San Diego Comic-con continued on Friday and amidst shouting audiences, teetering lines, and twitter-announced exclusives, Image Comics held their second panel all about collaboration in making comics. Anyone keeping a trained eye on Image’s goings-on will know they’re pushing hard to change the comics industry for the better, but sometimes it can be easy to forget that their plans are backed up by some of the best books by some of the most talented creators working today – thankfully, their second “Image Comics is…” panel, “Inception” reminded us just who we’re dealing with.
Image Comics all-around good dude David Brothers introduced the talented cast of panelists: Kelly Sue DeConnick (Pretty Deadly & Bitch Planet), Matt Fraction (Sex Criminals), Chip Zdarsky (Sex Criminals), John Layman (Chew), Fiona Staples (Saga), Steve Seagle (Imperial), Claire Gibson (From Under Mountains), and Marian Churchland (From Under Mountains). Yeah – talk about a spectacular line up.
The focus being on collaboration, David had them go down the line and describe the projects they’re working on and what their team dynamic is like. First off, Layman unveils the new tri-fold spread for Chew and talked about no matter what he throws at his collaborator Rob Guillory, it gets cranked out with a wonderful flare of humor.
Claire Gibson and Marian Churchland, co-writers on the recently announced From Under Mountains, were friends in college and had been making comics together where Gibson would convince Churchland to draw stories of her and “her cast of men”, and they kept working together ever since.
Seagle frequented the comic shop that artist Mark dos Santos worked at and repeatedly said no when seeing Mark’s art. One day, Seagle saw that he “had better jump on it now or someone else would hire him”, and pitched him two projects – demanding the opposite of what dos Santos requested. “Find a great artist and give them a project they don’t want to do because it worked out pretty well,” he joked. Seagle went on to say that he’s found success in playing to the art strengths of the people he works with and taking a left turn on them.
Staples, working with writer Brian K. Vaughan discussed how streamlined their process is where very little discussion needs to happen beyond the script and basic character design. He leaves her a lot of room to work within the script he writes.
“It’s a very efficient process,” said Staples, at which point, Brothers turned the conversation to Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky of Sex Criminals fame.
I would quote them, but as they started talking into the microphone simultaneously about how well they worked together – that’d be an impressive feat of embedded typography. As their inability to speak first devolved into politely giving each other the spotlight, Kelly Sue DeConnick took her turn.
Pretty Deadly, DeConnick’s breakout Image title with previous Marvel artist Emma Ríos was described as a working process akin to otherworldly. DeConnick’s writing style will fluidly shift between prose and tight scripting fleshed out with a long series of emails.
It feels like magic – it’s just the two of us. – Kelly Sue DeConnick
She then talked a bit about her upcoming project Bitch Planet with collaborator Valentine De Landro. “For such a mean-spirited book, there’s such sweet communication,” DeConnick revealed before requesting all the cosplayers in the audience stand up for an applause. It was a very sweet gesture, considering how active DeConnick is within the communities around her works, often praising and re-posting cosplayers of Captain Marvel and Ginny. “You make our jobs so much better, so thank you,” concluded DeConnick.
Gibson and Churchland discussed their writing process – since they’ve known each other for many years, they have a good idea of how the other works and are able to “share brainspace” even though at first, they attempted to each work on separate characters, but found a coalescence of their writing happening fairly quickly in the process.
At this point, Brothers opened the floor up to Q&A, reserving more than half the panel for the audience and rewarding each person who asks a question with a bagged and boarded first issue.
The vast majority of the questions were posted, somewhat unsurprisingly, to Staples, Zdarsky, Fraction, and DeConnick.
Upon being asked about their relationship as a married comics couple, Fraction and DeConnick described a meeting they hold every 6 months to determine where they are, where they’ve come from, and where they’re going. Going over their ongoing projects, they’ll set goals for various increments of time and are able to look back and see their path. Matt went in to how these meetings help him work with his anxiety, allowing him to see just how much work he’s done in the past 6 months or more. Despite insisting on how incredibly dry and boring these meetings are, DeConnick swore by them.
It’s super boring and super-square, but it helps us figure out where we’re going and how to get there. – Kelly Sue DeConnick
Staples received a couple of questions about designing new characters with Vaughan. He will send small design document with a description and if the character will be around for a while, Fiona will send him back a few designs. She confirmed that Fard, the Titan with the Terrifying Testicles, was “90% Brian.” When asked about designing lying cat, she explained how many recurring characters were given to her with a very short description from Vaughan, with Lying Cat being described as a “giant space-cat”.
Zdarsky and Fraction were asked about their plans for future variant covers, at which they reveals some very juicy ideas such as an XXX-rated Scottie Young cover that would be “the filthiest thing ever” and thus would be released in two pink poly-bags. My personal favorite was their idea for an Alex Ross variant which would feature the one-and-only Alex Ross standing with Fraction and Zdarsky in a recreation of their famous “awkward family photo” variant cover. They discussed a bit about the pitching process, where Fraction threw Sex Criminals, Ody-C, and Satellite Sam at Stephenson rapid-fire waiting for the “no” to come, but it never did.
When they asked me to do the book, I looked at my scheduled really closely…and there was nothing. – Chip Zdarsky
Seagle, when talking about pitching Imperial, said that Stephenson stated he would pick up anything that Man of Action Studios did, but only Joe Casey was really doing anything until now.
Gibson and Churchland are part of the unique project 8HOUSE by Brendan Graham, a limited series that purposefully swaps out creative teams within an interconnected universe to tell different stories. Though From Under Mountains is not directly part of the 8HOUSE series, it’s considered a connected spin-off. Graham essentially prodded his friends to join him with the project so there wasn’t any kind of formal pitch process involved.
DeConnick had a unique experience when “pitching” Bitch Planet to Stephenson. As she describes, after it was clear that Pretty Deadly was doing incredibly well, she received a message from Stephenson asking for what’s next. In a purposefully timid, tone DeConnick mimed out the message back about the book. His response was:
I would very much like to publish something called Bitch Planet. – Eric Stephenson
Questions about DeConnick’s view of the fandoms of her work and how that affects her process received answers along the lines that reverse-engineering for what your fans love won’t work. Fraction was asked about his approach to realistic sexual representations in Sex Criminals, especially with Susie, one of the main characters. He approached her character as a universal character first, bringing in the meanings of gender representation later.
I wasn’t like “oh man, I gotta think lady-thoughts now.” – Matt Fraction
Additionally, he and Zdarsky talked about their letters column, which is accompanied with a very positive advice column mostly for, you guessed it, sex. They adore the sheer about of gratitude and love being thrown at the book and feel that their offering of an advice column is a big part of that.
The idea that anyone is paying for our work is terrifying and we want to make sure no one can say they didn’t get their money’s worth. – Matt Fraction
Throughout the hour, each panelist took turns lauding Image for their platform, describing situations that wouldn’t have occurred at any other publisher. One that stuck out in my head was about Sigel’s new book with collaborator Teddy Kristiansen. This project looks to be a fascinating exercise in collaboration as Kristiansen will draw 240 panels around his own, private story without dialogue. He will then feed them to Seagle in a random order, who will then place them in his own order around a new story.
There’s DC house style, Marvel house style – this is Image house style where anything goes! – Steve Seagle
Charming, humorous, and insightful – this panel was indicative of everything we’ve come to expect from Image titles. It’s easy to get mired in the drudgery of what many comics are so I’m thankful for loving reminders that people are consistently working on projects that, while are simply amazing in their own right, are working towards a better future in comics.