Out of nowhere came last year's Image Comics anthology "24Seven," the critically adored collection of stories about life in the City that Never Sleeps - because it's populated only by robots. Created by a virtual honor role of the 21st century comics' best and brightest, the noirish, sci-fi tales of mechanical pigeon keepers, robot zombies and wire-crossed, digital lovers filled a thoughtful and often beautiful volume, which came with a promising "1" on the Adam Hughes-illustrated spine.
In stores this week is "24Seven" vol. 2, a new 200-page, Ashley Wood-covered volume of high fidelity genre synthesis by many of today's most exciting talents in the areas of comics, film, animation, video games and even architecture. Edited once more by "NYC Mech" author Ivan Brandon, the second "24Seven" spotlights not only work by new up-and-comers, but established talent from outside comics, as well as new stories by some of comics' widely popular but less prolific creators. On the eve of Comic-Con International, which 24Seven dominated last year with supermassive buzz , CBR News interfaced with Ivan Brandon and a numer of vol. 2's most elite (1337?) creators to find out why 24Seven is set to conquer (pwn?) San Diego one more time.
"'24seven' was a monster group of creators doing their own take on the loose concept: 'city of robots,'" Ivan Brandon told CBR News. "'24seven 2 is a new group of creators trying to beat up that first group."
Indeed, a healthy competitive spirit infused the creation of the harder, better, faster, stronger "24Seven" vol. 2, with an emphasis on the new, especially in terms of showcasing creative talents who may be new to many comics readers. "I don't necessarily mean creators who are hoping to break in to comics, so much as amazing and successful talents from other fields who comics couldn't afford, dragged in to play in the robot sandbox," Brandon explained. "Animators; screenwriters like Macon Blair ['The Anger Eater'] and Jonathan Davis ['The Dukes of Hazzard']; game designers and commercial illustrators like the infamous 'salaryman' Calum Alexander Watt and Joao Ruas; graphic designers like Juan Doe. Hell, there's even an architect."
Brandon's nightvision for talent has been vindicated with the announcement of this year's Eisner Award nominees, among which are numerous "24Seven" contributors. "The level of talent and accomplishment on the team is just astounding," Brandon said. "There are 36 stories in the book, so rather than pick any favorites I'm going literally at random: C.B. Cebulski ['Loners,' 'Spider-Man: Fairy Tales'] wrote our first robotic martial arts action story, which was beautifully drawn by Portuguese illustrator Nuno Plati. Dave Johnson ['100 Bullets'] did a solo jam about a robot addicted to batteries. Gene Ha ['Top 10'] and I did an homage to a never-before-seen newspaper strip from 100 years ago."
Eisner-award nominated "Casanova" artists Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon contributed one of "24Seven" vol. 1's most popular and short-circuited stories, "The Firemen," about a team of robot firefighters whose mission is to make a raging fire even more deadly. Moon's vol. 2 story is hailed by Brandon as simply "amazing." "The Magic Age," written and drawn by Moon, was premiered in its entirety on MySpace Comic Books and is about what happens to a robot's memories as he ages.
Eisner-nominated for his Vietnam War miniseries "The Other Side," writer Jason Aaron joins the prestigious "24Seven" ranks with vol. 2. "The level of talent Ivan has assembled for both volumes of '24Seven' is quite impressive, and I was honored just to be invited to play in his playground," Aaron told CBR News. "My story is a somber little tale about a robot in a coma, with gorgeous art by Miguel Alves.
The crop of artists that Ivan gathered together for this book is just amazing. I don't know how he does it. As a writer, it's like being a kid in a candy store, getting to work with these people."
"24Seven" veteran and "30 Days of Night: Eban & Stella" co-writer Kelly Sue DeConnick is also in awe of Brandon's considerable editing abilities. "You know, Ivan professes to be terribly disorganized -- Mr. I-Can't-Keep-A-Calendar," DeConnick remarked. "But in fact he managed to wrangle seventy-some creators into contributing to his anthology. He's kept the quality up and -- miracle of miracles -- he's getting the second book out early. That boggles my mind. Truly. I tried to coordinate seven creators for a dinner once and I wanted to swallow my tongue. Seventy...?
I have no idea how he did it, but thank god he did -- I got to work with Andy MacDonald not once but twice, suckas. Seriously, I'm kind of giddy about it."
"It was easier in ways, for sure," said Ivan Brandon of the production of "24Seven" vol. 2. "Having the tangible results of volume one meant that people were almost one foot in the door before I even spoke to them.
Hell, my inspiration for doing a sequel in the first place was people like Gene Ha and Dave Johnson asking if they could pitch in. Dave, for example-- Dave hasn't done interior work in years. That's a hell of a motivator there. And by that same token, those guys beget other amazing artists, once they're on board. So to that end, the lineup on the book was a lot easier.
"The downside is, with the first volume I intentionally worked under a veil of secrecy, because often an anthology becomes a venue for the editor's drinking buddies to get their foot in the door when they're not really ready, and I wanted to be steadfast in my goals as far as quality. That really had to take precedence over all. Losing that secrecy, the floodgates were sort of open for people to get in touch -- literally every single day up 'til and after the book was sent to the printer. Which sounds like a ridiculous gripe, that you have too much creative interest in a book, but I'm not a publisher. Rejection letters aren't really something I look forward to sending or receiving, and one way or another I'd end up in the unenviable position of having to turn away a lot of takers-- even great creators, as by the time most of them approached me the book was overfull. "24seven 2" is a monstrous 240 pages as it is."
