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Image Expo: 12 Auspicious Announcements And The State Of The American Comics Union

 

In the final few hours before San Diego Comic-Con opened its doors to the public for Preview Night on Wednesday, Image Comics Expo took place in an upstairs ballroom at the nearby San Diego Bayfront Hilton, where the publisher welcomed a group of press, creators, and fans to watch as the company announced, discussed and otherwise promoted a great variety of upcoming Image titles.

Britpop boomed over the speakers as the attendees filed into the room, which was set up in a manner familiar those who’ve watched Apple keynote presentations, but is still somewhat untraditional for comic book conventions. A few minutes after 2pm, Image publisher Eric Stephenson bounded onstage and launched into one of his now-customary keynote addresses, bemoaning what he described as the American comics industry’s penchant for recycling as opposed to innovating, and promised that the afternoon would expose readers to fresh ideas and bold new concepts. He name checked Marvel luminaries Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and Stan Lee’s reinvention of comics in the early 1960s as an ideal to be strived for; talked of his own passions and ambitions for Image as a company; showed off some sales graphs that demonstrated Image’s growth over the last few years; and spoke powerfully about the need for diversity in content in order to appeal to the widest possible audience.

“Comics have been viewed as a boys club, but that’s changing,” Stephenson said, referencing the growing conversation in our community about the need for more representation of women and persons of color both on the page and behind the scenes.

Perhaps unintentionally, Stephenson’s earnest remarks about comics diversity became conspicuous when he screened a short film outlining Image’s history, the policies and ideals that the company hopes to embody, and showcased clips of creators speaking about the freedom they enjoy working at the famously hands-off publisher. With the notable exception of writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, the film was essentially a succession of talented men talking about their love for comics. However, the optics would become a lot better very shortly, when Image’s new announcements (topics and people not discussed in the filmed presentation) came with numerous new projects created by women and persons of color.

But before those specific announcements, Stephenson discussed his belief that “creator-owned” — where writers and artists own the copyright and other rights to their own comic books — should be the industry standard, and spoke unfavorably of the rise of the term “creator-driven,” which has been used by some publishers to describe the idiosyncratic nature of their nevertheless company-owned publications. Stephenson described “creator-driven” as the bare minimum treatment acceptable in publishing. He spoke openly about how such comments often don’t make him friends with Image competitors, and positioned himself as a figure that welcomes controversy so long as that controversy leads to “better comics.”

The Image publisher then proceeded to put his money where his mouth was, segueing into the main event: new comics that Image hopes will rise to the standard of Stephenson’s bold rhetoric.

 

TOKYO GHOST: Rick Remender, Sean Gordon Murphy, Matt Hollingsworth

 

Stephenson welcomed writer Rick Remender to the stage to announce his fourth ongoing Image book, Tokyo Ghost, created with Sean Murphy and colorist Matt Hollingsworth. Remender was intentionally vague about the series’ content, but he spoke of his inspirations and goals, hyping the book as a dystopian sci-fi action/animé action film set in a future Los Angeles “long after the oceans have risen,” where the law is determined by the decree of entertainment conglomerates. Tokyo Ghost is due in late 2014/early 2015.

Here’s Image’s hype copy:

TOKYO GHOST welcomes readers to the isles of New Los Angeles, 2189. Humanity has become nothing more than a sea of consumers, ravenous and starving wolves, sick from toxic contamination, who have to borrow, beg, and steal for the funds to buy, buy, buy their next digital fix. Getting a thrill, a distraction from reality, is the only thing left to live for. Entertainment is the biggest industry, the drug everyone needs, and gangsters run it all. And who do these gangsters turn to when they need the “law” enforced? Led Dent and Debbie Decay, constables of the law, which is a nice way to say “brutal killing machines.” The duo are about to be presented with an assignment that will force them out of the decay of LA and into the mysterious lost nation of Tokyo.

 

FROM UNDER MOUNTAINS: Marian Churchland, Claire Gibson, Sloane Leong

The second announcement was From Under Mountains, from the creative team of Marian Churchland, Claire Gibson, and Sloane Leong. Created by an ethnically diverse team of women writers and artists not known for other particularly mainstream work in the direct market, From Under Mountains is possibly the most representative example of Stephenson’s call for new voices and new ideas. The book is set in Brendon Graham’s forthcoming 8-House line, and was described as a political fantasy starring a disgraced knight, a lord’s daughter, and a street-smart girl from the lower class. From Under Mountains is scheduled for release later this year, and you can learn much more about it in ComicsAlliance’s exclusive interview with all three creators.

