The World’s Tardiest Emerald City Comic Con Recap (Part 3)

I’m not sure there’s a better mainstream superhero book on the stands than Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Osborn:

It’s the brilliant super-villain-in-prison story I always wanted to tell but couldn’t have done half as good a job telling it.  She gets deeper into the psyche of an the oft-used Spider-Man and Dark Reign villain than any writer has before.  And she does what all of us working in the mainstream should do - create compelling new characters.

The book is deftly illustrated by Emma Rios, another Matt Gagnon discovery from Argentina.

Kelly Sue is also cool as hell.  I once drunkenly confessed to writing to Neil Jordan in high school for Antonio Banderas’ role in Interview with A Vampire.  The fact that she hasn’t ridiculed me regularly after that makes her a far more forgiving human being than I.  

Convention duty can be exhausting, but Kelly was doing it with two kids in tow.  When I saw her on the final day of Emerald City Comic-Con, she had nice things to say about my tweets.  I’ll take the compliments I can get.

I’m not sure there’s a book on the stands I like period than her husband, admire Matt Fraction’s book, Cassanova.

To be honest, Casanova is a book that I was put off by when I first read it.  I thought it was everything wrong with comics - overly complicated, inaccessible to new readers and filled with inside baseball back matter.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Casanova is everything that’s right about comics.  It’s dense, complicated and holds up to - even demands - multiple readings.  Deep down, I hope my next spy/sci-fi book, DECOY (coming from Kickstart, more on that soon), is, pardon the pun, a fraction as good.

Even if you read the Image issues, the Icon ones are worth reading for new colors by Cris Peter (yet ANOTHER Matt Gagnon find), who enhances what was already great art by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Moon.  There’s new backmatter, and by sharing his influences Matt has turned me on to a number of great books and films, from Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg to Roman Coppola’s CQ.

Fraction is also doing what I think are the best runs of Iron Man and Uncanny X-Men this century, so to say I admire his work is an understatement.

But it’s dangerous to meet your heroes.  A quick story - years ago I met Brian K. Vaughan.  When I mentioned I was a comics creator, he told me that just the night before, Joss Whedon had told him how much he enjoyed GROUNDED.  That made my day, and I should have left it there.  But some time later, at a party for the last issue of Y: The Last Man, I got to meet Joss.  Somewhere in the middle of the conversation I tried to engage him about GROUNDED, and he seemed to have no idea what I was talking about. 

I know Matt better than I do BKV or Joss, but still, around other creators I rarely bring up my own work anymore to avoid moments just like that.  Which made it all the nicer when Matt gave me an unsolicited compliment by telling me how much he liked UNTHINKABLE.

When I give another creator a compliment, I mean it, if for no other reason than I’m a terrible liar.  Still, I was suspicious if Matt had really even read it until he suggested I track down a UK spy series called DEPARTMENT S.

Department S was a precursor to the X-Files, and featured a protagonist named Jason King.  Much like Alan Ripley in UNTHINKABLE, he was an author forced into the role of an action hero.  So maybe Matt wasn’t lying after all.

A final aside: there was also a character named Peter Wyngarde:

He served Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s the inspiration for Jason Wyngard, aka Mastermind, of the Brother Hood of Evil Mutants/Hellfire Club/Dark Phoenix saga fame.

Last but not least is a pair of creators new to the game, Brea and Zane Grant, writer/creators of IDW’s WE WILL BURY YOU.  Brea starred on NBC’s Friday Night Lights and Heroes (which I did a series of webcomics for.  Linkage to FREE, downloadable PDFs here, here, here and here.)

That’s Brea and I at C.B. Cebulski’s party, with Paul Azaceta and Taki Soma in the background.  She’s a creator to watch and remarkably genuine, especially for someone of the Hollywood acting persuasion.

Have to balance out the picture of the pretty girl, and close out the con report with this:

I’m not actually sure she’s a zombie, that could just be what happens when parents leave a kid at a convention to hear Jonathan Frakes speak and forget about her for a day.

But I can assure you of two things.  One, in GRAVEYARD OF EMPIRES, my zombies-in-Afghanistan creator-owned Image book out from Paul Azaceta this June, that any female zombies will be wearing burkhas.  And two, that the long, national nightmare that was this belated con report is finally over.

Emerald City Comic-Con Highlights Part 1: Image Comics, FEARLESS and collaborating with Paul Azaceta on GRAVEYARD OF EMPIRES.

Yes, I’m posting a convention re-cap a week after the convention.  I can blame it on the convention bug I picked up which knocked me out of commission, or the fact my desktop computer seems to be dying and I’m trying to use it sparingly.  I want to update this blog more regularly than I did/do my blogger account, and I intend to.  I think this format will better suit me, because it seems to favor shorter posts.  But this was case of having too many people to acknowledge and not enough time.

The main goal of this trip was to get some things settled for GRAVEYARD OF EMPIRES.  Some of that was business related.  It’s hard to believe, but it’s been a few years since I’ve done a book through Image, which means that almost everyone I knew outside of Erik Larsen and Eric Stephenson has moved on.  It was great meeting Tyler Shainline and Sarah DeLaine, among others.  Seems like a good team is in place now, the proof being that I think Image is putting out even better books than when I was last working there.  I’d like to think Paul and I are upping our game for our return to Image as well.

