The "Image Comics: I is for Impact" panel at New York Comic Con didn't offer the audience much insight into upcoming issues -- aside from "Sex Criminals" #9 -- but it did offer a unique look inside the artistic processes behind many of Image Comics' creator-owned titles. The panelists included Wes Craig ("Deadly Class"), Matt Fraction ("Sex Criminals," "Ody-C"), Steve Orlando ("Undertow"), James Robinson ("The Saviors," "Airboy"), Brian K. Vaughan ("Saga"), Frank Quitely ("Jupiter's Legacy"), Chip Zdarsky ("Sex Criminals") and Roc Upchurch ("Rat Queens"). Image's David Brothers only spent around ten minutes on guided questions before dedicating the rest of the panel to questions from the audience. The result was a discussion of craft and the creative process that kept the room both entertained and laughing loudly.
The premise of the panel was how to turn strange ideas into "intensely relatable and entertaining comics." It might say something about what humans find "relatable" that the only common denominator among these very diverse titles was, as Brothers pointed out, "a lot of sex, drugs and violence."
While there were few questions were about upcoming plot points across the various series, Fraction and Zdarsky revealed that readers will meet another character with the same power as Jon and Suzie in next month's "Sex Criminals" #9. "In fact, you've already met her," Fraction teased.
Most of the audience questions were about process and inspiration, with attendees wanting to know how the titles got written -- where the creators drew their inspiration, how their collaborations worked, and what it was like working for Image in particular.
From "Saga" to "Sex Criminals," the panelists have come up with some pretty unorthodox ideas, and attendees wanted to know where they came from.
For instance, Roc Upchurch, the artist on "Rat Queens," was asked how he comes up with all the wacky gangs and character designs in the series. "I'm just really a bizarre guy," he answered, "Kurtis Wiebe, the writer, he has in mind these D&D-style classes and shit like that, and I just love creating characters and having them all look different and unique -- it's more just me playing around and doing weird shit as weird as I possibly can do it."
Attendees also appreciated Upchurch's more realistic, "boobplate"-less armor designs, and wanted to know the influences behind those designs. "As far as boobplate," he said, "that's weird. It really doesn't make sense, it doesn't serve any purpose other than, you know, jerking off. So the armor [in 'Rat Queens'] is based off actual armor that exists. You start there and then you weird it up. You make it your own."
Zdarsky chimed in, "I jerk off to actual armor, so I appreciate that." As the crowd laughed, he added, "You don't want to go to a museum with me."
Weird as they may be, some of the characters in "Rat Queens" also have a real life inspiration. "Even the background characters have personalities," Upchurch said, "They're usually people I know -- usually people I hate. I try to stick them in and make them look really shitty."
James Robinson also drew from real life for his forthcoming update of "Airboy." "That is a book about being approached to do 'Airboy' by Image, and not having an idea," he said. "So doing drink, drugs -- and sex, obviously -- in San Francisco, reading 'Airboy.'"
Brian K. Vaughan was asked about the inspiration behind two characters from "Saga": The Will and Izabel.
"My kids had a babysitter named Izabel, and she was Izabel. She was just a teenager, and she was like a 90-year-old woman stuck in a teenage body. So I was like, 'Oh, I'll just blow off your torso.' I hope I don't have to pay her royalties for that."
Another attendee thought that Vaughan looked a lot like The Will. "You have clearly never seen me with my shirt off," he laughed. "I told ['Saga' artist Fiona Staples] in the descriptions, 'The Will is bald, but he's not like comic-book writer bald. He's more like Jason Statham, cool-guy bald.' You guys think we all look the same."
Having heard his wife, fellow writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, tell the diaphragm story from "Sex Criminals" at another convention, one member of the audience asked Matt Fraction if anything else in the series came from real life. Fraction admitted that another scene from "Sex Criminals" was inspired by reality: "I got my V-card punched to Morrissey... It was the worst."
Zdarsky, in characteristic fashion, chimed in: "When I cum, I stop time."
The audience also had quite a few questions about the creative process once an idea starts to form. "Imagine a field of butterflies," Fraction began when asked to describe his process. "Each of the butterflies has a number on it, and you've got a stick that's been covered with honey, and you have to run around and catch the butterflies in the right order."
Less metaphorically, he described it as "a very laborious process of turning lists and scraps into things. It's very chaotic and weird -- notecards and notebooks everywhere."
After being asked, "What gets you guys creative?", the panel had very different answers.
