On July 2, a host of new series were announced during the 2013 Image Expo keynote speech. After the big announcement, the creators behind those titles assembled to discuss their new projects and take questions from fans. The panel consisted of Rick Remender ("Deadly Class," "Black Science"), Matt Fraction ("Sex Criminals," "ODY-C") and the "Southern Bastards" team of Jason Aaron and Jason Latour.
The panel kicked off with a little nostalgia as each creator recalled their introduction to the world of comics. Remender's was "Secret Wars" #4, which he picked up while skateboarding near his local 7-11. "Then it was 'X-Men.' Then the rest of the '80s was spent reading the fun Marvel stuff."
Latour remembered finding a box of comics in his dad's things, full of DC horror comics, "Machine Man" #1 and a few issues of "The Hulk." "To this day, I don't know if that box was his!"
An issue of "New Teen Titans" was Aaron's first comic, followed by "Atari Force" and "Blue Devil."
Fraction's first was "Batman" #316 and to this day he remains confused by what actually happened in the issue, which ended with Robin somehow defeating supervillain Crazy Quilt with a silver tray. "Everybody knows the natural enemy of quilts is polished silver."
Asked how comics have changed for them since becoming creators themselves, Fraction replied, "I dunno -- I always told stories with words and pictures. I remember taking dot matrix paper and binding them with yarn and then loaning them out to my friends like a library. Then I went to art school and then film school."
Remender also remembered making comics at a young age. In elementary school, he created a sci-fi comic book called "John Boogerhead" which his teacher had bound into a hardcover. "We got this back and I was just like, 'Fuck! This is real! I got a book!' I was running around yelling, 'Look at my book!' I still remember that joy."
Remender described the act of transitioning from being a reader to a professional as "seeing behind the curtain. It's learning the craft. It's learning exactly how much air to have in the word balloon to give it enough space and make it appealing to the eye... The immersion process is a lot different, transitioning from fan to reader. You can't get lost in it quite as well."
"If I'm being really honest," Latour said, "I think it was my parents were basically like, 'This is the only thing in the world to keep this kid occupied. The only thing he has any aptitude for.'
"Drawing was a way I could express myself and feel comfortable," Latour continued. "There's a performance art aspect to drawing. I was always trying to tell stories. I'm always interested in my friends who write but don't draw. I'm always wondering, when you were a kid, how could people tell you were a writer? When you're an artist, you almost can't hide it. When you're a writer you can't get anyone to read anything."
"Writing was all I ever wanted to do and it's really all I've been able to do successfully," Aaron said. "I have no fucking fallback, so if this shit doesn't work out I have no idea where I'm going."
Noting that all of the panel members have spent a considerable amount of time working on superhero comics -- Aaron, Fraction and Remender are all part of the Marvel architects team, and Latour just wrapped a run on Marvel's "Winter Soldier" -- panel moderator Ron Richards asked for their thoughts on how important genre diversity is to the medium.
"I just like doing shit I want to read and I read all sorts of different stuff," Aaron replied. "Growing up, I was never the fantasy kid or the sci-fi kid or the comic kid. I liked a little bit of all that, so creatively, I get bored if I'm just doing the same stuff all the time. I like the stuff I do at Marvel, but it's great being able to mix it up week to week. I don't worry about genre all that much."
Fraction agreed that "genre diversity is incredibly important." He compared it to going to a movie theatre to find only one movie playing, or only have one type of novel at a bookstore.
Remender readily admitted his tendency to lean towards science fiction stories, though he doesn't feel confined when working in one genre or another. "[It's] more of a backdrop, and certain backdrops allow for certain things. In a Western, you're not going to be doing a lot of fast traveling to locations. You have to think in terms of, if you have to travel a long way, it's going to take long time. It's a long, drawn-out journey that could give you a whole new batch of character opportunities."
"Genre is just language," Latour added. "Genre is a delivery device."
Asked if they had any work they think they especially "nailed," Aaron said he actually worries about feeling that way about anything he writes. "I always want to get better, I'm always most excited about the thing I'm gonna do next. I don't want to get to the point where I'm looking back instead of looking ahead.
"So in other words, you should just read all the shit I've done," he continued jokingly. "Don't pick and choose!"
Fraction agreed with Aaron, adding, "The worst thing I've ever written is the thing I've written last, and the best thing I've ever written is the thing that hasn't come out yet."
Remender again differed from the rest of the panel, saying, "I think I've stuck a few landings, and that's always the trickiest thing. The sticking of the landing where you're showing the reader that there was intention [in the plot] and you put the time in on the outline to give them a reward at the end that was meaningful and not just bullshit."
Asked by a fan why Fraction was making Odysseus female instead of male in his upcoming homage to the "Odyssey," "ODY-C," Fraction answered, "I wanted to give my daughter a hero and I thought Odysseus was the perfect template for that."
Another question posed to Fraction asked about the challenges the time-stopping protagonists will face in his other Image title, "Sex Criminals." Fraction joked, "The sex police, duh!" He then said that the book will offer plenty of challenges for his and co-creator Chip Zdarsky's sex-powered protagonists, including an agency hunting them down and the duo just trying to figure out how to work their powers.
Remender told a fan that he often veers away from his initial outline for a story. "You just described writing! You rework the outline and rework it and rework it... Once you're writing pages and writing dialogue, you'll see entire new opportunities and new places to go."
Aaron told a fan that he didn't worry about offending religious Native Americans in "Scalped," that he wrote it "just like everything else. You do research and then you make a bunch of shit up... Research only takes you to a certain point -- then you tell a story out of it. I wasn't trying to make a documentary about life on a reservation in South Dakota."
An aspiring writer asked the panel what advice they had for making relatable characters. Remender told him to "write from your heart and write something in to every character you can identify with."
Aaron added, "I don't think you can worry about trying to write for an audience; you have to write for yourself."
A girl asked Remender if "Deadly Class" would come with a suggested soundtrack, given the books setting of the '80s punk and hardcore scenes. Remender said he'd like to make some, but hasn't yet figured out how to make a shareable playlist on Spotify.
A fan asked the panel if there's the same level of excitement for them when they work on corporate characters versus their creator-owned ones. "For me, it's wildly different," Fraction replied. "It's pride of ownership, but there's also a legacy aspect. It's not quite a comparable experience. It's apples and oranges."
"You wouldn't guess it to look at me, but I love going to Disney World," Aaron added. "Going to a cool Disney World resort to hang out and have a good time. It's fun. But when I come back to my house, that's my fucking house."
All of the panel members had different techniques for finding new artists. Fraction revealed that he often gets artists by just writing them fan letters first, Remender made many contacts from ten years working as an animator and storyboard artist, and Aaron often meets writers in bars.
"You go to shows and hang out," Aaron explained. "With Marvel, the people I've worked with, a lot of time I've never met them or had a conversation with them. Some guys I work with on a lot of different projects, and we never actually meet in person. With creator-owned, it's different. You actually have a relationship."
Finally, the panel was asked if there was any friendly competition when they see each other's new work.
"My goal is to systematically destroy Jason Aaron," Latour joked.
Aaron, however, offered a more serious answer. "Yeah, I think there's always a healthy competition and it's nice. We don't all hang out all the time, we all live in different parts of the country, but it's nice to feel like you're part of a community. We always seem to at least pretend like we like each other in front of each other. It's exciting to see your friends doing cool work. It fires me up to go do something better."