Saturday afternoon saw another comics first at the NYCC, with the first ever MySpace Mystery Panel. The identities of the three mystery panelists were kept secret in the days leading up to the convention, with clues being revealed throughout the week here on CBR and as bulletins posted to friends of MySpace Comic Books. The Mystery Panelists were finally unveiled, and they were none other than Jim Lee, Garth Ennis and Steve Niles. The trio took the stage to enthusiastic applause and entertained their crowd with a very funny "free for all" discussion that fans are sure to remember for some time.
"The entire process of leaving DC and going to Dynamite has been incredibly civilized," said Ennis. "I wish it wasn't such a boring story, I wish it was a massive controversy, but it went great. So thank you, Jim!"
The first fan question was asked of Jim Lee, and was phrased quite simply: "Um, Jim. 'All-Star Batman & Robin….'" The crowd erupted in laughter, to which Lee responded triumphantly.
"Issue #5? You want to see it? I've got it right here!" said the artist, brandishing a portfolio case. The crowd burst out in laughs and applause at the sight of the finished artwork – pencils and inks – for the very delayed "All Star Batman & Robin" #5. The fan took the portfolio case and inspected the artwork off to the side while the MySpace cameras observed from over his shoulders.
"Um, those aren't going to end up on the internet are they?" asked a concerned Jim Lee. "We're all MySpace friends, right?" The artist then explained that he's nearly finished penciling issue #6. "Obviously the book is late and obviously 'WildCats' is late. 'All-Star Batman & Robin' is entirely my fault. As far as 'WildCats,' Grant Morrison and I were overextended last year but we're trying to pull that together because obviously it's very important to me. Hopefully 2008 will be a lot better than 2006. It has to be, right?"
Booking a mid-day Saturday panel at a major comic-con without announcing who's actually going to be there is a decidedly unconventional move. From the beginning, NYCC was open to trying something new and loved the element of surprise. "They were instrumental in arranging everything without spilling the secret," said a MySpace official. "We wanted something different than the usual convention presence. MySpace is all about connecting our members with those who have an impact on our culture – whether through programs like Secret Shows and Black Curtain Screenings, or via blogs, profiles and videos on the site. We wanted to try that kind of 'exclusive experience' with comics fans and creators. If our members like, we'll do it again."
As two of comics' most visible creators both at conventions and on MySpace, the presence of Jim Lee and Steve Niles on the Mystery Panel were perhaps not as surprising to fans as that of Garth Ennis, whose convention appearances are terribly rare despite his considerable stature as a popular creator.
"Obviously we wanted big name creators that would get people talking -- pros you usually wouldn't get to see in a room of just 300 people," a MySpace official said. "But we also wanted creators we felt would have fun with the experience. It was more like putting together a guest list for a party rather than a panel. All three creators were very willing to participate, even though it was an untested concept. They have been extremely supportive of the event and MySpace Comic Books -- what could have been a logistical nightmare of diva-proportions was actually quite painless, and we can't thank them enough for that."
Garth Ennis's first questions pertained to the "Preacher" television series for HBO. "We've done very, very little," Ennis explained. "We've only taken a few steps on a very long trail. So far, Mark Johnson's written a very good script, a very faithful adaptation. I read it and said a couple of things and he wrote a very good second draft as well. We're a couple of weeks away from having a final draft or a pilot to give to the people at HBO and see what they think.
"As for casting, Mark's idea, which I agree with, is to go with unknowns for the three leads. Beyond that… Saint of Killers, Star, Hugo Root and so on…hard to say. The real problem is when we first started kicking around the idea of a 'Preacher' film, all the people we wanted then are now too old. Johnny Depp is too old, frankly. The one ting I can tell you is that Arseface will be the easiest one. Anyone can do it, if anyone here wants the job…"
Speaking of Arseface, it occurred CBR News that it'd been ten years since the fan-favorite character's first appearance, and we asked Ennis if he'd softened up a little on Nirvana. Ennis gave the laughing crowd a brief history of Arseface.
"The kid who became Arseface, in a suicide attempt, put a shotgun to his face after Kurt Cobain got it right. As Denis Leary quoted, 'remember to get your whole head in front of the shotgun.'" The "Preacher" character failed to kill himself, and was left instead with a face that looked like an arse.
"I never really had much of a problem with Nirvana," Ennis confessed. "I heard their songs and thought, 'well, this is alright but it's really just the Pixies,'" a remark that caused quite a reaction in the MySpace Comics crowd. CBR News reminded Ennis that in the comic, the quote was "Nirvana sounds like down-syndrome put to music," a line that again had the Mystery Panel's audience cracking up.
