One of the final panels of the C2E2 weekend was Image Comics Presents: Creators Own Adventure. Moderated by David Brothers, the discussion included Frank Barbiere, Otis Frampton, Kyle Higgins, Rod Reis, and Alec Siegel. The creators sat down to discuss the role adventure plays in their works.
Brothers started the panel as always - inviting the guests to say a few words about what they're working on.
"Image was sort of my longshot pitch," said Frampton of his comic Oddly Normal. I didn't think it was their thing, but Eric wrote me back. I heard that if you don't hear back from Image in 30 days, it's not gonna happen. It took two and a half months."
"Oddly Normal is an all ages series," he continued. "It's basically Wizard of Oz meets Harry Potter meets Monsters Inc."
Barbiere went next, saying "Five Ghosts is about an adventurer who is an Indiana Jones type, but he's possessed by five ghosts that are literary characters. It was an idea that just popped into my head. I wanted to do a period-focused piece that really fit with Chris Mooneyham's art, and I thought what if…?"
"Because it's a pulp story we can keep it more streamlined," he said. "It tends to wear the literary aspects on it's sleeve with easter eggs and stuff. It's our love letter to genre. Right now we're doing horror, and it's been really fun."
"C.O.W.L. is about superheroes in 1962 Chicago," Higgins said. "It's the world's first labor union of superheroes. I've heard it described as Mad Men or The Wire with superheroes. Really it's the idea of an American institution in a time of change, and how this organization started with noble intention and grew. But when the series starts, it's all over. They're catching the last villains, so it's about organizations that have sort of lost their purpose - with noir overtones!"
When asked about what it's like creating an all-ages book, Frampton replied, "I've often thought that I can't do anything trendy. I can't do outrageousness, just pure story and adventure. All-ages material has come back in the past few years. It's all about balance. Younger readers need to learn that life is about balance."
"It's been great so far," he added. "I've gotten so many letters from kids, and seen them dressed up as Oddly Normal. The parents too, and I've gotten great response from both, and it's great that they're sharing these stories together."
Brothers asked the C.O.W.L. team how the story came about with superheroes unionized.
"Well, the genesis of the project really started as a film for my senior thesis called The League," answered Higgins. "I just had this crazy idea in college of a superhero union, and it made me laugh. So I thought since I might not have a chance to do a superhero movie, I decided to make one myself. I really wanted to do a creator-owned book, and Rod was doing these beautiful watercolor commissions for people, and I just asked him if he wanted to do a book."
"I've been coloring comics for years," said Reis, "but I've only done sequential for a year now. One of my passions is 1960's illustration, so one of the things I like to do on C.O.W.L. is to bring all my influences to the book. Alex and Kyle gave me space to try different things. Everything is very different from page to page and scene to scene.
I always go with what's best for the story and the narrative. The main goal for me is to tell an interesting story in interesting ways that's very different from what we have now on the shelves. I'm very proud and grateful for these guys that rescued me from the coloring, because I didn't feel challenged creatively."
"#11 will be the final issue," noted Higgins. "We got to a point where we have an ending that makes sense, and we're all thrilled with the work, but we want to move on to something else. We'll be announcing a new book in the near future from all of us, so look out."
The final question before audience Q&A was for Frampton, in regards to his art style and training.
"Animation is definitely an influence on my style," he said. "I love Studio Ghibli, and Batman: The Animated Series is probably my favorite of all time. I love the cartoony look, it's just what I gravitate towards."
The first question from the audience was for Frampton, asking if he found inspiration from animated films like Coraline and Paranorman.
"There's no connection really," he said. "It's funny though, when Coraline came out in theaters, my mom called me after having seen an ad, and was like 'Are you okay? They're so similar!'"
Next the C.O.W.L. team was asked why they chose Chicago as the setting for their book.
"Well we're all from here," said Higgins. "But there's definitely a visual style and attention to detail that all of us have in the pages. There's a visual identity that's very strong. There are a lot of real life events and situations that we use not only as settings for scenes, but they also figure pretty prominently into character dynamics."
When asked about the trickle-down effect of genre, Barbiere said, "We're all creators that want to work in different genres and modes, but when you work in those spaces you worry about if it's true to you. Working in genre is fun because you can borrow the aesthetic and the feel. I don't get hung up on it. It's more about being true to the material and what I want to say about it."
The next question to the panelists was if they have plans for spin-offs of their current work.
"For Five Ghosts we have stumbled upon a world that has so many stories to tell," began Barbiere. "We have an issue coming out called Five Ghosts Special, and S.M. Vidaurri painted a whole issue for us It's very different - almost like a fairytale in our world, and it's very storied and mysterious. I'm very passionate about bringing people I like into comics. So that's the first spin-offy thing we've done."
An audience member asked Barbiere what chapter Five Ghosts is currently in.
"We're wrapping up on the third arc right now," he said. "Hopefully coming right back in the fall for #18. The fourth arc is really what I consider to be the end of book one, and we will keep doing the book lovingly and gladly as long as people want to read it. In June we're putting out a hardcover of #1-12, which has always been an aspiration of ours."
The panel was asked if they prefer to focus on one book at a time or have multiple projects going at once, with Higgins responding, "Financially, it's really hard to make a living doing one book. And it's different between artist and writers. As a writer I have the luxury to work on different things."
"It takes all the time that I have between issues to finish, and then some," said Frampton. "Before I came here I did three 15-hour days. If you're looking to do a creator-owned book, do something that you love and work on that one thing."
Barbiere added, "They say write what you know, but also write what you like, because it will become your life."
A fan asked the C.O.W.L. team how much of a collaborative effort the action sequences on their book are.
"If there's important beats we need to get across, we'll put that in the notes," said Siegel. "I think we had it figured out from when we introduced the character."
"All the fight choreography is me," Reis said. "I have to connect the points from the dots they give me. For fighting scenes and actions, that's pretty much how it works."
"I've written very specific scripts that break down every beat," explained Higgins, "but I find that the art doesn't breathe. That's not a collaboration. Rod's style and influences are so different than mine in a lot of ways, so we strike the balance. Sometimes Rod will have a character on the page that wasn't intended, but i feel confident I can make a scene work even if that's not what I had intended. It's all about making the art pop."
"It's all about the end product," noted Baribere. "Trusting your collaborators, and working with people you like. It's always a victory with getting across what you wanted to."
The final question of the discussion was on if the creators knowingly try to balance what they think will sell and what they actually want to do in their books.
"I think the readership of comics has really grown past that," said Barbiere. "It's phenomenal there are readers out there that are just into the material and not big names. It's so nice that it works and that they actually read it. I think Image is really a company that takes a lot of risks, and there are a bunch of people out there that want different things. If people see passion in creators, people know it's going to be interesting because they care and it's the story they want to tell."