A close-to-capacity crowd was on-hand for the Spotlight: J. Michael Straczynski panel at New York Comic Con 2013 to hear what's next for the well-known creator and his imprint, Joe's Comics.
Straczynski moderated the panel by himself and started with an update on current Joe's Comics properties. The line launched with Ten Grand, which according to Straczynski, is still going well despite the change in artist from Ben Templesmith to CP Smith. Sidekick is also doing well and will "get darker and darker as it goes." Apocalypse Al, "an Indiana Jones [story] but with a female lead,"will join the fray soon. Joe's Comics also reacquired the rights to publish Dream Police and Book of Lost Souls.
Straczynski announced a new project with superstar artist, Bill Sienkiewicz, called Alone. "I want to do something that hasn't been done. I want to rethink the way comics are told," he said. "Bill lives outside the box and he burned the box down."
Straczynski is also working on Terminator and Twilight Zone books for Dark Horse.
A big announcement from Straczynski wasn't a comic book at all, the Babylon 5 creator is no stranger to TV and he'll be returning to the small screen with Matrix directors, The Wachowskis. Sense8 will be a 10 episode series dealing with 8 characters around the world who become empathically linked. The series will shoot in seven different countries simultaneously with Straczynski directing the London sequences himself. Netflix will host the show, slated for a Winter 2014 release.
Straczynski gave a rundown of other projects he's working on as well, including a Shadowman movie script for Valiant, a Disney movie that he cannot reveal, and Superman: Earth One volume 3 which will be in stores in May 2014.
From there, the panel took a shift in tone. Instead of inundating the audience with announcements and updates, Straczynski wanted to tell a little bit about his story to show everyone that if he could do it, so could they.
Straczynski was born in Patterson, NJ and lived in Newark, NJ. He grew up in the minority of his largely Black community. Hi family would move to different towns every six months to avoid the debt collectors that were coming for his father. They settled in Matuwah, NJ and Straczynski was beat up nearly every day. He started failing tests on purpose to get through school unnoticed. But comic books would change everything.
"It was around that time that comics saved my life. Comics taught me how to be a person. I had the best collection you're ever going to see," he said. "I carried them around in a box called "Joe's Comics" But my father thought that comics were the reason my grades were dropping and ripped them up right in front of me."
He chronicled his time in high school and college and how that helped him to "Embrace [his] inner failure." But the most important experience came when trying to get into a class taught by legendary writer Norman Corwin. Straczynski broke into the classroom to get the paperwork necessary to enroll. The administration wanted him kicked out of the class when they found out. Instead of booting him, Corwin hired Straczynski as his teaching assistant.
"I want you to understand that where you're sitting now and this stage is not much of a gap," Straczynski said. "It comes down to you and you passions."
Straczynski opened up the floor to questions. There will not be a companion volume script book for the Memory of Shadows film. The film he is writing for Disney is for Disney proper not one of their many offshoots. He would love to see a Flash movie and also thinks that The Haunted Tank could be good if it was updated.
Many fans asked about his writing process. Straczynski said that he typically writes 10-12 hours a day from 8pm to 4am. He looks inside a lot to find his characters."If you create a character and know them well enough, you can drop them into any situation and make the writing process simple and fun," he said. Revision is a large part of his process as well. "I over write and then sand it down to something I want to say. Then I sand it down again to what I need to say," he said.
He also touched on the Michael O'Hare situation from Babylon 5. O' Hare was cast in a lead role in the show but had to leave due to mental illness, after one season. He passed away this past year.
"As shaken as Michael was, it was being around the fans that sustained him," said Straczynski "It was a bad end to a good guy. He was my friend."
As the panel came to a close, Straczynski left the crowd with a final thought.
"These [panels] are about letting you know that your dreams are achievable," he said. "Don't listen to your parents. It's never too late to follow your dreams."