Robert Kirkman is doing all right for himself. He has a successful TV series, more of them in development, and his first love, comic books, has continued to treat him well with increased comic sales on his own series, plus the steady growth of his own imprint at Image Comics, Skybound. A pair of panels at Emerald City Comicon 2013 celebrated both, though Kirkman himself could not attend.
With The Walking Dead comic gaining herds of readers from the television show, the Skybound: On the Rise panel was a showcase for exciting titles in the horror and heist genres from up and coming creators. Joining Editorial Director Sean Mackiewicz was Invincible artist Ryan Ottley, The Walking Dead artist Charlie Adlard, Witch Doctor writer Brandon Seifert and the newest member of the imprint, Ghosted writer Joshua Williamson.Mackiewicz began the panel with showing the cover for The Walking Dead #108, featuring the first appearance of Ezekiel, who has long white dreadlocks, is sitting on a throne with a tiger prowling behind him. Afterward, the series will revisit Maggie's story on the hilltop and then the cover for #110 was revealed with the teaser title, "Lucile is going to be jealous." The WalkingDead.com site was launched to be the one stop Walking Dead stop for the latest news on comic and TV show, plus more letters answered. Adlard dispelled any rumors that "there are no intentions of a Walking Dead spinoff title."
Williamson was introduced as the newest member of the Skybound imprint. He created a five-issue mini-series called Ghosted with art by Goran Sudzuka (Outlaw Nation, Y: The Last Man) and Sean Phillips (Fatale) supplying the covers. "It's Ocean's 11 in a haunted house instead of a casino,” Williamson described. Instead of assembling a team of con men, Jackson T. Winters' team is consists of the best paranormal experts. The group investigates an abandoned house, which they're sure is haunted and must steal a ghost out of it." Look for it in July in time for Comic-Con International.
Invincible was next up in the presentation and the next few covers were shown, including a particularly bloody one by Todd Nauck and the return of Angstrom Levy. Readers can follow the further adventures of Oliver and Allen in upcoming stories. Invincible Universe is written by Phil Hester and is going to be a proper spinoff, in what is being described as a natural extension of its parent title.Different corners of the universe will get the spotlight put on them and everyone imaginable is in the first two issues. An audience member asked if Ottley if they felt "dickish" for promising “The Death of Everyone,” but no one actually died in the issue. Ottley replied, “Several million people did die, but no one fictional you cared about.”
Longtime Invincible readers know that Robert Kirkman character sketches can be seen occasionally in the back, which later get redesigned by Ottley. When asked if Kirkman did any poor sketches, Ottley replied, "Robert did a really crappy Octoboss one time," Ottley recalled when reflecting on his creations, "I've never had regrets on the level of details or costume; I'm more worried about the characters looking lame."
Seifert talked briefly about his cult favorite Witch Doctor and the second related mini-series Witch Doctor: Mal Practice, and described the title as "If Dr. House had to magically save the world or if John Constantine had a medical license." Mal Practice escalates with each issue, while further exploring the magic side of the series.In April, the second Thief of Thieves trade will be released and the third arc will begin with Andy Diggle as the series' new writer. Mackiewicz explained Diggle's run as Conrad taking the one mission he's been avoiding and it doesn't go.
Finally, a title Skybound believes in but feels it is not getting enough credit is Super Dinosaur. A new arc is starting and is a perfect jumping on point for the book. Mackiewicz shared a story with a father approaching him at the Skybound booth expressing "Super Dinosaur is the one book I can read with my six-year old."
Meanwhile, Robert Kirkman's juggernaut of a television show, The Walking Dead, based on his Skybound comic, held its own panel at ECCC. An eclectic pair of cast members, Danai Gurira (Michonne), and Michael Rooker (Merle Dixon) took the stage to talk about the show and the fast-paced season 3 in the Talking Dead panel.
Rooker was a crowd-pleaser, answering questions both as himself and in character, while Gurira gave eloquent stories and thoughtful responses. The first question was trying to explain how a television show based on a comic book about the zombie apocalypse has captured the attention of the mainstream.
