IMAGE EXPO: The Keynote Announcements

Today, Image Comics kicks off their 2013 Image Expo - a one-day event for press and fans meant to maximize the publishing news coming out of the creator-owned powerhouse. This morning, Publisher Eric Stephenson will be taking the stage at the Yerba Buena Center For The Arts in San Francisco, CA to deliver a keynote on the current state of the publisher before launching into an expected string of announcements featuring the likes of Robert Kirkman, Mark Millar, Ed Brubaker and other special guests.

CBR News will have updates all day on new projects and all week as we publish full panel reports of the event, but for the here and now, a crack team of reporters including Casey Gilly and Karl Kiley on hand in San Fran to share the latest breaking publishing news from the event.

So keep your browser locked to this space for the rest of the day as we continue to update on all things Image Expo LIVE! as it happens.

Interested in a particular creative team or title? Check out this list of announcements and jump to more details about your favorites.

Stephenson started with a brief history of Image and his own connection to the publisher as well as his respect for the creators who founded the company as well as their ethos. To him, the strength of Image lies in the fact that "We put the power where it belongs: in the hands of the creators doing the work. We give them the opportunity to be successful, and to do it on their terms.

"2012 was Image Comics' 20th anniversary, instead of staging a series of big, nostalgia based events, we let our talent do the talking," he continued. "We saw our dollars increase over 40% over 2011 numbers. Six months in 2013, already up 38% in dollars and units over 2013." The Publisher went on to explain that The book market sales are currently 51% and 40% in the direct market - a fact he explained with enthusiasm bordering out a shout. "We're not just beating ourselves, we're making significant gains on Disney and Warner Bros.," Stephenson added.

Overall, Stephenson said that Image's market share has grown by over 80% since 2009. This year their sales mark the strongest challenge to the corporate market since the '90s.

As for the purpose of the Expo, the Publisher cast their task in terms of "the war for creativity" saying, "Creators are coming to Image Comics in droves. They have greater aspirations than endlessly rehashing the trademarks of yesteryear."

Stephenson then got into Image's titles, not only introducing hits like Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples' "Saga" and Jonathan Hickman and company's "The Manhattan Projects" but also incoming books like Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin's "Satellite Sam." He rounded out the current publishing slate with specific mention of three new titles debuting today at the event: Fraction and Chip Zdarsky's "Sex Criminals" Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch's "Rat Queen and Ales Kot's "Zero."

New announcements arrived in the form of the following books slated for October: the already announced "Pretty Deadly" by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios, "Three" by Kieron Gillen and Ryan Kelly, "Rocket Girl" by Amy Reeder and new issues of "God Hates Astronauts" by Ryan Brown, all of which will be followed by "Umbral" in November from writer Antony Johnston.

Image Partner and "Walking Dead" creator Robert Kirkman then came on stage. For the tenth anniversary of the zombie phenomenon, "I wanted to get to a point where civilization starts rebuilding," the writer said adding that "with civilization comes complications and conflict." In October with issue #115, "The Walking Dead" starts a new story line -its biggest yet at 12 issues long - called "All Out War." And even though it will be a year's worth of comics, the arc will be released bi-weekly over a seven month span.

After that news, writer Ed Brubaker came on stage to chat up Stephenson to the crown's chagrin. After joking up his own status in the business, Brubaker announced "Velvet" - a new series with his "Captain America" partner Steve Epting. He described the book as espionage-flavored similar to their "Cap" work but more grounded and twisted. The idea is one the writer has been planning for eight years and looking for an artist for as long. Epting joined discussions on the book five years ago, and since then, the writer was waiting for the artist to finish out his Marvel exclusive contract so he could draw the book. The story focuses on Velvet Templeton, a personal assistant to world's largest intelligence agency in the vein of Moneypenny from the James Bond films. She has to leave desk job to go back into the field, on the run from her own agents in the new series. Brubaker wrapped his description saying the book will be like "a Bond or Mission Impossible movie to mashed into a meta textual cold war scenario."

