- Image at New York Comic Con: All of the News and Panels from America’s Busiest Convention
By Robert Tutton
New York Comic Con was in full swing last weekend, and Image was there to represent the vanguard of creator-owned comics. We hosted panels that canvassed the full spectrum of our expansive publishing line, featuring innovative new horror series and highlighting upcoming projects from the most talented sequential art veterans, including Kieron Gillen and Jason Aaron. Image even hosted an entire panel devoted to celebrating Deadly Class, the ongoing epic about an ensemble of adrift teens training to be assassins, which will also hop to television in a new Syfy television series debuting on January 16. Last but not least, art pioneers Todd McFarlane, Wes Craig, and Mirka Andolfo participated in a live draw session, regaling an auditorium with their skill.
For those who couldn’t make the trip to the Javits Center in New York, here’s a recap of what you missed.
Thursday: We Believe in Horror
The fall chill is (almost) in the air, pumpkins adorn porches, and Halloween lies just around the corner. So what better time to celebrate horror comics, right? The creators on our “We Believe in Horror” panel are pushing the entire genre in new, startling directions, using ghosts and ghouls to explore the real-world dread of racism, loneliness, and apathy. The panel consisted of Will Dennis, Pornsak Pichetshote, W. Maxwell Prince, David F. Walker, Matthew Rosenberg, and Dennis Culver.
Will Dennis, veteran editor of frightful titles like Wytches, Moonshine, and Gideon Falls, filled the crowd in on new developments. Moonshine, the prohibition-era werewolf yarn by writer Brian Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso, will see its second trade paperback hit stands on Halloween. Wytches: Bad Egg, an 80-page one-shot by Scott Snyder and Jock, about Faustian creatures who live in trees, will also release the same day, serving as a bridge between volume one and the upcoming second arc. For those who can’t wait that long, Gideon Falls’ first trade comes out October 17th. If you haven’t been reading the mind-bendingly eerie series written by Jeff Lemire, with astounding abstract art from Andrea Sorrentino, don’t sleep on it. The plot follows a young man searching for pieces of the “Black Barn,” an incorporeal, physics-warping building that fosters pure evil. Meanwhile, a priest in the titular town grapples with his own understanding of the evil locale. “It’s going all kinds of weird places,” Dennis said. “It feels a little horror and a little Lovecraft, but now it’s like straight-up acid trip.”
Pornsak Pichetshote spoke on twisting the haunted house genre in his book, Infidel, now available in trade paperback. The series, written by Pichetshote and drawn by Aaron Campbell, spins a supremely creepy tale out of today’s real-world horrors. “Lord knows there’s enough outside these walls that’s scary right now,” he said. “That became Infidel, a book that talks about Islamophobia and racism and xenophobia, and put it all into a haunted house story.” He also revealed one of the tactics he used to keep the book as intense and chilling as possible, without falling into cheap exploitation. “Fortunately, with horror, you get more bang for your buck if you show the moment before the attack. The tension before the blood and the gore happens is more captivating.”
W. Maxwell Prince talked about the inspiration behind his series, Ice Cream Man, which tells a different tale of suburban horror each issue—all tied together by a sinister sweets peddler. “I feel like that’s the way adulthood goes. All the things you liked as a kid take on a different light as you get older—ice cream was a treat, and now it might not fit into your diet plan and makes you feel like crap at the end of the day,” he said. The influence of Twilight Zone is plain to see, but another touchstone for Prince was the web-series-turned-HBO-comedy High Maintenance. Ice Cream Man #8 comes out on Halloween, drawn by series artist Martin Morazzo. The series was also recently optioned for television by Universal Cable Productions, which adapted Happy!.
David F. Walker gave the audience a sneak peek at his upcoming series Bitter Root, co-written with Chuck Brown and drawn by Sanford Greene, which will examine oppression and racism told through a monster-fighting family in 1920s Harlem. In this new world, a transformative disease has infected America since its colonial days, leading to atrocities including genocide and slavery. The family is split as to how the infected should be dealt with, with some members advocating for a cure and rehabilitation and others aiming for murder. “Whose job is it to fix oppression?” Walker asked. “If you’re a victim of racism, do you have to go to the person who’s kicking your ass and prove to them that you’re a human being and help them heal themselves, or do you just take them out and kick their ass?” Bitter Root kicks off November 14th.
Dennis Culver walked the audience through his aliens-meets-adolescents sci-fi romp, Burnouts, about a group of teen delinquents who can only see invading extraterrestials after indulging in pot and alcohol. Asked whether he was a burnout in his teens, Culver clarified that he was more like his protagonist Andy, a clean-cut kid who still hangs on the outskirts of the more rebellious group. He noted that the comic stems from his love of teen movies—all teen movies, including rom-coms including 1999's She's All That. He also described the design for the aliens he imagined alongside artist Geoffo: "You know when a balloon is losing its helium and it's floating around your house—it’s not on the ground or all the way up in the air. That’s just really creepy to me. I thought that’s the aliens, and that was my one note to Geoffo."
