IMAGE EXPO: Image Introduces its Next Wave of Creators

The Image Expo in Oakland, California isn't just home to the Image Comics founders and Robert Kirkman. There's an entire new generation of Image creators coming up through the ranks and they had the chance to talk about their new comics and share their experiences breaking in at their very own panel on Sunday afternoon. In attendance were "Moriarty" scribe Daniel Corey, "Glory" and "Hell Yeah!" writer Joe Keatinge, "Witch Doctor" writer Brandon Seifert, "Skullkickers" writer Jim Zub, "The Li'l Depressed Boy" writer S. Steven Struble and artist Sina Grace and "Peter Panzerfaust" writer Kurtis J. Wiebe.

Joe Keatinge began the panel by talking about his new books "Glory" and "Hell Yeah!" "Glory" is a continuation of the classic Extreme Studios character from the '90s as part of the Extreme relaunch. Other Extreme relaunch books include "Prophet" by Brandon Grahme and Simon Roy and "Supreme" by Erik Larsen working from old Alan Moore scripts. Keatinge described the relaunch as similar to what Frank Miller did to "Daredevil" or Walt Simonson did to "Thor" in that no old continuity will be used but the books will go off in to vastly different creative directions. "In 'Glory' I build up stuff off Alan Moore's run," said Keatinge.

"Hell Yeah!" is Keatinge's new creator-owned comic book with artists Andre Szymanowicz. Keatinge is making ashcans for "Hell Yeah!" that will feature exclusive material that won't be reprinted in the inevitable trade collections. "Totally all-new, all-different," said Keatinge. "I was inspired to make this 'cause I was ten years-old when Image came out and thinking it was pretty awesome. This is my 'Invincible' or 'Savage Dragon,' a comic I want to do for the rest of my life."

"Li'l Depressed Boy" artist Sina Grace and writer S. Steven Struble spoke next about their ongoing series. "Li'l Depressed Boy" is about the daily adventures of a ragdoll boy in a world full of humans. The current story arc has him trying to find a job. "You would think this is all not very interesting but it's really heartwarming," said Grace.

Daniel Corey, writer of "Moriarty," spoke next about his ongoing mystery-action series. Corey pointed out that the artist of "Moriarty" Anthony Diecidue was sitting in the front of row of the audience, although he did not join the panel at any point in the presentation. "Moriarty" follows the adventures of Sherlock Holmes' long-time nemesis 20 years after the death of Holmes as he tries to become a great criminal mastermind again. The second collected volume, "The Lazarus Tree" comes out in March. Corey then played a short teaser trailer for the series assembled from Diecidue's art from "The Lazarus Tree."

Corey then announced that he is developing a "Moriarty" stage musical in Los Angeles with composer Raymond Schnurr. Schnurr has composed music for movies like "The Matrix" and "Dreamgirls" and while he will handle all the music chores the pair will collaborate on lyrics. "We hope to be shopping it in LA starting this summer," said Corey. The current working title is simply "Moriarty."

Next, writer Jim Zub spoke about his creator-owned series "Skullkickers", describing the popular title as "low-brow high fantasy." Zub showed off a map of the "Skullkickers" world designed by cartographer and illustrator Mike Schley. The map featured the same humor found in the comic, with subtle touches like one are being called "I Saw a Dragon and I Almost Soiled Myself." A poster of the map will only be sold at conventions this summer.

The first two collected editions of "Skullkickers" will be collected in to the first "Treasure Trove" edition, which Zub compared to the "Chew Omnivore" collections. It will be in an oversized hardcover format with additional bonus materials and comes out on April 4.

Zub was also particularly proud that "Skillkickers" made the Young Adult Library Services Association's 2012 list of great graphic novels for teens. Zub can now say he is doing "great literature."

During the course of the new "Skullkickers" arc, "Six Shooter on the Seven Seas," the true origin of "the gun" will be revealed. "In issues 14 and 15 you will definitely see [the origin of the gun] and people will definitely be talking about it," Zub said. "It's probably the most repetitive solicitation of all time, our solicitation for issue 14, it's just 'the gun' repeated 25 times."

Zub drew laughs when he showed the cover of "Skullkickers" #14 had been replaced with a drawing of a kitten. He said he thought he'd give people something fun to look at instead of just boring black outlines like a lot companies do for covers containing spoilers.

"Skullkickers Tavern Tales" are issues of the regular "Skullkickers" series that have three different creative teams tell stories about the cast. The next issue features stories by the "Chew" creative team of John Layman and Rob Guillory as well as the "The Strange Talent of Luther Strode" team of Justin Jordan and Tradd Moore.

