SENYC: Creators Explore Genre At Image Comics

After making introductions, moderator David Brothers began their Special Edition: NYC discussion by talking about two series that are soon to end. First up was Bryan J.L. Glass' "Mice Templar," which will soon reach its end after five story arcs and approximately 50 issues over eight years. "Before I wrote issue one I knew how it was going to end, at that time I wrote a 30 page outline of the end and now, we're achieving the end I set out to tell. I'm excited to get to story elements that have been percolating all these years. The only thing that changed is the middle, where the story grew. We've been gunning for this for eight years. It's the end of the world as they know it!"

Jim Zub's "Skullkickers" will also come to a close soon, which numerically "should be number 34, but I want people to get excited for this issue -- so we'll renumber it to #100," said Zub. "There's a story reason for it so it's just partial bullshit. There are so few Image books that have had an issue #100, so being in such rarified air, that's going to be our legacy."

"Wytches," Scott Snyder's horror comic, finished its first story arc recently. "It set up the direction we want to take the series forward... The hero of the series is Sailor, she's 13 years old and the first arc was setting her up. The second arc takes place in the Southwest and she's joined this group called the Iron, who hunt wytches. There are these sand wytches underground. We say goodbye to certain characters in the arc, but there's a tremendous sense of exuberance because its what the series is going to dive into." Snyder said he has three arcs planned. Zub asked if "sand wytches" was an intentional play on words, thus blowing Snyder's mind and making him consider changing their name to "desert wytches." Snyder also praised his artist and collaborator Jock, saying that he smells great. Brothers urged the audience to tweet that out.

Simon Roy talked about his Image series "Tiger Lung," which he described as Paleolithic shamanic adventure. The series is set in the Ice Age and sees Roy "looking through the eyes of a shaman as he goes to the spirit world." Roy said that he was inspired by a book called "Mind in the Cave" that focused on the stone paintings of Bushmen.

As Brothers transitioned to "Southern Bastards," he asked artist Jason Latour who his favorite college football team and revealed that he's more of a NFL fan. "It's a weird crime comic," said Latour of his series that started as a crime comic and morphed into more of a sports comic. "When we first set out to do this book, I was like, this is totally a comic we will never be able to do anywhere else... Essentially I wanted to do a sports book because I played them growing up, but the problem I have with sports stories is they aren't really stories. There's nothing to it narratively beyond 'remember that time.' There's a movie called 'Remember the Titans.' The function for this comic is that you could swap out religion for sports in this comic. In a place like rural Alabama, sports are an outlet for people. Unfortunately there's also a seedy underbelly to that. The sports comic that goes on in the second arc is Coach Boss' own ambitions weighed against his need to be important. It's really as much a sports comic as it is a psychological exploration of people who play sports."

Brothers commented on the realism that ties all these Image books together, despite some of their fantastical elements. "They're about people and emotional context," said Zub. "What's fascinating is that no matter how fantastical those elements are, the story gets grounded by the quality of the characters. The audience cares for them and wants to know what happens next. It's not always empathy in that you like the person, like 'Breaking Bad' and 'Southern Bastards.' I don't necessarily like those characters but I care what happens."

Latour commented that the second arc actually made some fans like Coach Boss, the villain of the first arc of "Southern Bastards." "I tell those fans that, you know, he's still a son of a bitch," said Latour. "One of my favorite Jason Aaron quotes is that even Mother Teresa was an asshole on some days."

"The thing that strikes me about books at Image is that they're all passion projects," said Snyder. "If you know the creators or read their work even in superhero comics, you see the same things in those comics even working their way in. You try to wrench the superhero stuff so that you can write the things you want; then you get to a book like 'Southern Bastards' is you see the creators there unfettered in a real way. That's something that a lot of us need in order to balance superhero work, too. When you pick up an Image book, you know it's a passion project regardless of what the high concept is."

Zub said that he often offers that same ethos as advice to aspiring writers. "They're all passion projects, like Jeff Smith on 'Bone' or Robert Kirkman on 'Walking Dead,'" said Zub. "The passion they have for the storytelling comes through so clear and people gravitate towards it. You see that with so many of the Image titles now."

