LBCC: The Com.X Panel

Eddie Deighton, the owner of Com.X comic company and An.X advertising agency, re-introduced his British companies after a nearly seven year hiatus from the West Coast of the United States and a two year break from comics in general. An enthusiastic crowd at the first annual Long Beach Comic Con greeted him and his panel of guests, including Jon Sloan, Ben Shahrabani, Andi Ewington, and a special guest to be announced later during the panel.

Deighton, who launched the company in 2000 along with Russell Utley, detailed a brief history of Com.X. "[Com.X] started out of a pure passion for comics. We'd been talking about ways to create our own characters, our own stories. And we resigned ourselves to the fact that, because we were new to the industry, that we needed to create something ourselves. And we were fortunate at the time that Russell and myself were running a design company called Department.X, and it was profitable, so we decided to plow some funding into a comic company. And that's how Com.X was born."

On how Com.X is different from other comic book publishers, Deighton said, "The whole premise behind it was, we wanted to create a company that had no real boundaries when it came to genres, in terms of styles of stories that were being written. We just wanted to create kick ass comics that people would enjoy."

Since it's inception, Com.X has been a company with diverse, primarily British, talent. Deighton discussed this, saying "We formed relations with people like John Higgens, Liam Sharp, and Rob Williams, and we wanted to use the company primarily as a springboard for, primarily at the time, new British talent, but a springboard for new talent that weren't getting the breaks that they needed. And we had a very good eye, we think, for creating the right illustrators, the right artists. And we were fortunate that we could get some of these guys on board to work on our books."

"Cla$$war" was Com.X's first comic book title, and, as the audience later found out, was also quite relevant to the company's new announcements. It was "one of the first superhero books that we put out," said Deighton. "We had Trevor Hairsine, who used to work for "2000 AD." We had Rob Williams, who was a journalist at the time, and had no published [comic book] experience. He came to us and gave us the first episode as a pitch, and we loved it and created the story. And Trevor worked with us on that for three issues before leaving for Marvel."

Building on "Cla$$war," the original incarnation of Com.X added projects such as "Puncture," "Bazooka Jules" and "Razorjack," by John Higgins," listed Deighton.

But the original Com.X ran into trouble, leading to a two year hiatus. Deighton honestly discussed what went wrong, stating "We tried to run before we could walk. Before we launched, we had so many people that were enthusiastic about what we were doing. We wanted to prove that we were the new kids on the block and we could deliver the goods. I think the pressure got to us, and we were getting to the point where we were not managing our launches correctly. And we felt that we needed to take a step back from publishing, after three or four years, and reevaluate where we were. Because we got to the point where we had so many cool projects that we wanted to put out, but we were trying to put them out too soon, and we also didn't work into it consideration for the fact that artists would be delayed, or writers might not be delivering the goods on time. And we hadn't really factored all that into the whole process. We had the enthusiasm, but we didn't have the experience."

During that two years interim, Deighton said that "Ben and myself were working very heavily with various different industries, like games and film. We tried to push our projects into those markets, and received a very favorable response. And what happened was, we got to the point where, after two years, Neil [Googe] and [Trevor] Hairsine decided to leave the company."

That was a turning point for Deighton and Com.X. They could have folded up at that point, but, Deighton said, "I was still extremely passionate about it, and I thought it was the right time to re-launch. So I spoke to Ben, and Ben had been very supportive since about 2002, and said 'Yeah, I want to come on board. I want to become a partner.' And we want to work this, push this together."

Deighton explained how the re-launch was planned better than the initial inception of the company, stating that, "Since 2006, we have been working together and we planned the re-launch for a year before we actually launched the company. And then, back in 2007, we decided that this was the right time to launch Com.X again. And we decided that 'The Path' was going to be the first one that we released after the launch."

Following 'The Path,' Com.X initially focused on collected editions of prior works, such as the "Razorjack" collected edition. "We had what we thought was pretty cool product, that a lot of people hadn't seen or heard of it. If they had heard of it, they couldn't get it in shops because it was sold out. If they hadn't heard of it, it was because they hadn't been reading the blogs and the reviews and everything that was coming out. So we had a problem in that, we had to try and push the books back into the market, and push the company back into the market, more importantly."

Winding up the Com.X history lesson, Deighton said, "The response has been absolutely fantastic. We appreciate every positive word that people have sent down to us. And that brings us to this point, here in Long Beach. We know we're back on track now," he said with a smile.

Deighton then provided a brief outline of where the company is going now, and the changes they've undergone. "We've got some new projects coming out next year. We've got some great projects in the pipeline. We've got some very interesting stuff going on just outside of comics, which is helping us to sort of support the company. We have a situation where my design and advertising company is becoming integrated within the comics system because of what we can offer our clients."

And on that note, Deighton introduced his managing and marketing director for An.X, Jon Sloan.

"An.x, and the previous agency, Department.X, has been around about 14 years now, primarily operating in the video games market, on the client side of games...Konomi, Vivendi, Square Enix, Atari, Namco, Capcom, Warner Brothers, Ubisoft, Disney - we cover pretty much the whole market, with the exception of a few publishers," said Sloan.

