SDCC: What's Next At Image Comics?

With Image Expo 2013 in the rear-view mirror, Image Comics came to Comic-Con International 2013 with a full slate of projects to discuss. Publisher Eric Stephenson moderated a panel of fan-favorite creators including Ed Brubaker, Joe Casey, Nick Dragotta, Rick Remender, J. Michael Straczynski, Amy Reeder and Brendon Montclare, who spoke about their upcoming creator-owned projects and the future of the publisher.

The panel kicked off with with a quick recap of this year's Image Expo, with Brubaker talking about his plans for "Fatale."

"The fourth arc is a '90s period piece, Seattle, grunge-rock, sex cult mystery. If you like rock and roll or sex or horror, you should buy the comic," said Brubaker, who noted a lot of the arc is based on his life from the '90s. "It's been a lot of fun. Our protagonist has amnesia and is living with a one-hit wonder rock band."

Brubaker's series announced at Image Expo, "Velvet" is a new collaboration with Steve Epting. "It is a high-octane thriller espionage thing," said Brubaker. "What if the world's greatest secret agent got murder and the guy who runs the agency's secretary was framed for it and she's the deadliest woman alive."

Image showed pages by Brubaker and Epting, and the writer revealed before the protagonist was a secretary, she was the world's greatest secret agent. The series begins in October, and is set during the cold war.

Joe Casey has had a number of new projects, including "The Bounce," a "weird super-hero story about a Spider-Man type character that smokes a lot of weed." "In promoting before it came out, I really leaned on the Spider-Man-esque nature of it, and it's really not like Spider-Man at all," said Casey, as a cover of Vainglorious Vox showed on the screen.

Casey's other book, "Sex" (which lent itself to any number of double entendre comments from the panel), is about a retired superhero that figures out he doesn't have much of a life. "Issue 5 comes out at the end of the month, and apparently he's got an itch he just can't scratch," said Casey, who emphasized that it wasn't a "redemptive superhero yarn." "This is what happens after that experience," he said. "He finds out about something in issue 7 -- or his lawyer does -- this thing that happens in Saturn City called the Saturnalia. If you know something about Roman History -- it's what it sounds like. It's weird, wild stuff."

Nick Dragotta, the artist on Jonathan Hickman's "East of West," was up next. "East of West" is Dragotta's first Image book where the Civil War never ended. "All the deep rooted hatred is bubbling up and there's all this hatred," said Dragotta, giving a shout-out to "our first cosplayed" that dressed up as The Crow. The final issue of the first arc is about to drop, and three of the four horsemen are hunting down the final one. "He's going against everyone conspiring to start the apocalypse," Dragotta said. The sixth issue hits stores in September.

The artist described his collaboration with Hickman as "organic" and that the writer was also really into the design process as well. Dragotta also gave a shout-out to colorist Frank Martin, Jr. "I think this is the best work I've ever produced, and I have to thank you guys for supporting the book."

Reeder and Montclare, the team behind "Halloween Eve," will take on a new title, "Rocket Girl," which Montclare described as "about a fifteen year old cop coming back from the future to 1986." The twist of the book is the future is an alternate future of 2013. The concept came from an '80s view of the future, and Rocket Girl has to come back to the past to find out why we don't have this utopia.

"In 2013, there are all teen cops," said Reeder. "That was how they stopped the corrupt police officers in New York. They have a bigger sense of right and wrong."

Remender's return to Image is coming with a series called "Black Science," about a guy that is a member of the league of black sciences, who is playing with things that he should not be. "It's something I've never attempted before where I'm revealing bits and pieces of the story at off-kilter moments," he said, calling out artists Matteo Scalera and Dean White. "This is me just dropping back into what I'm comfortable writing and I'm having a blast with it."

The writer's other announced Image series, "Deadly Class" is an amalgam of a number of ideas he'd been working on. "In 2010 and 11, I had a productive period where I was developing ... five creator-owned series," said Remender, who recalled two he had trouble reconciling and ended up combining. "Deadly Class" features a school for teenagers who are being trained to become assassins. "The dagger in your back isn't just metaphorical. .... This is a very personal project. Many of these experiences are things I went through or things my friends went through -- without assassins, obviously."

Straczynski discussed "Ten Grand" and his most recent book, "Sidekick," which debuted at the convention.

"Sidekick' is a darker book in a lot of respects," said Straczynski, saying the book is about the ex-sidekick of the Red Cowl, who was assassinated. Now nobody will take the sidekick seriously. "All the stuff I can't do at Marvel or DC to a sidekick -- because sidekicks piss me off. Robin was doing shit at his age that I could never do -- so fuck 'em!" The debut issue sees the sidekick go to San Diego Super Con and try to get another partner.

