FX International: The Avatar Panel

Best Shots Extra: Ignition City #1

Gage on Absolution at Avatar
Gage on Absolution at Avatar

The comic book event of 2009’s FX Show was the Avatar Press Panel, where Avatar brought out all of their guests at the convention for a super-sized jam panel. Moderated by Avatar’s Editor-in-Chief, William Christensen, the panel was the first for artist Gianluca Pagliarani (Ignition City), who is from northern coast of Italy, as well as painter Felipe Massafera (Anna Mercury covers and artist on Light of Thy Countenance with Alan Moore), who flew in from Brazil for the convention. The panel also featured writer Christos Gage (Absolution) and writer/artist Mike Wolfer (Gravel).

Christensen opened the panel by welcoming the fans to a great line up of talent. He welcomed the audience to interject at any time if they had any questions, as the panel will be discussing upcoming projects. The panel would also talk about their individual talent, letting their fans know who they are, where they come from, and what they are working on.

This was Felipe Massafera’s first time in the United States, and for him, it has been fun. Felipe’s work on the Avatar books has been so outstanding, Christensen said, that Alan Moore called personally to say how much he loved Felipe’s work. Alan said Felipe’s work actually improved his story. Felipe was embarrassed, saying that such a remark was a great compliment. Felipe is also doing cover paintings on Ignition City by Warren Ellis.

The interior artist for Ignition City, Gianluca Pagliarani, was also present. Since he did not speak much English, he had a translator present. Gianluca said that he is very excited about the panel. He revealed that after Ignition City finishes with issue #5, he will take the time to finish up a Wolfskin series that he is already working on simultaneously with Ignition City. This will be a new Wolfskin comic series written by Warren Ellis and Mike Wolfer. After Wolfskin, he will start right in on the sequel to Ignition City.

Mike Wolfer has been doing Gravel since 1999, when it began with the Strange Kiss mini-series. Originally, he was the artist and Warren Ellis was writing. Over the course of several years, Wolfer explained, he began to assist with dialogue. “Warren provides the actual story,” Mike said, “and I fill in the formatting into a comic-book script for the artist.” Now, Mike is back on the book as the artist, doing the interior art, which is exciting for him. From that collaboration, he went into Wolfskin, and he can’t wait for the fans to see the book. The artwork is gorgeous. “I know what’s going to happen in the book,” he added, “but I still can’t wait to hold it in my hands.” He does a few covers here and there for Avatar as well.

Christos Gage, who fans know from all his work at Marvel and IDW, is doing a new project called Absolution, which will come out in late summer. Avatar already has slew of issues already in the can, so it will ship monthly with no excuses. The artist is Roberto Viacava, who is new to the United States. “He [Robert] started out excellent,” said Christos, “and gets better with every issue.” With regards to the story of Absolution, if you like Dexter, then you’ll like Absolution. It’s set in a world where no real “super” villains exist with “super” powers. There are heroes, though, and one of them has seen a lot of horrible things in his day, and after seeing one two many crooks, murderers, and rapists go free, he decides to take the law into his own hands and kill them secretly. Gage says that the hero knows this will put him on a collision course with his friends and girlfriend on the police and super force, but he can’t stop himself. “There’s a phrase in Texas,” Christos said, “that some people need killing – and that best describes the comic.” The series will have great covers by Juan Jose Ryp and Jacen Burrows. Avatar already has four issues complete, and the creators are working on issue #5 right now. It is a six issue mini-series with a zero issue, but Avatar is hoping to do more with a sequel perhaps in Summer 2010.

Right now, Crossed is Avatar’s homerun hit from Garth Ennis and Jacen Burrows. Ennis is having a blast, and this is the book Jacen was born to draw, Christensen said, adding that the creators keep pushing each other in horrible directions. If you like horror, Crossed is perfect for you. Ennis has also started a sequel to Chronicles of Wormwood, which will start in October. Art is by Oscar Jimenez, who just came off Gravel.

As far as Alan Moore goes, Christensen said they just put out Light of Thy Countenance, and they have a new horror series coming from him called Neonomicon, which is “absolutely Alan unchained.” Christensen warned that it is very hardcore horror from Alan. It will come out towards the end of this year or beginning of next year. Jacen Burrows is on the art, and Avatar won’t start soliciting that until after Crossed is concluded.

Ignition City #1

For Ellis fans, Avatar has tons of projects. Christensen feels that Warren is extremely prolific and continues to be one of the greatest working experiences they have had. He said they are pleased to make Avatar such a great home for him. FreakAngels is Avatar’s free online comic, six pages per week, and they will keep it going for years to come, and continue their format of trade collections, releasing a new one roughly every six months. Christensen told the fans present that they are doing Ignition City right now with Ellis, while the new Anna Mercury series will start in summer. Additionally, Ellis just turned in his first script for the next superhero project, which they don’t have a date for yet. Warren continues to be a work machine, Christensen said. His original graphic novels have been huge hits for Avatar. The next volume in the Apparat novels is “Frankenstein’s Womb.” That will come out in June. It’s in black and white, but the inking is fantastic, Christensen said, and it has a feeling of the old Creepy magazines. There will be more Apparat material in the future, with the 48-page graphic novel stories. Avatar is already in talks with Ellis about his 2010 projects.