Sloan detailed the company's major games background, explaining that "everyone in the agency has a games background one way or another...We've had a lot of opportunity to work on a lot of brands during that time, [such as] 'Castlevania,' 'Wanted,' 'Pirates of the Caribbean,' 'Riddick,' 'Terminator,' 'Saw,' 'Metal Gear Solid,' 'Silent Hill,' 'Alone in the Dark,' and 'Far Cry.' We do everything that you would expect from an ad agency, so print, tv ads, point of sale, packaging.

"There is a major design aspect to the company as well, Sloan continued. "On the other side of that, because everyone is a games expert, we have a lot of diverse backgrounds. We've managed to consult on game development as well. That has led us to do some artwork for 'Prince of Persia,' 'Rainbow Six,' 'Burn Out,' 'Ghost Recon,' some major art pieces. And, most recently, that has developed into writing for the games as well. Ed and I co-wrote the script for the new 'Castlevania' game."

Beginning to tie the relevancy of An.X to the comics industry, Sloan gave a hint of announcements to come, stating that "As a corollary to that, we also co-wrote a one shot comic for another video game property which we can't fully announce yet, that will be announced at the end of the month, unfortunately. And that will help promote the launch of that title next year. You will have heard of this game, I guarantee it."

Deighton added "We wanted to do the announcement here, but the client insisted that they do the announcement in a couple weeks time."

"We've pretty much wrapped on the comic now. The artist is Mike Dowling. You may not have heard of him. he's a British artist who is very good, and [has a] very appropriate style for this subject matter," Sloan said.

Explaining the relevancy of his presentation to the company's comic line, Sloan said "The reason it is relevant is because it has provided a foundation for Com.X. It provided the initial start-up capital, and it's there to stabilize the rest of the business. Because comics is a passion for us all, but it will never make you rich, unless you're Marvel or DC. So it enables us to do a lot of things with Com.X that maybe we couldn't do if An.X didn't exist. We can take a lot more risks, certainly. Because we have a financial base there to operate from."

Regarding the new paradigm Com.X will use for their comic projects, Deighton said "I think the basis of each comic we choose is, as much as we are passionate about comics, we understand that its got to be a cross-media project, a cross-media property, for it to succeed. As an independent publisher we do not have the capacity to PR the market, the product, to the same level as the big three or the big two. We understand that we've got to do it in other ways. And we also understand that people need to identify with our projects across platform."

The cross-platform emphasis will work the other way as well, Deighton explained. "What we are doing with An.X is, we are beginning to educate our advertising clients that comics is a really cool way to promote your work. And they seem to understand that. They seem to recognize our skills in the games industry, and also with comic publishing, and it's becoming quite an interesting scenario for us. Because we are now getting clients coming to us and saying 'Please, could you recreate or fill in the sub-plots for us on these computer games with the skills that you have and create new worlds for our characters?' So what we see happening is the advertising agency is using its reputation to get its clients to support the comics."

As for new comic projects coming up, Deighton said "We have at least four or five full properties, and they're going to be original graphic novels, ready or in progress, for release in 2010. So, where we've actually started to re-launch the company with three titles, we have a full five to six titles that we are planning for next year, on top of everything else that we are doing."

Ben Shahrabani took the lead in displaying for the audience each of four new projects Com.X has coming up.

"We have 'Monster Myths,' which we are really excited about, and it's by first time comic book writer and illustrator John Lupo Avanti. John is a fine artist, and he's provided artwork for many national ad campaigns and merchandise, such as Vans Shoes," said Shahrabani.

"The title [of the comic] refers to the extra male chromosome that makes men more likely to become felons. The story is derived from his childhood, in a small town in upstate California. And the idea is that this attribute exists in men for both good and evil. It's going to be a dark satire, that relates to the people he grew up with in a small town," he explained.

"We have 'Duppy '78,' [written] by Casey Seijas and illustrated by Amancay Nahuelpán. Casey's been a force in comics for about 10 years. He started as an editor at Vertigo, on books such as 'Hellblazer' and 'Y the Last Man,' along with many others. And Amancay is a new artist, really talented. He won the 'Chilean Pro' for best new artist in 2007, and we think he's going to be a real force to be reckoned with after this book," said Shahrabani as he displayed images from the book.

"This project, it takes place in 1978, [with] three Jamaican crime families vying for control of Kingston, using potent narcotics and the supernatural. And for those of you unfamiliar, a Duppy is a sort of mischievous ghost that can be controlled by witch doctors. Each of the three families has a child witch doctor at their disposal. So it looks to be a really interesting story, with a new twist," Shahrabani said.

Deighton added, " What's important about our projects is we spend a lot of time trying to find the right artist to fit with the story. We're fortunate that we do have people come to us with the full writer / artist package. But if somebody comes to us with a story and we really like it, we try our utmost to find the right artist. We don't just go for the latest guy or the most popular guy out there at the moment. We try very hard to find somebody appropriate to the story."

Shahrabani agreed, expanding on their ability to take that time. "We were lucky to have the support of the An.X agency. We can take our time to really nurture these properties and put them out when they are ready."

