The big story at the Top Cow Panel in The Marshall Rogers Room on Saturday was more information about the innovative fall event "Pilot Season." Kicking off the "Pilot Season" promotion were Filip Sablik, Vice President of Marketing and Sales and Rob Levin, Vice President of Editorial. Sablik explained that Top Cow will be putting out six separate, self-contained books from August through November, featuring established characters from various Top Cow properties from the past and present. Levin noted, "Each of these books was about giving a new spin to the characters. Each one is really a ground floor read." After all of the books are released, a voting process will begin allowing readers to choose their favorite books to continue, with two books emerging as the champions. Sablik explained, "It's up to you guys which two books get a series in 2008."
The books in contention are "Ripclaw," "Cyblade," "Velocity," "The Necromancer," "Angelus" and "Aphrodite IX." The books with ship over the course of the next several months, and voting will open in December through an exclusive partnership with MySpace.com. Voters will have the chance to decide the fate of their favorite books at myspace.com/pilot season. While anyone is allowed to vote, Top Cow has designed a system to give more weight to informed voters. At the end of every "Pilot Season" issue, a special three digit code is published. After all six books have been published, the "Pilot Season" MySpace page will ask for an 18 digit code, combining the codes from all of the books. Voters are encouraged to campaign for their favorite characters, and the top campaigners will be rewarded with top "friend" status on the MySpace page. "We're letting you tell us what you want," said Sablik.
In an exclusive announcement for Wizard World Chicago attendees, Sablik and Levin remarked that while the current round of "Pilot Season" characters are based on existing brands, plans are already in motion for "Pilot Season 2008" featuring entirely new properties.
Another current development at Top Cow is the launch of "First Born" the Top Cow Universe spanning series featuring the "Witchblade" character, Sara Pezzini, inexplicably pregnant with her offspring the catalyst for a battle between god and evil. "Essentially in 'First Born' #1, there's a hint the forces of dark and light are going to be fighting over this baby," clarified Levin. The story will spill over in to several books throughout Top Cow and will have ramifications for the entire Top Cow Universe.
As the panel focused on "Witchblade," Levin praised writer Ron Marz's commitment to the series. Panelist and artist Mike Choi echoed the sentiment, in recounting his run on the series from issues 80 through 100, "It's really impressive to see all the things unfold." While Choi is staying on board to create covers for the series, Sablik made the announcement that Croatian painter Stjepan Sejic will be the exclusive artist on "Witchblade," committed to at least issues 116 through 150. (Due to international travel issues, Sejic was unable to attend the panel as planned.) Sablik noted that for the issues on Sejic's run, "Witchblade" will be a fully painted series. Levin and Sablik commended Sejic's work ethic and ability to deliver quality art without missing deadlines, with Sablik noting, "Really, I don't think he sleeps."
Sablik went on to introduce panelist Phil Hester as the new the writer on the relaunched "The Darkness." While primarily known as a penciler, Hester has penned several properties on the Image Comics line. Hester has signed on to an impressive 50 issues for "The Darkness." Levin expressed a desire to offer books that wouldn't have a revolving series of creators, but would have consistent writers and artists who can deliver "long arcs that go places."
Hester has big plans for his run on "The Darkness," shaking up Jackie Estacado's world. "We're taking him out way out of familiar environments," revealed Hester, on Sablik's vague statements explaining that Jackie will likely not even be in the United States at the beginning of Hester's run. Hester has plans to add an even stronger horror element to the book. "The creepy factor is going to go up in 'The Darkness,'" promised Hester.
"The Darkness" has recently expanded outside of the comics world into a best selling game for the Xbox 360. According to Sablik, "The Darkness" game moved 250,000 units in North America within its first two weeks of release. When asked by an audience member if the success of "The Darkness" game could lead to a "Witchblade" game. Levin answered with a succinct "Yes." Sablik elaborated, "It would be easy to work 'Witchblade' into a 'Darkness' (sequel) game."
In addition to branching out into video games, Top Cow is teaming up with Funimation to release "Witchblade" anime. The anime was produced by Studio Gonzo, which recently produced the successful "Afro Samurai." All 24 episodes of the "Witchblade" anime have already aired in Japan, where it ranked a remarkable 17th out 82 anime series on the air, impressive for an American property. The 24 episodes are going to be packaged in a collection for American buyers with slipcovers featuring art by Choi and Top Cow CEO Marc Silvestri. Silvestri will also be doing the art for the box that holds all of the slipcover editions. The collected edition of the "Witchblade" anime is expected to hit US shelves in late September.
Switching from the mainstream Top Cow Universe to the Seth Green created property "Freshmen," Sablik responded to a fan question inquiring to the possibility of a third season of the series. Sablik explained that "Freshmen" performed stronger in trade paperback sales than individual issues. The prospect of a new round of "Freshman" issues will be dependant upon the strength of the sales of the latest trade edition.
Writer Mark Millar was in attendance at the panel for a brief period to discuss the upcoming film adaptation of his series "Wanted." He shared further insights from his own Q & A panel including the production is aiming for a budget around $110 million. While he wasn't offered a shot at writing the screenplay, he remarked that the script went through five revisions, with each getting closer to the spirit of the original story. Asked if he felt that having his property given the Hollywood treatment left him with any cynical feelings, Millar responded, "There's nothing more exciting than having your book adapted to film."