WC11: The Next Great Era of Image Comics

Creators behind a slew of Image Comics' recent launches joined together to discuss their respective books, take questions from the audience and riff on Image's place in today's comic book scene on Saturday afternoon at WonderCon in San Francisco.

The large panel consisted of ten different Image creators, but unfolded quite orderly throughout the hour. The first creator to speak was artist Tomm Coker whose newest book is "Undying Love." "[Undying Love] is a vampire story, but please don't hold that against us," said Coker. The story is about a man who falls in love with a Chinese woman, only to discover she is a vampire and follow her to Hong Kong. It is a noir-y romance, with Eastern and Western elements thrown in to the two 4-issue miniseries.

Viktor Kalvachev spoke next about his new project "Blue Estate." "Blue Estate" is a unique project that is simultaneously illustrated by several different artists, including Toby Cypress, Robert Valley, Nathan Fox and Kalvachev, with a script by Andrew Osborne. "Blue Estate" is a Hollywood noir story based around a couple trapped in a loveless marriage who are involved with the Italian mafia. The art style in the book shifts from artist to artist according to the time period, character changes, shifts in alliances or various other elements. "It's like a jam session with artists," said Kalvachev.

Joe Casey talked about several projects, including the final year of "Godland", "Marijuana Man" and "Butcher Baker." Casey said that they are currently working on "Godland" #35 and that he plans to make both #36 and #37 double-sized, with the latter serving as the series finale. "It's a little slow going not because of Tom Scioli, the artist, who can crank things out like nobody's business, but because after 30-odd issues of this cosmic nuttiness, wrapping everything up in neat little bows is proving to be a bit more daunting than I had originally thought."

"Marijuana Man" is a character created by Ziggy Marley that is now being developed by Casey and artist Jim Mahfood. The hardcover OGN is out April 20th. "It's some of Mahfood's best work ever," said Casey. Casey's other new project was "Butcher Baker" whose first issue was released last Wednesday. The book is about a retired Captain America type hero who is called out of retirement for one last mission. "He also gets laid a lot, and that's a virtue I think. There's a lot of sex and violence and it's not for the kids."

Up next was Deborah Vankin, who covers arts and culture for the "LA Times," who wrote the graphic novel "Poseurs." "Poseurs" follows three teenagers in the world of Los Angeles nightlife who get in over their heads. It is set in trendy LA neighborhoods like Echo Park and Silver Lake. The book is illustrated by Rick Mays and originated out of a pitch originally intended for DC Comics' defunct Minx imprint, which was cancelled in 2008.

"Hi, I'm Nate and I'm an alcoholic," joked creator Nate Simpson when he was introduced to the crowd. Simpson spoke about his highly-anticipated new comic "Nonplayer" and his decision to quit the video game industry one year ago and make his own comic, which would later become "Nonplayer." The book takes place in a future where immersive MMOs have taken over the populace. A girl kills the wife of a game world character who decides to take revenge on her when he gains sentience and sneaks in to the real world. Simpson joined the video game industry in 1993 but only decided to try his hand at creating comics a little over a year ago. "I spent a year drawing this stuff, then Image found me and now I'm sitting in room in front of 200 people. It's been a pretty weird ride."

Brandon Seifert and Lukas Ketner, the writer and artist of "Witch Doctor," then talked about their new comic from Robert Kirkman's Skybound imprint, debuting in June. "Witch Doctor" is a horror medical comic book. It's Dr. House meets Dr. Strange. It's about a jerk doctor who is looking for a vaccine for the apocalypse," said Seifert.

Daniel Corey's new project "Moriarty" is a re-imagining of the Sherlock Holmes mythos, one where Moriarty lived and Holmes died at the end of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's books. Moriarty begins the series working as a low rent private detective while World War I rages around him. He gets drafted by MI-5 to locate Mycroft Holmes, a figure from his past. "We have lots of epic James Bond set pieces and we have classic Sherlock Holmes detection stuff going on too," said Corey. "Moriarty" debuts on May 11th.

The last person to speak was Ben McCool, writer of "Memoir." "Memoir" is the story of a small town whose memory is suddenly taken away and the journalist who comes to investigate this phenomenon. "Memoir" #3 arrives in stores today.

