Jeffrey Whitelaw attended ECCC for Bleeding Cool. He was rather busy.
Ah, the Avatar Panel. This was the only panel at ECCC where I actually felt like a fanboy. You're probably reading Bleeding Cool right now, so I don't need to explain to you why. It's also the reason I didn't write up the plugs for a few of the books. If you're reading this, you're probably aware of the stuff Avatar has been publishing in the last few months. If you're not, stop reading this and go buy Ferals, Crossed, and whatever else might strike your fancy.
Keith Davidsen started the panel by noting the fact that was children in the audience, which was met with confused looks and guffaws from the audience. He then continued with a story:
At a previous panel, a few cons back, I was telling a story about a main character from one of our comics books called Crossed, and I kept on using that character's name over and over and over… Then I realized that there were children in the audience and I had to keep coming up with new and interesting alternate names for that character.
He started chuckling and ended with "We got sued." That character is, of course, Horsecock, beloved by nuns and grandmothers everywhere.
Keith then welcomed us to the panel. He introduced himself, then the esteemed Mike Wolfer. Keith then asked Mike to list off the things he has worked on, and Mike answered:
I write and I draw. I've worked on Lady Death, War Goddess, Night of the Living Dead, Gravel, Wolfskin, Stitched… a lot but we'll get to that.
He was interrupted by a child with a question. The little girl, who seemed to be unsupervised, and aged nine or ten, continued to run around and ask questions until the panel ended. She actually livened up things quite a bit. Her first question was whether or not Mike crocheted. Mike said he did not, he does needlepoint. Keith then took the opportunity to plug Stiched and Crossed, before joking "we haven't done a Crossed/Stiched crossover yet. "
Keith then talked about Bleeding Cool, and the new Bleeding Cool magazine. I'm not going to type up what he said because it seems a little unnecessary. An audience member asked Keith if there is going to be a price guide, and he said;
"It's actually funny we were talking about that, and someone said 'you should take over the price guide'. I looked at my collection of comics, loaded with Dark hawk, and Fleet Walker, and Blue Beetle. All those books are now twenty dollars apiece, and Amazing Fantasy #15 is now like fifteen cents."
Keith was again interrupted by the little girl who asked about pricing points. Keith answered the question then moved onto talking about Boundless Comics. I'm not sure how much BC readers actually know about Boundless, I myself didn't know much. From Keith:
"Boundless Comics is the Avatar sister company. Right now it is the home to Lady Death and War Goddess, and we are currently developing tiles that will be out within the year, maybe early 2013. The great thing about Boundless Comics is that the guy who is very very influential on the line is right here, Mike Wolfer, you wanna take it away?"
Mike started by asking the audience if they had questions. I asked: "When are you going to do some Crossed?" Mike responded:
"Actually, I was asked about a week ago about drawing some Crossed, and I declined. I declined, because it's just too extreme. No, there's another project that has opened up. I can't tell you what it is yet, but there's a good chance I'll be going back to some characters I worked on in the past."
Writing Crossed? That's a good possibility, because we've got Badlands, which is a bi-weekly book. We've got to keep a lot in production, so that's a possibility.
An audience member then asked him about War Goddess, saying: 'that's your baby, that's your pride and joy." Mike answered him with:
"It was one of those things where we wanted to do something new, something that Avatar already owned. So, back in the 1990's, mid to late 1990's, when Avatar first started, there was a book called Pandora, that was the first Avatar Press book, my own book, that I self-published, I brought that to avatar. Widow, I brought that to Avatar also, and so we have all these characters, that haven't been printed in ten, twelve years. So, Boundless happens, and Lady Death has just been an incredible success, and we wanted to do more comics. So we did War Goddess, which is an all-female crew of characters, I pick 'em. That's what War Goddess is, and we kind of have a rotating cast. Pandora is the main character, Pandora, the mythic Greek god. Every issue is picking up steam, and we're picking up new fans all the time, and we've got all kinds of new stories, and all kinds of new characters that are being introduced slowly."
At this point a fan interjected with a question, he wanted to know how many characters were older as opposed to how many were created for War Goddess. Mike responded:
"Between 5, 6, and 7 , I created some new characters, specifically for that story, but there are five or six characters from the past. Some of these characters are the same as if you were reading about them back then, the same characters they were, back ten, fifteen years ago, and some of them are total revamps."
There was then another question from an audience member who wanted to know the panelists' favorite books. Keith took the question, and held up an issue of Ferals, saying:
"It's called Ferals, and it's a werewolf series from David Lapham,. It kinds of reinvents the werewolf by creating a secret society of werewolf people, who live in our society, and when they're discovered. It is a great read, by David Lapham, and this is my favorite David Lapham project. He's a legendary writer, who's written Stray Bullets, everybody loved that book, and he's also done Young Liars, and Crossed: Psychopath, and Crossed: Family Values, and Crossed 3D, and Caligula. He's also doing Dan the Unharmable, which is coming up."
