Talking to some fans in the substantial line waiting for the Avatar Press panel on Saturday of New York Comic Con, some of the appeal of looking into Avatar as new readers is about finding diversity in art styles that diverge from a "saminess" that people are seeing in styles from the Big Two. There's also the appeal of genre range and the movement of artists and writers and freelancers through different presses that enables them to explore new aspects of creativity to produce a wide-ranging oeuvre. But there were obviously plenty of established fans in attendance, too, and the appeal for them turns on the same features: originality and strong content from writers and artists.
[Avatar Press is the owner of Bleeding Cool, for those unaware, but I couldn't really keep myself away from a panel featuring Max Brooks, Caanan White, Kieron Gillen, Mike Costa, Simon Spurrier, and Mike Wolfer, so I joined the ranks of fandom and piled in. As always, the report and opinions in this article are my own work and thoughts.]
William Christiansen announced projects coming up: Skin Trade coming out right now, drawn by Mike Wolfer. Next Summer we can expect In the House of the Worm, also written by George R. R. Martin like Skin Trade, is a fantasy story coming out at San Diego next year.
With Garth Ennis, there'll be Rover Red Charlie, story of 3 best friends at the end of the world, and the best friends happen to be dogs. Starting with Ennis, there will also be the start of a brand new line of sci-fi books. Facundo Percio, the artist on Fashion Beast, will be drawing a "science fiction done Avatar Style" called Caliban, in the spring. Mercury Heat by Kieron Gillen is on the way, and also Neurotrash by Si Spurrier, and Justin Jordan's Red Shift. Christensen also announced the re-launch of the Gravel series by Mike Wolfer.
There are new Crossed arcs coming up, with Garth Ennis' return in March on 7 issues, which go back to the beginning of the story to "patient zero". Then there'll be an arc from Justin Jordan ("no pressure", he quipped at this point). There are currently plans for up to issue number 120 on Crossed right now.
God is Dead has been a huge hit for Avatar them, "too good to stop", and it will be continuing after issue 6. The next arc is so big that the book is going to "bi-weekly, an announcement that prompted applause from the audience.
But another major announcement, which stunned the room for a moment, was that a new book from comics legend Alan Moore is on the way, with art by Jacen Burrows, called Providence. Moore has planned it to be "as immersive an experience as possible" and will be launching in exactly one year (Autumn 2014).
Justin Jordan explained his Crossed arc as focusing around Pennsylvania, where he's from, and it's about "what it takes to survive in that world and whether the people who survive in that world are better than the crossed themselves". Red Shift will feature a "bounty hunter in space", with concepts of "celebri-soldiers" who film their exploits and are "good for money". The main character has a loose definition of "dead or alive". It's a "big immersive sci-fi work".
Mike Wolfer discussed the history of Gravel since 1999 with Strange Kiss, as created by Warren Ellis. Ellis steers some of the course of the project, but Wolfer is now the writer and artist and is producing Gravel: Combat Magician. The original works explored the occult world behind Gravel, but the new monthly series will explore his military career as the "military catch up with him" for his AWOL status. Ellis has approved 18 issues of plot written by Wolfer. The first issue is a Zero issue that stands alone and brings everyone up to date. Even if you've never read Gravel before, "you're good". There will be 18 pages of supplementary material to catch readers up and provide clues for what's coming up. Wolfer "can't wait to get back to it".
Si Spurrier's Disenchanted starts at the end of October as a webcomic, once a week every Monday. There are already 400 pages of it drawn and colored. For Halloween in comic shops across the country will have free comic day, and you'll be able to get Disenchanted for free. They'll be using print for promoting a web comic. According to Spurrier, Disenchanted has been in development for four years and has a "metric ton of material". It deals with fairies, and "fairies are crap" says Spurrier, but looking into folklore reminded him that fairies are "unpleasant" and it usually comes down to "sex and magic and blood". Like so many "dispossessed people in the real world", they move into cities, full of 1 inch tall beings, and it's basically "The Borrowers meets The Wire" with drugs, sex, cops, and interracial hatred. Spurrier's put his "heart and soul into this". They've created a map of the city to scale for a million inhabitants, a huge map, and you can scroll across the map on the Avatar website to visit the city.