The other big thing for the publisher coming this fall will see Avatar unveiling their “next generation” of writers and artists at Avatar. Christos is actually the forerunner of the nitiative, Christensen said, adding that Kieron Gillen (Phonogram), also has some new projects with Avatar. Si Spurrier was also named by Christensen as another writer that will launch some projects with the publisher this fall. There is some growth with Avatar, but Christensen assured the fans that it will stay a small home. They are not looking to do licensed projects, but would rather focus on creator-owned projects with stories that the creators really care about. Likewise, you won’t see any “all ages” comics from Avatar, so don’t look for them,” Christensen said. They have been incredibly fortunate at having some of the best writers, and Avatar is excited to add some new talent.

A member of the audience asked if any of the artists have gotten scripts from Warren Ellis and looked at it and said, “He wants us to draw this???” Wolfer immediately replied, “Yes! Just about every issue is like that.” He said that there’s something so dark about Warren’s work. He is really good at shocking people. With Strange Kiss, the scenes with the lizards were very bizarre and speak for themselves.

Felipe said that with Alan Moore, the script was so dense and filled with lots of historical reference, it was hard, but it was a lot of fun. Felipe said he was sent a CD with tons of reference material for the historical characters and other information needed to be able to draw the book.

For Gianluca, the only shock was to start his work at Avatar with Warren Ellis. He was shocked that his first issues in what he called “the greatest market in comics” allowed his name to be linked with Warren’s name. At the beginning, it was a bit hard to follow Warren’s script, but as he continued working, Gianluca found that he had a chance to add something to the work and had a little bit of freedom in the art. The script was not so detailed that he did not have any freedom to use his imagination. The fans will see plenty of his imagination in the comics.

Christensen indicated that Avatar is planning to follow-up FreakAngels with other web projects. He couldn’t leak it yet, saying that they wanted to make sure they had enough inventory so they can debut it with a lot of issues in the can. They handle web comics differently, as they actually pay all the talent involve. So they aren’t going to switch over to doing all the comics as webcomics, since finances would never permit it. Freak Angels has obviously worked well, but they aren’t going to flood the webcomic market. Avatar will launch something later this year. Christensen said that they do have tens of thousands of fans reading the webcomic every week, but the finances behind it are still a little untested.

Anna Mercury

A dealer in the audience asked if there was any way that retailers can order straight from Avatar rather than Diamond. Christensen replied that no, Avatar is strictly Diamond exclusive. “Diamond has been a great partner,” he said, “and we support them 100%.” He did admit, however, that it is difficult, sometimes, when the books are not in stores as fast as they’d like. But they have extra runs of their trades, so they pretty much have everything in print. Plus, with regular issues, Avatar does a large number of prints for reorders that may be needed.

With so much foreign talent on board, a fan asked how Avatar is doing with foreign licensing of their titles. Christensen said that they are trying to expand in that area, but there aren’t a lot of foreign publishes looking to pick up new stuff right now due to the shaky economy. They can’t really force it out there. Christensens felt that Avatar has such fantastic talent, and right now is not the best time for foreign publishers to be growing beyond Marvel and DC.

When asked what the panelists thought of Orlando, since, for many of them, this was their first time here, they laughed and all agreed that they hadn’t gotten a chance to see much. Hotel, Convention Center, Hotel, Convention Center, Hotel. (Well, said Christensen slyly, there was a bar here and there, and some shady night life.)

Another retailer made the comment that so many store owners are complaining about how much DC and Marvel they have left unsold on their shelves, while their Avatar books, which they order in small amounts, are selling out with customers wanting more. He wondered why the store owners aren’t simply buying more Avatar and cutting back on their “mainstream” titles that aren’t selling as well. The Avatar panel wondered the same thing. Christensen said that since Avatar is in its “hot” phase right now, he has never heard of any retailers complaining that they have Avatar books left on the shelves. He further said that Avatar would rather be in a position where everything sells out than to keep cranking off spin-offs that no one is interested in seeing any more. The numbers for Avatar’s books continue to rise, even though the economy is the way it is. Avatar is on the right curve – slow and steady wins the race.

The final question of the panel was directed to Gage, in that he has written a lot of mainstream comics. He was asked what he feels is the biggest plus and the biggest minus in writing for Avatar as opposed to either of the bigger companies. Christos said, as he had in other panels, that with Marvel and DC, he gets to play with characters that he grew up with. But there are obviously certain limitations. What he believes is so wonderful about Avatar, particularly with Warren Ellis’ superhero work, is that fans get to see the way it would be in the real world if there were superheroes. At Avatar, no one has to pull any punches. He said that writers can use names such as “Alphabitch” (which is the name of one of his characters in Absolution) and no one will tell him to change it. There are no restrictions, and the creators can pull out all the stops and do things that a writer or artist could never do and would never want to do at Marvel or DC. “I love being able to stretch my creative muscles,” Christos said “One week, I’m working on Avengers: Initiative, the next week, I’m working on Absolution, and the next week, I’m working on G.I. Joe. It gives my creative juices a chance to really work.”

Christensen thanked everyone for all of their support and encouraged fans to keep picking up the titles and to continue providing them with feedback.

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