IMAGE EXPO: Rucka, Scott, Simone & More Reveal Inspiration Behind New Series

After the initial buzz of excitement that came with the Image Expo announcements Thursday morning, those in attendance either split off to get in line for signings or stayed put for that afternoon's series of panels, which would spotlight many of the books announced earlier that day. Moderated by Image Comics' David Brothers, one of the last panels of the afternoon featured "Black Magick" creative team Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott as well as surprise guests -- and fellow Image creators -- Gail Simone, Cat Staggs, Steve Orlando and Jimmie Robinson.

When Simone and Rucka were asked what it's like working with Scott, Simone immediately responded, "She draws the greatest Nightwing butt ever." Everyone laughed in agreement before Simone continued her praise. "Nicola has this amazing ability to do so much with body language and expressions, there's not that many artists that can do tender and brutal at the same time. Nicola can do that."

Rucka seconded Simone's praise, noting that he "spent a really long time courting Nicola -- and Gail totally cheated. I'm not joking. She yanked her out from under me and it took seven years to get her back!" Simone worked on "Birds of Prey" and "Secret Six" with Scott before Rucka finally got his chance to work with her; their collaboration has taken the form of the new Image series "Black Magick".

In response to all that praise, Scott said, "I feel lucky to work with two very different -- but two of my favorite -- writers. They're always my top picks of people I get to work with."

When asked how Simone and Staggs connected for "Crosswind," their new Image series about a hit man and a housewife who swap bodies and lives, Staggs said, "The story goes, once upon a time, we said... 'Let's work on something! -- Yeah that'd be great!' And then something happened after years of saying we were going to work together; last year, Gail just said she had this book and I said, 'Yes let's do it!'"

Simone spoke to what Staggs brings to "Crosswind," stating that "each piece of art that I see just brings this project up to a whole new level. It's hot, it's dirty, it's sad, it's funny -- it's just got all the feels to it. And Cat seems to be able to do that in just one or two images."

"The Empty" and "Five Weapons" writer Robinson is doing a book called "Expired" with artist Richard Pace. It's a supernatural crime thriller about a homeless veteran from Afghanistan who sees a ghost every time he feeds a parking meter. Robinson has previously worked in all-ages, science-fiction, some more mature work and now he's tackling horror. When asked what drives him to explore so many different genres, Robinson said, "It's restlessness. I like to draw and create something that I don't see on the shelf."

A similar line of thought led to the creation of "Virgil", a new Image series from Steve Orlando and JD Faith. The series, which got its start as a Kickstarter project, tells the tale of a gay cop in Jamaica who gets outed and has to fight his way across the country to save his man and get revenge.

"He's not leaving town without his man or some blood on his hands," said Orlando, who previously worked on the Image series "Undertow" and currently writes "Midnighter" for DC Comics. Orlando said he was inspired to write "Virgil" after watching the Quentin Tarantino film "Django Unchained" and asking himself what the story would have looked like had the director "had the balls" to put a gay couple in the story. Ultimately, Orlando's answer was to take the general formula of the film that inspired him and put a gay couple at the center of it to create a story he calls "queerploitation."

During the following question and answer session, Staggs was asked if she was formerly trained. "I've drawn since I could remember." said Staggs. "I got a Bachelor's in fine arts for whatever reason, mostly focusing on portraiture and figure drawing." This training has influenced her work, she noted. "I appreciated what it did for me training-wise; the classes are very intense and very long. I took figure drawing as many times as they would let me. I can't fault myself for doing it, but the degree is kind of besides the point, mostly because that's not the field I went into. They're vastly different worlds and this was the world I was more suited to." She added, "Art is all storytelling. Don't let them tell you it's not. I mean, the Sistine Chapel is a comic book."

Scott also opened up about her process and how she handles certain aspects of her art. "I'll look in the mirror and act out facial expressions just to sort of find what the emotional core is," said Scott. "If I'm drawing body movement and I'm not quite nailing it, I'll get up and I'll do the motion or the body language pose that I'm trying to get at." Scott revealed that she often takes to the internet if all else fails. "If I have to draw a really specific kind of thing, I'll google image a few different versions to get an idea and then work out my own brand."

The entire panel was asked how they manage their work day and if they have been able to find a balance between creating, promoting and having a personal life. Many on the panel immediately laughed and responded, "What's a life?"

"For me I have to write at night alone a lot, where there's no distractions," answered Simone. "When I'm in the zone and typing, any word that I hear ends up being typed, just nothing filtered out." Simone's strong online presence was also mentioned. "The thing about Twitter is I'm just very fast. I started online when I had my hair dressing salon and I was just goofing off, being an insomniac."

Orlando said that he started his comic writing career by working out in public. "For years when I was making comics I was doing it in public places, usually like in the back booth of a Denny's, so now I get stir crazy if there's no noise in the house or anything. I need more than white noise; I need something with words in it to actually work. I spent a solid period of time consistently looping the Marvel films for weeks until my partner made me stop."

An audience member had a question for Simone concerning the body swapping premise of "Crosswind." "I am a trans person and when I see things like gender swaps, it makes me really nervous," said the attendee. "Do you have any way of setting these fears at ease?"

"'Crosswind'" is not going to be what people expect from a gender swap at all," said Simone, addressing the concerns. "It's not going to have the stereotypical things. It's not cynical, it's not preachy, it's not any of that. It's hard to explain without giving away too much but I understand where you're coming from and I've given it a lot of thought in designing what this project was going to be."

The last question posed to the panel asked about their initial inspiration for their new Image projects. "For me," answered Simone, "whenever I think about doing a new project, especially something that's going to be built from the ground up, I want to do something that I don't see out there already. I certainly want it to be something that I care about, with interesting characters, where I really have something interesting to say. I just thought 'Goodfellas' meets 'Freaky Friday' would be pretty interesting to talk about."

Orlando brought up the void he saw in genre films when it came to queer representation. "'It's 'Die Hard,' but Bruce Willis is saving his husband instead of his wife!' is every pitch I've ever made," Orlando joked. "I wanted to move when it comes to queer fiction, especially in genre, and show that we're not just progressing from the idea of queer themes, the story itself is not fetishized. We're not doing 'gay books,' we're doing genre books that are just as nonchalant about having a queer lead as we want them to be nonchalant about us walking down the street. We want people to look at it as normal. Whether it's 'Midnighter' or whether it's superhero fiction or 'Virgil' with this type of exploitation, the idea is that it's just about this great character that kicks a lot of ass and, yeah, is a gay man. There's nothing unusual about that."

"I was talking to a friend of mine, who is a practicing Wiccan, about the nature of magic as she lives and believes it," Rucka said, talking about the earliest roots of his interest in witchcraft that led to "Black Magick." "I remember I got home from the [WonderCon 2009] and went to Powell's, dropped like two hundred bucks on all the witchcraft stuff I could find and spent the next few days reading with a highlighter, really trying to understand not just the theology but also sort of the history." He added that he was "taken by the idea that ultimately the idea of what magic is supposed to be is the ability to impose one's will on reality."

Robinson said, "I don't have a good story, I'm just restless. I have a hundred ideas, I just can't do them all at once. I have an online community of sequential artists where we all hang out and talk, and bounce ideas around. My inspiration is all over the place."

The panel wrapped with Simone adding one last thing about her new project with Staggs. "'Crosswind' is really about life swapping; it's about so much more than just the genders of the two characters. They're completely swapping lives, which means a whole lot of things aside from gender."

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