Writer J. Michael Straczynski, who has recently returned to Image in force with his Joe's Comics imprint, then took the stage with Stephenson to discuss his own plans for the studio concept within the larger publisher. Aside from debuting his new "Sidekick" series at the show - a black and white preview in advance of its August 7 debut - he compared his latest Image book to working with bigger company's like Marvel and DC. "When you work for the major companies, you learn there are certain things you cant do to major characters. The appeal to me was to go out and do those things to these characters now," Straczynski said. "In first issue, we see [our lead's hero] The Red Cowl being assassinated...[the main character] has to then become his own person, where he's just a sidekick and get people to take his life seriously."

JMS then announced that he'd be reviving his former Marvel Icon series "The Book of Lost Souls" with Colleen Doran and "Dream Police" at Image. The series will focus on 12-issue runs of epic stories, the former focusing on a main character who tries to commit suicide and has to come back from the beyond to help others. The latter is a dreamlike crime story inspired in part by classic cop dramas like "Dragnet." Stay tuned later today on CBR for more with JMS on both series.

The writer then revealed he's also developing a six-issue series with artist Bill Seinkiewicz called "Alone." In that book, he wants to "deconstruct the way a comic book works...You dont just want someone who works outside the box, you want someone who lives outside the box. Bill lives five blocks down from the box."

Writer Kurtis J. Wiebe then took the stage, telling Stephenson that his well received "Peter Panzerfaust" series is being developed for a live-action TV series for the BBC involving actors Elijah Wood and Ron Pearlman. In addition, he talked up "Rat Queens" - his incoming series with artist Jonathan Upchurch (of Image's "Vessel") who he met at New York Comic Con in 2011. Wiebe described the series as a fantasy homage to being a lover of the genre. It will be his own personal take on the kinds of stories established by "Lord of the Rings" about four mercenary women who head out to kill monsters for a living. "Rat Queens" draws equal inspiration from Joss Whedon's "Buffy The Vampire Slayer." The book debuts on September 25 with a Fiona Staples cover, but it will debut in part as a web comic to give readers an early taste.

Stephenson then spoke about the proudest moment of his publishing career - bringing out the book "Casanova" - before introducing writer Matt Fraction who was wheeled out in an office chair by JMS to audience laughter. Fraction called his "Satellite Sam" partner Howard Chaykin "America's Dirty Old Man" before describing his affection for the artist's "American Flagg" work. The inspiration for "Sam" came from Fractions own fascinations with "Sex, death and TV." Fraction called the '50s period piece "kind of a document of life back then" in the same vein as "Mad Men." Fraction also spoke about "Sex Criminals" with Zdarsky which he described as the story of "a girl who can stop time whenever she...makes whoopee." After discussing the lust-driven crime spree that ensues, Stephenson called the book the next step for fans of "Hawkeye."

Fraction then announced another new title, "Ody-C" - a second adaptation of "The Odyssey" at Image after the fan favorite "Infinite Horizon" by Gerry Dugan and Phil Noto. In Fractions take - which happens "in SPACE!" - the tagline will be "The heaviest trip is the one back home." He was inspired to write the series after re-reading the classic text, saying he'd forgotten that the story was told out of order. It's very dependent on your understanding and knowing of other stories to follow along, very much like comics in Fraction's opinion. An idea started to hatch of giving his daughter a hero...so who better than Ulysses? In this take, all of the classic men characters are women, and the women are men. "Ody-C" will be set chronologically after a big cosmic war in space, telling the story as though these reigning champions are heading home, but there are "celestial super-cosmic beings" standing in the way of the hero on her way back to her family. The book will publish in early 2014 and be drawn by Christian Ward.

