Befitting their status as the home of idiosyncratic creator-owned comics, Image Comics welcomed a wide range of creative voices to New York Comic Con with their Friday night Image Comics: The Future of Genre. Taking the stage were artist Ryan Browne (Curse Words), artist and writer Wes Craig (Deadly Class), artist Amy Reeder (Rocket Girl), cartoonist Gregg Schigiel (Pix), writer Donny Cates (God Country) and new Image writer Tee Franklin (Bingo Love).
Image's David Brothers led the panel and immediately admitted of the "Future of Genre" tagline, "That's kind of a thin title – just wanted to talk with these people about what they do."
But the panel did have some running creative themes with this group of creators including '80s throwbacks, modernized versions of classic genre traits from fantasy to sci-fi and an enthusiastic approach to original ideas. For example, Browne introduced the weird world of Curse Worse revolving around "bizarro wizard battles in modern day New York City" starring a character who is "kind of a dick, but a likable one" and his koala partner. Craig spoke to the '80s school for assassins punk rock tone of Deadly Class but also promised new thrills in his writing debut The Gravediggers Union – a new series built on a cast of Image stalwarts including artist Toby Cypress.
Cates entertained in his excitable pitch for his various series including the recently-launched Skybound comic Redneck, which he called "my crazy Texas shit" before marveling that no one had ever pitched a southern vampire story with that title before now. The next arc of the book will take place in Waco and play with that city's history of FBI intervention in cult activity. "That second arc is brutal. It's unstoppable. It's crazy," Cates said. "I just turned in the 18th issue of the book, and it's going to be out a long, long time." He promised a similarly gonzo tone to the incoming Atomahawk, which is drawn by Ian Bererman – the writer's tattoo artist who pitched the series to him based only on the title. "It's really weird...and #0 collects all the stories we did in a previous magazine" before continuing with new adventures in Image+. Cates then gave away to #0 to an aspiring creator in the audience, saying, "This is proof that your shit doesn't have to make that much sense."
Franklin introduced herself to the crowd with the story of how her queer black romance graphic novel Bingo Love made it to Image after far exceeding its initial Kickstarter ask by almost $30,000. The story tells of a pair of women who fall in love when they're young, are forced to separate by their disapproving families, get married to men and eventually reconnect and come out as senior citizens at a local bingo game. "It was really important to show that happily ever afters are not just for straight people," she said.
Brothers opened up the panel to topics that saw Image stretching their genre wings, starting with teen girl heroes. "She's a bad ass, and she knows what she wants, which I admire," Reeder said of her Rocket Girl protagonist. Injecting the book with a strong mistrust of adults and authorities was a huge part of the story of this teen cop who travels from the far future back to a stylized 1980s. "She's brave enough that she's risking her life and risking her existence possibly for something she believes in." Pix takes a similar track of strong self-confidence as the title character thinks she is a fairy princess even as others are sure she's insane.
Browne spoke to the idea of doing comedy in comics. He compared it to being a stand up comedian who can't tell if his jokes play to the audience until months after he tells them. "But doing comedy in comics, to me, is super easy because you can control the pacing," he said. "Comics are built in frames of time, and you can control the pacing." He said the page reveals of his books were huge comedy tools as well as his sound effects which add new dimensions to the jokes.
Franklin balked slightly at labeling her story a straight-up romance, but said that it contained elements from a lot of genres. "I don't want to say it's a Lifetime movie thing, but you got some of that happening," she laughed. But perhaps the ultimate tie from the book to the idea of love stories will be its release date: Valentine's Day 2018. Franklin also praised her art team of Jenn St-Onge and colorist by Joy San who not only brought an approachable style but also nailed the often overlooked or ignored creative challenge of portraying people of color's skin-tones realistically.
The visual aspect of the books carried on with Craig's exploration of his Deadly Class team's collaboration. "It's hard to ask your colorist to pull back...but I wanted this to be like '80s punk flyers with basic colors and basic lines," he said. "I like the story to be connected to one character or another character, and I like the color to be seen through the character's head. If it's depressing there are low saturation browns or greens, and more passionate stories are full of red...There's no music in comics and no way to put that across to the reader, so I think color does a lot of create that tone."
Late in the panel, Curse Words writer Charles Soule joined the proceedings and began to talk about his collaborative process with Browne. "We love this book arguably more than the people who read it," he said, noting that the pair made a custom van and drove across America for a month doing signings at comic shops. They'd roll up to signing wearing grody fake wizard beards while pumping songs like "This Is How We Do It" on the van. But they also spent most of the travel talking rather than listening to music, and Soule would write while Browne was at the wheel while Browne drew an entire issue over the month -- proof of the intensity of their collaboration.