Shahrabani concluded with the third project, "'Nicodemus Flynn,' by Alex De Gruchy and Robin Simon Ng. They are also a new team. This is set in a world where monsters and supernatural creatures exist, and Nick Flynn is one of the best supernatural monster hunters around at the time."

Deighton added, " This project is actually quite a long way down the line in terms of finishing. These guys are working in chapters, they are actually on the third chapter right now, and they've got six chapters total."

On the history of the team behind "Nicodemus Flynn," Shahrabani said "These guys came to us before with something that wasn't quite right. We stayed in touch and talked about some stories that they were interested in doing. And this one hit the nail on the head with Eddie and I. We're really happy with the direction that it's going."

The final new comic project the Com.X team was able to reveal was, as Shahrabani described it, "What I am most excited about, coming out at the end of 2009, is 'Forty-Five,' by this gentleman here, Andi Ewington. There is so much excitement about it, and Eddie and I couldn't be happier about it and what it's become."

Ewington then took the microphone to discuss his project. "I came up with the story back in 2007. At the time, my wife and I were expecting our first child. We were blown away by the experience, becoming a father and mother. And I started to try and find a project that would resonate with myself."

Told as a series of transcripted accounts, Ewington described the basic story as "A story about a guy who is going through sort of the same thing. His wife's about to give birth, and he wants to find out the possibility that his child could have superhero powers. So he forgoes an aptitude test to discover this gene [in his unborn child], and instead goes out to interview a series of superheroes. And he wants a good cross-section, so he interviews from birth to death. The whole spectrum of different types of superheroes, from all walks of life, across the globe."

As to what makes "Forty-Five" different from your normal graphic novel, Ewington explained "We've got 45 different industry artists, each tackling one of the interviews. So you've got the likes of John Higgins, Liam Sharp, Tim Vigil, Jock, Sean Phillips, Gary Erksine, all coming on board and literally taking one page, one of the interview transcripts, and having free reign to do whatever they like. It's something a little different, and something they really enjoyed getting involved with because there were literally no boundaries for them. So they could launch into it as much as they liked. The results were really pleasant to see, the sort of left field thinking that they came up with. It's something I am very proud of, and very glad that Com.X picked up, and it was really a pleasure to be involved with."

After Ewington was finished speaking, the panel made their biggest announcement of the day: the possibility of a Cla$$war movie.

"It came as a surprise to us two days ago. It's safe to say [that] 'Cla$$war' has been our most successful title to date. Whether that's because it's a superhero title or just because it's very well written, and the art was fantastic, I don't know. We always talked to Rob about a second series," said Deighton, building up the announcement slowly.

"We had some very interesting news two days ago. It's something that we and some other individuals have been working very hard on for the past few months. And I'd like to introduce Rick Alexander, ask him to come up, and tell you a little bit about what we are doing," he continued.

Alexander introduced himself to the crowd, saying "I run a small trans-media production shingle up in Los Angeles called 'Alexander Content.' I've been developing and producing films and television, much of it based on branded content - e.g., various comic book and video game and remake IP - for the last decade or so."

After giving a brief synopsis of the series, Alexander broke the news officially, saying "We've recently come to an agreement with my colleagues at Disney-based Mandeville Films to turn 'Cla$$war' into a feature film, targeted, hopefully, for 2011. The way things work, maybe 2012 - we'll just have to see. Mandeville is behind the current Bruce Willis film, 'Surrogates,' in theaters now, itself based on a terrific comic book. They are also producing the upcoming Christian Bale / Mark Walberg true life boxing film, 'The Fighter,' which is coming out next year from Paramount Films. And we've been talking to these guys for a while now."

Alexander continued, saying "In terms of giving credit where credit is due, I'd just like to cite a colleague who couldn't be here today. His name is David Manpearl, and he's the VP of Development over at Mandeville. He and I were talking a few months back about what we might do together, and I exposed the digital version of the collected edition [of 'Cla$$war'] to him. He read 'Cla$$war,' he read it quickly and read it insightfully, and he said, 'Listen. You've got to come in and speak to David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman, my bosses, about this, because I think it's terrific.' And I said 'I agree with you, there is a huge movie here.' So I went over to Disney and sat down with the guys. They had read the book by the time I got there. They were very excited about the material and its potential for film, and asked me to bring Ben Shahrabani, who's local, back with me. So a couple weeks later, we had another meeting. And I guess five grown men fell in love."  

As far as the who may write the movie, Alexander was coy, saying "So, as we speak, we are having discussions with a screenwriter who we are all big fans of, but unfortunately I am not at liberty to share his or her identity with you today. But we couldn't be more excited to turn this fantastic piece of work into a movie, and hopefully reach an even wider audience than it has already."

Deighton concluded the panel with some parting words. "We are just really excited to be back exhibiting again, back to a West Coast convention. We are just incredibly fortunate that everybody has embraced the company positively, and with the news that Rick has, and the projects we've got coming up, we hope that the exposure of Com.X increases, and that more and more readers latch on to our books."

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