By Andrea Ayres

What does the future of comics look like? If Image Comics has anything to say about it’s a little dark, a little funny, and hopefully always new. Cat Staggs (Crosswind), Gail Simone (Crosswind), Doug Wagner (Plastic), Megan Hutchison (Rockstars) and Joe Harris (Rockstars) joined one another in a lively discussion about what it takes to create the future.

Crosswind is what Staggs and Simone call a crime fantasy involving a Freaky Friday like soul-switcheroo minus the light-hearted comedy antics. For both Gail and Cat the subject matter of Crosswind deserved a series tone, one often subtly reflected in the use of color palette. Juniper, a Seattle housewife, is washed in warm tones but under the surface there is a grey, belying the struggle she experiences with an abusive partner. The characters Juniper and Cason (a mafia hitman) wouldn’t be your usual suspects for a soul-switch story, but that was part of what excites both Staggs and Simone. Crosswind delves into issues of respect. Who gets it? Who doesn’t? Who gets to keep it and why?

Wagner’s Plastic is about a dark a comedy as you can get, something Wagner takes particular delight in. Plastic depicts a serial killer named Edwin Stoffgruppen who is in love with a sex doll named Virginia. If there’s one thing Edwin dislikes, it’s when people insult or mock the object of his affection. Sure, Plastic is violent, but it tends to draw careful contrasts between the violence of Edwin with the abuse of the father

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Though common in bookstores, on television, and in other forms of popular media, the comics discussed at this panel would have been an anathema a decade ago. Creating these comics and seeing these stories in panel form is something the panelists are deeply committed to, but what gave them the courage to create these kinds of stories?

Reflecting on this, Simone said, “For me, I don’t think comic books or writing panel style storytelling shouldn’t be limited by genre. We should be pushing the envelope on everything in my opinion.” A response that garnered thunderous cheers and applause.

For Rockstars’ artist Megan Hutchison it was simply about creating comics that weren’t available to her growing up. “There weren’t that many options for comics for goth girls in the 1990s, so I’m making the comics books that 12-year-old me wants to read.” In Hutchison’s previous life (as it was called) she was an art director in Hollywood for a decade. When asked why she decided to break out of the film industry she laughed, “Because I’m a masochist and I don’t like making any money?” She clarified, saying she felt like she was selling snake oil and wanted to do something she was passionate about.

When Wanger initially told people about the concept for Plastic he was said there were some people that told him he was crazy and others told him he absolutely had to make it happen. Wagner says creating is all about doing something that breaks the mold.  When creating the future of comics, passion is clearly elemental. Harris discussed his passion for music and for wanting to create characters people can really engage are all elements that help when it came time to writing Rockstars.

There was a trait each of the Image comics’ creators had in common and that was in the treatment of real world elements with the fantastical, dark, or even absurdly violent. It’s in the careful body language of Juniper and Carson in Crosswind

in relation to one another and their environment. Something, Staggs and Simone say is they paid painfully close attention to. For Rockstars’ creators the references to real musicians, bands, and events make the mythology more believable.

For artist Cat Staggs, getting that element of realism was incredibly important on a professional and personal level. “I wanted the violence to be realistic. I thought it should add additional impact to Gail’s story. While it is fun, there’s also a heavy thing. Juniper I relate to a ton because I was in that relationship too. My ex was terrible.”

Sitting in the audience it was easy to get a sense of how excited each of these creators were for their current work, but for the future of comics as well. Part of that excitement comes from constantly pushing themselves to create something that hasn’t been done before and taking risks. Perhaps Cat Staggs summed it best when she said, “You have to jump. You have to keep jumping, and you’ve got to be willing to jump off a cliff.”