"Nobody knew it was going to become what it's become," Rooker said. "I think everyone here knows it's not about the zombies. Something happens in the show and people communicate about what they would or wouldn't do.""I'd never watched the show until I auditioned, because I'm a scaredy cat." Gurira revealed. "So I had to sit down and watch it, but I got so sucked in, even though I was scared out of my mind after the first few episodes. I got sucked in because of that experience of 'who would you be in this circumstance?' You'd be somebody other than yourself."
"That somehow brings people together as they watch it--it's become a family thing. The stories are extremely rich, thanks to Robert Kirkman and the writers. I benefitted from everyone's amazing hard work on the first two seasons, so I was lucky enough to receive this amazing product."
"But I think it's interesting how passionate (the fans) have become, of what they want people to do, of what they believe is right, or what they should have done--and how upset they are if it doesn't go how they think it goes. It's so interesting when you see the indignant righteousness people have about the show and characters--real passionate response."
"Its become the Cosby Show."
When asked if they get tired of people calling them by their characters' name, Gurira admitted she does the same on the set, so it would be hypocritical of her to get bothered. Rooker though, had a different response.
"Maybe for you but for me..." Rooker baited. "When the state trooper pulls me over and says, 'Merle... get out of the car and you better not have that knife hand in your pocket.' [Laughs]For those unfamiliar with Gurira's work prior to The Walking Dead, the classically trained actor was fierce in The Visitor, and shared with Emerald City that her work as a playwright gave her a place to identify with Michonne. "I created a play that was based on women in a war zone in West Africa. When I started watching The Walking Dead, that's what it reminded me of.
"It reminded me of my research in Liberia. The war ended less than 10 years ago, and it completely shut down, like an apocalypse and there was no law. There was nowhere to go, no cops to go to talk to. The things that were happening to women was why I had to write the play. The women became rebel soldiers. But these women, became a formidable force--they were on the cover of the New York Times in 2003--and it was my professor at grad school who said, this looks like something that might interest you."
"When I saw the full description of Michonne, I thought of Black Diamond from the Liberian rebel army. Michonne was a woman in a war zone. 'I'm going to work for me.' It really dove-tailed into my research. For me it was very connective."
Where Gurira and her Walking Dead persona are not alike is how little Michonne speaks."I am a talking girl, I use my words. I live through words. Words are how I get through to the world and myself."
But the reasons as to why Michonne is so withdrawn and reticent, are not so mysterious. Viewers are introduced to her character long after the initial pains of her horror, whereas we are witnessing much of Rick, Carl and many others in the group. Their shaping into what they'll become is unfolding before our eyes. Michonne is a finished product.
"Her trauma was connected to communicating too much to the wrong people," Gurira explained. "And since it's connected to real life, I have to protect myself and be many steps ahead by communicating less, and taking in more. That allowed me to understand her."Rooker toyed with the moderator throughout the panel, telling her he doesn't need any motivation for Merle; Never knowing if Rooker was being serious or kidding. The moderator asked, "You're not really like him... are you?" Eventually he would calm down and talk about Merle as Rooker and set the record straight on his hate towards T-Dog.
"He's really a cool, complicated character. I was told early on by everyone that 'this role is written for you.' He's a southern guy, a survivalist, woodsman, he's... such a not-very-likable-guy." [Laughs]
"A lot of people have Merles in their family. People come up to me and say, 'Oh my god you're like my uncle, cousin or dad!' There's something about Merle that's universally liked and disliked. Trust me it did not matter that T-Dog was black, in Merle's eyes, NOTHING mattered. Whoever came up to that roof to tell me to shut up was going to get their ass kicked. It could've been Carl."
Now that that is settled, does that make Merle any more trustworthy?
Rooker "I don't even think Daryl trusts Merle in certain situations. He knows how exactly he'd respond because we're brothers. Merle is trying to be a little... better for his brother. No one's kicking Merle's ass in the prison! [Laughs] Actually, he's had his ass kicked quite a few times."
