In its previous three iterations, Image’s Popgun anthology has showcased an eclectic mix of graphic storytelling and storytellers. From it’s inaugural edition in 2007 which sported a cover by Madman cartoonist Mike Allred, it’s become known as a sort of sequential art mixtape crafted by expert hands, highlighting creativity from virtually every nook and cranny of the English-speaking comics scene. Between the covers of the yearly volumes, comics’ luminaries such as Erik Larsen, Paul Pope and James Kolchalka have shared space with then newcomers like Leah Moore, Jonathan Hickman, Corey Lewis and Ming Doyle . And on February 24, Image Comics will publish the fourth Popgun volume which like it’s predecessors will try to continue the vibe of the series why seeking an identity all its own.
“I think every Popgun retains a little something from the volume that preceded it - not only the recurring characters, but tonally as well. But each volume definitely has something new to boast,” said Anthony Wu, a contributor and editor on Popgun Vol. 4 “The content reflects how the Popgun crew has expanded socially: it began with Mark Smith and Joe Keatinge's contacts, then those people brought in additional talent and so on.
“The ‘style’ of this book is hard for me to pin down (which I think is awesome!), but if anything Vol. 4 has reached out to more artists with illustrative styles that you wouldn't normally see in comics. John Malloy's art looks like photographs from some alternate universe that's drawn with crayons - like Toontown, but Crayontown. Meg Hunt recalls 60's children's book illustration. Volume 3 contributor Janet Kim switched from her concept-art style to this lush cartoony technique that's unrecognizable from her old stuff. Angie Wang's story is gruesome but it's done in this really classy brushpen way. Jonathan Silvestre gave us a sweet pixel-comic... I could go on. I think this book is our most visually outlandish yet, but the comics have a commonality in their strong storytelling, which was the mandate from the first volume.”
Initially shepherded to print by Joe Keatinge and Mark Andrew Smith, the founding duo have taken a backseat as others step into the active day-to-day jobs of putting together the book; for Popgun Vol. 4, the trio of D.J. Kirkbride, Adam Knave and Anthony Wu have the enviable tasking of bringing it together – while contributing stories of their own to the mix.
“I co-wrote both of my stories in this volume with fellow editor Adam Knave,” said Kirkbride, who has been one of the few constants in each volume – contributing to each as well as being an assistant editor since the first. “Adam’s a blast to work with, and we have amazing artists on each of them -- we really lucked out. The first one, ‘The Black Decahedron, is a math pirates story. We love Jason Ibarra's art and wanted to work with him. He said he was interested in drawing ladies and cool geometric shapes... somehow, Adam then went: "Math pirates!" Then we figured out what that meant to us and had a blast. It's a beautiful looking comic and lots of fun.
“The other story features characters that debuted in Popgun 3 (though each story is standalone) -- "The Agents of the W.T.F." (which stands for "Weird, Theoretical, and Fantastical"), a 300-year-old Scottish wizard cursed to live in a 10-year-old body, and a magical Native American princess from an alternate reality. Magical bagpipes, evil appliances, and all out action with loads of shenanigans. We just really have fun with these characters, all fast paced adventure and quips. Our art team -- penciller Matteo Scalera, inker Pablo Ferrate and letterer Thomas Mauer -- really knocked this one out of the park. It's a good time.”
The editors/writers aren’t the only ones getting their creative juices flowing. They’ve drafted an enterprising assortment of newcomers to the book – some newcomers to comics itself, while others veterans who have joined Popgun for the first time.
“I had read the previous Popgun volumes and really enjoyed them--just a lot of fun and creativity,” said Todd DeZago, writer of titles such as Sensational Spider-Man, Tellos and the Perphapanauts. “When artist Nikos Koutsis wrote to me asking me to collaborate on one with him, I thought it would be a kick! Nikos already had a semi-idea about what he was thinking of, so came in as more of a script doctor and dialogue guy. It's about a superheroine in the future returning to Earth to find that some aliens have kidnapped her baby.”
Another Image creator to join in the festivities is Gødland artist Tom Scioli, doing a sequel to a story he’d started in Dark Horse’s Strip Search anthology from years ago.
“[‘The Seneschal’] is an Arthurian knights/sci-fi adventure story,” said Scioli. “K is the Seneschal of the Land of Aval-One. He's responsible for maintaining R-Thurr's kingdom, settling border disputes and maintaining the kingdom’s infrastructure. In this story, K's duties bring him face-to-face with a swarm of plague-bearing insect-people.”
