IMAGE EXPO: Wiebe Continues the Fight in "Panzerfaust," Launches "Rat Queens"

The 2013 Image Expo was all about highlighting modern comics' most exciting creators, and fitting that bill to a T is "Peter Panzerfaust" co-creator and writer Kurtis Wiebe. After publishing a few well-received miniseries at Image, including "Green Wake" and "The Intrepids," Wiebe debuted "Peter Panzerfaust" in 2012 with artist Tyler Jenkins, the first ongoing, creator-owned series for both of them.

After a modest launch, the book began to develop traction and gain steam to become one of the crown jewels in Image's current creative renaissance. With both a motion comic and a live-action series in development at the BBC, "Panzerfaust" and Wiebe have never been hotter.

Wiebe sat down with CBR News during Image Expo to chat about what's next for both "Peter Panzerfaust" and his upcoming ongoing series "Rat Queens." Wiebe discussed what he felt was the "perfect storm" that led to the success of "Panzerfaust," went over what readers can expect in "Rat Queens," revealed which "Battlestar Galactica" star he's already contacted about a role in the BBC's live-action "Peter Panzerfaust" adaptation, his reaction to Image's new digital comics approach and more.

CBR News: Kurtis, so how's Image Expo treating you?

Kurtis Wiebe: Awesome, it's amazing! I'm having a great time.

Were you at last year's Image Expo?

I was. "Peter Panzerfaust" #1 came out then, the week before the show. Both me and Tyler [Jenkins] went to it.

You've had one hell of a year since then.

Yeah, it's been good. [Laughs]

Honestly, I'm just kinda having a moment now when I came off that panel. I was sitting next to Robert Kirkman on my left and Ed Brubaker on my right. That's about it! I'm in a totally different place. The book is doing a lot better, our sales have just continued to climb since the start of this year and now I have a new series coming out. Things are really good -- I can write full-time just on my comics now.

When did you make that leap?

Just recently, when we figured out our numbers and what we were making off the book. That was about a month and a half ago. I think I can risk it. It'll be pretty tight, but I'll make it. I just kinda dove in and that's when I realized I could handle doing two ongoing series if I'm full-time.

If you don't mind me asking, what was your day job before?

I moved from Vancouver, Canada to the mid-west and took a job writing for "Sky Pirates of Neo Terra." They had a book with Image a few years ago -- they brought me in to write story and for world development. I moved there for that job. It came down to me putting time in at the office and still falling behind on my own projects, so I had to make the transition just to focus on my own stuff. That's very recent. I just dove right in.

Did you expect "Peter Panzerfaust" to take off as quickly as it has?

I had hoped. It's interesting, because I had done a few books before -- I think I did two books before "Panzerfaust," and I was getting a bit frustrated by the lack of sales. With "Panzerfaust," I just felt it had to be a hit. I just had this feeling.

Then I learned a bit about the marketing aspect and how I should sell it as a "Peter Pan" homage. I had kinda hinted that it was like the Peter Pan story, but I didn't make it clear that it was an homage. [The first issue] came in with lukewarm numbers, and we just decided in December of 2012 that even though the book wasn't doing awesome, we wanted to keep the book alive. Tyler and I had to commit to doing the series without really making much off of it. We just really wanted to see it through to the end and I made a post on my blog about it saying that we were gonna do the book no matter what the sales were. We were gonna end it the way we always planned.

A month later, everything just went crazy. A number of circumstances came together and now the book's sales are just continually growing.

What were those circumstances?

The whole secondary market and speculators drove prices of the early issues through the roof on eBay. It was a combination of a low print run for the first seven issues, and then we announced the BBC motion comic. Right away, that caused a spike in the [price of the] first issue. So the spike in price, plus the BBC connection, caused people to see it as valuable, and it just climbed higher. It started showing up on all these websites saying that this book was selling for $600 for issue #1 on eBay and then people were talking about it. Then people saw how much the older issues were going for, so every time a new issue came out, people would swarm the stores and try to get every single one they could. Stores started to increase their orders to meet demand. Then people actually started reading the book. It was this perfect storm.

