IMAGE EXPO: Keynote Announces New Series From Snyder, Morrison, Remender & More

The first major comic book event of 2014 is here, with Image Comics' Image Expo now officially under way. This year's installment -- Image's third -- will unfold over one day at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.

Programming is slated to start at 10:30 a.m. Pacific time with publisher Eric Stephenson delivering his annual keynote address -- which, given both past history and what's been billed, should contain plenty of new project announcements plus surprise appearances from high-profile creators. Keep hitting refresh for the latest updates from the show.

Stephenson starts by reflecting a bit on the nature of taking stock of a year at the start of the new one, and how he feels it's "essential to draw a definitive line between the past and the future."

"2013 was our best year in a decade," he continues, calling it Image's "fifth straight year of unprecedented growth." Stephenson notes their increase in both dollar and unite share from 2012 to 2013, and the fact that for the second year in a row, Image had the No. 1 comic book of the year -- "The Walking Dead" -- and also touted their trade paperback sales success.

"Image Comics is continuing to grow," Stephenson adds. "That this company continues to thrive is a testament to its founders."

Discussing the creator-owned fundamentals of Image, Stephenson says, "it's a simple deal. The creator owns 100 percent of their work. You don't have to be a superstar, you just have to be good."

"Image Comics has changed the marketplace forever. And as you'll see today, we're not done yet. Our plans for 2014 are our most ambitious yet," since there's still a lot of work to do, Stephenson says. It won't be easy to "build a better industry," he says, appealing to readers who want "innovative fiction" rather than "more than just the same stale superhero events."

Stephenson highlights the differences he sees between Image and corporate-owned comic book publishers, says they're not about making "cash grabs," or "rebooting series after series in a desperate attempt to recapture past glories" -- which gets applause from the audience.

Image partner and "The Walking Dead" creator Robert Kirkman joins Stephenson on stage, discussing "Invincible" #111 -- jokingly describing it as "three number ones in one issues -- saying the "scale and the scope of the of this story will far outpace" anything seen before in the series, and will change the course of the book. "I think people will be surprised with the direction that we're going in." Kirkman notes that it's artist Ryan Ottley's 100th issue on the series. He says it's almost like a new writer taking over the book, "'The Walking Dead' Robert Kirkman," since there will be an increased amount of "horror and misery." "This has always been planned, but it's fun to get to this stuff."

Paul Azaceta, who's illustrating the Kirkman-written upcoming series "Outcast," joins. "I'm trying to make the book as creepy and cool and dark as possible, and really do some horror stuff with it," Azaceta says. "It's not quite like 'Walking Dead.'" Kirkman interjects, "It's exactly like 'Walking Dead,' please make sure you buy just as much as it as 'The Walking Dead.'"

"Outcast" will be out in June of this year, and the first issue will be 40 pages of story at $2.99. "I criticized Brian K. Vaughan heavily when he told me the first issue of 'Saga' would be 40 issues and $2.99," Kirkman says. "I tried to talk him out of it, and now I'm copying him."

Kirkman next turns to "Tech Jacket" -- the mere mention gets an audible gasp from someone in the first couple of rows -- and says he felt like he cancelled the series prematurely. "It was as possible as 'Invincible' was at the time, and I think it had a lot of potential." Kirkman brings out the writer of the new "Tech Jacket" -- Joe Keatinge.

"'Tech Jacket Digital' is going to be and an artist named Khary Randolph," Keatinge explains, with the team doing three issues together to catch readers up with the "Tech Jacket" world. All three issues of "Tech Jacket Digital" are available today.

Kirkman leaves the stage, but Keatinge stays. In April, he's launching a new series titled "Shutter," with artist Leila Del Duca. "It's something that's been kicking around in my head for a long time," Keatinge says. "I've always loved adventure fiction." The book will star Kate Christopher, "from a long line of adventurers." Keatinge says the book started grounded, but once he realized what Del Duca could illustrate, he threw everything into it, including "minotaurs on the subway." "Shutter" debuts in April.

EXCLUSIVE: Keatinge & del Duca's "Shutter" Snaps at Image

Next guest out is Brandon Graham, who's working on a new project titled "8House." "It's me collaborating with a huge amount of people to make a shared universe, a magic fantasy thing about these eight magical houses that control everything," he says. "There are all these magic wars going on," including, "the bodies of Cthulhu monsters in space." Contributors to "8House" will include Marian Churchland and "Pretty Deadly" artist Emma Rios, who will write a story.

