was born!

The story kicks off during the financial collapse of 1987. Hickman said he wanted to do a book about magic, but in this tale, money equals power. The "secret schools of magic" are actually clandestine banking cartels who control all of society. The writer was particularly excited about this project, as the creators have gone out of their way to include special content such as maps, corporate organization charts, decoded apocrypha, and stock tips to die for. Hickman said each issue will be huge -- at present, one of the planned issues is 50 pages.
The creators then talked amongst each other for a while, with Brothers moderating the conversations. Hickman started with an interesting question for Wimberly. As he did all the writing, drawing, coloring, and lettering on "Prince of Cats," Hickman asked him, "Do you cheat a lot when you write for yourself?"

"What's cheating?" Wimberly replied as the audience laughed.

Hickman clarified that by writing and doing the art, it's possible just to draw what's easiest. However, Hickman quickly clarified that it didn't seem Wimberly did that, as he had read the book and appreciated many of the unique "camera angles" Wimberly used in his art. Wimberly replied that he puts down what's needed for the story and what he sees in his head.

Next, the talk turned to Hickman and Zub. As writers, the two are both somewhat known for long-term payoffs in their stories. They were asked how they plan their tales for rewards that are far at the end of the road. Zub explained, "I start from the ending and work backward, asking myself how do we get there? For 'Wayward,' my pitch may have been 'Buffy in Japan,' but I knew the story was so much more because of where we were going."

Hickman said he read an interview with "Breaking Bad" creator Vince Gilligan recently that helped clarified what he was doing with his comics. He said, "You need to know the ending, the characters, and the themes. But then when you introduce a new theme or character, you have to recheck all these things and see how they fit together."

One of the final questions was an interesting one: "What is the biggest challenge of working in today's comic industry?" The point was made that comics are experiencing an all new level of popularity in our era, so comics, in theory, should be easier to put out because the audience is more receptive.

Zub mentioned that while this is true, there are also more well-made comics on the stands now, so there is more competition for readers' money. Then he brought up another interesting point: "One of the biggest challenges now is the depth of comic archives. There are so many of the great older books now that everything is collected. In fact, last year was the first year iTunes sold more old music than new."

It appears everything old can be new again, but fans applauded loudly at the new before them as the panel concluded.

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