WonderCon: Aspen Comics Panel

Aspen Comics opened a big day of panel presentations Saturday at WonderCon in San Francisco, CA, teasing upcoming projects, the return of delayed books and plans for trade collections of a number of their most popular titles.

"Thanks, everyone, for joining us this early in the morning," said Peter Steigerwald ("Soulfire"). "How many people are still hungover from last night?"

At least a dozen hands in the 80-person audience went up.

"Does anybody have any Excederin?" asked artist Ale Garza, to the laughter of the crowd. "No, I'm serious," he said. "I know it's bad to ask, but it really does help."

Executive VP Frank Mastromauro said he'd spoken with Michael Turner, who was scheduled to appear but could not make it to the show. He alluded to Turner's well-known health problems, saying it was the first convention Turner's missed and that he'd sent his sincere apologies to the crowd.

Turner's health came up in a happier tone later in the panel, when Mastromauro described writer J.T. Krul's collaborative process with Turner on the series "Soulfire".

"Every time Mike's out sick for a few months, he comes back with 20 new ideas for the book," Mastromauro said with a smile. "J.T.'s had to rewrite some scripts four or five times."

The panel previewed several returning and new projects from Aspen for 2008.

"Soulfire" issue #8 is expected in March. When the first volume concludes, volume 2 will launch with guaranteed shipping, Mastromauro said, emphasizing they would stick to a monthly schedule, with artist Marcus To having several issues already done.

"Marcus is stuck in the cold up in Canada, so he's got nothing better to do but stay at home and draw," Mastromauro said, to more laughter from the crowd.

"Aspen Showcase: Grace" was shown, written by Vince Hernandez and illustrated by Ale Garza.

"Soulfire: New World Order" has been a long time in the making, and Mastromauro said he's considering releasing the book in a prestige format.

"Shrugged" will conclude with the upcoming issue #8, and the program included several preview pages of artist Micah Gunnell's work on the final installment. Gunnell will be doing a project with Marvel after that, Mastromauro said.

"Iron and the Maiden: Brutes, Bims and the City" was also previewed, with Mastromauro describing a huge amount of character design and concept work having poured into the studio.

"Fathom" will return in the summer with an issue #0 and a third volume, written by Krul with art by Ale Garza, Sal Regla, and John Starr. The solicitation for the zero-issue should be released in about two weeks, Mastromauro said. He added that the series will have four or five issues all prepared by the time the first one hits the stands, so the series can maintain a stable shipping schedule.

Mastromauro said he's had many people come to him saying they love Aspen books, but that they don't know where to start and have trouble catching up, with back issues sold out and hard to find. He said the studio will try to correct that this year by getting more aggressive with their trade paperback collections. He mentioned "Shrugged" and "Fathom: Kiani" as books he'd like to see collected.

When asked about a collection for "Iron and the Maiden," Mastromauro said he's been working on some ideas with writer Jason Rubin for how to distribute the book as a trade to new venues.

"Ekos" is nine issues away, Mastromauro said, pending Turner's completion of "Soulfire" and six issues of his project with Marvel.

"Witchblade" and "The Darkness" creator David Wohl teased a project with the working title "Executive Assistant," with preview character designs by Brazilian artist Eduardo Francisco.

"Eduardo's doing some really incredible work, really growing his style with this," Wohl said. "I'm excited to be working with him. I think you guys are gonna love his stuff."

Ale Garza presented a new competition called ARTsenal, hosted at www.noirpomme.blogspot.com. He said he enjoyed the competitive spirit he'd had when working with WildStorm and boasted against the other artists.

"It's always great when I make these guys cry, when I kick their ass," Garza said.

Garza said Humberto Ramos is interested and one of the likely competitors.

Convention-goers will be able to nominated subjects for 90-minute competitive draw-offs at conventions throughout the year, with the art being auctioned off as a CBLDF fund-raiser at the end of the year.

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