In January, I did an article with "USA Today" where I knew going in to it that issue #8 was going to be our issue with Captain Hook. I knew I needed to make it very clear that it's a "Peter Pan" story and that this was our version of the Hook character. I focused on that and did as many interviews as I possibly could. I got that info in "USA Today" and it showed up in the print newspaper, not just online. Then the Huffington Post found out about it and they posted about it. It was just the perfect storm for the book. I couldn't have planned it. Sometimes you just get lucky.

You say when you first launched the book, you downplayed the "Peter Pan" aspects of it, but the book's surge in popularity seemed to come when you put your fist down and said, "This character is our Captain Hook!" in very explicit terms. What was it that made you switch your thinking?

It wasn't like I intentionally didn't want to associate it with "Peter Pan" at first -- it was just that when I wrote the initial marketing material, I was using the wrong language. I was saying, "It's like 'Peter Pan' meets 'Red Dawn.'" That was early on, before I had really thought about how I wanted to properly market it. What I really should have been saying is, "This is a 'Peter Pan' homage set in a realistic world." That's what I should have said all along. I just wasn't doing it properly. I was never ashamed to say it was "Peter Pan" -- I mean, it's right there in the title! Some people don't see that, though, they'll read the entire first volume and not even realize it's a "Peter Pan" story. I just wanted to make that connection clear.

It does help when people can connect with it because they love the classic "Peter Pan" story. This is that story with a twist on it, so you're already slightly familiar with things. If I can hook readers with that and then pull them into my story and get them to appreciate what I'm doing, that's the goal.

What stage are the "Peter Panzerfaust" adaptions at right now?

As far as the motion comic goes, they're working on it now. They haven't given us any hard deadlines or any set dates like that. They've given us some idea, but it's nothing that I can speak to yet. Same with the live-action adaptation. That portion is just starting out, but I did ask if I could mention the show was happening and they said I could talk about it. I do know a bit more information, but I can't really speak to it as much as I'd like to.

What would your dream casting for the TV show be if you had an unlimited budget?

If I had unlimited budget and I could make an actor younger, David Tennant would be Peter. [Tennant] actually was an early influence in how I characterized [Peter.]

As far as the rest of them, I haven't actually thought about it. It's weird -- you'd think I would have, because the show is in development and they probably want my feedback on it, but I really haven't thought about it that much. I did tweet the guy who played Gaius Baltar in "Battlestar Galactica" to play Mr. Smee, and he actually responded to it! We had a bit of a conversation about it. I just like that actor, James Callis.

Have you spoken to the stars of the motion comic, Elijah Wood and Ron Perlman, at all yet?

[I spoke with] Ron Perlman at the Chicago Comic Con. It was this thing where he had clearly had a long day. He had just finished a long signing and he was kinda out of it, but we got a few pictures and chatted very briefly. I haven't met Summer Glau or Elijah Wood. I'd love to, possibly next week in San Diego. I hear Elijah Wood's gonna be there, so I'm gonna try to pull some strings and hang out with him for a night or something. [Laughs]

Stepping back to the comic book for a minute, what's coming up in the next few months?

I was very nervous on the panels today and I forgot to mention it, but there is one thing. Basically we're doing a deluxe hardcover that combines the first ten issues. We're gonna have all new material, too. I'm going to be writing up an essay in the back of it talking about the homages to the original story and other Easter eggs we have in the book that people might not have picked up on. I believe that's gonna be in the November "Previews" for a December release. It's gonna be around for Christmas.

As for the story, some people have been asking where the Darling family's been. We've seen Wendy a lot, but we haven't see John and Michael, her two younger brothers. They just kind of disappeared, and we deal with that directly in Issue #12. Why they haven't been present and how they feel about that. It ties directly in to what happens in the rest of the arc. We've already gone on record saying that our version of the crocodile is in this arc. He's gonna be appearing a little bit, nearer to the end of the issue, and then have another big appearance at the end of the story.

