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January 08, 2015

Image Expo: Brian K. Vaughan, Scott Snyder, Skottie Young reveal titles

Posted in: Comics

prettydeadlyteaser Image Expo: Brian K. Vaughan, Scott Snyder, Skottie Young reveal titles

A look at the upcoming second volume of "Pretty Deadly," from Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios. (Image Comics)

Brian K. Vaughan showed at Image Expo on Thursday that he’d meant it when he said comics are a “vastly superior medium” to film and television, announcing two new projects he’ll write in addition to continuing the award-winning, bestselling “Saga.”

The acclaimed comics creator – who brought Stephen King’s “Under the Dome” to television and was a producer on “Lost” – has followed up on his proclamation from last year’s Eisner Awards by taking on more work in the medium than he has in years, teaming up with artist Steve Skroce on the limited series “We Stand on Guard,” which finds Canadian freedom fighters resisting an invasion of U.S. forces (including “giant … robots”), and with artist Cliff Chiang (“Wonder Woman”) on the ongoing story “Paper Girls,” about 12-year-old suburban newspaper delivery girls who encounter strange happenings.

Vaughan’s announcements came during a talent-packed procession of reveals from Image Comics at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, including a collaboration between Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire, the first creator-owned Image works from writer-artists Darwyn Cooke and Skottie Young, and new titles from Marjorie Liu, Kieron Gillen, the mischievous Chip Zdarsky, company co-founder Todd McFarlane and more.

Image, founded in 1991 by star artists who broke away from Marvel to focus on creator-owned work, has increasingly raised its profile in recent years as perhaps the premier destination for comics talents to tell wholly original tales, with its biggest success being “The Walking Dead.”

The Berkeley-based company’s iconoclastic publisher, Eric Stephenson, began the daylong event by touting Image’s year-over-year growth, citing a 33% percent increase in revenue over 2013 and a 25% increase in units sold during the same period, and a double-digit unit share in the total comics direct market for 2014: 10.41%, still well behind superhero stalwarts Marvel and DC, but up from 8.48% in 2013 and less than 4% in 2009.

Stephenson pointed to two major players in the publisher’s success – “Saga” (with its fourth collected volume now No. 1 on the New York Times paperback graphic books list) and “The Walking Dead” (with a compendium now in its 145th week on the same list) – and to its practice of trimming cover prices without increasing ad pages and its recent push into pricing introductory collected volumes of titles for $9.99.

“Price should never be an obstacle between good comics and curious readers,” Stephenson said.

After restating his long-term goal to not just be the No. 1 publisher of creator-owned comics but to be the No. 1 publisher in the industry, he began introducing the next wave of titles that may push Image further.

"A.D.," from Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire. (Image Comics)

“A.D.,” from Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire. (Image Comics)

Eisner-winning, bestselling “Batman” and “Wytches” writer Scott Snyder will team with acclaimed creator Jeff Lemire (“Sweet Tooth,” “Justice League United”) on the graphic novel “A.D.,” an intimate story set in “a world that’s stratified after a genetic cure for death is discovered,” Snyder said. The book, due in the fall, follows one of the people behind the cure. The two have collaborated previously in a crossover of DC titles they were writing, but this will be the first time Lemire has drawn a project scripted by Snyder.

Snyder also thanked the audience for supporting a diverse array of titles, saying their support for stories that are intimidating to tell is “changing comics … people are demanding the same things out of superhero comics now.”

Lemire, who was one of the day’s surprise guests, will also write “Plutona” with artist Emi Lenox (with Eisner winner Jordie Bellaire coloring). The creative team cited “Stand By Me,” “Lord of the Flies,” “Mean Creek” and “River’s Edge” as inspirations for their five-issue story about five kids who find the dead body of the world’s most famous superhero in the woods after school one day.

The travel memoir “Tadaima” (I’m Home), also announced at the expo and planned for a summer release, will be Lenox’s first big work in watercolor, and she’ll hand-write the letters. It follows a journey to Japan with her mother to visit Lenox’s grandmother’s tomb, and the writer-artist said “there’s a lot of guilt” around the death and her visit to the gravesite.