For creators, Popgun is a place for new stories as well as revisiting stories previously published and taking them in new directions. “The Seneschal is a I’ve been looking forward to revisiting. I'm really pleased with this particular story. I think it has my best double-page splash.”
While the styles, subject matter and genre vary, one thing that anthologies share is showcasing new talent, new stories and new ideas. Writer Vito Delsante and artist Attila Adorjany are taking their influences, putting it in a blender and putting their own secret ingredients to make their comic.
“Early on when Vito was throwing around ideas he mentioned this pitch he had kicking about and described it as a 70's Marvel comics meets Hong Kong Kung Fu kind of thing,” said Adorjany. “I was sold right away because I have always been a big fan of Hong Kong cinema and it seemed like a perfect fit for Popgun.”
Their story, entitled “The Golden Mantis of Chinatown”, wears its influences on its sleeve and taking it in a new direction. “It's about a guy who is a loser, been to jail...the whole bit...but he has this great sense of community, responsibility and familial obligations, as many Chinese men do. It's a tease of an entire story in the old Five Deadly Venoms way, but modernized. When I was thinking of artists, I didn't really have anyone in mind, but at about the same time, Attila Adorjany e-mailed me asking what I was working on. Attila and I have been friends since the old Speakeasy days, and we both have come far in our art, so I thought it was fortuitous timing. I asked, he accepted, and the rest is comics’ history, so to speak. Also, Attila is a madman and we have subtitles.”
Working on these short bursts of comics allows creators to try more innovative and experimental techniques, from Erik Larsen’s chiaroscuro work in the first volume to Adorjanny’s own story in the new one. “As a North American, I experienced Kung fu flicks either as dubbed or subbed imports. So I threw the idea at Vito about trying to include that as an element of the presentation. So with a lot of help from friends I made Cantonese word balloons with filmic style subtitles at the base of the panels (with inaccurate translations and all) . I think folks are really going to dig the story.“
For newcomers it’s a chance for getting themselves and their ideas in front of the massive comics reading audience, and for veterans of comics … it’s that exact same thing.
“I like the energy that each of the creators is bringing to their respective stories,” said Chris Moreno, who has been a regular player in each volume. “It's such a wide range of styles, but they've all got a bit of rock n' roll to them, if that makes any sense -- a kind of reckless abandon that the creators are exhibiting in regards to the subjects and styles of stories they're telling. I always look at what everyone else is working on and it inspires me to try and at least match the kind of enthusiasm that comes through in their work. It's pretty infectious.
Moreno, is continuing a story in this volume that’s run through each volume - about a ninja platypus named Sanz Pantz. “This time, our rude, little, waffle-tailed wonder and his pals in the Platypus Ninja Clan face off against the 80's-hair-metal-themed Wykkid Ninja Crue in a battle of the bogus bands -- a tournament for the video game Tsugaru-Shamisen Showdown (it's like Guitar Hero, except with traditional Japanese string instruments.) Of course, some of the contestants refuse to play fair, and it's up to Sanz Pantz to teach them a painful lesson about good sportsmanship.”
With just over a month before the release of this fourth installment, the staff is putting the final touches on the book. With Popgun setting a pace of one volume per year since 2007, is it too soon to ask about a fifth volume in 2010? Of course not.
“It is so awesome that we're up to volume 4!,” Said editor D.J. Kirkbride. “After each volume, we do talk about the future and really consider where we want to go. It's a discussion not just with us, but with, really, even more so, Mark Smith and Joe Keatinge, who started the book. We've been concentrating on finishing Volume 4, and now getting the word out to everyone, so that's where our brains are now.”
With the decision for another installment is one to be made after the book’s release on February 24th, the Popgun crew have drawn up plans to celebrate the debut of the fourth installment on both the East and West Coasts. “There's an Los Angeles release party at Meltdown, and we're trying to put together a similar thing at a store in New York,” said co-editor and creator Adam Knave. “Really, the Popgun group on Facebook is a perfect place to keep up with that sort of news. Also you can follow us on twitter @popguncomics where all the latest party news and so on will be shouted to the masses.”
Factor that in with the inevitable groupings at conventions, both at Image booths and informal gatherings on the floor (and in the nearby bars), the release of Popgun 4 could become as international as the list of creators on the book itself. “We have contributors from all over the world, so there's potential for lots of Popgun 4 release hoopla.”