That'll take us up to issue #15, and then we have a few more years of stories planned. By the end of issue #15, though, we'll have introduced every character. The only ones that are still in question are the croc, who hasn't shown up yet, Mr. Smee and the mermaids, who have shown up briefly. A lot of this has been building to the reveals of each character, but now that's over and I can really open up the story.

In this world, is the croc a person or a mindless beast like in the original?

It is a person. How they're tied into the story is pretty interesting. The croc, in the original novel, was this beast that would show up every so often out of the blue and strike a little bit of fear in to Captain Hook. We're gonna play with that. It is a person and how he is tied into our version of Captain Hook is a bit of a direct correlation from the novel, but we're doing our own spin on it. He's going to be this mysterious character. I think people are going to be pretty happy with what we're doing about it.

You also have another new ongoing series debuting soon from Image with artist Roc Upchurch. Tell us a bit about "Rat Queens."

"Rat Queens" is going to be a monthly ongoing series. We're doing the same format as "Peter Panzerfaust;" so five months on, a month off, and then five months on again. Ten issues a year. It is a comedy fantasy series for adults. It's super-violent, it has foul language and has a lot more of a modern feel to it. Take college people in a modern time and throw them into a fantasy world. What would they do? How would they act? That's what we're doing. Taking modern language and fashion and throwing it into a fantasy world. It's very inspired by "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel," so if you like those shows or are a Joss Whedon fan, this is something that I've wanted to write for a while.

How did Roc Upchurch come to handle the art for the project?

I met Roc at New York Comic Con in 2011, on a street corner. He was working on "Vescell" at the time and he was hanging out with all the people from that book. We ended up striking up a conversation. I loved the art in "Vescell," so when it ended, we put together a pitch for a book called "The Goblinettes." We shopped it around to a few places but never heard back from any of them. I still wanted to work with him, we have great chemistry, so when this project came up, it was a perfect fit.

Is "Rat Queens" ongoing?

Yeah, there's no end. If the book is really popular, then we'll do as many as keeps selling. If the reaction is lukewarm, we'll just do a few arcs to see how it goes. In "Rat Queens," every arc can be a new adventure, although I do have a very long term plan for it, things that we'll be planting in the very first arc that won't have a payoff until two or three years down the road. Then you can look back and go, "Oh! That's what that person was doing there in the background."

Oh, that Kurtis! He got us again!

[Laughs] Exactly! Three years down the road, you can see that certain characters have actually been there all along.

What about "Peter Panzerfaust?" How long do you see that going for now that it's proven to be a hit?

The actual narrative is designed in a way that we have a finite series, but Tyler and I have been talking that if we get to do a couple more years on the book and the demand's still there, we might think about doing some spinoffs. We could have a series that focuses on the adventures of the Lost Boys. One of the things people mention they want to see on Twitter is the adventures of Tiger Lily. People seem to like her character. We could do a five-issue run and then continue on. Kind of like how "Fables" has had their little spinoffs.

One of the biggest announcements here has to be Image's new digital comics initiative. What are your feelings on it?

I don't know if I fully understand it. You actually get your own copy to call your own? That's new. With comiXology, you have access to it, but you don't get the actual files. I'm curious, because I don't really know how it affects creators. I assume it's beneficial, because on comiXology -- which is great, because everybody has it -- we, as creators, see a very small portion of those sales. If we cut out that middleman, Apple or whoever, we get to keep a larger cut, so that's probably a really good thing. It'll be interesting to see what the response is like a year or two down the road.

Do you have any other projects coming up besides "Peter Panzerfaust" and "Rat Queens?"

That's it for this year, although I have started to talk with Johnnie Christmas, whose doing a book with Image called "Sheltered." We're in the early stages on a project together that might come out late next fall. It's very early stages on that -- we're just beginning to start the process. That'll give me three series next year, and that's pretty much all I can handle.

"Peter Panzerfaust" #12 by Kurtis Wiebe and Tyler Jenkins hits stores July 10 from Image Comics.

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