To add to our write-ups of various future titles announced at Image Expo last Thursday, Paul Lai has the following tidbits from the Expo press conferences about these forthcoming books already whetting Image fans’ appetites. Read these as toppings to add flavor to the official releases of the whole list of Image Expo titles.
Jason Aaron’s THE GODDAMNED
Our reader poll of which title excites you MC readers the most echoed the buzz around Aaron’s new not-your-Sunday-School-version of Bible stories, which reunites him with “Scalped” artist RM Guéra. In fact, since before “Scalped,” Aaron has been carrying this book around in his head, which he had pitched to Vertigo and Wildstorm in the past. It seems to have found the right place and time with Image right now, as Aaron joked in the press conference, advancing the new Image tradition of needing books with “offensive titles… that you’re ashamed to talk about in public,” like hits “Sex Criminals,” “Bitch Planet,” or his own “Southern Bastards.” Aaron credited “Bastards” co-creator Jason Latour with coining the “Goddamned” title, which Aaron found a perfect fit considering the “very in-your-face” nature of the book.
Don’t blame Aaron for the crude content; he’s just abiding with the brutality of his source material. As he has been in the past, Aaron was candid about his adult atheism after a Southern Baptist upbringing, which makes him both intimately familiar with the epic, sometimes grisly biblical (pre-Noah’s Ark) tales, and irreverent enough to rescue it from a mystifying perch of sanctimony. The setting is vintage Guéra: “desert landscapes, guys in fur and animals skins,” and of course vicious fight scenes with throngs of male nudity. And the protagonists won’t be abstracted icons; Cain, in Aaron’s imagination, is sort of a “grandfather of all tortured characters,” primogenitor of murder.
Aaron’s response to one astute journalist’s question about whether he felt any fealty to the characters? “Well thankfully, they’re all in the public domain, so no one can sue me.”
Gail Simone and Cat Staggs’s CROSSWIND
It didn’t seem like it could be any longer before these two creators did Image work, and their crime fantasy “Goodfellas meets Freaky Friday,” as Simone called it, swaps the Platonic ideal of a fictional hitman, Carson Ray Bennett, with the Platonic ideal of a fictional housewife, Juniper Eleanor Blue. Staggs has been drawing “Orphan Black,” which she said has been some preparation for this “master class on body language” that the premise presents, a housewife in a hitman’s skin and vice versa, as the promo image above ably demonstrates. Another aspect of the art chores on this Image book that excited Staggs was the original world creation this offers. She will be drawing heavily from the visual inspiration of the crime and detective shows she said she always has playing in the background as she draws, “sexy and beautiful and ugly and so many things all at the same time.” Simone hailed Staggs’ prowess to pull off the full range of emotional shades she wants to write into the story, and one thing I’ll look for when this book comes out is how the mental swapping gets displayed in the affects, gestures, postures and poses, as Carson Ray Bennett encounters the rebellious teenage son, or Juniper Eleanor Ray wakes up in a bathtub full of body parts, no explanation for why suddenly she’s inhabiting a suave man with a gun.
Jimmie Robinson’s EXPIRED
One thing you soon learn from the flurry of condensed synopses raining down on you during Image Expo is that sometimes, the elevator pitch is just the trappings, and the story’s real soul is in the characters (More than one creator brought up hating football and loving “Friday Night Lights”). Robinson’s supernatural crime thriller about a homeless vet from Vietnam with PTSD who befriends a ghost who only appears when he gets the spare change to feed a parking meter but whose murder he must find the clues to avenge despite the obstruction of mean cops and with a gallery of supporting characters like the Taco Truck man who sees all… yeah, there’s a lot of premise there. For a lover of the slow burn, I sometimes feel Robinson’s work seems too frenetic to bear the beating heart of any of his characters, whatever heart existed in Bomb Queen’s chest or any of the wielders of Five Weapons.Continued below
But I’m very eager to give “Expired” a good look, and it’s because of Jimmie Robinson. The premise sounds great, fun, catchy, layered, a thrill read, yeah yeah. But to me, no one in the Image stable of creators represented at the Expo actually embodies the history of Image as I know it as much as Robinson. He was endearingly reflective about his past work, saying that part of his trade as an artist is to do a lot of “growing up in public,” from earlier days when Image meant sometimes graphically “salacious” and “extreme” comics limited in genres to these halcyon days of exalting diversity and difference, when the possibility of doing a book about race without being written off as “the black guy” is very real to Robinson. I’m won over by Robinson, his evolving as a reflection of Image evolving, and the heart and soul he’s irrepressibly putting into “Expired.”
Steven T. Seagle’s CAMP MIDNIGHT
Though Image cultivates a robust line, with a few notable exceptions it hasn’t crushed the all-ages bracket the way it has the post-apocalyptic zombies, post-modern superheroes, or post-WWII noir-thriller brackets. Yet more than one Image creator chatted with me about Pixar’s Inside Out, which I only saw last weekend, late as usual to the party. That movie’s psychologically helpful effect (hopefully) on kids, through the compelling and playful magic of story, is what I think Steven Seagle’s “Camp Midnight,” drawn by plucked-from-obscurity young artist Jason Adam Katzenstein, is going for.