"That's what's cool about my character and that's what's cool about my work. There's always an element of surprise with Merle. You don't know what's going on with my character. I don't like rehearsal. When you rehearse, there's a rhythm and comfort. That sucks! I prefer that the other characters are surprised too; I want the scenes to be uncomfortable.
So what comes next for Michonne and Merle? For Michonne, we'll begin seeing her open up now that she's looking to reconnect with others, and the big scene between her and Andrea in "I Ain't a Judas" propels her character into a new place.
"That conversation for Michonne was very healing, Gurira explained. "She felt rejected and betrayed by Andrea. In Michonne's eyes, Andrea came there and defended the Governor more while she was in that room.
"'You still don't get it' and she really wanted her to finally get it. Michonne wanted to see her old friend. She wanted Andrea to see it (the betrayal). She was thinking, 'What do I need to tell you to get the old Andrea looking back at her?'"
"After the attack on Woodbury, Michonne didn't go to the woods and get two more more pets, she went to the prison. She falls asleep while being tended to by Hershel. That is very extreme for Michonne. Have you ever seen rest before then? She knows that's a place she can step out of her own wounds and be able to express herself around people again. There's something about that moment with Andrea that begins her healing process."
"Even the scene between Michonne and Merle," Gurira said, looking at Rooker, "She sees he's not really a threat. He loses his significance. He has no position, nowhere to go, no allies except for his brother. The Governor is the one to worry about, not Merle. Sorry, Rooker. She knows that there's a community here and she needs to reconnect with community. She's ready to do that."
Merle's loyalty and alliance to Rick's group will continue to be questioned. But for now, he doesn't think much of their plan to protect the prison because he knows the kind of man the Governor is.
"If the Governor wanted to, he'd just starve them out," Rooker said bluntly. "They're ridiculous to think they can seek refuge in this place. He never had to fire another shot. Their fortress is quite weak. The information that Merle is giving out during those scenes is the real shit. He's quite clear that they're screwed. I'm wondering why they're always telling Merle to shut up. Everything he's saying is like, 'Duh.' [Laughs]
Charlie Adlard joined the stage when they began to open questions to the audience, but sat idle until a fan asked him if he would want to draw Rooker's face all the time should they bring in the Dixon brothers into the comic. Adlard vehemently denied the Dixon brothers becoming a part of the comic (perhaps as a joke?), which was odd since Kirkman stated they would bring at least Daryl into the comic. "If Michael is brought into the comic, the big 'if,'" Adlard said with a cautionary tone, "That's what Merle looks like, but that's kind of a moot point, isn't it." [Laughs]
And Rooker's response to becoming a comic book character? "I don't know if I want to be in a comic... especially the Walking Dead comic where everyone is dirty and sweaty... cowtowing about zombies...." he joked. "We got action figures though and I am taking that Merle action figure to the (shooting) range and the first thing I'm taking out is its legs, then the arm..."
Some of the questions made by the audience included Rooker being asked to endorse a line of cutlery to which Rooker inquired back, "For a one-handed person?" He is not afraid to eat chocolate-covered pretzels and loves them, responding to a Mallrats inquiry and disagrees with those who think Merle ever beat on Daryl.
One of the better questions asked what it was like to work with Oliver Stone on JFK. "Ollie sits in another room and once in a while he yells, 'JUST DO IT!'" recalled Rooker. "He loves mistakes and having lots of people in a room, sparring with their words. He doesn't like a lot of rehearsal but we did spend two to three weeks on table reads. He did all of his directing at the table read. He was pretty cool man."
Danai closed the panel with her feelings about female-empowering roles, and Michonne's place in that realm. She came up with this memorable response. "Strong women, I always question that phrase, because we never talk about strong men. It's really just about lead characters. It's already assumed they're strong."
"When I hear people being they're empowered or how they feel stronger because of Michonne, I could just die happy. For young girls and women who start to believe the hype of the world telling them they're not significant or sense of power and ability, when women start to turn away from that, and I can contribute to that? I can die happy.