Matthew Rosenberg continued the theme of growing pains with What's the Furthest Place From Here?, a project that reunites him with his 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank artist Tyler Boss. Rosenberg was mum on specifics, but hinted at a sprawling, vaguely post-apocalyptic tale about a group of young adults holed up in a derelict record store. "The horror to them is leaving their safe space and the comfort of their home, and a lot of that is this idea of growing up. A lot of coming-of-age fiction comes from a very positive place, like this is a metamorphosis and it’s good, but we’re going a little darker and nastier with it."
Rosenberg also revealed that horror is a family trade—his mother, credited as C.A. Rosenberg, wrote the cult classic 1980 slasher, Maniac. David F. Walker was ecstatic, listing off the entire cast.
Friday: We Believe in Vision
On Friday, a select group of Image’s top creators gathered to discuss how they arrived at their latest creator-owned projects that will grace comic shop shelves in the near future, as well as the creative processes that brought them to life.
First, music producer, historian, and A&R veteran Jeff Rougvie announced Gunning for Hits, a music industry revenge story penciled by Moritat. The title will run alongside a Spotify playlist, which Rougvie will update as more issues arrive, as well as a Twitter account for the main character that will supplement his mysterious backstory. “At the beginning of the story, you don’t know a lot about the main character, so the Twitter account is going to be entries from his journals,” Rougvie said. “You’ll learn more about how he became a sociopathic amoral monster dealing with other sociopathic amoral monsters.”
Jason Aaron, the writer behind Southern Bastards and The Goddamned, let the audience in on where his books are heading. Southern Bastards will take a step back from its head-cracking, stick-wielding protagonist, Roberta Tubb, for a one-shot that takes an expanded look around the town and follows a recently hobbled Coach Boss. The issue will be written by series artist Jason Latour and will hit shelves before the next arc lands. The second arc of The Goddamned will debut the same time and will tackle another set of Bible-inspired characters, pivoting from the story of Cain and Noah to a mysterious group of characters called the Virgin Brides. “I don’t just like stories about people hitting each other with sticks,” he said. “I also like stories about people hitting each other with rocks.”
Gerry Duggan teased his latest series, Dead Rabbit, drawn by John McCrea. The boiler will merge elements of crime, noir, and dark comedy, with today’s social issues looming large. Dead Rabbit follows a retired criminal who takes to the straight and narrow after settling down with his dream girl. But his ill-gotten money dries up after his wife, Megan, falls devastatingly ill, and he returns to the underworld to make ends meet. “It’s set against post-middle class America where everyone is pinched and deciding which bills to pay that month and which not,” Duggan said. “The crook with the mask and the brass knuckles won’t be the biggest crook in the story.”
Jen Bartel, recognized for her stunning, vibrant covers, recently launched Blackbird with writer Sam Humphries. The neon fantasy follows Nina Rodriguez as she uncovers secret societies hiding under the shiny facade of Los Angeles. Though the workload is heavier, Bartel enjoyed her new-found freedom working with new characters. “I think there’s something burdensome about working on characters that are deeply meaningful to people, and you don’t want to screw them up,” she said. “But when you work on creator-owned stuff, it’s the opposite, where you hope you can make them love that character the way they love the others.”
Writer Joe Casey shed some light on the origins of his new series, MCMLXXV, illustrated by Ian MacEwan. The comic follows the exploits of Pamela Evans, a badass cabbie with an enchanted tire iron she uses to bash monsters around the streets of a pre-gentrified New York. “Pamela needed an environment that would challenge her, and a corrupt Manhattan full of weird gangs and monsters seemed to do the trick,” Casey said. Fans also got a first look at Casey’s upcoming series with Benjamin Marra, Jesusfreak. Describing what readers would be in for, Casey pointed to the cover: “Historical pulp fiction? I mean look at that, he’s doing kung fu, for Christ's sake.”
Writer and illustrator Daniel Warren Johnson got a resounding response to Murder Falcon from the title alone. The new Skybound project revolves around a down-and-out musician, Jake, whose shredding fuels the energy of the titular Murder Falcon, a visiting avian brawler from beyond the cosmos. And the harder Jake shreds, the better Murder Falcon vanquishes trans-dimensional invaders. Homicidal birds aside, Johnson does share something with his protagonist. “Whenever I feel down, I play guitar,” he said. “It doesn't fix anything, but it makes me feel a little better.”