"I Hate Faryland," from Skottie Young. (Image Comics)

“I Hate Faryland,” from Skottie Young. (Image Comics)

Skottie Young, who’s found success at Marvel with his Eisner-winning “Oz” book adaptations with Eric Shanower, “Rocket Raccoon” and the popular series of Baby Variant covers, is taking on his first creator-owned series as writer-artist with “I Hate Fairyland” (a change from the pitched title, which was angrier and alliterative). Inspired by revisiting “Alice in Wonderland” as an adult and being driven mad as a hatter by the “babbling, riddling lunatics” in the story, Young’s new series follows Gertrude, who has been trapped in a magical place for decades but still looks like she’s a child. His longtime collaborator, Jean-Francois Beaulieu, will do the color art.

As the crowd laughed at pages from the book, including one showing the lass blasting off the face of the man in the moon, Young said, “It’s still very kid-friendly, I think – if you’re a very cool parent.”

The presentation’s longest laughs started when time-stopping-sex-comedy caper “Sex Criminals’” artist Chip Zdarsky interrupted “The Wicked + the Divine” co-creators Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie to set up the banner for his presentation. He then proceeded to announce … Marvel’s “Howard the Duck” (which he is indeed writing), then a very similar new (faux) Image series called “Gary the Duck” with a “quack-load of attitude” (the cover showed a price of $20 and had its protagonist saying, “I’m legally within my rights!”), and finally his almost certainly real “Kaptara,” a sci-fi comedy series (cover tag line: “Space, why you gotta be like that?”) with artist Kagan McLeod. “Kaptara’s” main character is Keith Kanga, a young gay man marooned on a planet far from Earth, and he’s joined by others including the dart-blowing Dartor, a wizard and more.

"Kapatara," from Chip Zdarsky and Kagan McLeod. (Image Comics)

“Kaptara,” from Chip Zdarsky and Kagan McLeod. (Image Comics)

“I’ve been pitching this to everyone as gay ‘Saga,’” Zdarsky (the comics nom de plume of Canadian journalist Steve Murray) said to laughs, “hoping it will help our sales.”

The misadventure begins in April.

British writer Gillen dramatically introduced his “Ludocrats” with a prepared statement that began with “People of Earth …” and included the declaration, “Only when life is equally ludicrous for all beings can the world be truly said to make sense.”

Joining him on the project are David Lafuente, Jim Rossignol and Ricardo Venancio. The story finds Baron Otto Von Subertan and Professor Hades Zero-K as ludicrous aristocrats struggling against normalization.

Gillen was joined by his “Wicked” collaborator Jamie McKelvie to offer an update about that series about a modern pantheon: The second volume is in progress, and the third volume is planned to feature a series of individual portraits of the gods drawn by guest artists including Stephanie Hans, Tula Lotay and Kate Brown. Also, the previously announced third volume of Gillen and McKelvie’s “Phonogram” has set a release a month: August.

Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Emma Rios also had news about an ongoing popular series: their mystic, mythic western “Pretty Deadly.” The second arc, which is slated to begin in September, will move ahead from the time period in the first, with the young Cyrus now grown and serving with the Harlem Hellfighters / Black Rattlers in the trenches of World War I. Mama bear Sarah, near the end of her stint on the mortal plane, wants to say goodbye to her boy, and Deathface Ginny is sent to find him.

"Heaven," from James Robinson and Philip Tan. (Image Comics)

“Heaven,” from James Robinson and Philip Tan. (Image Comics)

Mankind will go to war against God and his angels in the future in writer James Robinson and artist Philip Tan’s “Heaven”: “If you imagine giant spaceships and Wally Wood-type spacemen versus angels with blasters and fiery swords, that’s what you’re going to get,” Robinson said, adding that there’s an element of religious and political parody.

Brandon Graham (“King City”) discussed his and his wife Marian Churchland’s announced-a-year-ago group collaborative fantasy “8house.” Rios is writing a story for it called “Mirror” drawn by Hwei Lim and described it as being about a hybrid community of humans and animals, and the animals are tired of the humans’ patronization.

