IMAGE EXPO: New Projects Revealed From Rucka, Simone, Aaron and More

Image Comics' second Image Expo of 2015 is now underway at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, with Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson set to deliver his traditional keynote address -- featuring not only his often-provocative comments on the state of Image and the comics industry as a whole, but also a slew of announcements of new series.

Announced guests for the show include Brian K. Vaughan, Tula Lotay, Greg Rucka, Steve Skroce, Jason Aaron, Nicola Scott, Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel and Nick Dragotta. Yet "The Walking Dead" creator Robert Kirkman, scheduled as a guest and the subject of a spotlight panel, disclosed Wednesday via Twitter that he was unable to make the event.

Stephenson started his address by saying he would open with his thanks, rather than waiting until the end; praising the Image staff for their work and the Yerba Buena Center for its cooperation.

"What we do at Image is pretty special," Stephenson said. "We publish creator-owned comics." Stephenson linked current creator-owned comics to underground comics of the '60s like "Zap Comix," and early creator-owned work like "Elfquest" and "Cerebus." "The Image founders didn't discover fire, but they did stoke the flames," he said.

Stephenson cited criticism of creator-owned comics in both 1992 (the founding of Image) and 2008, when Kirkman announced that he was leaving work-for-hire to focus on his own creations. "The last seven years have been particularly illuminating," Stephenson said. "As Robert predicted in that video, the more people do creator-owned work, the easier it is to sell creator-owned work." He said Image is still just at the beginning of potentially a "huge shift" in how creator-owned comics are seen.

Distinguishing Image's deals, Stephenson emphasized that Image creators own everything of their concepts. "By 'everything,' I mean everything. Not part of it. Not 50 percent. All of it. 100 percent. When you read an announcement about an Image title being developed for film, being developed for television, 100 percent of that success belongs to the creators involved." Though there will soon be two "Walking Dead" TV series on AMC, Stephenson said that the only way Image benefits is by increased exposure for the comics.

"When we fail, we fail together," he said. "When we succeed, we succeed together... We trust the writers and artists we work with to provide the creative vision behind the best work in comics -- they trust us to provide the commitment necessary to share that vision with the world."

Stephenson credited the trust readers and retailers have given to Image Comics. "You pay good money to invite us into your stores, into your lives, and you do it with the expectation that we are giving you our all."

"You trust that these comics that mean so much to us are born out of a genuine desire to create something vital and new -- to champion a pure and undiluted vision of comics -- not as they are and not as they've always been -- but as they can be," Stephenson's speech concluded.

Leaving the stage, Image Comics Brand Manager David Brothers took the podium, introducing Skybound's Sean Mackiewicz. He said that Kirkman calls reboots "terrible, useless and a dearth of creativity -- but he's not here today." Mackiewicz teased an "Invincible Reboot?" -- the question mark was there on the slide -- starting in October 2015, with Mark Grayson going back in time to a pivotal moment in his life, seeing "what changes he can make, and what horrible, terrible mistakes he can make as well." Mackiewicz said it's the latest example of "Invincible" exploring and subverting superhero tropes.

Rafael Albuquerque was the next surprise guest on stage. He's the artist of the recently teased "Hulk," written by Mark Millar. "Do you remember those old '80s movies -- 'Back to the Future,' 'Indiana Jones'? -- don't they just feel great every time we look at them? 'Huck' really brings that feel." He said "Huck" is about a guy with "learning difficulties," who does good for good's sake. "He helps people in his small-town community. He's just special in all kinds of ways. He's not only a great heart, but he also has some special powers. He's much stronger than a normal person. He's much faster." The tagline on the slide reads, "What if the person you least expected had an amazing secret?"

Antony Johnston joined to talk his new espionage-action series "Codename Baboushka," illustrated and co-created by Shari Chankhamma. "What if the sexy, Russian femme fatale was actually the hero?" The title character is a former member of the Russian mafia living in secret in New York City, who is blackmailed into taking on classified black-ops missions. "'Baboushka' is a little bit of a labor of love for me," Johnston said, adding that he's been working on it for years. "It's also a chance for me to let my hair down. This book has brains and plenty of explosions. And guns. And high kicks. And necks getting snapped. You get the idea." The first arc is titled "The Conclave of Death," and will feature covers from artists including Tula Lotay, Annie Wu, Leila del Duca and Kate Leth.

Speaking of Lotay, she was next up to discuss new series "Heartless," where she's re-teaming with Warren Ellis, after working together on "Supreme: Blue Rose." "It's like a horror comic, but I think it'll be a bit genre-defying. It's about a female musician from northern England. There are things that happened in her past that she's starting to re-live. I think it's about the dark side of human nature." A teaser image was shown with a young girl with a skull-esque face. "She's a very spooky character, always in the distance, and you don't quite know why she's there," Lotay said. "I hope it'll give people chills, but people can read into it a lot more -- it's not like a normal narrative."