Finally, Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans (The Wicked + The Divine) gave a glimpse at their upcoming series, Die. Jokingly referred to as “Goth Jumanji,” the series will follow a group of people who get sucked into a magical—and devastating—RPG world. “It’s about fantasy and comparing where you thought your life would go and where it ended up,” Gillen said. The comic will eventually be accompanied by a fully playable version of the fictional game, but don’t go expecting a light-hearted romp here. “I think the older I get, the sadder I get,” Gillen said of the book’s tone. “When I was young, I was very angry, and the older I get, the more I see these systems of oppression and sadness, and I like exploring that.”
Saturday: Deadly Class 101
Having come straight from debuting the pilot of Syfy’s upcoming Deadly Class series, the comic’s creative team joined fans for a celebration of the beloved comic. Writer Rick Remender and artist Wes Craig were joined on stage by colorist Jordan Boyd and editor Sebastian Girner to regale the assembled crowd with tales of punk music, misspent youth, and yeah, comics.
Set in the late ’80s, Deadly Class is ostensibly about a school for aspiring teenage assassins, but as Remender revealed at the top of the discussion, it’s very much about his life and ideology. “We’re exploring themes of the rich undercutting services for the less rich,” he said. “My wife has an autoimmune disease, and she couldn’t get insurance, so we were racking up a considerable amount of debt. So around the time that this had come out, I was coming from a period in my life where I was a victim of those things. Before the pre-existing condition laws changed, my family was nearly destroyed. So I looked back at the spite we held in our hearts toward [former President] Reagan and his bullshit.”
Remender and Craig bonded over their mutual experience in the punk scene, a shared enthusiasm that ignited the project. “It’s all very music influenced,” Craig said. “The first scene where the whole rats thing [the school orders wealthier students to kill students who come from lesser means] gets revealed, and it’s just chaos in the school—I really wanted that whole sequence to be like the screaming opening of a punk song, just full-tilt madness.”
Remender shed light on the origins of one particularly wild sequence that winds through issues four and five, in which the characters embark on a Fear and Loathing-esqe, hallucinogen-fueled trip to Vegas. “That story is 85 percent true, other than the murder,” he said. According to Remender, a friend took too much acid and crawled under a car because the mountains we attacking him. “He had a bad time, man.” But Craig loved drawing the trippy scenes so much that Remender engineered an upcoming story around peyote.
Another pivotal point of discussion revolved around the aforementioned final exam, in which a slew of major characters met their demise. Those decisions weren’t met lightly. “If this is a metaphor for the awful institutions that suck in innocent human beings and spit out Wall Street scumbags and monsters—which is what King's is supposed to represent—then the good guys are supposed to lose. We killed the good guys, and the bad guys won, and it felt honest. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever written.”
Knowing that audiences were used to reading superhero comics where death tends to be temporary, Girner says they needed to shock them out of that mindset. Because when readers don’t believe in the finality of death, they never feel the emotional weight of it. “I argued very much that we need to kill as many of them as possible, and they need to stay as dead as possible. These kids who will not succumb to this terrible place where their humanity is stunted… they are going to be devoured by it.”
Remender isn’t afraid to subject his characters to all manner of terrible ordeals. He offered an insight into where that fearlessness comes from. “I love Roald Dahl, and I think there’s an aspect of all of my stories where I’m looking to the twisted darkness that he hid in [his] books,” he said. “They were dark—James and the Giant Peach opens with the kid’s parents being gored by a rhino at the zoo. There’s something inherently appealing about that, so I’ve tried to do that with most of the characters. I’ll think ‘what would Roald Dahl do with a goth?’”
Sunday: Image Comics Live Draw: Art Jam with Todd McFarlane, Wes Craig, and Mirka Andolfo
The last panel held at the convention, Image Comics Live Draw united Image co-founder and Spawn creator Todd McFarlane, Deadly Class co-creator and artist Wes Craig, and Unnatural creator Mirka Andolfo. The trio took turns drawing on a Wacom MobileStudio Pro, the digital tablet screen expanded on the auditorium projector. Andolfo kicked off the panel by sketching out Leslie, the anthropomorphic pig from her sensual thriller about sexual agency and politics. Craig followed with a chiseled headshot of Maria, the fan-wielding femme fatale from Deadly Class. And finally, McFarlane drew Venom, the Spider-Man antagonist he co-created with David Michelinie in 1988.
Between the mesmerizing linework on display, the artists described their process and gave advice to burgeoning artists. McFarlane emphasized the need for good storytelling over elaborate rendering. He once gave advice to former Spawn artist Greg Capullo to spend less time embellishing backgrounds and to instead focus on simple, striking imagery. The result was a stark, unforgetable cover featuring Spawn’s hand sticking out of “a pile of turds.” Capullo received copious accolades at a convention shortly after the issue debuted.
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