Next year, "Dream Police" will see a revival at Image, as well as "Book of Lost Souls" with Colleen Doran. Straczysnki will also be doing a book with Bill Sienkiewicz, which will involve a complete re-look at how comics are designed. "Bill doesn't just look out side the box, he lives outside the box and then he burns the box."

Brubaker briefly discussed his feelings on being able to do things differently at Image rather than at Marvel or DC. "I do a book like 'Velvet' for readers, it's not about comic collectors," he said. "It's not about keeping others' IPs alive."

Remender stated that he's had a wonderful experience with creator-owned books, which "brings a purity of intention that you can't find many other places of what you can put of yourselves in those characters."

Dragotta said that doing something like "Fantastic Four" makes people see him more as a "second-rate Jack Kirby," whereas in "East of West," he's the best Nick Dragotta. The artist related a story that led to the cool cannon-headed horse in the book that came about as a result of collaboration.

Reeder was one of the artists on DC's "Batwoman" before leaving to do creator-owned. "It's one of those things where you have to make yourself like certain aspects of it, whereas it's a natural thing when it's creator-owned," she said. "In creator-owned, I get more say in how I'm creating it." Reeder is inking and coloring herself for "Rocket Girl." "It's kind of an odd construct that artists split things up."

"My motivation is to make sure Sean Phillips has pages to draw constantly," added Brubaker. "That was the hardest part, switching to [creator-owned]. I'm not actually on vacation, I'm working harder than I've ever worked. But I'm working for myself."

"This is the greatest job you could have, making comics," said Casey. "The best part about doing creator-owned work is going back to when you were a kid, making your own comics. ... It's not a vacation, but I don't need a vacation because working on this stuff is why I tend to do so much stuff. To have the opportunity as a publisher to do whatever idea you have -- I love it. It's the greatest thing ever."

Remender started doing creator-owned in 1997, and there was no clear path to success. "When I started self-publishing in '97, I had a full-time job as an animator, but there's a purity about creator-own comics, and I couldn't stop," he said. "By the time 2003/2004 came around and I did my books there. They never made any money, this was back when nobody cared about creator-owned. I realized there was no money in it, but I couldn't not do it. I couldn't stop doing this thing. It's a wide-open medium where you can tell any story you want. If you hone your craft and do it right, you connect with people."

The Q&A session began with a question to Brubaker about his portrayal of strong female characters, particularly Catwoman. "Especially with Catwoman I feel so weird about it," he said. "It always seems to devolve into a Catwoman that I would never look at personally. I always say people need to understand the difference between sexy and sexist. I have a lot of women friends that I want to give my comics to and not have them be offended by them."

Stephenson was asked about Image's decision to release DRM-free digital comics, to which he responded it was something the publisher had been discussing for some time. "ComiXology, who we're great partners with and we're going to continue selling through them -- they're not selling files, they're selling the experience of reading, which is fine," he said, saying that sometimes readers want to own files. "I think it's good for the people who want to have stuff and read it however they want."

In terms of Brubaker's Icon book "Incognito," the writer said he wasn't sure what would come next. "It's one of those ones where -- where I left it, I'm not 100% sure what I'm going to do with it," he said, but indicated there may still be plans to go back to it.

A question about building a portfolio asked for advice as an artist and a writer.

"If you're an artist, it's all about storytelling," said Dragotta. "Telling a story first."

"I would worry much less about being original than storytelling," said Brubaker. "Don't break the rules unless you know how to do it in the rules."

"Study the masters, nail your ass to a chair and do it," said Dragotta.

"You need to be passionate about what you do and you need to fight for it," said Straczynski. "If that fight isn't there now, you need to get it there."

One fan asked about Dragotta's design process on "East of West." "A lot of it are just happy accidents and drawing on demand, trusting your instincts," said Dragotta. "The new president is a Cruella DeVil type character. The coloring is all Frank Martin. Me and Frank talked about the color, and I said I just wanted him to create depth."

The final question asked about continuing the conversation of "sexy versus sexist." "When you look at Marvel and DC, those creators were created decades back," said Stephenson.

"Part of it is the philosophical issue," said Straczynski. "The difference is that women characters tend to be objectified, men characters tend to be idealized."

"There are ways you can help that just by drawing it normally," said Reeder. "Make them have regular posture."

While it was clear there was a deeper discussion brewing, the panel was out of time for questions and wrapped.

Captain Marvel evil suit header
The Avengers Have Been [REDACTED] - By SHIELD?!

More in Comics