Man of Action's Steven T. Seagle was next up on stage, saying at conventions, he gets comments from families who enjoy "Ben 10" and their other kid-centric animation work, and are looking for comics by him that are age-appropriate -- and he doesn't have much to offer. That's set to change with new all-ages series "Camp Midnight," which he tell is about a girl named Sky, the only human at a camp full of monster kids. It's a 240-page graphic novel drawn by newcomer Jason Katzenstein, who Seagle calls a combination of Daniel Clowes and Charles Schulz.

Out next: "Shutter" writer Joe Keatinge. His new series is the pro wrestling-themed ongoing series "Ringside," with a tagline of "The real violence is outside the ring" and a logo designed by Brandon Graham. Keatinge said it was inspired by thinking about the "real people" behind professional wrestling. "This is a book about the relationships that form throughout this industry." It's drawn by new artist Nick Barber, who Keatinge discovered online. Keatinge said his favorite wrestler is Mick Foley, who inspired him to look at the reality behind pro wrestling, and equated defunct cult-favorite organization ECW to Image Comics.

Jimmie Robinson joined the presentation to discuss his new project, "supernatural crime thriller" about a homeless veteran back from Afghanistan who encounters a ghost -- that the devil is after as an unclaimed soul -- that he can only see when he feeds a parking meter. "While the guy's out their panhandling for change, he's really got a mission," Robinson said. The book is titled "Expired," and is illustrated by Richard Pace; and also features a "Van Helsing-type taco truck" equipped with demon-hunting supplies. It'll be released through Jim Valentino's Shadowline imprint.

"Coffin Hill" writer Caitlin Kittredge was next to introduce her new project, "Throwaways." It's about two test subjects fleeing from a secret government program, and are also part of a larger conspiracy. "I've always been fascinated by the history of intelligence; cold war history," Kittredge said. "I'm really, really thrilled for you guys to read it sometime early next year."

Comics creators and married couple Shane Davis and Michelle Delecki were out to introduce "Axcend." "The theme of this book is, 'What happens when a video game comes into the real world?'" Davis revealed. The main character becomes a living weapon and inadvertently sets in motion a "global nuclear holocaust." The series is set to debut in October, and one issue is already "completely done," Delecki said. "It's really fun to be able to do something you completely own," Davis added, best known for DC Comics work including "Superman: Earth One."

Image Comics veteran Brian Haberlin took the stage, saying he's excited to be back with Image. He introduced new series "Faster Than Light," via an animated video starring the comic's main character explaining the premise -- set in the very near future, where faster than light travel is discovered. The technology came from an advanced alien society warning citizens of Earth to fleet their planet before its too late. "There's one ship, and they get their asses into trouble, and they have to get their asses out of trouble," Haberlin said. The artist on the series is Skip Brittenham, who collaborated with Haberlin on "Anomaly."

"C.O.W.L." co-writers Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel followed to talk sci-fi series "Hardrian's Wall," about an astronaut looking to accomplish an outer space mission while also searching for atonement for complicated past personal entanglements. "At its core, this is a story about broken relationships," Higgins said. "Between worlds, between countries, between people." Like "C.O.W.L.," "Hadrian's Wall" will be illustrated by Rod Reis.

Simon Spurrier isn't in attendance in San Francisco, but Brothers introduced a video from the writer discussing his new series, "Cry Havoc," illustrated by Ryan Kelly. The series will have three different colorists working on three different story threads -- Nick Filardi, Lee Loughridge and Matt Wilson. Spurrier described it as "'Jarhead' meets 'Pan's Labyrinth,'" centered on "music, modernity, military weaponry and huge fucking monsters."

"Undertow" and "Midnighter" writer Steve Orlando joined to talk "Virgil," which he said was inspired by him seeing "Django Unchained," and saying, "What if Quentin Tarantino had balls?" and the film had a gay couple in it. "It's not blaxploitation, it's queerploitation," Orlando said. The series is about an outed cop in Jamaica, and is illustrated by JD Faith.

"Blue Monday" and "Scooter Girl" are both moving from Oni Press to Image Comics, and Chynna Clugston Flores took the stage to discuss the premises of both series, and break the news that Image is both publishing the previous "Blue Monday" volumes and new material, starting with "Thieves Like Us." Clugston Flores' comments ended with, "Anybody who says women aren't funny are stupid and full of shit."

