Paul Levitz Pops By The Boom Panel At San Diego Comic Con

Peter S. Svensson drinks Gatorade and writes for Bleeding Cool.

Boom Studios had their annual panel at Comic Con, which didn't announce any new titles, but did tease towards the future.

In attendance were:

Filip Sablik – President of Marketing, formerly from Top Cow.
Stephen Christy – President of Development, formerly from Archaia.
Matt Gagnon – Editor in Chief with the least net presence in comics.
Ross Richie – Founder, CEO and when you get down to it, a pretty nice guy.
Frank Gibson – Writer of The Amazing World of Gumball!
Noelle Stevenson – Co-Writer of Lumberjanes!
Paul Jenkins – Writer of Fairy Quest, and the upcoming Fiction Squad.
With a surprise last minute appearance from Paul Levitz, formerly from DC.

Boom takes a different approach to their panels than most publishers do, placing far more emphasis on the history of the studio as well as the people who make it happen than a slideshow of their upcoming titles. Not a single new book was announced here, though the recent announcement that Grant Morrison will be writing for them was reiterated. There were quite a few teases and hints, with Mark Waid, Paul Jenkins, Roger Langridge and JG Jones all dancing around the subject of their upcoming titles.

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Last year's Boom panel was a reiteration of the history of Boom. This had a different focus, being mainly focused on what Boom is trying to do, and explaining their motivation as a company. Filip Sablik, who I'm still getting used to having him be at Boom despite it being over a year since he's left Top Cow, headed the panel.

Normally, the panel would traditionally start with Ross Richie giving a history of the company's founding. But Editor-In-Chief Matt Gagnon, who hasn't just sat at enough of these panels to know the story by heart, but also lived through most of it personally, told the tale of how Ross Richie ended up starting a comic company out of a spare bedroom, so that he could publish his friend Keith Giffen's latest collaboration with J.M. Dematteis almost a decade ago. Hero Squared, which was a fantastic book and sadly underrated. Keith Giffen wanted Richie to have a share in the profits of the book, because that would make him have a greater investment in ensuring the book was successful.

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Sablik explained that this is the 9th anniversary of Boom, but that last month was their biggest month ever, which he claimed was due to the success of their partnerships with creators, and with the companies such as Fox or Cartoon Network that they get licensed books from.

Stephen Christy, formerly head of Archaia before it was bought by Boom last year, explained Ross Richie's philosophy towards the company as it was related to him. "I want to bring the best people in the industry under one roof to create the best comics." It was about this point that Ross Richie showed up, took a seat and the panel continued without a hitch.

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"Ross is our number one fan. He says his favorite part of working here is getting to read all the books first." said Sablik. He continued to explain that the spirit of partnership Boom creates is also between the fans and the creators, that projects like Fairy Quest and Lumberjanes are only successful because the fans reaching out make it so. He explained that to further that connection, Boom is attending twenty conventions this year, and maintains a twitter presence. Sablik continued, "You may not know this, but 8 weeks ago we launched a youtube channel. Buzz on Boom."

The idea that Boom maintains a balance of established creators such as Paul Jenkins, and new creators like Noelle Stephenson was said by Sablik to be key to their success. Stephenson was formerly an intern at Boom, working on graphic design, but at Comic Con people came to the Boom booth asking for her, as they were fans of her webcomic NIMONA. "Who is this intern that they want to meet and get signatures from?!" joked Sablik.

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A pre-recorded video by Mark Waid played. But the audio was hard to hear. The gist of it was Waid explaining that while it had been a while since he had been at Boom, he's returning because he's gotten the chance to work with a creator he's wanted to work with for a long, long time, and that the story he has in mind is dangerous and can only be published at Boom. He ended the video by saying "I AM BOOM" using charades. It was pretty funny.

Sablik reminded people that Waid used to be EIC of Boom, wrote Irredeemable, and in regards to his next project, "We call that a tease…"

The next slide featured Paul Jenkins.

Paul Jenkins: "God I look old!"
Frank Gibson: "How are you there and here at the same time?!"

The long, historied career of Paul Jenkins was quickly recapped for us by Filip Sablik, ranging from writing the origin of Wolverine, to work on video games like God of War, to being one of the first mainstream comic creators to fully exploit the potential of Kickstarter with Fairy Quest. Yesterday, Jenkins' latest kickstarter concluded, and Boom will continue to publish the individual issues and collections of those projects.

