Image Expo: Scott Snyder, Bill Willingham, more announce new projects

Jan. 10, 2014 | 9:00 a.m.

This "Walking Dead" variant is among the exclusives fans and retailers can purchase at Image Expo. (Image Comics)

This "Walking Dead" variant is among the exclusives fans and retailers can purchase at Image Expo. (Image Comics)

This "Sex Criminals" variant is among the exclusives fans and retailers can purchase at Image Expo. (Image Comics)

This "Prophet" variant is among the exclusives fans and retailers can purchase at Image Expo. (Image Comics)

This "Black Science" variant is among the exclusives fans and retailers can purchase at Image Expo. (Image Comics)

This "Ghosted" variant is among the exclusives fans and retailers can purchase at Image Expo. (Image Comics)

This "Manifest Destiny" variant is among the exclusives fans and retailers can purchase at Image Expo. (Image Comics)

Scott Snyder wants you to be terrified of “Wytches,” Bill Willingham is inciting a catastrophic “Restoration” of magic, and Ed Brubaker will be plotting crimes at Image Comics for years to come.

Those three Eisner Award-winning writers were surprise guests among a robust roster of comics talents who announced new projects with the company Thursday at Image Expo, a one-day media, retailer and fan event at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

“We want you to be afraid to go to bed at night,” Snyder told the sold-out crowd of 600 about his and onetime “Detective Comics” artist partner Jock’s new series. The writer of “Batman” and “American Vampire” at DC and its mature imprint Vertigo, respectively, said he felt witches were ripe for a remake. In the world of “Wytches,” the people who have been historically persecuted for witchcraft were actually just the worshipers of more “primal, cannibalistic” beings.

In “Restoration,” Willingham and artist Barry Kitson (“Legion of Super-Heroes”) will bring back all the gods and monsters and magic of history – who had all been locked away – on one single “very bad day” with a death toll of more than a billion, said the writer, who’s winding down his acclaimed Vertigo series “Fables” after more than 10 years. That cataclysm is just the first issue. The series will follow the ramifications.

Brubaker said that he and longtime artist collaborator Sean Phillips (“Criminal,” “Incognito”) have made a five-year deal with Image “where we basically get to do anything we want.” The first book under the new agreement is titled “The Fade Out” and will be loosely based on events in Hollywood in the late 1940s, a time the writer knows from his late screenwriter uncle John Paxton (“Murder, My Sweet,” “The Wild One”) and aunt. Though hesitant to give more details on that summer debut, he did inform the crowd that the team’s current Image series, the horror-noir “Fatale,” will end with Issue 24.

After talking about the freedom afforded him in what he called an unprecedented deal, he hugged Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson, the emcee of the morning announcements session.

Stephenson, in the program’s opening remarks, detailed the third-largest comics publisher’s fifth straight year of growth, including gains in revenue, units sold and market share in 2013. Image had the industry’s top-selling single issue (Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s “The Walking Dead” No. 115) of the year and captured seven of the top 10 spots on the list of 2013’s bestselling trade paperbacks, including the No. 1 spot, held by the first collected volume of Brian K.Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Eisner-winning sci-fi epic “Saga.”

He also discussed expanding the comic industry’s reach to new readers through a combination of marketing initiatives – including its own website’s DRM-free comic shop and new deals and expanded offerings with outlets including Google Play, Apple’s iBookstore and Kindle – and, most important, original ideas from creator-owned projects, Image’s editorial raison d’etre since its founding by a group of popular comic book artists in 1992.

“Image Comics and the creators we work with are uniquely suited to that task at hand,” said Stephenson, a writer himself (“Nowhere Men”), in beginning pointed remarks contrasting the company with larger comics publishers. “We’re not bound by corporate charters or shareholders; there’s no directive to schedule contrived cash grabs every summer and fall; there’s no insistence on reshuffling creative teams or relaunching, renumbering or rebooting series after series in a desperate attempt to recapture past glories.”

At first, a few audience members laughed. Then, more applauded loudly.

But most of the crowd excitement was for the creators unveiling their upcoming comics.

Artist Chris Burnham, a surprise guest, told them that writer Grant Morrison emailed him after he’d turned in his first pages for one of the writer’s “Batman” scripts to ask if he wanted to do “Batman Inc.” and “then after that, do you want to do a creator-owned book and make a million dollars?”

Their investment is a horror series named “Nameless,” a title Burnham said “will seem more apropos than cheeky.” He added that the team was being “cagey” about the book’s contents for now, but he talked about their research efforts in crafting the “ultimate horror comic book”: “He’s giving me all sorts of crazy Grant Morrison stuff to read, and I’m finding all the worst things on the Internet that I can poison my brain with…. Hopefully, some 11-year-old kids will steal [the book] and it’ll ruin their lives forever.”

“The Walking Dead’s” Kirkman was also on hand, but not to talk about his bestselling zombie series. He introduced a new title he’ll be writing, “Outcast,” with artist Paul Azaceta, with a 40-page No. 1 priced at $2.99 coming out in June. It follows Kyle Barnes, whose life and loved ones have been marred by demonic possession, as he sets out to understand the phenomenon.

Kirkman said of the upcoming “Invincible” No. 111, “It’s like three No. 1’s in one book. It’s the first issue of a bold, new direction. It’s the first issue of a startling new era. And it’s the first issue for a new generation. This is a monumental story line that the core of is a huge betrayal…. This is also kind of like a new writer is taking over the book…. This is Robert ‘The Walking Dead’ Kirkman that is going to be writing this book for a while, so expect things to get very dark and very dangerous.”