The child then stood up, and what Crossed is about. The crowd laughed, but Keith handled it admirably: "If you read Crossed, first of all, I hope you have your parent's permission." Mike interjected:
"and I would hope it doesn't make sense to you. It's kind of a zombie apocalypse scenario, but instead of zombies it's people who were infected by pure evil, so they just like to hurt other people. "
The kid asked for a book, and they gave her a copy of Lady Death. This was followed by a question about whether Mike created Lady Death. Keith answered:
"No, Lady Death was created by Brain Pulido, and published by Chaos Comics. Chaos comics eventually dissolved, and the characters were sold off, Lady Death jumped around to different publishers, and she finally landed at Avatar. Boundless comics was created for her because she didn't quite fit in with the rest of the line, so that we could market the book and separate it from the Garth Ennis, and Alan Moore, and Warren Ellis stuff. So it gave us a fresh start, and one of the cool things about Lady Death, a number of different publishers have published Lady Death, and a number of them have gone out of business, but the reason they went out of business wasn't because of Lady Death. It's a very strong seller; we have a very rabid fan base. This is literally her twentieth anniversary year, and our sales on Lady Death are as strong as just about anything we've ever published."
"Another interesting thing is when we acquired Lady Death, Brian came on board, and he's a hundred percent behind the project we're doing, and he supports the Boundless line. The other people that have acquired the character, he doesn't endorse those projects.
The panelists were asked whether they were interested in working with newer creators, or more established creators. Keith's answer:
"Having a stable of the best guys in the industry is a good place to be. The company is largely built on these really exceptional talents that enjoy being published at a company that really gives them no editorial guff, for lack of a better term. We invite these people to come to work with us and we say 'our goal is to make your vision come true'. That's what we do, we don't want to distill it. That's why a series like Crossed can be as extreme as it is. We don't say 'oh, you can't do this, it's going to hurt our library market sales. 'It's funny because our reputation to allow these creators do what they want is spreading. Warren Ellis, for instance, we've published like twenty or twenty-five projects he's been affiliated with, and at the end of it all he said 'Si Spurrier, you're an up and coming writer why don't you work with Avatar, or Avatar, I know this guy named Si Spurrier, he's awesome, you should check him out.'
"So we're bringing in new people all the time. Coming up we've got some really talented creators. I'll name some names, but I can't tell you too much about the projects. Max Brooks, the author of The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z, he'll be doing two projects with us. We're going to have more projects with George R.R. Martin, who is the author of Game of Thrones. We have another Alan Moore project coming along which I believe will be ten issues long. We have Zach Penn who is a really big name in the film industry, especially films that involve superheros, he's written a few small films like X-2, he's a big name guy. So we're the place to go for creators who are name brand people, who are just trying to get their name on paper."
At that point Mike started talking about Lady Death:
"Lady Death issue 15 just shipped a few weeks ago, 16 will be out in two weeks. We've got two artists working at once. two story arcs at a time, and that's why Lady Death continues shipping early, because we've got so many issues complete. They arc they're on now is 21, and I've written 26.
There's two major things coming up in Lady Death. 18 is going to wrap up the first story arc, 1-18, it's all been one long, continuous story. Then we kind of go in a little bit of a different direction for another six issue arc, and the end of that arc is a huge change."
After that they started talking about Crossed, and I wanted to know about the coming up arc by Jamie Delano. Keith's answer:
"The story by Jamie Delano takes place in the Florida everglades. If I remember correctly there's three different groups of human survivors who are kind of on a collision course in the everglades. They are all people who are haunted by their own personal demons, as the crossed survivors tend to be, and basically when they run into each other it ends up with some pretty explosive results. It's a pretty good example of how everybody who survives now in the Crossed world, they have different opinions on how to survive, and when they meet with each other it becomes a big problem."
After Delano, there is going to be a six issue storyline by David Lapham, with art again by Jacen Burrows, the original artist on Crossed, and then we'll go on from there.
This was followed by a question from an audience member who wanted to know how Avatar got big name creators like Warren Ellis and Alan Moore to work for them. Keith took it:
"We got a dumpster full of cash and rolled it right up to their house. No, that was a little before my time. Editor-in-chief William Christensen, he talked to Wolfer, and of course Warren, he brought what became Gravel, it was called Strange Kiss, a Marvel script that he had done, and Marvel said "no way, we're not publishing that." Warren brought it to Avatar, and changed the name of the character and created Gravel for that lead role. Once Warren came in, and of course word of mouth, they just followed behind. Who could say no?
There was another question from the little girl who wanted to know why there had to be so much violence. Personally, I thought it was because violence was awesome, but no, amidst the laughter Mike said:
"A lot of people like a lot of different things. There are a lot of different comic books out there and because there are a lot of different comic books there is something for everyone. There is something like Adventure Time which is for kids, and there are a lot of grownups who like that kind of stuff. The reason we do it is because people buy it and they like what we do, and we like what we do because we're entertaining them."
"It's funny, I was sitting at the booth today and somebody asked me if I picked up anything at the show. Here I am sitting in front of giant posters of Crossed, crazy maniacs running around with bloody weapons, and then also giant pictures of Lady Death with a buxom lady in a swimsuit, and here I am reading my trade paperback copy of Peanuts, to each their own, you know."
"The deeper way to think about that, why is there violent comic books, why do people like that stuff, is because people like to watch movies and TV shows, or read comic books about things that scare them, and violence scares a lot of people, they're fascinated by it."
I suggested that it was because our brains are broken, and Mike said "yeah, some of our brains are broken."
The last thing Keith talked about was Dicks, which he called "Richards", because there were Children in the audience.
It's about private detectives… well, they want to be private detectives, but they keep getting into too much trouble, and it's about their crazy, crazy antics. It was a book that Garth Ennis and John McCrea did a couple years back, and they did it in black and white, and now they've done it in color.
At that point they got the signal that it was time to end. Mike and Keith thanked everyone for attending, the little girl ran out of the room, and that was it.