Brothers asked Glass how mythology plays a role in their series. "What I look doing with 'Mice Templar' is we took the cliches of a fantasy hero's journey and once people read what they expected it to be, we went for every opportunity to throw a wrench in it," said Glass. "I love hearing from people that say they got halfway through it and forgot they were mice. I'm hoping at the end of the series that I've said something meaningful about all aspects of the human condition."

The floor opened up for questions, with someone asking how they determine which characters they create go to which company. "The way I construct a 'Batman' arc, you try to do it in a way that it's one emotional arc and the characters are part of that one message. The characters you create for that story are so rooted in that story that it doesn't crossover too much," said Snyder. "The thing about creator-owned is I can do whatever I want. There are no boundaries. That doesn't happen to me too often... I think sometimes there's a perception that there's a conflict between the two, but that's not true. I mean, Image probably pay s me more for 'Wytches' than DC does for 'Batman' at this point, but I do 'Batman' because I love Batman and they are different challenges. There's no reason to do one over the other; they're different creative muscles."

"Most of my income comes from Image books," said Latour. "It is amazing to have both these things in my life. I would go completely insane if I didn't have a book like 'Southern Bastards' where I could just cut loose all the time."

"Work-for-hire stuff challenges you to take tools you're given and forge it into something that matters to you," added Zub. "Doing both makes you a better storyteller... Every one of us owes a debt of gratitude to the Image founders for carving out this system."

Snyder thanked the fans, saying that their support of indie books is changing the industry. "With 'Wytches,' I though the book was going to sell very little but I was excited about it because it was personal and with Jock," said Snyder. "This is a new thing that you guys are doing that is a seismic shift, you're giving creators the ability to live on their passion projects. You're giving us the choice constantly. You are so powerful in that regard when you make these books have robust sales. You are changing the entire landscape of comics."

A Harley Quinn cosplayer asked Snyder if his Vertigo book "The Wake" allowed him to test the waters for "Wytches." "I see Vertigo and Image not as competitors, but companies that offer different things," said Snyder. "Working at Vertigo means working with certain editors and different responsibilities to the book. With Image, I realized I wanted to try something I hadn't tried before like being hip deep in the comic, deciding if we're going to make the book longer, or have a hardcover or softcover or have variants. Those things aren't part of the process at other publishers. I would do something else at Vertigo, I love the people there, but I also loved the process I've gone through at Image. I think there's room for all of it."

Harley asked another question, focusing on the twist reveal at the end of the first "Southern Bastards" arc, and the decision to make it a surprise reveal. "The book is about masculinity run amuck," said Latour. "I always make the joke that there's more crying in 'Southern Bastards' than anything on television. We both felt it as very important to set your expectations at a certain level, so that reveal doesn't hit as hard if you don't get to that point thinking you know what the book is about."

A fan in a Jerry Springer shirt asked if any panelists felt a shock when transferring between mainstream superhero work and their creator-owned work. Latour said that since he started at Image, he never felt a shock when he added Marvel work to his resume. Snyder recounted the period when "American Vampire" went on hiatus at the time he launched "Superman Unchained" and had nothing but superhero work on the stands, stating that without that outlet he actually got a bit depressed.

"I was raised on reading Marvel and DC comics," said Latour. "But I did a comic strip about a couple of dudes drinking beer with a monkey. I'm fortunate to have a place to take those stories now. It's been very lucky with mainstream stuff in the past year, for me on that level. At the end of the day, if that was taken away from me tomorrow, I could still get up and tell those stories about kids living with a monkey."

A young fan asked the panelists which other Image series are their favorites; Snyder said he feels "Lazarus" is underrated and says speaks to him. "Greg [Rucka] is such a master," said Snyder. "'Lazarus' taught me how to be a better writer."

Glass said he loves Nick Spencer's "Morning Glories," clarifying that he's a bit behind because reading comics comes in waves for comic book creators. Zub said that "Invincible" is the most consistent book, praising the fact that Robert Kirkman can enact paradigm shifts that the big two superhero books cannot do. He compared it to Mark Waid's "Daredevil" in its consistent quality. Roy said that "Southern Bastards" is his favorite. Latour said he feels like a lot of the Image creators feel like his high school classmates. "My first Image book was the same as the first ones Robert Kirkman and Matt Fraction and Rick Remender had their first ones published," said Latour. "Everyone on this panel is doing great stuff. But I will give you the cop out answer and say that I've been completely smitten by 'Saga.'"

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