The first Image Comics panel of Comic-Con International kicked off with moderator David Brothers welcoming a group of creators to discuss the ideas of a new mainstream in comics. “The mainstream is what everybody likes,” Brothers explained. “Who here likes ‘Star Wars?’ ‘Doctor Who?’ Basketball? All of that stuff is mainstream.”
In comics, the mainstream has traditionally been superheroes. However, the creators that joined Brothers on stage — Michael Moreci, Alex Grecian, Keenan Marshall Keller, Chip Zdarsky, Marjorie Liu and Kody Chamberlain — are all working on books that reflect diversity, books that bring something new to comics, and, ultimately, books that are becoming the new mainstream.
First up, Brothers asked Chamberlain to talk about his series with Joshua Hale Fialkov.
“‘Punks’ started as a creative challenge,” Chamberlain explained. “There was a debate at a comic convention if a comic book needs to be drawn. I was of the opinion that comics don’t need to be drawn. I pitched Josh the idea of doing a comic entirely in the aesthetic of punk rock flyers.”
And so, “Punks” was born. The series follows four roommates — Dog, Skull, Fist and Abe Lincoln — in various violent and comedic adventures. Chamberlain uses photocopiers, tape and Exacto knives to form comic’s art. Because of the lack of drawing, Chamberlain shared that he can get between six and seven pages done a day.
Chamberlain and Fialkov collaborated with the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund on a special issue of “Punks,” released July 1st with 20% of the profits being donated to the fund. In the spirit of CBLDF’s mission to end censorship, Chamberlain decided to try and break every rule from the Comics Code in a single issue.
“The book is absolutely hysterical and was a lot of fun to put together,” he said.
“In case you don’t know who the CBLDF is, they are the one that make sure you can read comics with cuss words and violence in them,” Brothers added, before turning to Keller, writer of “The Humans,” which features plenty of violence, blood and chrome.
“It’s 1970s exploitation in Bakersfield, California where ape gangs and biker men are running drugs,” Keller said of his series, crediting artist Tom Neely with the success of “The Humans,” and noting their mutual love of ’70s underground comics.
Zdarsky’s series “Kaptara” is similarly based on a shared interest with artist and co-creator Kagan McLeod — Saturday morning cartoons. Zdarsky confessed that the entire world of “Kaptara” was built on his favorite action figures occupying a world together, a place where He-Man would fight Indiana Jones without any purity to a particular universe.
“‘Kaptara’ is mostly an excuse to work with Kagan,” he admitted. “He’s the best, funniest artist you can imagine.”
Brothers noted that although “Kaptara” is funny in a different way than “Sex Criminals,” which Zdarsky co-created with writer Matt Fraction, it still feels very “Chip.”
“Kagan is super-funny, so it comes through with his drawings — and then I cover it with my shitty words. That’s my lifestyle!”
Liu, writer of the upcoming “Monstress” with artist Sana Takeda, gushed about her collaboration as well. “Sana is brilliant,” she said. “I want to let her art push my words out of the way.”
“Monstress” follows a young girl with a deep psychic connection to a Godzilla-like monster. Liu was inspired by a trip to Japan, where she took a photo next to a Godzilla statue and thought, wouldn’t it be really cool if he could be my friend?
“Do you need more friends? Is that where it came from?” Zdarsky asked.
Liu, laughing, admitted that wasn’t the case. Rather, “Monstress” came from her desire to see a woman become a monster, a concept reflected in the spelling of the title.
“We always think about monsters in the masculine,” she said. “We never think about female monsters. I wanted to directly address what it means to be a woman and a monster — not just a literal monster, but to play with that entire tripe and turn it on its head. What happens when society considers a woman monstrous?”
The first issue, due out in November, will be a massive 70-pages.
“You know, you can split that up into several issues,” Zdarsky pointed out.
“I know!” Liu replied. “I tried, but I couldn’t find a good breaking point. I felt like it needed to be presented in that whole first issue.”
“The second issue is five pages long,” Zdarsky laughed.
Staying on the topic of monsters, Brothers called upon Grecian to discuss his series with Riley Rossmo, “Rasputin.”
“I’ve been thinking about Rasputin for about 20 years,” Grecian noted. “That he idea was shot, stabbed, poisoned, drowned and beaten all in one night, supposedly, and he didn’t die. I thought, what if he didn’t die? What if he’s still around?”
Like other writers, Grecian expressed that he did his best to say out of Rossmo’s way. The tone of the series does reflect a sparseness of words, yet a deepness of story that is communicated beautifully in both Grecian’s character development and Rossmo’s art.
Brothers turned to the audience for questions and, as always, rewarded participants with free Image Comics.
One fan asked Zdarsky how it felt for “Sex Criminals” to become mainstream.
Zdarsky said that the original idea for the series was just for him and Fraction to have fun. Fraction never anticipated that it would go beyond three issues, and warned Zdarsky that they’d likely have to pay for #4 and #5 out of pocket. They never thought of it as a book that would be successful, let alone redefine what mainstream comics look like. Zdarsky lovingly blamed this largely on Fraction for naming the book “Sex Criminals,” but also noted that the solicitation was off base. Although the series is hilarious, at its heart, it’s a romantic comedy.
“It was like, join Matt and Chip for dick jokes! Anyone that picks it up based on that is going to be disappointed.”
Chamberlain added that “dick jokes” was the “Punks” solicitation as well.
“It works for everything,” Zdarsky agreed. “‘Spawn,’ ‘Walking Dead’…”
Liu, who in addition to writing comics is a noted author, shared that she is much more deliberate when writing comics due to the nature of working with an artist. With novels, she gives herself room to play around with ideas, but when working in comics she is much more focused, as it’s difficult for an artist to go back and redraw if the story changes.
Asked which Image series the creators wish they’d had a hand in creating, Moreci replied Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples’ “Saga.” “I’m not sure if you guys know this,” he joked, “but it makes a crazy amount of money.”
Zdarsky agreed on “Saga,” mentioning that when he was putting the trade for “Sex Crimianls” together, he wanted to look at other well-designed trades and picked up the first volume. “I went back into the comic shop two hours later to buy the second volume. That book is fantastic. It’s super successful and it’s reached so many people — but it’s also really, really good!”
The panel agreed that comics written with the specific goal in mind of selling the rights for a film adaptation strongly impacted the quality of the story.
Liu added that when a story had no passion or fire, it was just words on a page. “If you really follow your passion, no matter how strange it might be, there’s energy there.”
“I’m extremely passionate,” Zdarsky added, his eyes lighting up with strange glee. “And I want everyone to know how passionate I am.”
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