Here’s Image’s hype copy:

Set in the isolated country of Akhara, rival houses face off in the struggle for political power and military security in FROM UNDER MOUNTAINS. Three unlikely figures—a lord’s daughter, a disgraced knight, and a runaway thief—will change the fate of their world, but the only hope of peace may lie with the mystery shrouded goblins and witches, and the ancient powers they command

 

VALHALLA MAD: Joe Casey, Paul Maybury

 

Writer Joe Casey took the stage in vest, tie, and his trademarked indoor-sunglasses to announce his new Valhalla Mad series created with artist Paul Maybury. Casey sold the book as the story of “gods coming to earth having a little drink, a little fun.” He added, “it’s lighter fare than I’ve been doing lately.” The writer mentioned that the entire concept was inspired by Kirby and Lee’s classic issue of Thor that features “Thor in a malt shop.” Valhalla Mad is slated for early 2015.

Here’s Image’s hype copy:

VALHALLA MAD introduces a set of brand new characters: the Glorious Knox, Greghorn the Battlebjorn and Jhago the Irritator. The series depicts this

particular trio of fun-loving gods’ return to Earth—Manhattan, specifically—to drink and party and revel in their resplendent godhood after many decades of being away. Needless to say, they find a very different world than the one they last visited.

 

RUMBLE: John Arcudi, James Harren

 

Stephenson then made an announcement for a new series by creators that could not attend in person: John Arcudi and James Harren, best known for their work with Mike Mignola on Dark Horse’s routinely acclaimed B.P.R.D. The pair will launch their own new series Rumble in late 2014. The book looks to be full of spooky excitement and centers around, in Arcudi’s words, “a scarecrow Conan.”

Here’s Image’s hype copy:

RUMBLE is a strange book, that’s for sure—like a scarecrow-Conan fighting in a Louis C.K. TV show directed by David Fincher—with a supporting cast of odd characters, many of whom aren’t even human.

INTERSECT: Ray Fawkes

 

In November 2014, DC Comics’ Constantine writer and the author of Oni’s One Soul, Ray Fawkes will release the first issue of Intersect, a book he described as a “very complicated nightmare mystery horror story,” Fawkes will be writing and providing the fully painted art for the series.

Here’s Image’s hype copy:

Bodies shift and merge, warring with themselves. Blood rains from the skies. A child’s song is translated into toxic, thought-destroying whispers. Everything is changing. Everything is wrong. This is the world of INTERSECT.

 

THE HUMANS: Tom Neely and Keenan Marshall Keller

 

Henry And Glenn creator Tom Neely and Keenan Marshall Keller, another team of creators not well known among the mainstream direct market customer base, joined Stephenson to discuss forthcoming series The Humans, a book they’d originally planned to self-publish and thus brought to Image fully-formed. The series will launch in the fall, but there is a self-published black-and-white #0 issue that the team is making available at Comic-Con signings throughout the weekend.

Here’s Image’s hype copy:

Apart, they are nothing… deemed by society as outcasts, misfits, losers, no good punks! But together, they are THE HUMANS! Follow Bobby, Johnny, and all The HUMANS as they fight and fly down the road to oblivion on a ride filled with chains, sex, leather, denim, hair, blood, bananas and chrome.

 

INVISIBLE REPUBLIC and KINSKI: Gabriel Hardman, Corinna Bechko

 

Prolific writers/artist team Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko, who previously worked together on Heathentown and Star Wars books for Dark Horse and Planet of the Apes books for BOOM! Studios, are bringing a pair of projects to Image over the next year. First, a volume collecting their Monkeybrain digital series Kinski (“a low-tech quirky crime-comedy-drama about a guy who steals a puppy”). Second, a new series called Invisible Republic, which they described as a “human-scale sci-fi tale.” This series will be a futuristic adventure that centers around the journal of a woman who’s been written out of history – and once her journal is discovered, it reveals a whole new world.

Here’s Image’s hype copy:

KINSKI, previously a digital-only collection, both written and drawn by Hardman, promises to be a quirky crime thriller about Joe, a down-on-his-luck salesman who finds a cute puppy. The thing is, this puppy already has a home. What starts as a simple rescue mission from neglectful owners quickly escalates into a righteous crusade. Hardman announced a second project to be executed with frequent collaborator Bechko (HEATHENTOWN, Savage HulkStar Wars: Legacy). Described as a gritty sci-fi series, INVISIBLE REPUBLIC explores the secret history of one man’s rise to power after an unspeakable act of violence elevates him to folk-hero status on a war-torn planet seeking independence.

 

SOUTHERN CROSS: Becky Cloonan, Andy Belanger

 

Becky Cloonan and Andy Belanger will be launching a new horror/mystery/sci-fi book, an ongoing series called Southern Cross. Cloonan sold it as the story of a woman who takes a spaceship to Titan to collect her deceased sister’s body, and has to contend with all manner of terrifying phenomena on her journey. Belanger referred to it in offhanded fashion as being like “The Shining on a haunted spaceship”. Southern Cross is tentatively scheduled for release in late 2014.

