SDCC: Action Lab Prepares for Year 5

A raucous late evening crowd welcomed a packed dais for Action Lab Entertainment's panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego where the publisher discussed their accomplishments and aspirations.

Sitting on the panel were creative director Dave Dwonch, company president Kevin Freeman, Danger Zone imprint president Jason Martin, artist and marketing director Jamal Igle, writer/artist Ray-Anthony Height, writer Jeremy Dale and "Zombie Tramp" creator Dan Mendoza.

"We think we're doing a lotta books that no one else is doing. We're growing every year, we're excited," Freeman said of the company's plans for 2015 and beyond.

Dwonch started out praising Mendoza's "Zombie Tramp," Action Lab's biggest seller thus far at 60,000 copies. "It only took 12 covers to do that," Dwonch joked. This accomplishment was called "awesome," and led panelists to either resist using the term or look funny at anyone who did.

Leaping into a series of slides, Dwonch called up writer Gayle Middleton, who was dressed in towering steampunk finery. She discussed "Vamplets," a self-contained one shot launching at San Diego as a spin off from "Ghost Pony." This all ages title will seem similar to fans of the Disney series "Jesse," as a 17 year-old human girl is pressed into service as a "nightmare nanny" for literal little monsters -- tiny vampires, cyclopes and so on. It will be available for Halloween free to retailers and customers.

Height discussed "Midnight Tiger," which he said was "directly addressing diversity issues you keep hearing about in a lot of comics. Taking a similar story to a Steve Ditko 'Spider-Man' and have it be inspired by Black Panther." Youthful protagonist Gavin Shaw is a high school student and huge fanboy, so the series will have "lots of nods to Marvel stuff," as Height explained he was fed up with not having any heroes ever come to his city. "He finally gets an opportunity to do what other people can," Height said, which led to learning "the difference between what he fantasized a superhero does against the real responsibility. [It's] action-packed, funny and I hope you guys like it." "Midnight Tiger" debuted on Free Comic Book Day and issue #1 ships in August.

Vito Delsante discussed "Stray," which he called an "autobiographical superhero story -- basically how I dealt with my father's death." In the book, a sidekick returns after disappearing for four years when his mentor is murdered, leaving him to decide if he will return to the role of The Rottweiler, "or will he go 'stray?'" Delsante asked. "I'm very excited, I've been working on this a lotta years, Kevin was one of my first editors on this book. If you guys picked up the 'Midnight Tiger/Skyward' [FCBD Issue] you'd have seen a cameo from [Stray's mentor] Doberman. Yes, that means Midnight Tiger and Stray are in the same universe, and yes there will be crossing over."

"If you miss Nightwing and you don't really like 'Grayson,'" Delsante continued, "we have your book."

"'Molly Danger' also in same universe," Igle added, hinting at plans to extend Action Lab's super hero universe even further.

Going in a very different direction, the panel next introduced "Southern Dog," a mature readers title released by the publisher's Danger Zone imprint. Written by "Art Monster" veteran Jeremy Holt with art by Alex Diotto and covers by Riley Rossmo, the four-issue miniseries deals with werewolf mythology in the deep south after a lycanthrope bites the son of a Klan member. Dwonch compared this title to fellow Action Lab title "Princeless" in its importance, taking socially conscious issues and merging them with storytelling.

Werewolves are also front and center in September's "Crimson Society," where classic movie monsters live alongside humankind. The discrimination pushes one werewolf to submit to a dangerous procedure that would make him normal, but ends up a pawn in a battle against his own kind.

"Mishka and the Sea Devil," a Romanian work from creator Xenia Xiu that will be translated into English for release in the U.S. The book is composed of eleven chapters set over eleven days with eleven different art styles. Dwonch called it "the best anthology ever with a singular voice and different art styles, all from one person." It will also be available in August as an oversized hardcover at 100 pages.

As the slide for "Itty Bitty Bunnies In Rainbow Pixie Land Save Christmas" came on the screen, it was described as "Ren and Stimpy meet Cheech and Chong." "They cook meth to save Christmas because Santa ODs," said Martin.