An accomplished creator who made and penned Ben 10 and Big Hero 6, Seagle scripted the 240 page graphic novel, chose the artist, and imagined this story about a girl named Skye sent off by her stepmother to summer camp who, after a goofy bus mixup, winds up at the camp where all the campers sleep all day and turn into a variety of monsters at night. So basically, middle school. But Skye and another key protagonist, friend Mia, seem like they will provide yearning and alienated kids an inroads to the emotional and psychological core of this story in a fun but profound way. And as I’m often reminded, reading comics over my daughter’s shoulder or teary-eyed in the theater at Inside Out, sometimes we adults are those yearning and alienated kids.
Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott’s BLACK MAGICK
A Greg Rucka project will get plenty of press, and a Nicola Scott entrée into Image will confirm that her work looks good and yet has never looked this good. So you’ve probably heard the taglines and seen the preview pages that show “Black Magick” is a supernatural procedural, a work of “witch noir. ” You may know Rucka’s had this idea, as well as the hopes of working with Scott, in his back pocket for many years. And you may guess from the extensive and elaborate worlds of Lazarus or Queen and Country that, besides the complex female protagonist, this book is also going to have a universe of background story that Rucka must be storing in every fold of his enormous intelligence.
What you might not quite know is that Rucka and Scott are really serious about magic– or, I should say, MAGICK. “This is not Charmed,” said Rucka emphatically, explicating why the book retains the “k,” and why their treatment of magick pays respect to the system of beliefs that “trad witches” like their main character Detective Roman Black hold. Rucka was effusive about the earnestness of their research and portrayal, and seemed conscious of the readers out there who would recognize and appreciate the careful distinctions they were operating within. And for those of us not in-the-know but who have always found the intricacies of a Rucka-chronicled world fascinating, this promises to be no less so.
Brian Haberlin’s FASTER THAN LIGHT
These days, Image is associated with cutting edge storytelling, but Haberlin has been around Image through times when it was the visual and digital cutting edge that Image could take pride in. His new monthly, part of a jump back into making and innovating his own comics after years helming, teaching, and editing, encapsulates his investment in the visual, digital, and storytelling frontiers he’s still working at.Continued below
You might be forgiven for finding Faster Than Light’s scifi premise a little over-familiar. But wait! …And at this point, if I were not a string of text on a bland page, but rather Brian Haberlin in the flesh, I’d whip out an iPad and a preview issue of the book (already being solicited) and stun you with an AR scan that calls up interactive holograms I can tap to manipulate and animated videos that add further wrinkles to the plot intrigue. All this is as technology-cool as I am failing to make it sound with my meager words.
But if those features don’t sell you on the book, let me divulge a moment. The Image Expo after-party is at the Cartoon Art Museum, and the Image celebs and we hangers-on are looking for libations and conversations, a laid-back buzz surrounding all the artistic back-patting. But where do I find a truly cordial and unpretentious Brian Haberlin? We are both transfixed by the Hal Foster art on the walls, the Hank Ketcham inking and the Kirby angles and scales in Erik Larsen’s framed original pages. Haberlin pilots ships towards the final frontiers of comics, but he’s every bit the venerator of the craft any of us hope to be. Those turned off by the novelty of AR readers and Star Trek comparisons might be surprised.
Antony Johnston and Shari Chankhamma’s CODENAME BABOUSHKA
Anthony Johnston fans (I am one) will find a few slight turns in this new project interesting. His co-creator is the colorist on “The Fuse,” Thai artist Shari Chankhamma, now lending her distinctive, “kinetic” Western- and manga/manhwa-mixed sensibilities to the art duties for this “sexy but practical” Russian contessa. Johnston is cosmopolitan as ever. This book honors its genre roots (spy thrillers) but is a little more action-heavy and less cerebral that Johnston’s usual books, a mild shift towards somersaults and explosions he’s having quite a good time writing. And it seems like Johnston is completing a shift he’s already shown signs of, sharing that for the foreseeable future, all of his creator-owned books will feature female lead characters, which despite how prolific he is would still leave the industry far from the parity he sees it needing.
Codename Baboushka’s first arc, “The Conclave of Death,” features a retiring crime lord willing to sell his trade secrets, and our heroine the contessa of an old noble Russian line intervening. Unsurprisingly, Johnston, who seems to know everything about everything already, was already well-versed in the Russian history and culture he needed to write the book. For those keeping score, Johnston is stepping up the action, sharp on the genre, principled on the feminism, detailed about the research. And yet, what was the main impetus of this story? The heroine. My favorite quote of Johnston’s press conference: “She is the core of the creation of the story.” With his track record of complex characters, I believe it.
Every word I’ve included feels an insult to the creators I didn’t get to write about: Tula Lotay’s chilling new project with Warren Ellis; Rafael Albuequerque’s fun description of working with Millar on “Huck;” Higgins, Siegel, and Reis’ next levels of pathos and subtlety in “Hadrian’s Wall”; Caitlin Kittredge’s captivating story about the notorious MKUltra Project; Davis and Delecki’s “Ascend” and its pulsing moral center; and oh yeah, BRIAN K. VAUGHAN WRITING THE WALKING DEAD, followed by five exclamation points.
I wrote in my reflections on the night of the Expo that the themes of creative freedom, collaboration and co-creation, and stories that are so much more than their premise funneled through the day of announcements and excitement. But most of all, I felt this sentiment: we are privileged to witness a very real rebirth in comics, a spirited push at the horizons of possibilities and expectations for comics storytelling. And I feel like Image is leading it.
Keep it locked on Multiversity Comics, as we’ll be your glad guides and fellow-travelers through the transformations happening in and through today’s comics world.