Here’s Image’s hype copy:

Now boarding: SOUTHERN CROSS, tanker flight 73 to Titan. Alex Braith is on board retracing her sister’s steps to the refinery moon, hoping to collect her remains and find some answers. The questions keep coming though—How did her sister die? Where did her cabin mate disappear to? Who is that creep across the hall? And why does she always feel like she’s being watched?


 

DESCENDER: Jeff Lemire, Dustin Nguyen


Popular DC/Vertigo creators Jeff Lemire (Animal Man, Sweet Tooth) and Dustin Nguyen (Li’l Gotham, Batman Beyond) are collaboration on new series Descender, a book that Lemire called “a sprawling space opera about a little boy robot.” The team described the lead character as having been deactivated for ten years, who when he awakes, discovers that everyone fears and hates robots, and all his people have been destroyed. Descender will launch in Spring 2015

Here’s Image’s hype copy:

DESCENDER will explore one young robot’s struggle to stay alive in a universe where all androids have been outlawed and bounty hunters lurk on every planet.

 

DRIFTER: Ivan Brandon, Nic Klein

 

Image’s Viking creators Ivan Brandon and Nic Klein will reunite for Drifter, a new ongoing series that launches in November with an extra-large first issue. Brandon pitched it as “the story of the dirty hands it takes to build a future” and commented that he was intrigued by the concept of workers laying the groundwork for a new society, and the pioneers surveying the new frontier for humanity’s expansion. The creators wish to bring a rougher, dirty ethic to some classically sterile sci-fi concepts.

Here’s Image’s hype copy:

Mankind’s colonization of the galaxy has left countless planets mined bare and lifeless in DRIFTER. A space transport crashes onto a backwater world whose unique properties set the stage for a story that combines the dark wonder of a strange and alien landscape with the struggles of an abandoned and lawless frontier town.

 

TOOTH & CLAW: Kurt Busiek, Ben Dewey, Jordie Bellaire, Comicraft

 

Stephenson then welcomed venerable superhero comics writer Kurt Busiek (Astro City) and artist Ben Dewey (I Was The Cat) to discuss their new series Tooth & Claw. The first issue will hit stores on November 5, and Busiek described it as a series years-in-the-making; an epic about animal people in a world where “magic is fading away, and their whole society is based on magic.” He promised some spectacular visuals (“colossal wicker cities that float in the clouds”) and said that the story follows what happens when the animals end up using their magic to reach back into the past, and bring a great historical hero into the present day to save them all. Some of Dewey’s lovely and intricate artwork was displayed, and both creators spoke warmly of their colorist, Jordie Bellaire, and the elements she brings to the book.

Here’s Image’s hype copy:

In TOOTH AND CLAW, a secret conclave of wizards brings a legendary champion back through time to save the world, with disastrous consequences. Swords, sorcery, animal-wizards, gods, empires, golems of radioactive decay, crystalline badlands, con women, ancient armories, young love, mystery, blood and death and treachery and destiny…TOOTH AND CLAW is an epic story you won’t want to miss out on.

 

INJECTION: Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, Jordie Bellaire

Finally, Stephenson welcomed the team of Declan Shalvey and Warren Ellis, celebrated recently for their reinvention of Marvel’s moribund Moon Knight, to promote their new series Injection, which will launch in April 2015. With Shalvey appearing in person onstage and Ellis Skyping in from a secret undisclosed location, the duo attempted to discuss the book without actually revealing too much about the core concepts. Both Ellis and Shalvey mentioned how well their collaboration on Moon Knight went, and how it made them both realized quickly that they had to do more together. Ellis specifically revealed that Injection focuses on “how loud and strange the world is getting,” and how when people decide that the world isn’t getting loud and strange quickly enough, and discover a thing that can be used to speed it up, things start to go very badly.

Here’s Image’s hype copy:

INJECTION explores how loud and strange the world is becoming, and the sense that it’s all bubbling into chaos—a chaos poised to become the Next New Normal—and that we did this to ourselves without thinking for a second about how we were ever going to live inside it.

 

Following the presentation of new titles, Image welcomed attendees for a cocktail hour on the Hilton’s waterfront observation deck, giving a brief respite before everyone tromped over to the main convention center for Preview Night. The entire production was a nice and actually very shrewd way to ease into the media blitz of Comic-Con, building excitement for some very compelling new Image books by extremely talented (if mostly quite familiar creators), and doing so in a laid-back, low-pressure, and indeed very stylish fashion.

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