"Deadlines," said Zdarsky.
Fraction offered, "Having issues with depression and mental health."
Vaughan said he needed peace and quiet to work -- "I have to sit in a room with white walls and no distractions" -- while Upchurch doesn't have that option. "I have three kids, so there is no quiet. Ever," he explained. "Everything is just noise constantly, so I had to train myself to work in like a construction zone -- it doesn't matter that there's a four-year-old on my head; it has to get done."
"I can pencil with soundtrack music. I can ink with lyrics. And then I can color with podcasts," Zdarsky said. "I can only letter with the sound of children."
Quitely and Zdarsky both elaborated on the process of illustrating in particular. Quitely develops his pages very methodically and slowly. "I read the script, and I read it and read it and read it until I can really see it all," he began, "Sometimes, when I'm thumbnailing, I can see that it's flowing the way that I want it to, and sometimes it's not quite working. So what I do is I do seven thumbnails for each panel, so that I can choose from them -- not necessarily the base compositions, but as a sequence. It's really just -- this is why I'm late with everything.
"I overthink everything, and it's never good enough," Quitely continued. "I think most artists are the same. I think we see the mistakes in our work more than the good points. And even when it is good, even when it does work, it's never quite as good as the way it was in my head."
Zdarsky was asked why he includes so many tiny, funny details in the panels in "Sex Criminals." "For me, it's immense Canadian guilt that you are paying money for a comic book which you could really breeze through in about 5-10 minutes," he answered. "I feel really bad about that, and I want to make sure you have to go back and see all the background stuff. Also, they're just jokes for myself and Matt -- well, actually, most of them are just for me, because I cover them up with word balloons and then send it to Matt -- so many secrets!"
Fans can enjoy Zdarsky's "secrets" soon, though. "We're doing a hardcover collection, an oversized collection of volume 1 and 2 in... January, is it?" he announced. "Part of the reason for that is so I can blow the art up a bit so you guys can see the dumb shit that made me laugh at like 800% on my screen. I print it out and I'm like, 'What's wrong with you?'"
Fraction recalled, "When you sent that party scene from the first issue, your e-mail was just, 'Haha. I drew every book on that fucking shelf. I'm an idiot. - Chip.'"
A question about the collaboration between artist and writer stirred plenty of discussion among the panelists. A fan asked what collaborating was like, and if the writers were ever surprised by what the artists turned out. Orlando said of "Undertow" artist Artyom Trakhanov, "I don't just get surprise designs; I get surprise extra five pages, because he's just super enthusiastic -- it's fantastic."
Fraction shared Orlando's enthusiasm. "That's the best part. I want collaborators, not employees. I don't want to take credit for their work. You just set up the stage enough to let your genius collaborator go be a genius."
"It's just -- it's a joy. We have it so easy," Vaughan said of his role as a writer. "A story that might have taken us a few days to write, these guys will slave over for weeks, or months, potentially -- and the results are incredible. I could never be a novelist; I need these guys to do the heavy lifting."
He did admit that he and "Saga" artist Fiona Staples have had a disagreement. "Fiona and I are almost always on the same wavelength -- I think our only disagreement was when we blew Lying Cat out of an air hatch, and she read that page and said, 'No, I'm not drawing that.'"
Upchurch and "Rat Queens" writer Kurtis Wiebe have a similarly easy relationship. "I don't really get notes back from Kurtis ever," Upchurch said. "He just trusts me to do what I do. The only time is really when I draw people naked a lot," the artist said with a shrug as the audience laughed. "I don't know, I feel like it would serve the story well."
Because the panel focused on the creators' work for Image Comics, the panelists discussed what it was like working for a publisher that does nothing but creator-owned titles.
Orlando described what it was like working on "Undertow," which features "a lot of people getting cut in half." "I keep waiting for someone to say, 'Well, we can't do that,' and it just never happens," he said. "It is intimidating, because you definitely have enough rope to hang yourself with. I mean, I had to cut a lot of seahorses out of the book. I could have put them in in very compromising ways, and it would have been fine -- which is also horrifying. Like, you could totally throw something out, and no one would tell you it was stupid until it was on the stands."
Intimidating as the responsibility is, he still found that approach "really respectful and awesome."
Brothers closed the panel by asking all the cosplayers in the room to stand up. "Can we get a round of applause for these people?" he called to the audience. Unsurprisingly, they obliged.
Stay tuned to CBR News for more on Image Comics' many creator-owned titles.