"Those words were said by a kind of redneck character who wouldn't necessarily like that kind of music. I mean, I can tap my foot to it as much as anything else. It was really just that at that time, it hadn't been long since ol' Kurt… and it was just sort of fresh in my mind and I thought I'd pop that in. Arseface is of course based on those two idiots who [did the same thing over] Judas Priest, but obviously I couldn't use that. Kurt had just obligingly done the deed…."
Also along the lines of comics-to-film were questions to Steve Niles about the adaptation of his "30 Days of Night." The writer announced that the production phase was complete, and that he'll be seeing a rough cut as soon as next week.
"I'm not a producer on the film so technically after I turn in the screenplay they don't have to tell me anything," said Niles. "But I've been very lucky with [Sam] Raimi, who's kept me in the loop and checked with me about hiring [director] David Slade. When Slade was doing the casting, he called me [to see what I thought]. I'm very happy with the way it's going,"
Another fan asked the whole group what characters they'd like to work on that they haven't already.
"I always say the Hulk," confessed Steve Niles.
"Legion of Super-Heroes," said Jim Lee, again to enormous laughter. "A book with thirty characters or more. In fact I have the issue right here!"
"All the ones I'd really like to write are old British comic book characters no one in here has ever heard of – I guarantee it. The one you might of heard of is Dan Dare, that would be great. There was a British war comic, a weekly anthology called 'Battle.' They're currently reprinting in hardback volume a story from that called 'Charlie's War,' which to me is just about the best comic strip ever published and I encourage everyone to pick it up. Yes, there are characters from that book I'd like to write."
"Who is your favorite writer, artist and what is your favorite book?" asked another fan. "Besides yourselves, of course."
"I like Brian K. Vaughan's stuff," said Ennis. "I like 'Ex-Machina,' I like 'Y: The Last man.'" Ennis later revealed that the two Vaughan books are currently the only monthly comics he reads. "I'm not sure about 'favorite' artist but the artist I'm currently been loving working with who I think will be huge is Goran Palov, who's drawing 'Barracuda' for me. I think he's stunning, I think he's brilliant."
"I've been following 'Nextwave,'" answered Jim Lee. "I'm also reading a lot of old stuff. I've been reading '300' in anticipation of the movie, so I'd say my favorite writer and artist is Frank [Miller]."
"Me too, I've been reading a lot of old stuff," Steve Niles said. "I sort of rediscovered a lot of pre-code horror stuff like 'Chamber of Chills' and other DC horror comics. As far as artists I wouldn't even know where to start. I'm working with Bernie Wrightson right now and that's about the… you know…wow. It's called 'City of Others' and Bernie and I are sharing story credit. Bernie was instrumental in creating things like Swamp Thing but he never got credit."
Niles also explained that while working on 'City of Others,' he discovered that he'd been living two blocks from his hero Bernie Wrightson – for ten years.
A fan asked the panel what they thought of the mega-story, year-long crossover trend in recent superhero comics. "I wouldn't buy it if I was you," joked Ennis. Well, maybe half-joked. "It's one of those things where it's about the talent involved. 'Civil War' is written by Mark Millar, therefore it's going to be good. I haven't read it, but I assume it's going to be good!
"It's the same old story, really. If it's any good – keep reading. If it's not – drop it."
Jim Lee added, "I'd like to announce our new WildStorm series '365.' One comic in 365 days." Again, the audience cracked up.
"I'll be doing the leap-year special," Ennis said.
Later, Steve Niles discussed the benefits and drawbacks of working in mainstream superhero comics. He enjoyed his work on DC's "The Creeper," as it allowed him to "play in somebody else's sandbox; play with their toys," but that his Batman work inspired some harsh reactions among readers.
"I got so much flak for that," Niles sighed. "I gave Batman a jetpack. They wanted to tar and feather me. You should see the letters I got!"
"Did you put a Batman logo on the back?" Jim Lee asked. "That's how you do it! You can put Batman on a skateboard if you put the logo on it!"
Asked about their influences as a child, the panel issued some surprising responses.
"Wile E. Coyote," Ennis said. "Laurel & Hardy. Asterix. I looked at Asterix again recently and I realized what an influence those comics were. They're some of the most sarcastic writing ever. Today my influences... god, I don't know. It's as much life as anything else."