Jenkins then explained the premise of Fiction Squad, which raised $63,325 from crowd funding. He and artist Ramon Bachs will tell the story of a detective who wasn't very good at dealing with his own world of Detective Fiction, so decided to move to Nursery Rhymes, which turn out to have more mysteries and crimes than you might first think, in the hopes that perhaps he can be a big fish in a small pond instead.
"My relationship with Boom rekindled my interest in comics. I was this close to giving up on them." explained Jenkins, who found that when he and Humberto Ramos first wanted to release Fairy Quest, Boom was really the only publisher willing to do a fairy tale all-ages book about Little Red Riding Hood becoming friends with the Wolf and going on an adventure. "The best part about it is that everyone who sees it, loves it."

He teased his new Boom project, one that is so compelling that he is taking as much time as possible during the con to write as he can, even though he's got a staph infection and isn't feeling 100%.

Filip moved the discussion towards Boom's attempts to innovate, finding new voices, new genres, new readers and that the main motivation Boom has for doing so is that Ross Richie really hates it when people tell him he can't do something. Like get web cartoonists to sell in the direct market, or successful all ages books, or get new fans into the market place.

Matt Gagnon spoke about the importance of doing new, original work, not just licensed materials. Explaining that while he and Richie are both life long superhero fans, they have to publish more than just superhero comics.

Ross Richie: "They make comics that aren't superheroes?" he said , completely deadpan.

Gagnon listed off some of the original books Boom has done recently, such as Curse, Evil Empire, Dead Letters, The Woods and "a little one called Lumberjanes."

The next video, featuring JG Jones played. Jones mentioned that while he is an acclaimed artist, he's also a writer, and has worked with some of the industries best in the past. And that while he's been thought off as only an artist, "It's time to change that. Time to shake trees. Make some noise." He literally put up a sign that said 'teaser' on it, which combined with the sign he put up listing the writers he's collaborated with in the past, Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Brian Azzarello and Greg Rucka, and his final sign that said "BOOM", made him appear to be the new incarnation of Wile E. Coyote.

That is not a bad thing.

James Tynion IV then was the subject of the next slide, and Matt Gagnon explained that he's done wonderful work at DC on the Batman titles, leading them to approach him to write for Boom. He came up with the Woods. "One of the best books we've ever published."

Filip Sablik confirmed that Tynion has a new book coming out from Boom, Memetic. It's about a killer meme that when you see it, kills you. The Hypnotic Sloth is in fact that meme!

"If you do not publish comics for the next generation of readers, there will not BE the next generation." explained Richie, who told his story of becoming a life long comics fan at the age of six. He continued to explain the importance of publishing comics that don't talk down to children, something he feels most publishers of children's media do far too often. Instead, creating content that a 25 or 35 year-old can read and enjoy because it's not watered down or patronizing.

The next slide was of Roger Langridge.

Filip Sablik: "Roger Langridge, did the Muppets Comic."
Matt Gagnon: "The Harvey Award winning Muppets Comic."
Filip Sablik: "and Snarked."
Matt Gagnon: "The Eisner Award winning Snarked."

The video had Langridge talk about his upcoming book for Boom, which "I'm not supposed to say the title." The word TEASER then filled the screen. Langridge did confirm that Boom asked him if he had any ideas, and Langridge did and his upcoming comic will be four issues long, that he was able to say.

The Tale of Sand was one of the most acclaimed and successful books Archaia published, adapting a lost Jim Henson screenplay into a graphic novel. Because of the relationship Archaia, and thus now Boom has with the Henson Company, they have found a lost treatment by Jim Henson, The Musical Monsters of Turkey Hollow. Henson built puppets for it, and did his first experiments with filming muppets outside of the studio, pre-dating the Muppet Movie in preparation for this project which never got off the ground. Roger Langridge will be doing the adaptation, which will be in time for Thanksgiving. A preview of the book is on sale at the Boom booth.

Frank Gibson was the focus of the next slide.

Ross Richie: "How can he be up there and down here?!"
Frank Gibson: "Hey! I made that joke already!"

Gibson is the writer on The Amazing World of Gumball, the comic based on the really silly Cartoon Network series. He's got a pedigree in webcomics and self-publishing, which came out of necessity as he is originally from New Zealand.

Gibson pointed out the sad state of comics in New Zealand, which doesn't have a real local publishing scene, and that anyone who really wants to do comics from New Zealand ends up moving somewhere else. Also that Boom is probably the only company with two New Zealanders working for them, with Langridge being the other.

In regards towards working on a licensed comic, Gibson can't complain. "They picked the right people for the project. Well I say that because they picked me. […] Yeah, I turn in my scripts, and they don't get broken, and they let me do what I want to do." Gibson ended by teasing that he will do his own book with Boom.

Sablik explained that Frank and his wife Becky did a Fionna and Cake annual which made the obvious pun of Baby Cakes, a story with them as babies. Gibson pitched the idea to editor Shannon Watters, who said okay. Then a week later called saying "So where's my script?" Causing Gibson to realize just how informal and personal Boom could be. Gibson is much happier working with a comic publisher, because "I don't have to do the stuff I don't like doing! It's their problem now!"