"I get to work on the guided view translation," Dwonch said. "I know what's coming and it's awful and awesome."

Philip Sevy and Anthony Ruttgaizer bring "The First Hero," a story set on a world where two decades prior, super powers began to manifest and they drove anyone who got them insane, creating a world composed entirely of villains. Extraordinary government force was brought to bear and anyone who showed signs of being different received a taste of the same. The story's protagonist, an Afghan war veteran, is the first person who maintains his clarity after getting powers, but there's no way to convince people of that. Still, he's compelled to help others and that struggle fuels the project.

Also coming from the publisher later this year and into 2015 are a "Shinobi: Ninja Princess" prequel by Martheus Wade; second volumes for "Super Human Resources" and "Ehmm Theory," of which Dwonch said, "The easiest way to sum up 'Ehmm Theory' is that you can't sum it up"; "Planet Gigantic" (two lab grown teens lost in space); four self-contained single issues of "Pirate Eye," and "Fight Like A Girl," about a young woman who struggles to become a hero as her brother suffers from cancer.

The presentation of a title called "Holy F*ck" was described by creator Nick Marino as follows: "What if Hollywood decided to make a sequel to the bible? How would they mess it up? In a sequel, normally they team up with the greatest enemy, so a nun named Maria gets Jesus and Satan together to stop a horde of worship-hungry mythological gods." This brought Action Lab's publisher Bryan Seaton out of the audience.

"I believe credit should always be with the creators," said Seaton. "I think I fell asleep on the call, but from what I see I think you guys will really like it." Dwonch confirmed that Seaton does in fact fall asleep on conference calls.

Seaton's real reason for joining the panel was to announce a new partnership to celebrate the company's upcoming fifth anniversary. Charles Band from Full Moon Productions stepped up with a replica of his famous character and announced that "Puppet Master" was coming to Danger Zone written by Shawn Gabborin with art by Michela Da Sacco. "Netflix for lunatics is our motto," Band said of Full Moon. "We have franchises like Ginger Dead Man, Evil Bond Tommy Chong," which elicited a shout of support from the crowd. "You know this stuff. You're our kind of scum over there." Variants and photo covers will be a certainty.

"Nutmeg" was described as "Betty and Veronica" meets "Heathers" and "Breaking Bad" as one girl tries to break into the viciously competitive world of selling brownies. Its story takes place over one school year and comes from writer James Wright and artist Jackie Crofts.

"Skyward," the "eBay sensation, nominated for lots of awards," was the next topic of conversation. The series will feature variants from Gene Ha, Craig Rousseau and Darwyn Cooke, with adventures heading north to try and unite the berserker tribes.

The Kickstarter-funded "Cazadora" by Randy Kintz and Sam Eggleston was called "steampunk meets the zombie apocalypse" as England becomes the setting to try to contain an outbreak.

Described as "'Stand By Me' and Stephen King's 'It' for super hero comics, Erik Taylor and Leila Del Luca are bringing "The Pantheon Project" to Action Lab. Events from the past have ramifications for a group of friends who grew up to don spandex and masks.

"Runner" will be written and drawn by Nate Watson with colors by Bill Blankenship. The series features a troubled teen named Bethany Caruso who must join a group to guide monsters away from cities. The publisher considers this a story for people who "loved 'Pacific Rim' and love parkour."

Finally, the Eisner-nominated "Princeless" will return from Emily Martin and Jeremy Whitley by early 2015, bringing back the Free Comic Book Day character Princess Raven, introducing a pirate princess and a new artist, Rosy Higgins, joining the project.

A question from the audience got Igle to reveal that "Molly Danger" will be back to star in her own adventure in July 2016 following a new Kickstarter campaign.

Despite fan interest, "Itty Bitty Bunnies" will likely remain quarterly due to other commitments.

Fans received an exclusive print from Action Lab staffers as they filed out of the energetic presentation.

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