McCool then brought up former Marvel editor Nate Cosby to announce a brand new ongoing series, "Pigs." It's about a Cuban KGB sleeper cell that is activated in the modern day and assigned to overthrow the American government. The cover artists on the series will be Jock, Francesco Francavilla, Amanda Connor, Humberto Ramos, Ben Templesmith and Becky Cloonan. Cosby called Cloonan the inspiration for the series. "Me, Nate and Becky were all hanging out in a bar one night talking about Cuban sleeper cells," said McCool, and that was how the idea for the series was born.

Before the panel was opened up for questions from the audience Tomm Coker asked, "Is anyone actually under 18 out there?" When only a small handful of people raised their hands, Coker responded, "it's only two guys out there, we can say 'fuck' all we want."

The first question was for Vankin, about the transition from journalism to comic books. "I'm still in the journalism world, and in the past I've written screenplays. The writing of a screenplay and a comic aren't that different; you're telling stories with pictures, so the genre came easy to me," said Vankin. She decided to write about the LA nightlife world because she knows it so well. "It's sort of gently making fun of that world," said Vankin.

A fan asked Coker if it was hard to write about vampires in a post-"Twilight" world. "Actually, we wrote it before I had ever heard of 'Twilight.' I had no idea what 'Twilight' was until that first movie hit. It's much harder to talk about now, because you immediately have to apologize for having vampires."

The topic moved to the shifting art in Kalvachev's new series "Blue Estate." Someone wanted to know exactly how the shifts would work and how it affects telling a story. Kalvachev said it actually helps make it smoother in places like time changes, which in the past would have to be explained by text or narration boxes. Now, a different artist can illustrate the time jump and the shift can happen seamlessly. Other shifts happen when a character has a dramatic tonal shift or a change in the narrative and these artistic shifts often happen in the middle of a page.

A fan came up and asked exactly what McCool's freshly-announced series "Pigs" would be about. McCool answered that story will be a long overarching story about an awakened sleeper cell, but that each issue will be its own mission leading towards the grander design. "It's a gritty noir in the tradition of 'The Losers' and '100 Bullets,'" McCool said.

A fan then asked if the panel could address the decision to launch new titles amidst a weak economy and rising attention paid to movies and TV over books. "It should be about the comics, absolutely, as far as we are concerned," said McCool to applause from the audience. Kalvachev talked about how other comic book publishers told them it was very difficult to launch a creator-owned book but that Image Comics told him, "That's all we do is launch creator-owned series. For us, that was really refreshing and we are really glad we ended up here."

"If you're working for Image, you're not in it for the money," Coker said. He then told a story of the first comic he ever drew, "Vanguard," for Erik Larsen at Image in 1993. Coker got fired off the book after drawing only one issue, because of how poorly it sold. Larsen called him up and told him it was the lowest selling book ever for Image Comics, having only sold 360,000 copies. "I was heartbroken," said Coker, using the story to illustrate how different the comics industry is today from when Image started.

"How do you come up with stories for Marijuana Man?," a fan asked Joe Casey.

"How do you think?" responded Casey jokingly. "The book is a little bit of action and a little bit of sex," Casey continued. "With Ziggy's philosophy added in. "It's seeded in there, so to speak."

The lights then came up, prompting one fan to walk away from his position at the microphone. He was called back by the panel, who urged him to ask his question despite the panel nearing its close. He wanted the panel to give their take on digital comics taking versus print comics, with many Image titles already available on Comixology.

"Do you like digital comics?" Coker asked the fan.

"Well, I'm old and for me the medium is always meant to be between two covers," he replied.

"As long as people are reading comics, that's the most important thing," said McCool.

Seifert was asked whether he came up with the idea for "Witch Doctor," previously described as Dr. House meets Dr. Strange, before or after watching the TV show "House." "I've always liked the jerk that helps people, which probably says something about myself as a person," said Seifert. He then explained that he had heard of "House" but never actually seen the show. "Also, there are a lot of jerk doctors out there." Seifert told a story about how his friend's dentist had sewn her gums to her lips. She continued to go to the dentist until one day she overheard him say, "Oh, not this bitch again."

A girl then asked what influenced Simpson when making "Nonplayer," specifically asking how video games influenced him. Simpson said it was primarily the years he spent working in the video game industry coupled with his wife's work at an MMO developer. "I actually don't play them, though. I did a little bit of research into them, but I very nearly lost my life to ['World of Warcraft']. I did it for a couple weeks and I thought, 'I gotta stop, this is clearly addicting.'"

The final question of the panel, directed at Simpson, asked what he thought of the struggle for comics and video games to be viewed as art. "I think in general, the comics that are getting made are higher in quality," Simpson said. "Whereas games are going to be our entire lives soon."

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