Ronald Wimberly joined to introduce his new series, "Sunset Park." "It deals what happens when a sinister force, a monster, comes to East Brooklyn, and changes people's neighborhoods," Wimberly said. "Andy Warhol may be in it. Basquiat may be in it. That's all I want to say about it." He's also doing a project in the genre he dubbed "Slave Punk," with the first book titled "White Coal."

Next out in the fray: Kaare Kyle Andrews, most recently of "Iron Fist: The Living Weapon." "I was just in New York, after I finished 'Iron Fist: The Living Weapon' #12, and my editor took me out to dinner," Andrews said, thinking it was a celebratory dinner after he wrote, drew, inked and colored 12 issues of "Iron Fist." He said his editor told him, "Marvel is happy to pay for your dinner, but if you want a drink, you'll have to pay for it yourself." He then asked if he could come by the office while he was in town, and said he was told, "We don't let visitors up any more, you know, security reasons." "But I've been working for Marvel for 16 years!"

"I love the people at Marvel," Andrews said. "I would put my life on the line for them, and I love those characters. But as I had that dinner, I had a clear view of the landscape. I don't get benefits from Marvel, I don't get overtime, I don't get vacations. I don't work for Marvel Comics -- I'm a visitor, and I've been visiting for 16 years. I work for myself." Andrews said he'll continue to work with Marvel, but that dinner made him realize he has to do something for himself. And he has: New Image series "The One %," with a tagline of, "They own more than half the world, Renato Jones is going to even the score." Andrews said it's about a man who hides among the rich, to make them pay for their crimes. Like "Iron Fist," it's written, drawn, inked and colored by Andrews.

The team of Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott joined, with Rucka telling a story of appearing at WonderCon 2009 across the street at the convention's former home at the Moscone Center. At that show, he talked to Kirkman about doing a project for Image. "Lazarus" happened first, but this was that project -- "Black Magick," which Scot has been on board for since 2010. "It's a police procedural, but it's not," Rucka said. "It's supernatural investigation, but it's not. It's a story of legacy and destiny, and bad things that go bump in the night." Rucka said they'll be doing a magazine-sized format issue, "Because when Ed Brubaker has a good idea, I steal it." Rucka said it'll be nine issues a year, about 30 issues total. "Black Magick" is set to start in October. "I have been waiting years to share this with you guys," Rucka said.

Jason Aaron entered from backstage, mentioning his new project with his "Scalped" collaborator R. M. Guera: "The Goddamned," which he calls "the guys who did 'Scalped' doing the Bible." Aaron said it's set in the world before the flood. "If there is a Hell, this is definitely the book that will make sure I go there," Aaron said. "It's a very stark and brutal series." It also has caveman fighting dinosaurs. "This is my way of saying, 'Fuck you, science.'"

Sticking on stage, Aaron brought out his "The Other Side" collaborator, Cameron Stewart, who discussed how he traveled to Vietnam to properly research the story. There's a new, deluxe edition of the 2006 miniseries (originally published by DC's Vertigo imprint) coming, which Stewart said is one of his few early works that he's still very proud of. "We finally have the technology to put Jabba in the Hutt in it," Stewart joked.

Next up: Gail Simone and Cat Staggs, who are working on a new series titled "Crosswind." The teaser image shows a woman in a dress sitting on a toilet, with gun on one hand and a lighter in the other. "We have this very sexy, suave, gorgeous hunk of a dude, who really has it going on," Simone said. "He has a swanky apartment, great clothes, a great look. His life is going pretty good. It's on point. Even though he kills people for a living. Then we have our second character, who is basically a housewife from Seattle, who doesn't have her life together. Her husband doesn't respect her. Her own son really can't stand her. She's harassed by her neighbors. She hides in her science-fiction reading. Then imagine, one day, inexplicably, these two lives get switched. That's what 'Crosswind' is. It's a book about how these characters respond."

"It's like nothing I've ever done before," Simone said. "It's everything I've wanted to do," Staggs added.

"Saga" writer Brian K. Vaughan was out next -- first asking if everyone in the crowd has bought the first issue of he and Steve Skroce's recently released new series "We Stand On Guard," along with announcing some Panel Syndicate news: "The Private Eye" is coming to print at Image Comics -- after much cajoling from Robert Kirkman, he says -- and in return, Vaughan and Marcos Martin will do a "Walking Dead" story for Panel Syndicate.

Final guests: "Scott Pilgrim" creator Bryan Lee O'Malley and artist Leslie Hung, who are doing a comic titled "Snotgirl" for Image Comics. O'Malley kept his comments relatively brief -- look for more details to come.

The presenteation wrapped with Stephenson returning to thank the attendees, but keep reading CBR for more from Image Expo.

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