Graham also announced “Island,” a comics magazine that he described as “a bundle of comic books” – 20-to-30-page stories – featuring works by Rios, Simon Roy (“Prophet”), Farel Dalrymple (“The Wrenchies”), Michael DeForge (“Ant Colony”), Fil Barlow (“Zooniverse”) and more.

He called it “Heavy Metal with less of teen boy goal…. It’s coming from the idea of Image being a place where we can do whatever we want, and then sitting down and thinking, ‘If we can actually do whatever we want, then what’s the scariest, biggest, most exciting thing we can do?’ And this is it. So hopefully it’s not going to be a massive failure.”

Rios’ contribution for “Island” is a body-transplant story called “I.D.” about a few different characters considering the procedure. The magazine’s first issue is scheduled to arrive in June.

"Monstress," from Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda. (Image Comics)

“Monstress,” from Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda. (Image Comics)

Novelist Marjorie Liu, whose comics work includes a run on “Astonishing X-Men,” and artist Sana Takeda (“Ms. Marvel”) are collaborating on “Monstress,” planned for summer, about a young war refugee girl on the margins of society in an alternative 1920s Earth that is beset by “otherworldly creatures … with powers that people would love to control,” the writer said. The heroine has a psychic connection with “the most dangerous and mysterious” of those beasts, and so is hunted.

“Sons of the Devil,” from writer-colorist Brian Buccellato (“The Flash”) and artist Toni Infante, began as a Kickstarter effort and will be published by Image beginning this summer. Buccellato said it was a Los Angeles-set story spanning across 40 years about cults – “What if you woke up one day and you found out that your dad was Charles Manson or some terrible cult leader? It explores family and feelings of abandonment and what it’s like to have a dad who wants to kill you.”

Eric Canete promised that his and Jonathan Tsuei’s “RunLoveKill” has a “super-literal” title. The series, scheduled to debut in April, involves, among other things, robots and dinosaurs. Asked by Stephenson if he had anything to add, Tsuei replied, “Dinosaurs.”

Alex De Campi offered a quick preview of her and Carla Speed McNeil’s “No Mercy,” also set for April. The creative team discussed the story of well-meaning U.S. teens stuck in a rough foreign scene at length with Hero Complex before the expo.

"Starve," from Brian Wood and Danijel Zezelj. (Image Comics)

“Starve,” from Brian Wood and Danijel Zezelj. (Image Comics)

Stephenson also announced new series from a couple of creators who couldn’t attend the expo: Eisner winner Darwyn Cooke will write and draw the three-part crime tale “Revengeance.” Writer Brian Wood and artist Danijel Zezelj (“Luna Park”) will explore a near future when celebrity chefs are royalty in “Starve”; also, Wood, who’s written Vikings before in “Northlanders,” will walk with his “The Massive” collaborator Garry Brown on “Black Road.”

“Spawn” creator McFarlane showed variant covers by Greg Capullo and Jock for that series’ upcoming 250th issue (noting that it’d taken 20 years to get there, he said to applause that he says “hell no” to the industry trend of renumbering longtime series from No. 1 to mark new directions and creative teams). That landmark issue is the size of three issues for the price of two, McFarlane added, and brings back the series’ original protagonist, Al Simmons. Saying that he’s turning his focus to a new “Spawn” film script, McFarlane announced that the new creative team beginning with No. 251 in April will be Eisner-winning writer Paul Jenkins (“Inhumans”) and artist Jonboy Meyers, and before that they’ll do the one-shot “Spawn: Resurrection” for March. McFarlane also announced “Savior,” debuting in April, which is a series he’s working on with familiar collaborators Brian Holguin and painter Clayton Crain that is about a Christ-like character who’s not going over well with organized religion. He cited the Joan Osborne lyrics “What if God was one of us? / Just a slob like one of us.”

McFarlane, who also recounted the founding of Image, said he was happy that the company seems destined to outlive him.

“As good as I thought we were 20 years ago,” he said, “this new generation is even faster, stronger, just cooler – even better-looking.”

Blake Hennon | Google+ | @LATHeroComplex

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