Surprise guest Rick Remender then took the stage saying it was "good to be back at Image" after ten years working for other publishers. The writer's first new series announcement is "Black Science" with artist Matteo Scalera. The series serves as a sequel to Remender and Tony Moore's "Fear Agent" and was inspired by the writer's love of Frank Frazetta paintings and Al Williamson illustrations. It's about a member of the Anarchist League of Science - a group experimenting with dark sciences. The November-shipping series will feature digital paints by Remender's "Uncanny X-Force" colorist Dean White and a cover by Andrew Robinson. "If you like Conan and bombs and spacemen, you might enjoy this," he said.

The writer then revealed another new project: "Deadly Class." This series is inspired by Remender's growing up in 80s hardcore scene with punk rock. The writer described the book as a "self-indulgent work" where he'll be taking his own high school experiences and "taking the metaphorical knife in your back and making it real." The story focuses on a a high school for assassins where Remender will twist "slice of life stories" from this era where "the violence angle is surprising to remind you of the stakes the characters are dealing with." The writer joked, "Who doesn't want a 40 year old telling you this stuff?" The book will be drawn by Wesley Craig with colorist Lee Loughridge along for the ride, and variant covers by Jonathan Wayshak and Farel Dalrymple are forthcoming. Check out CBR's interview with Remender about the series.

The parade of Marvel Comics creators coming to Image continued as the impressively bearded Jason Aaron took the stage, surprising the crowd. The writer introduced his own Image series by joking, "They don't let me curse quite as much in Marvel as I'm used to" adding that there's been a "big cursing sized hole in his writing heart for a long time" which will be filled with the series "Southern Bastards" with artist Jason Latour. "People say write what you know...this is what I know," the writer said. Aaron grew up in Alabama so "This is the book I was meant to write in a very sad, dark way." The writer said "Southern Bastards" is "about a lot of southern bastards." He's creating his own world filled with colorful characters and is planning on doing terrible things to them for many years. Latour joined his writer on stage and called the book "The Untouchables versus Boss Hog" or "The Dukes of Hazard by the Coen Bros on meth."

The pair continued to describe the book, saying it's a crime book set in a fictional Alabama county filled with lots of mean old bastards, a vampire football team and the main bad guy - a high school football coach. This is a character Aaron came up with during "Scalped," but he didn't quite work into that series. "He's a local celebrity, won a bunch of trophies and is burying bodies under the end zone and bleachers," the writer said. Asked what it's like working together, the duo joked "Like Sisyphus." "With this book, we have the chance to do everything together, and both being souther bastards ourselves, its right up our alley," Aaron said of the project shipping early next year.

Writer Mark Millar then appeared via video to talk up the future of his and Frank Quitely's "Jupiter's Legacy" and his Image work in general. The artist is finishing issue #3 of the superhero epic now, and in the meantime, Millar is planning his "magnum opus...the most ambitious project I've ever planned." Launching in January of 2014, the writer known for his boasting said "If 'Jupiter's Legacy' was 'Watchmen,' this is the Marvel Universe for the 21st century." Millar will launch an entire line of books starting with one that's "as pivotal as Fantastic Four" was to the fabled superhero company. The first book in the line will be called "MPH" and will be drawn by Duncan Fegredo.

Stephenson wrapped the announcement phase of the keynote by saying that Image will publish "Noah" - a graphic novel brought to life by Niko Henrickson and Darren Arronovsky early in 2014.

Image Director of Business Development Ron Richards then took the stage to announced that today the Image Comics website at ImageComics.com will be relaunching immediately to serve as a storefront selling DRM-free digital comics as PDFs, CBRs, CBZs and other ePub formats. The site will contain current and past Image titles (a full catalogue being built up over the coming months). Stay tuned for a full interview with Richards on the move later today on CBR. The project will also include a digital collected version of Warren Ellis and Jason Howard's "Scatterlands" web comic for $0.99 as of today.

And with that, Image Expo broke for lunch. Stay tuned in the days ahead for more from the event on CBR News including creator interviews, panel reports, preview and more!

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