I’ll be making announcements about our coloring and lettering team for GRAVEYARD pretty soon.  I can announce now that GROUNDED and HAZED will be re-solicited with GRAVEYARD in April (Kickstart will also be re-soliciting the sold out Rift Raiders that month as well).   All those books will be available in the spring. 

I’m also happy to announce that, for the first time, Image will be releasing a trade paperback of FEARLESS.  It’s a series I co-wrote with David Roth with art by PJ Holden about a superhero addicted to an anti-fear drug.

PJ (2000AD) did a bang up job on in it, but his work has gotten even better, particularly with his latest run on Garth Ennis’s Battlefields’ arc, Happy Valley.  Check out his work here.

Speaking of artist’s blogs, it’s ridiculous that I haven’t linked to Paul Azaceta’s blog.  It’s called LAZY PALOOZA, and it was an apt name for the past couple years…his posts were a bi-annual event, if that.  But now he’s actually posting cool process stuff and Graveyard art, so it’s worth checking out.

More than the business of Graveyard, or getting the word out to fans, it was important that Paul and sit down in person and discuss the story.  Comics are always a collaborative medium, but this project has been more of a collaboration than any other.  Paul has been integral in shaping the story - even the dialogue - in our many back and forths. 

While I write tight scripts, I’ve given him pretty much carte blanche to alter page layouts and even whole sequences.  While this is a zombie story, it’s also a war story that we both put an incredible amount of research into.  When you have something as fantastic as the living dead involved, the only way it works is if you ground the rest of the story in reality.  Paul has kept me honest in terms of the realism and the characters.  If I’ve failed at any points, it’s definitely not his fault.

The above thumbnails are an example of a scene where one of the officers discovers that a marine has not only been torturing a suspected insurgent, but advocating something mutinous.  When the officer orders and NCO to arrest the marine, a Mexican standoff ensues.

This was a point of contention between Paul and I…for plot reasons this scene needed to happen, Paul argued an actual Mexican standoff, with all three of them pointing guns, was too broad.  We needed the showdown for the evolution of relationship between marine and his C.O., but Paul helped find a way to tone it down, and make the drawing of even one weapon by a fellow marine a huge moment.

Paul also felt the mutinous talk happened too early.  I not only moved that dialogue until the end of the script, but I orchestrated some more awful things to happen under this C.O.’s watch, giving the marine a believable reason to suggest offing his superior.

Finally…the above scene was originally written as a single page.  Paul suggested we break it up into two in order to build tension.  It may not be evident from the thumbnails (to share more than I have would spoil the plot), but it worked.

Paul and I hashed out the last details of issue 1 at the con, and I started talking about the changes that were occurring as I moved Issue 2 from (highly detailed) breakdown to full script.  The first issue is 90% war, 10% zombie.  The second will have much more Marine on zombie action.

Given the way the conflict in Afghanistan is fought, that meant that in issue 1 we rarely, if ever see the Taliban - even when the Marines of Outpost Alamo are engaged in a firefight with them (that’s something that Modern Warfare 2 doesn’t really capture).  So I’m working on introducing the Taliban in between zombie combat sequences in issue 2.  I’m not asking the audience to like or sympathize with the Taliban, but I feel it’s important to understand their motivations. 

The research for GRAVEYARD has been hard.  The Marine stuff because it’s been emotionally draining reading about what this war is putting our soldiers through.  But trying to learn about the Taliban has been a different kind of bitch.  There’s not a ton of unclassified information.  And being a secretive, loosely organized asymmetric group with a complicated command structure and a desire to kill rather than cooperate with those who want to learn about them, a hard nut to crack.    I hope to devote more posts to the sources I used, with at least one devoted to what I’ve been able to learn.

How does this relate to Emerald City?  Paul and I have been friends for 5 years now, and we talk on the phone regularly.  And while I’ve had great working relationships with Julian Totino Tedesco in Argentina and PJ in Northern Ireland…sometimes there’s no substitute for hashing out plot over a beer, or having Paul draw cover sketches on cocktail napkin.

Obviously, I didn’t do a good job of re-capping the con, a task which I now think will take me until San Diego to accomplish. I hope you’ve enjoyed a little insight into the production of Graveyard, though, and I promise to be back soon with more.

Emerald City Comic Con Rift Raiders

GRAVEYARD OF EMPIRES (and GROUNDED, and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN) artist Paul Azaceta and I will be at Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle THIS WEEKEND, March 4-6 2011, at Table G-25.

We’ll be showing off art from Graveyard, Paul will be sketching, and I should have copies of all my books for sale.  That includes RIFT RAIDERS, my Kickstart book with Julian Totino Tedesco (pictured above).  Rift Raiders sold out from Diamond, and while it will be re-solicited, if you are there this may be your only chance to to get a copy until June.

If there’s anything you’d like me to bring in particular (some single issue of GROUNDED or FEARLESS, for example), let me know.  But as much as I like to sell stuff, the reason ECCC is one of my favorite cons is the fan interaction.  It’s more comic-centric than most cons, and while well attended it’s still intimate enough to actually converse.  I’m always happy to chat comics, please come by and say hello.

I should also mention there will be a number of my collaborators there besides Paul, including Sean Murphy (Teen Titans: Cold Case, Joe the Barbarian), Jeremy Haun (Two-Face: Year One) and Matthew Southworth (What If? Spider-Man, Stumptown). 

All will be happy to sign.  Too many friends to name, and overall one of the strongest talent lineups I’ve seen.