Joshua Williamson is next out, telling a story about someone he met who broke up with her boyfriend because her uncle was a serial killer; he was surprised by it and was told she couldn't be close to someone that close to someone evil. That helped inspire his new series, "Nailbiter," featuring a serial killer named Edward Charles Warren who eats his victims nails. The series takes place in a small town in Oregon where 16 of the worst serial killers all hail from, and involves a police investigation as to why that's the case. "Nailbiter" debuts in May, drawn by Mike Henderson (who collaborated with Williamson on "Masks & Mobsters").

Up next: Image founder and Shadowline chief Jim Valentino. Ted McKeever's next project for Shadowline is "The Superannuated Man," out in June, which Valentino calls "equally weird" to McKeever's past work.

Stephenson brings out Rick Remender, writing "Black Science" and "Deadly Class" for Image, next. He's got another book at Image, "Low," illustrated by Greg Tocchini (who worked with Remender on "Last Days of American Crime" and an "Uncanny X-Force" arc). Remender says they've been working on "Low" for about three and a half years, and the book is set in the "very distant future." "When all hope is lost and there are only a few cities left, a probe crash lands on the surface, potentially with the solution they're looking for -- an inhabitable world." The story is slated to unfold in about 60 issues and debut in July. Remender calls it "aquatic sci-fi/fantasy." Stephenson tells the crowd "Low" will be "your new favorite comic."

Matt Fraction, writer of "Sex Criminals" and "Hawkeye," takes the stage to discuss "Ody-C," the retelling of "The Odyssey" -- one that takes place in space and all the men are women and all the women are men -- he's doing with Christian Ward. Fraction shows off some art from the project, which he calls "very colorful and surreal," and says he's "just letting Christian be Christian." "It's a lot like comics," Fraction says of the original "Odyssey." "It's out of order, it requires you to have knowledge of three different stories." Fraction says "Ody-C" should likely be out by end of summer or the fall.

Fraction has one more piece of news -- "Casanova" is moving from Marvel's creator-owned Icon line back to its original home at Image, for fourth series "Acedia" -- with, as previously announced, back-ups by Michael Chabon and Gabriel Bá. "Buckle up buttercups, here we go," Fraction says. Image will also be publishing "fancy-ass hardcovers" of the previous volumes, Fraction shares. "I'm very excited to be back on Planet Casanova again."

"Pretty Deadly" and "Captain Marvel" writer Kelly Sue DeConnick introduces her new Image series, "Bitch Planet," which she jokes is an example of "steering into the curve" -- the cover text reads "Girl Gangs... Caged and Enraged!" Valentine De Landro is the artist. "This is born of a deep and abiding love for exploitation and women in prison movies of the 1960s and 1970s," DeConnick says. "I like this stuff so much, and it's so terrible. It's so deeply awful and delicious, like those candies that are bad for you." DeConnick says she wanted to try to play up what she loved about the genre, while also confronting what made her uncomfortable about it. "How do I do the obligatory shower scene?" DeConnick says she's hoping the book will be out by summer, "but definitely by fall."

Nick Spencer, writer of "Morning Glories" and "Bedlam" at Image along with multiple Marvel projects, is the next creator to join the fray. He's got three new projects to announce, starting with "Great Beyond," illustrated by "Change" artist Morgan Jeske. Spencer says it's in the vein of "Infinite Vacation," and it's about a post-life environment where your status after death is dependent on your bank account during your life.

Spencer's also doing "Paradigms" with Butch Guice, with the tagline, "Belief Is a Weapon." Spencer says it's "slightly intimidating" to be working with an artist as accomplished as Guice. It's a fantasy story that's something of a "modern day spy thriller" with a touch of "Game of Thrones." "Kind of a mile-a-minute exploration of these clans that are subject to the approval of their gods," he says.

His third project is "Cerulean," with artist Frazer Irving. It's a sci-fi story about the last survivors of Earth, who upload their consciousnesses and take the long way to an inhabitable planet. "This will be my fifth year writing comics, and I'm a sucker for an anniversary," Spencer told the crowd. "I really wanted this year to make a statement about where things are headed."

Stephenson praises "Starman" as a '90s series up there in stature with "Sandman," and brings out James Robinson. Robinson starts by mentioning "The Saviors," informing the audience that it is now an ongoing book. The second arc will take place in Paris, with a new cast of characters.

Robinson also has a new project at Image, described as a "semiautobiographical" story with artist Greg Hinkle about their attempt to create a revival of public domain Golden Age character Airboy and the booze and drugs-fueled adventures along the way, which include hallucinating an adventure with Airboy against cyborg Nazis. "If you like 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,' 'Adaptation,' rousing Golden Age aviaton comics and full-frontal nudity, this is the comic you've been waiting for," Robinson says.