"I was a big X-Men fan," answered Jim Lee. "I would literally sit at the kitchen table with my friends and write stories and draw characters. Then years later I was actually working on X-Men so that was pretty cool.
"Today, since I'm so knee-deep in all this [comics] stuff, I really watch a lot of romantic comedies. If I watch a sci-fi movie or a superhero type movie I can guess what's going to happen, I'm sure you can too; it's very formulaic. So I like to see something that's a little different. And Kate Hudson is easy on the eyes."
"For me, one of my earliest influences was Bernie Wrightson" said Steve Niles. "I remember my mom taking away one of his comics I was reading in church. Then guys like George Romero and Richard Matheson were huge influences. Today, I try to watch stuff that's completely different from the stuff I write. If I watch a horror movie, I'm figuring it out in the first five minutes."
Designed as a "free-for-all" event, the panel was forced to answer questions about what points of their careers they regret. "I wish I could magically disintegrate probably the first three or four years of my career," confessed Ennis. Steve Niles agreed, noting the work he did for Todd McFarlane. Jim Lee didn't express much regret, although he does find it painful to look at older artwork and joked that the 90s were sort of a low point for him artistically. "There wasn't much work, actually," the artist joked.
As for their favorite work of their own, the panel had an easier time answering. "Freaks of the Heartland" was Steve Niles' choice. "I just love the way that turned out. Greg Ruth, his art, he did such a good job."
"'X-Men' #216, which is the Wolverine/Captain America issue," answered Jim Lee. "It's just the first issue I got really into and actually talked to Chris about before I started drawing. It still holds a special place in my heart. It's tough to look back to because the print is all crappy and the colors are muddy. But at the time I can really remember sitting there drawing this stuff and being so jazzed about it."
Garth Ennis choice "Nightingale," one of the "War Stories" pieces he created several years ago. "I was very happy to have [artist] David Lloyd on that one. He did a beautiful job. If I had to pick just one, that would be it."
As for the subject of MySpace, Steve Niles said "Some guy asked me for $16,000 last week. He said he thought it was worth a shot."
Jim Lee said, "The friends that are on my MySpace page, I wouldn't say they are necessarily hard core comic book fans. A lot of them are usually people who liked my comics when they were kids and were inspired by them and are now graphic designers and what not. A lot of aspiring artists send me links to their work and ask me questions.
"It's kind of cool because all these people here, I don't know anything about. But when someone has a friend request, you can click on them and learn their little life story. You don't have that kind of interactivity with people you see at conventions once or two or three times a year."
"I sent you pictures of screaming Shatner," Niles reminded Lee.
"On your page it says 'I'm not as rich as people think I am,'" Lee responded. "Well, 16 grand, obviously you don't have that!"
Indeed, just as MySpace is perhaps a more rewarding fan experience, it may also be a more rewarding creator experience. "Yeah, I would definitely say so," said Jim Lee. "WildStorm has a regular blog about art and stuff, but the difference between the number of people who post on that and who post on MySpace – it's day and night. For some reason the people on MySpace are more social, and they like saying things like 'happy easter!"
Lee believes that the comic industry is finding a different kind of fan on MySpace. "It's surprised me, the number of Midwestern housewives on there. They're artists, they work with water-color, they're into art and they're into comics. But those aren't the people are going to go to conventions. I think in general MySpace is a broader cross-section of pop culture than our website, because with that you're just going to get the hardcore fans. With MySpace you're going to get people that are just into comics or were five or ten years ago; people who just appreciate art."
Steve Niles had to leave for a signing before the panel was asked what works by each other do they admire most. "That Batman book," said Ennis of Lee. "The Frank Miller one. 'I'm the god-damned Batman.'"
"Preacher," said Jim Lee of Ennis. "We still talk about it, we say 'well they did in "Preacher," why can't we do it!'"
"I was told that if it'd been read by people high enough up the ladder at the time, half of the first twenty issues wouldn't have gotten through," confessed Ennis.
"It's one of the few books that made me laugh out loud."
After the panel, Jim Lee told CBR News that he found the event to be very rewarding. "It was really fun to do a panel with people I wouldn't normally be on a panel with. It was an interesting contrast, and all the fans seemed really familiar with everybody's work."
Lee also revealed to CBR that when he's on MySpace a lot, it means that he's working. "As odd as that sounds! My computer is right on my drawing board. I have an old laptop and while drawing I take breaks and log on [to MySpace]. If there's two new messages, I'll check them out. It's something that just keeps you going through the night."