David Petersen, creator of Mouse Guard, was in the next video where he announced a new collection of short stories. "Mouse Guard: Baldwin the Brave And Other Stories" will reprint the Free Comic Book Day stories from the past few years, as well as two new stories for the collection. Petersen then showed off some of the pages he's done, the cover, and even one of the model buildings he's created. "I'm David Petersen. I am Boom!"

Next year will not only be the 10th anniversary of Boom, but also of Mouse Guard, so Filip Sablik says that fans should expect exciting things.

Noelle Stevenson was the next slide focus. Sablik gushed about how Lumberjanes, with all female characters, an all female creative team, not a licensed product, has managed to be one of Boom's biggest successes.

Noelle explained her history as an intern at Boom. She was overjoyed with the job preparing reprint panels for the Garfield comic, as a design intern, because it was her first time doing anything behind the scenes in comics. She became fast friends with Shannon Watters that summer, and moved to LA after graduating art school. Their first brunch once back in town had Watters asking Stevenson about a new series, and Stevenson agreeing immediately because it sounded so fantastic. "That was where Lumberjanes came from. Very Avengers-style, Nick Fury coming to recruit us. It started spitballing from there. That's how that happened."

Matt Gagnon began to speak highly of Stevenson. "Besides being incredibly talented, her work ethic is fantastic. She's a hard worker, and has lots of succes-sex! SUCCESS! SUCCESS! SUCCESS! I MEANT SUCCESS!"

This killed the panel, as everyone broke up. It was an honest mistake, and really, not enunciating the last syllable of "success" to make it sound like "sex" isn't the end of the world. It was still incredibly hilarious.

Matt Gagnon, Editor In Chief of Boom Studios, eventually was able to rebound and get the panel going again, asking Stevenson how she's able to handle the amount of work she's got at such a young age.

Stevenson: "I went through the ringer of art school before this. It helps that one of my favorite things to do in the world is tell stories. It is work, and anyone who says 'do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life!' is lying. But there's nothing I would rather be doing." She explained that she might be at a party and realize that what she really wants to do is go home and draw her comic. "I can see these characters. I want to tell their story. I don't get tired of it. I haven't done it for very long, so I might, but I don't see it. If I have to give up certain things for that, I'm okay with that. I get to tell the stories in my head the way I want them to be told. Boom has given me an avenue to do that."

Gagnon asked Stevenson about the difference working on her own webcomic NIMONA versus working for Boom.

Stevenson explained that webcomics are appealing because you get to do it all yourself, unlike say film where you pretty much have to collaborate with others. "I don't think it's worse or better, it brings a product to life. […] I really enjoy that I get to do both."

Ross Richie then introduced "someone who has forgotten more about comics than anyone here knows"vspecial guest, former president of DC Comics Paul Levitz. "One of the best people I've ever met." concluded Richie.

Paul Levitz gave a wonderful speech about age and the industry and teamwork, and while I took copious notes, I'm not giving it justice.

Levitz explained that Boom has the best combination of youth and experience, which gives you people who are too young not to know the established ways of doing things and don't know what is impossible, as well as people who have hit their head against the wall so many times to learn a way how to get around it. Levitz joked about how his presence at Boom raises the average age there significantly, but that he can say "We had this problem in 1983 and this is how we fixed it." That all the years he was working at DC, he was trying to move the industry towards where it's heading today, to be more diverse and reflect a more diverse group of readers. In the early 1970s, when he came into the industry, the understood knowledge was that comic readers were between 5 and 12, at which point they would find better things to do and give up.

"We knew that was horseshit." explained Levitz. He wanted to do wonderful comics for people of all ages, genders, mindsets, and it took the evolution of the comic shop world, of graphic novels, of the coming of age of a generation of people who grew up seeing diverse comics and realizing that they could do them to get where we are today. He compared the US market to the diversity of Japan and France, and that America's comic industry is so small in comparison, "it's just the last 10 or 15 years that we've started to explode. The next two decades will be more amazing. It may not be anything I want to read. That's okay. It's the things YOU want to read."

Levitz created the analogy that a comic publishing company is like an theatrical troupe, where they set the stage, invite the audience in, and honestly split the proceeds with the artists. "Boom takes that serious. I hope to help them along. So many more artists to invite to the stage. You may be among them. I look forward to that journey."

Peter S. Svensson will be competing in the Pro/Fan Trivia Contest on Sunday, 4:00 PM in Room 4. He's also a staff member for Power Morphicon, the official Power Rangers convention, which is at booth #437.

About Rich Johnston

Head writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world. Living in London, father of two. Political cartoonist.

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