The writer and Skybound imprint chief also said he felt he’d canceled his book “Tech Jacket,” a series that started just before “Invincible” about a teen who ends up wearing a weaponized piece of alien technology, too early. The story is revived in a three-issue digital comic, “Tech Jacket Digital,” written by Joe Keatinge, with art by Khary Rudolph; all three issues are available at imagecomics.com.

Keatinge introduced his “Shutter,” with artist Leila Del Duca. The series developed from wondering what the Indiana Jones for the 21st century would be like. His answer? Kate Kristopher, an adventurer and photographer from a long line of explorers. Turning to Del Duca, who he’d brought out on stage, Keatinge said, “I don’t know if you know this, but this was supposed to be a super-grounded book. But when I saw your art, I saw you could draw anything, I was just like, ‘Let’s throw everything in here.’ So there’s minotaurs on the subway, there’s astronauts just walking around.” No. 1 is out April 9.

Rick Remender (“Captain America,” “Black Science”) will go to the far future and depths of the ocean in “Low” with artist Greg Tocchini, whom he’s collaborated with on Marvel’s “Uncanny X-Force” and other projects. The “aquatic sci-fi fantasy” set for a July release takes place in a time when the expanding sun has sent humanity into undersea cities and probes have long since been launched into space to search for habitable worlds. After tens of thousands of years, a probe returns.

“Greg is somebody who I would literally push down an old woman and step on her neck to get to work with,” Remender said to laughter. “I maybe did.”

Matt Fraction (“Hawkeye,” “Sex Criminals”) announced a fourth volume of his spy series “Casanova” with Brazilian twin brother artists Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon (“Daytripper”) – and it features backup stories by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon. The writer also discussed his and artist Christian Ward’s upcoming “ODY-C,” which he’d announced at last July’s Image Expo, joking that the “psychedelic science fiction” retelling of the Odyssey in which all the traditionally male characters are female and vice versa was like “a big bag of money sitting by the side of the road waiting for somebody to come pick it up.” It’s planned for a fall debut.

Kelly Sue DeConnick (“Captain Marvel,” “Pretty Deadly”) will be playing with her “deep and abiding love for exploitation and women in prison movies” – and what makes her uncomfortable about them — in a series set on a women’s penal colony in outer space, trying to handle difficult material with a sense of humor. The title? “Bitch Planet.” She’s joined by artist Valentine De Landro.

There are no fewer than three upcoming Image titles from writer Nick Spencer (“Morning Glories,” “Infinite Vacation”): “Great Beyond,” with Morgan Jeske, set in a “post-life community where basically the size of your bank account determines your standing in the afterlife” that’s roiled when a dead person commits suicide, dying again; “Paradigms,” with Butch Guice, featuring warring magic clans in present day; and “Cerulean,” with Frazer Irving, about the last survivors of Earth landing on a new and mysterious inhabitable planet long after their old one has been destroyed.

“Like all government projects, the first months are a little rocky,” Spencer cracked about “Cerulean.”

A public domain character comes into contact with two hard-partying comics creators in James Robinson and Greg Hinkle’s “Airboy.” On a bender trying to come up with what to do with the titular character, Robinson and Hinkle enter his reality, tell him he’s a public domain character and help him combat cyborg Nazis.

“If you like ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ — the movie adaptation — rousing World War II aviation comics and full-frontal nudity involving myself and Greg Hinkle, this is the comic you’ve been waiting for,” Robinson joked.

He also said that his and artist J. Bone’s recently debuted “The Saviors,” originally planned as a five-issue miniseries, will now be ongoing – No. 6 will be a Victorian story with aliens in a Lovecraftian setting, followed by an arc in Paris with a new cast of characters.

“East of West” artist Nick Dragotta announced that HowToons, an educational comics passion project he co-founded that shows kids how to make things, will celebrate its 10th anniversary with its first long-form story, which will be written by Fred Van Lente, with art by Tom Fowler and colors by Jordie Bellaire. It will deal with renewable energy sources.

“C.O.W.L.” will be the first Image series from Kyle Higgins (“Nightwing”) and co-writer Alex Siegel, who together made the short film that this series about a 1960s superhero labor union in Chicago grew out of. The heroes are facing obsolescence after the last supervillain has been defeated. It debuts in May.

The team of writer Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, who are wrapping up their popular run on Marvel’s “Young Avengers,” will explore “The Wicked & the Divine,” in which gods arrive in human bodies every 90 years – “They’re loved, they’re hated … and in two years, they’re dead,” Gillen said. It’s set in 2014 and looks at the current generation of deities in the flesh.

Brandon Graham (“Prophet”) is launching a collaborative series of miniseries, “8House,” exploring a reality in which eight magical houses of Illuminati control everything and engage in wars that include using others’ shadows and souls as weapons via astral projection. Collaborators include artist Xurxo Penalta, Graham’s wife, Marian Churchill, and “Pretty Deadly” artist Emma Rios, who will write one of the miniseries.

The audience squirmed at writer Joshua Williamson’s description of, and the bloody cover art for, his upcoming “Nailbiter,” about a serial killer from an Oregon town that’s produced a surprising number of them. The title means what it says, but the sadistic Edward Charles Warren doesn’t stop eating until he’s full.

Shadowline imprint chief Jim Valentino introduced Ted McKeever’s “The Superannuated Man” for June.

In addition to the project announcements, the event included panels, signings, exclusive merchandise and an after-party with the expo’s special guests.

– Blake Hennon | @BlakeHennon | @LATHeroComplex

RECENT AND RELATED:

Nick Dragotta talks “East of West,’ HowToons

Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips take ‘Fatale’ to ’90s Seattle

Image Expo 2013: New projects from Brubaker, Straczynski, Millar

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