In a bold move, Zub will have open submissions to "Skullkickers" fans for the third short story. People can enter their own writing and art submissions at skullkickers.com/contest and artists can get a two-page sample script to draw. "You're gonna be published in the same issues as the 'Luther Strode' guys and the 'Chew' team so you can also ride their coattails," joked Zub.

Next, writer Brandon Seifert talked about his "Witch Doctor" series from Kirkman's Skybound imprint which just released its first collected edition in December featuring art by Lukas Ketner. "We describe it as Dr. House meets Dr. Who or Dr. House meets Dr. Strange," said Seifert. The story is about a scientist who fights supernatural enemies like vampires and werewolves using science. The second series will be called "Witch Doctor: Malpractice" and is set for release at some point in 2012.

Kurtis J. Wiebe spoke next about his new series "Peter Panzerfaust" with artist Tyler Jenkins. Wiebe described the book as "Peter Pan in a World War II setting." The first printing has sold out for issue 1, but a second printing will be available March 14 when the second issue comes out as well. Wiebe said he has "long term plans" for the series and he hopes it runs at least 30 issues.

After each creator had the chance to speak, they turned the floor over to the audience who asked questions of the panel. The first question concerned digital comics, and the panel said all of the books discussed are available now digitally via both Comixology and Graphic.ly.

G4 personality and "Heart" writer Blair Butler was in attendance and asked how each of the panelists marketed their comics to fans and retailers.

Grace said he gives out his original art for free. "For me it's just a piece of paper. I do 20 pieces of paper a month," said Grace. Struble said they also held a contest to guess what job their protagonist would get to drum up interest in the series. The winner, who selected Build-A-Bear workshop, received a t-shirt designed by Grace.

Keatinge learned how to market his titles during his tenure as the head of marketing and sales at Image Comics. "You need to establish a brand. That is extremely important," he said. "When you do creator-owned comics, you are the brand." Wiebe said he tries to stay accessible to fans and "tries to respond to every single person that messages me on twitter -- I respond to every email I get."

Zub talked a lot about how important twitter was as well. When he started "Skullkickers" he wasn't on the service, but the people at Image convinced him to start, saying he was "missing out." He said he speaks directly to both retailers and fans and has even set up signings on twitter alone. He also sends retailers information and materials before everyone else, including PDFs and advance copies of "Skullkickers." Zub also experimented by releasing the first issues of "Skullkickers" online for free, one page a day. In the first month, he was able to generate 500,000 page views from about 40,000 unique IPs. "Sometimes I worry that my friends and family are like, 'There's Jim the car salesman,'" joked Zub.

Creators should market to retailers, as well, added Seifert. He commented that if creators market exclusively to fans, then the retailers won't order the book and the fans can't get it, no matter how much they might want to buy your book. It also gives retailers "a sense of security" to know the creators are making the extra effort to push the book.

Grace said he looks to friends and other creators for help, as well. "Witch Doctor" had a flip-book with "The Walking Dead" that helped get people to read the book initially, for example. He also said hand selling the book can work as well and recounted how he went up to "Community" star Donald Glover at a coffee shop and asked him to read the comic. Glover had already read the comic and tweeted about it, making more people aware of the book. The situation ended up with Glover agreeing to be in an issue of "Li'l Depressed Boy," although no further details were given.

"I decided to create a musical stage play to promote the comics. It's a really fast and easy thing to do," joked "Moriarty" writer Corey.

A fan who was a librarian himself asked what place the panel felt libraries should have in the comics industry. "It's huge. There are more libraries in American than there are bookstores. Every school has a library," said Zub. Getting on recommended buying lists can result in tons of sales for books since most libraries just order titles blindly off the lists. "If it's loved, then 10, 20, 30, 50 people might read it to the point the spine is all destroy," he added. The fan that asked the question then said that he has had to repair every copy of "Skullkickers" at his library.

Self-publishing is extremely important before pitching to Image. Most of the panel members had released self-published ashcan or demo formats of their comics before being picked up by Image. It shows publishers you can do the work already. Grace added that it just "feels good" to make your own comics and that "potential publishers will look at it like it's a real comic."

Seifert had an insane work ethic before getting "Witch Doctor" published. "I was working 12 hour days at the Alaskan State Fair and writing. I'd take a 15 minute break and I'd go write two or three panels and then I'd come back."

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