"East of West" artist Nick Dragotta is bringing the educational kids comic "Howtoons" to Image, with the team of writer Fred Van Lente, line artist Tom Fowler and colorist Jordie Bellaire. "I couldn't be more proud of it," Dragotta says.

"Nightwing" writer Kyle Higgins enters the stage as one of the Expo's surprise guests. His first Image project is "C.O.W.L.," "the Chicago Organized Workers League," co-written by his collaborator Alec Siegel and based on concepts from their short film "The League." "It's the 1960s superhero labor union of Chicago," Higgins explains, led by a former hero named Grey Raven. "When the first issue opens, we watch the organization take down the last of the great villains that threatened the city. The question becomes, 'What now?'" Higgins says he's fascinated by the era in history. The book will be illustrated by Rod Reis, and is scheduled for May 2014.

The "Phonogram" team of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie are out to announce a new series, "The Wicked & The Divine." "Every 90 years gods reincarnate in human bodies," Gillen says, revealing the premise. "This has gone on forever. These people speak in tongues, they perform secretive miracles. They are loved, they are hated, they are brilliant. And in two years, they are dead." The story takes place in 2014, and depicts the current generation of these gods. "We wanted to something new," Gillen says, and "felt really 2014." It's an ongoing series, and the plan is for McKelvie to do the first arc, than return to "Phonogram" with other artists illustrating the second arc, then return to "The Wicked & The Divine" for its third arc. Gillen says it's effectively "pop stars as gods." "I'm really excited for pushing the boundaries of what we've done so far," McKelvie says. "We pushed a lot of boundaries in 'Young Avengers,' and that feels like just the start."

"There are literally no limits to what we can do, and that's kind of what being a creator is about," Gillen adds.

"Batman Incorporated" artist Chris Burnham is next up -- he's reuniting with Grant Morrison for a creator-owned series titled "Nameless." "Nameless is the ultimate horror comic," Burnham says. "[Morrison] has never done a straight-up, ball-to-the-wall horror book. That's what I told him I wanted, and that's what we're doing. I think it's going to be awesome and terrible, and hopefully some 11-year-old kids will steal it, and it'll ruin their lives forever."

Next surprise guest: "Fables" writer Bill Willingham, who's doing an Image series with artist Barry Kitson. Scheduled for fall 2014, it's titled "Restoration." Willingham stresses that though the idea has existed for a while, it's still very early in the process. It starts with magic entities progressively removed and stored in facilities, resulting in a world that resembles the real one. "This book imagines a very bad day in which something terrible happens with a facility, and they're all loose again, and magic and gods and creatures all come back to the world in one single day," he says.

Another surprise guest is up: "American Vampire" and "Batman" writer Scott Snyder. He's exploring the world of witches -- in a series called "Wytches" -- with his "Detective Comics" collaborator Jock on art. "I think our goal is to just scare the living shit out of you with this book," Snyder says. "I want this book to be the blackest, most twisted horror that I've ever done. I want it to be the book I feel terrible about at my kids' soccer game. I want this book to be like, you read it and say, 'They let this guy write Superman?'" Describing the premise, Snyder says the series will reveal actual witches are "much darker" than what mythology has led people to believe.

The last guest up: Ed Brubaker, another unannounced surprise. "Sean [Phillips] and I are doing a five-year deal with Image where basically we can do whatever we want, and they have to publish it," Brubaker says. "Fatale" is wrapping with issue #24, leading in to Brubaker and Phillips' next collaboration, "The Fade Out," which the writer says "Criminal" fans should enjoy. "It's loosely based on things that happened in Hollywood in the '40s," Brubaker says, whose uncle was a screenwriter.

Speaking more of their new deal, Brubaker says that when he and Phillips were doing "Sleeper," the two always worried about whether they could keep doing projects together. "That's why this deal was so amazing to me, because they were willing to do it. Now all I have to do is worry about us doing great comics. I feel like this is a new stage of my career here, and I'm excited about." Brubaker says he probably won't do books like "The Walking Dead" or "Invincible" that get to the 100s, because he like shorter stories with a definite endpoint. Additionally, Brubaker's past creator-owned books like "Criminal" and "Incognito," originally published by Marvel's Icon line, will now be at Image.

Stephenson ends the keynote by thanking the audience, and having all the creators come out for a round of applause.

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