Beyond all the announcements at panels that everyone was excited about during Wizard World Chicago, industry professionals talked to Newsarama about some of their upcoming and current projects as we walked the convention hall to get the latest floorbuzz.
It was interesting to notice, from the very start of the convention, that there seemed to be a more community-oriented feel about this year's Chicago show. We talked to Marvel Marketing Manager Jim McCann about it on Friday morning, and he pointed out that it might be because DC's editorial and professional guests, who usually stay at another hotel, were this year staying at the Hyatt -- the same hotel as the Marvel guests.
"It is a bigger show but the hotel and the atmosphere and the way the lobby is set up -- it's very wide, so it enables a lot of fans and professionals to be in one place. It really encourages everybody to remember we're in the same boat. We're a community first," McCann said. "The fans get to see Marvel guys hanging out with DC guys and with Top Cow and Image and just honestly, genuinely getting along.
"People think we're these massive competing conglomerates, but really, we're all a bunch of people who really love the medium and love what we do," McCann continued. "That's the basis of a lot of relationships here. It's 'Oh my God, I loved what you did over there.' Or 'I just read this!' We don't just keep our minds on what we're doing. I mean, we're focused on that. But it's great to pick up something that Geoff Johns is doing and go up to him and just say, 'Man, you killed that issue.'"
Later that morning, we caught McCann at the DC Booth talking to DC Events Manager Fletcher Chu Fong, and snapped a picture as proof that McCann wasn't just paying lip service but does talk to the DC guys.
On Friday night, the community aspect of comics was emphasized even more as Wizard events organizers tried something a little different by asking DC exclusive writer Geoff Johns to join Marvel exclusive writer Brian Michael Bendis on stage for their own panel. As Newsarama reported from the show, the panel turned into a great big comics lovefest as creators from both companies came onto the stage and formed the "first ever" combined DC/Marvel panel, which thrilled fans. While the DC vs. Marvel jokes were many, it was apparent from the good-natured joking and ribbing from both professionals and audience members that when it came right down to it, this convention really was all about the love of comics.
It's strange now that everyone was already feeling that way on Friday, because that feeling was nothing compared to the way the comics community came together on Saturday after everyone heard the news of artist and Apsen Comics founder Michael Turner's death late Friday night. Many fans and professionals were already gathered in the Hyatt lobby and bar -- the common hangout in the evenings during the Chicago show -- and the word of the artist's death spread quickly through the crowd of people. Some creators later told us they were glad that friends who knew Turner were nearby when they found out, some of them gathering in groups to share their shock and sadness.
Many fans said they felt a more somber attitude among everyone at the show on Saturday, and it was definitely apparent when talking to some creators that their minds were obviously elsewhere.
But by late in the day -- and definitely by Saturday night at the bar again -- that feeling of community had once again taken over. Editors from one company were buying drinks for creators from another, in memory of Mike. Artists from different companies were sharing stories of sketches they had done. As corny as it may sound, anyone who was there would agree -- the camaraderie was palpable.
David Peterson, the writer/artist of the Mouse Guard series for Archaia Studios, said all the attention and awards he's received from the comic book industry since his series debuted in February 2006 have been a huge surprise for him.
"I mean, I came at this thinking, I've got a comic about talking mice with swords. I thought it was going to be the kind of thing where I know there's a fan base out there, and it's something that I'm going to have to nurture and I'm going to have this very small, loyal fan base. And it turned out, so much of the comic book industry has rolled out the red carpet and said, 'Mouse Guard's great!' I didn't expect that. I didn't expect all the accolades," Peterson said.
The first six issues of Mouse Guard have been collected into a hardcover called Fall 1152, and the first three issues of the second Mouse Guard volume, “Winter 1152,” are already out. "We're looking to get the fourth issue out for San Diego. Then Winter 112 will be collected in a hardcover as well," he said.
Mouse Guard is also being turned into a role-playing game, with Burning Wheel creator Luke Crane as designer. "He's taken another licensed property and adapted it to Burning Wheel -- the Chris Moeller series Burning Empires. So Mouse Guard is being adapted to Burning Wheel as well. But the one he did for Chris Moeller won role-playing game of the year in 2007 at Gen Con. So I got an award-winning game designer to do my game!" Davidson said with a laugh. "He won the award after I made the deal, but hey -- I got an award-winning game designer!"
Davidson said he's been working closely with Crane on the game. "He's doing a dynamite job. He's always coming to me for the feeling to make sure that Mouse Guard the role-playing game feels like the comics," he said.
Calling the game a "traditional pen-and-paper role-playing game a la Dungeons and Dragons and Shadow Run," Davidson said The Burning Wheel game system focuses heavily on character development and character background, and really role-playing how your character should behave, as opposed to looking at statistics or how well you can hit something and your point values.
"It's more about, if your guy's a hot-head, you're supposed to play him like a hot-head. Or calm and collected? He should fly off the handle. That kind of thing," he said. "You develop your own mice. Some of the main characters are already pre-done in the book. So you can get the book, read it, read a couple chapters, and start playing immediately without having to make characters. There's all the rules in there for making your own characters, building your own settings, everything. I think the role-playing game is going to prove to be as much of a source book for the comic as it is an actual game. So I think people who aren't normally into role-playing games will still enjoy the book just for its content."
