WW Philly: Aspen Comics Panel

Aspen Comics was out in force for the Wizard World Philadelphia 2008 show. Attending the panel were Vice President of Publishing Peter Steigerwald, Executive Vice President Frank Mastromauro, Editorial Director Vince Hernandez, Director of Design and Production Mark Roslan, Fathom writer J.T. Krul, and artists Micah Gunnell and Ale Garza.

Steigerwald, who hails from Hawaii, encouraged the audience to greet the panelists with a hearty shout of "Aloha!", which of course means "Hello" in the Hawaiian tongue. The most obvious absence was that of Aspen founder and president Michael Turner, who is still recovering from a surgical procedure in February as part of his ongoing battle with bone cancer. The panel explained that the recovery will likely take somewhere between 4 to 6 months. Turner intends to get back to work as soon as possible, with the final 2 issues of Soulfire, an unannounced Marvel project, and his new series Ekos with Geoff Johns.

As the panel got underway, there were some technical difficulties getting the slideshow presentation going, so the floor was quickly opened to questions. One questioner wanted to know what Aspen's plans for expansion were. Steigerwald emphasized that Aspen is a small outfit, and they believe it is better to put out a smaller number of quality titles than try to rush out books of lesser quality. That said, they are open to new ideas and are always exploring new avenues.

Another questioner asked about the possibility of another Fathom/Witchblade crossover. The panel didn't seem too interested in the idea. They explained that the last one was done because Turner had been drawing Witchblade, but that these days, Aspen has more than enough characters of their own to interact with.

The panel hit somewhat of a stall at this point, as appeals for further questions were being met with silence. One audience member called out that they would probably have more questions once they saw the slideshow, to which Mastromauro, referring to the ongoing technical problems, gave somewhat tongue-in-cheek reply, "I don't even know if there's going to be a slideshow!" The panel decided to buy some time by interviewing one another. For the most part, this took the form of back and forth kidding and references to inside-the-company goings on. Finally, another computer was brought in, and the slideshow was underway.

"Fathom: Volume 3" is due for release in August, with J.T. Krul writing, and Ale Garza, Sal Regla, and John Starr on art. The "Fathom: Volume 2" TPB is in stores next week. One fan asked about a hardcover edition, and the panel explained that they have done a limited edition hardcover release only available through their online store. There are plans for a second volume of acclaimed video game designer Jason Rubin's Iron and the Maiden series, but no art team has been set.

The new series Executive Assistant: Iris, due out later this year, was discussed next. The series will be written by David Wohl with art by Eduardo Francisco, Jason Gorder, and John Starr. Hernandez explained that concept originated with the real life stories of assistants to upper class businessmen in Asia who are also trained to be their bodyguards and even perform assassinations. The main character of this story, Iris, begins to have regrets about the dirty work she is required to perform for her organization, and decides to take it down.

The panel took great pride in their work for NBC's television show "Heroes" where they are regularly creating online "webisodes" that feature new characters. Based on audience reaction, some of these characters may even make it into the regular show. The panel noted that even though there isn't really any physical product for fans to pick up and buy, they still view this partnership as very important as they are NBC's "go to" comic book studio.

A slide was shown of the Kiani statue designed by Mike Turner. The panel noted that the statue won an industry award for "Statue of the Year" and had faced some pretty stiff competition including from acclaimed sculptor Randy Bowen. Steigerwald explained that they were particularly pleased with this statue as it lights up and has sculpted "lava" that appears to flow and move.

The panel showed off a Turner variant cover for "Ultimate Origins" #1 featuring Wolverine, as well his variant cover for "X-Men" #500. Mastromauro noted how much time Turner had put into the cover, which features X-Men from every incarnation of the team. "He kept tweaking things to get the costumes just right. And still there are some people complaining we didn't get it right!" he laughed.

Marcus To is well ahead of schedule on "Soulfire: Volume 2," having already completed issue #3. In the works is "Soulfire: Shadow Magic," a five-issue miniseries written by Vince Hernandez with art by Sana Takeda (known for her covers on Marvel's "Heroes for Hire"). Also mentioned was a new, unnamed property created by Mastromauro and Hernandez with art by Micah Gunnell, that is due to be announced soon.

Talking about the atmosphere at the office, they admitted it is a bit of a boy's club with Steigerwald saying, "A female hasn't been in our office a long time." They described their creative process as basically hurling insults and objects at each other. Asked to name some of their favorite comics outside of Aspen, "Green Lantern," "Amazing Spider-Man," "100 Bullets," and "Final Crisis" were all named. Hernandez was very frank in saying that he has finally returned to reading Spider-Man, saying he did not like J. Michael Straczynski's run at all.

With that, the panel ended the way it began, with Steigerwald exhorting the audience to give on more "Aloha!" (which, conveniently, also means "goodbye"). As a token of appreciation, each audience member was given a limited edition Fathom print on their way out.

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