Early Friday afternoon at San Francisco's WonderCon, the Aspen Comics panel convened in a huge auditorium that was sparsely filled by less than twenty attendees. It was these hardcore fans, minus a few members of the press, who had shown up to find out the future of a company that, in many ways, is still recovering from the death of its founder, Michael Turner. Among the panelists were Aspen Comics President Frank Mastromauro, Editor-In-Chief Vince Hernandez, creators J.T. Krul, David Wohl, Ale Garza, Mark Roslan and Joe Benitez, among others.
The panel istsseemed very aware of how light attendance was. "There's not a lot of people in this room right now," Mastromauro admitted. "But next year after some of our announcements, this room is going to be packed."
Mastromauro started by addressing the future of "Soulfire". "That's what we get the most questions about," Mastromauro said. Turner was unable to finish "Soulfire" before he died, though he made it through the first ten pages of "Soulfire" #8. Artist Joe Benitez has finished his work on the issue and "Soulfire: Vol. 1" returns in March.
The panel previewed some of Turner's final pages for "Soulfire" #8, as well as Joe Benitez's later pages for the issue. Benitez admitted that matching Turner's style was not easy. "Trying to match, or at least get close to, what Mike did [is tough]," he explained, going on to say that while it was a struggle in issue #8, he felt he hit a better stride in his work in issue #9.
The panel also emphasized two other "Soulfire" related projects, "Soulfire: Shadow Magic" and "Soulfire: New World Order." The former is by Vince Hernandez and Sana Takeda. When that series ends in April, it leads into "Soulfire: New World Order" by JT Krul, Francisco Herrera, and Leonerdo Olea. "The thing about 'Soulfire' is that the world is so expansive," Mastromauro said, showing interior pages from both series, particularly taken with the art for "Soulfire: New World Order." "The art in here is just stunning. Like an animated movie come to life. And it's set right here in San Francisco," he added, drawing scattered applause.
Both of these series are to be followed by the launch of "Soulfire: Vol. 2" by JT Krul, Marcus To, Saleem Crawford and Beth Sotelo. Mastromauro promised there would be a lot more "Soulfire" coming up. "Not just in comics, but outside of them as well," he teased.
Aspen also teased their new book "Executive Assistant Iris," the story of a beautiful Asian secretary who also serves as her employer's trained killer. "This book, I think, is going to floor a lot of people," Mastromauro promised. The book's creative team is David Wohl, Michael Turner, Eduardo Francisco and John Starr.
Wohl took a moment to speak about the idea behind the book. The writer mentioned a "New York Times" article he read about women adopted in China by men who "trained them how to fight, trained them in etiquette, trained them how to kill." The purpose of this training was clear: to provide bodyguards for businessman who didn't want to seem as though they traveled with protection.
"So the idea is you have these women that don't look very dangerous," Wohl explained.
"Well, she looks kind of dangerous," Mastromauro joked.
"Right. But not in her business garb," Wohl answered.
Wohl also explained that the arc of "Executive Assistant Iris" may have some surprising developments. While Iris' job begins as nothing more than keeping her employer happy and killing his enemies, she soon realizes that, as Wohl puts it, "he might be the worst one of all."
The panel then moved into an explanation of the company's teasers over the last year, which read: "And You Thought Your Life Was Tough." While many speculated the teasers might relate to the future of "Fathom," they were actually promotion for a new series called "Dellec" created and written by Frank Mastromauro and Vince Hernandez with art by Micah Gunnell, Rob Stull, and Matt Hollingsworth. The story follows a metal fabricator who fights evil. "The basic idea was - what if it was God creating all this evil in the world?" co-creator Hernandez explained.
Hernandez admits that the idea, which was pitched to him on a road trip, did not immediately appeal to him. "I'm confused," he said to Mastromauro during the pitch. "Isn't God supposed to be good?" He emphasized that he thinks the book is great, however, even if it treads ground of a subject that's been dealt with many times before.
The Aspen team was also proud to announce that the first issue of "Dellek" will sport a price tag of just $1.99, while future issues will be only $2.50. "So while other people are raising the prices of their books... we're actually going the other way and trying to bring the price down," Mastramauro joked.
Lastly, the panel talked about the future of their signature property, "Fathom." "Fathom's been around for ten years," Mastramauro said. "People didn't think it would be around that long." He went on to say that he was glad he could continue something that made so many people happy, even after Turner's death.
"Issue #6 is coming out soon. We're halfway into 'Fathom Vol. 3,'" Mastramauro said. He then revealed that from Turner's first creation of "Fathom," the plan was always to have three volumes, the first focused on "the blue," the second focused on the war between "the blue" and human beings, and the third focused on the war between humans, "the blue," and "the black." "People say - there was already a war! I know. This was the plan. We're gonna mix it up soon."
The panel also addressed "Ekos," the series that had been developed by Geoff Johns and Michael Turner, saying they had just met with Johns in New York. "It's coming," Mastromauro said.
Mastromauro also emphasized that Aspen was putting more of a concerted effort into its trade paperback program. "Retailers say it's tough to turn people onto our books because there aren't a lot of trades out there," he explained. He went on to say that while Aspen cannot put out trades as often as major competitors like Marvel and DC, they were trying hard to get everything in print. New Aspen trades on the horizon include: "Fathom: Volume 1 Definitive", "Shrugged: Volume 1," "Kiani: Volume 1."
The panel then opened the floor to questions, and while few fans had anything to ask, one did prompt some interesting teases about the continuing possibility of a film version of "Fathom." Mastromauro spoke about the reason why it's taking a "Fathom" film so long to materialize. "When they bought 'Fathom,' they wanted it because of what it accomplished as opposed to what it was," he explained. "They wanted it for Mike's name and everything but the story hadn't even finished the first volume."
Mastromauro then explained that there was one version of the screenplay which was only related to "Fathom" in that the main character's name was Aspen. "She didn't like water and she lived in Colorado," Mastromauro laughed.
One more fan had a follow-up question on the "Fathom" movie: What do you think of Megan Fox?
Everyone on the panel agreed: "she's hot."