Neurotrash, Spurrier's sci-fi book, is still very much in production, and is "about a future in which being young is considered disgusting", a "gang of kids in a future version of Europe". The only Americans left are "diaspora immigrants" who live in "house cars". Criminal kids have found a way to break into the fast-moving "house cars" and it's about "drugs and living ideas and people with jet packs". Spurrier says the tagline is "junkies with jetpacks" so "stick that in your pipe and smoke it".
Mike Costa, a new addition to Avatar, talked about God is Dead, now with two issues out. The gods who have returned to earth have decided to "divvy it up between them" and "slaughter unbelievers". Now things are heating up with Norse gods trying to take over the whole show. Then there's the American military trying to kill the assaulting gods. The current arc is a "creation myth" of the comic's world. The next arc after issue 6, and "as bad as things are at the end of issue 6, we then set everything on fire", says Costa. It's called "Armageddon", appropriately.
Team Uber, with artist Caanan White and writer Kieron Gillen rounded up the panel. Gillen's Mercury Heat features the planet of course, known for its very slow orbit, heat, and contrasting cold side. It turns so slowly that you can "outrun dawn", and a character is featured trying to do just that. It's a cop show set on the planet, a murder story, and highlights a "kickass heroine". Mercury is the energy source for the Utopian aspects of earth, a bit of a "wild west" zone. There's science fiction, and it's a "broad satire" that hearkens back to Gillen's 2000AD work.
Uber is set to remind people about the horrors of the 20th century, and the future of Uber will be "cataclysmic". White commented that there's a "big crescendo" in issue #5. Characters in Uber don't really know how powerful they are, which makes for an exploration of capability and surprises. Within the "Uberverse", people have the "potential to become unlimited" in an "arms race". Gillen says the series has 60 issues mapped out already.
Max Brooks feels that "Avatar has broken racial boundaries and hired English people", and added "Yes we can!". Brooks is working on a series called Harlem Hell Fighters, a unit who fought with the French and came home with extreme decoration in the First World War after being rejected from American service units. It's coming this spring from Avatar, and for Caanan White, who is an African American, drawing the book, he's been personally impressed by hearing the story of the real-life Hell Fighters, who gave their lives and service. "They fought so hard and so well that they pushed Germany back across the border", the first to successfully do that, says White. They became the first Americans to do so. They were always "above and beyond", he says, as fighters, despite always having to "prove themselves" in the face of prejudice.
Another project with Max Brooks that "keeps on growing", is Extinction Parade, featuring the zombie outbreak "from the point of view of Vampires that don't fucking sparkle". Brooks was interested in looking at a "whole other species", and for Brooks, Vampires are "the perfect metaphor for aristocracy and privilege". Humans have plenty of weaknesses, Brooks explained, and we compensate for them with technology and determination to make good. But what about a species that had all kinds of "physical gifts" like immortality. Brooks always thought, looking at vampire stories, "get a job" because they never had to struggle and "adapt".
These "apex predators" above the humans are suddenly challenged by another predator taking their human food source in the form of zombies. The book takes place in Malaysia because of its rapid growth economically into the modern world. Vampires come to realize that the "end of humanity" is also their end. He includes a "moment of revelation in every issue" for Vampires as they "look inside" and realize things about their species, such as their lack of organization, or even love. Extinction Parade issue #3 was released this week and is available at the con from the Avatar booth and is a bi-monthly series.
During the Q &A, most of the comments and questions were quite unashamed praise-speeches to the Avatar creators present about their works, and a pretty resounding emphasis on the freedom that comic ideas have to thrive at Avatar. Even the panelists got in on discussing the attraction of working on these books in such an environment. Si Spurrier described Avatar as a "place where talent goes to do what they want to do" and Max Brooks commented that it's the opposite of where "ideas go to die", "where ideas go to live". But Brooks also added that each of them are taking risks into "not being popular" by being innovative in comics and that's a deal he's prepared to make. "You're drawing and writing not for the people who don't like you, but for the people who do", Caanan White said to explain his philosophy on his current projects.
Hannah Means-Shannon is Senior New York Correspondent at Bleeding Cool, writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org, and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress. Find her bio here.