Room was of course be made for some familiar favorites. Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Andy MacDonald collaborated on "24Seven' vol. 1 in the uniquely female-perspective story, "Tropical Butterflies Alive in Winter," and return to familiar thematic ground in vol. 2's human-after-all tale, "Leap." "That wasn't actually the plan," DeConnick confessed. "I didn't even see it until we were done, a fact I find fascinating (But then, I'm a big nerd, so...). Visually, though, Andy's stepped far away from the hyper-anthropomorphic robots of 'Butterflies' into something more absurdist; more cartoony. It's mad and I love it. There's one panel in particular that hypnotizes me.
"Oh, and Dave McCraig did our colors. So, you know -- HA HA HA, we win!"
Perhaps even more so than its predecessor, "24Seven" vol. 2 is a decidedly international affair, featuring creators from all around the world -- many of whom have never even met face to face. "'24Seven' is like the 'We Are the World' of comics," remarked writer C.B. Cebulski. "When you look at the line-up of talent that Ivan has been able to assemble under one cover, the list is simply stunning and truly international. The index of creators is a who's who of talents from across the global comics scene. It's a triumph not just in comics, but in art! And it's one I'm proud to be associated with."
The writer of Marvel Comics' "Loners" and "Spider-Man: Fairy Tales," Cebulski worked with Portuguese illustrator Nuno Plati on a tale of robots in Chinatown. "Nuno Plati, the amazing artist I worked with on my contribution, really helped our story come about," Cebulski said. "I think very visually and like to know who I'm working with before writing anything so I can keep that artist's style and strengths in mind as I go. I absolutely love how Nuno handles women in his distinct style, so I knew I wanted a female protagonist in our short. He agreed wholeheartedly.
"I also knew that Nuno handles guns and action well, so I dropped 'crime story' onto our idea list. Location was going to be the third key element we needed to focus in on in order to nail the basic plot, and that's where I came in. While all about robots, '24Seven' is set in New York, the city I live in and love. My wife and I make frequent trips to Chinatown to this noodle shop we can't get enough of and, while there one Sunday, I was hit with the inspiration of using it as the backdrop of the whole story. It all fit together in my head suddenly over roast pork and wontons!
"Nuno totally understood what I was going for and welcomed the challenge. The script flew out of my head through my fingers that night and Nuno just makes the pages sing! So what you'll see from us is a story about how an undercover female cop takes her frustrations with her most recent assignment out on a bunch of robotic ruffians in downtown Chinatown. Enjoy!"
Writer of the Harvey Award-nominated "Wasteland" for Oni Press, England's Antony Johnston became involved with "24Seven" at the urging of Mexican illustrator Luis Sopelana. "Luis and I have worked together a little in the past, so I came on board," Johnston told CBR News. "I wasn't expecting there to be any space left in the book, we got in so late, but Ivan was a real gent and gave us a slot. It's going to be an incredible book - just seeing some of the preview pages that have been posted, you can tell this is already going to be even better than vol. 1 - and I'm pleased as punch to be a part of it.
"Our story is called 'Supergiant Blues,' and it's a black comedy piece about the lengths even robots will go to for the secret of eternal life. Fun!"
In keeping with the tradition launched in volume 1, the new "24Seven" also spotlights a number of comics newcomers. Among them is Chris Arrant, comics journalist and co-editor of the crafty Project Rooftop art blog, who turned in a story illustrated by up-and-comer Tom Williams. "'Time Sink' came about in thinking what issues a robot society would have in common with our own, Arrant said, but would also have it's unique twist with it being robots. It's about the life span of robots and the moral question of assisted suicide."
A dedicated fan of Ivan Brandon's "NYC Mech" and "24Seve" vol. 1, Arrant leaped at the opportunity to contribute to vol. 2. "It was a pretty heady moment for me when the ink was dry and the story Tom Williams and I did was finalized to appear in the second volume of '24seven,'" Arrant said. "Creatively, the first volume was a real gem and the line-up was something else.
Robots living in their own version of humanity? What's not to love? When it hit me that I'd have a chance to do a story for volume 2, my mind went blank for about three days with shock before a stream - no, a rush - of ideas came flooding in."
Featuring work by writers and artists including John Ney Rieber, Adam Hughes, Phil Hester, Michael Avon Oeming, Gabriel Bá, Carla Speed McNeil, Kristian Donaldson, Ben Templesmith, Andy Kuhn, Will Pfeifer, Frazer Irving and dozens of others, "24Seven" vol. 2 continues the first's tradition of blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, science fiction and vérité, and comic books and fine art. The monstrous undertaking that is producing 200+ full color pages of revolutionary robot comics is, for Ivan Brandon, its own reward.
"I have incredibly talented friends who don't always get to have fun in what they're working on," Brandon said. "This is a venue for me to collaborate with all of them, and to produce something that's both creatively exciting and as a finished thing, hopefully unique. If the industry was a different place, I'd be a publisher."
Ivan Brandon and the "24Seven" crew will be attending this weekend's Comic-Con International in San Diego. For the complete Image Comics event schedule, check out CBR's extensive Comic-Con preview.
Now discuss this story in CBR's Image Comics forum.