For readers of the comic, the next Mouse Guard volume after Winter 1152 will be called The Black Axe. "It will go into the history of that character," he said. "It's spoiler ridden for me to describe it beyond that. I can't really talk about it until the last issue of Winter comes out."
Writer/artist David Mack said he's concentrating on writing for awhile now that the "Alchemy" volume of Kabuki is finished up.
"Doing Kabuki is really immersive. Once I finish a series, I generally do some other projects before I come back and do more Kabuki. So I'm focusing on some writing projects right now. Writing's so much quicker for me. I can do a few more things before I jump into a Kabuki thing where I'm at capacity doing both the writing and art," he said.
Mack said he just finished writing "a couple things at Marvel" that haven't been announced. One of them will involve Brian Michael Bendis. "I'm so psyched about it. That's what I've been working on since I finished Alchemy," he said.
While he will eventually do the art for another Marvel project, it's just writing for now, and "eventually more Kabuki."
Mack said the Daredevil: End of Days comic that Mack co-wrote with Bendis is "coming along." The mini-series is being drawn by Kaus Janson and inked by Bill Sienkiewicz with covers by Alex Maleev. "I think we've got the first issue worth of artwork, and it looks terrific."
"Alchemy" will come out in a hardcover edition later this summer. "It's got a really cool introduction by Chuck Palahniuk, the author of Fight Club and other novels. I asked him to write a little intro, and he wrote a really long one. It's almost like a cool short story or something. And I'm trying to put some other bonuses in and do a nice design for it," he said.
Mack is also hoping to do more children's stories like his Shy Creatures book. "It's doing really well. I'm working on another children's book right now. I'm doing a mixed-media approach. It's very different with paintings and collage. I'll do some more brush and ink drawing ones, but I want to try something a little different for this next one," Mack said.
Billy Tucci was sporting a new haircut at the con this year -- a mohawk. It turns out that it's all part of the immersion he's doing in the military frame of mind as he works on the Sgt. Rock mini-series he's writing and drawing for DC.
"Last weekend, I did a World War II memorial flight where I took people up with several other reenactors. We were the Easy Company from D-Day. We took them up in a C-47 airplane and we gave them the whole airborne experience," he said. "But I wanted to show up as a member of the Filthy 13. Those were the demolitions guys. They were real psychopaths. They were the true inspiration behind the Dirty Dozen. Before D-Day, they gave themselves mohawks and they sported war paint and jumped into France. "
Tucci shared pictures of himself in war paint and said he'd include the photos in his next "Hellion for Hire: Tour of Duty" column here on Newsarama.
Sgt. Rock: The Lost Battalion, a six-issue mini-series scheduled to begin in November, will feature not only artwork that is amazingly realistic, as we saw from the pages on his table, but will accurately portray every element of a soldier's life from his canteen to his helmet.
"It drives me crazy when I see comics or television shows about World War II and they're wrong," Tucci explained. "So I want everything right down to the most minute detail to be right -- the uniforms they wear in each campaign, the type of helmets, the exact units, the exact numbers on the airplanes. It's going to be great when it's all done. It's going to be really incredible."
Tucci said all the scripts for the six issues are complete, and he's finished with the art for one issue. "I'm on the second issue now. I'm hoping that by the time the first issue comes out, I'll be done with all of them," he said.
We found Olivier Coipel sitting at his table in Artist's Alley doing sketches and talking to fans about his current work on Thor.
"Thor has been one of my favorite characters for a long time," he said, his French accent apparent as he spoke. "When Marvel asked me what book I want to do next, I said Thor. And they said, 'Oh! We want to bring him back. You want to do it?' I said yeah! Cool! And I get to redesign everything, so that has been fun."
Coipel said he's loved getting to do all the designs for the new Asgardians and for Thor himself. "At the beginning, for Thor, JMS wanted Thor to have a very real feeling. I did some sketches and we didn't think that worked out because it was too far away from the Thor that we knew. So I had to make a mix. I got inspired by different things, like I bought some Viking design books and I missed it with actually material to make it look more realistic," he said.
The look of Asgard and all the characters is also evolving, Coipel said. "I'm still learning. Each time I have to draw Asgard, I still am figuring out what it looks like," he explained. "When I have to draw it the first time, I had an idea how to draw it, but not quite sure about some of the details. So each time I draw it, I can go deeper on the designs."
Don Kramer was getting some popcorn delivered to him by one of his kids, who accompanied him to the comic book convention since he lives in the Chicago area, as he sat at his table in Artist's Alley and drew sketches for fans.
Kramer, who is the regular artist on Nightwing along with Rags Morales, said he's working on issue #149. "It's a big four-part Two-Face story. It really solidifies the hate relationship between Nightwing and Two-Face," Kramer said. "It's looking to be really good. The first few stories that [series writer] Pete [Tomasi] had done with "Freefall" was his take on the character as this sort of James Bond-style Nightwing. And now that we've started this Two-Face story, it's more of a gritty, inner-city Nightwing. I'm liking this story a lot."
The artist said the series has a lot of potential right now and he's hoping it can keep up the momentum because he knows a lot of big things are coming for the character. "I happened to read some little notes that Pete had written on the back of the scripts, so I have some ideas about where he wants to go, but I'm excited to see what's next," he said.
Kramer said there's going to be a double-sized Nightwing #150 that is going to be "really cool. I think it's bringing in the JSA and possibly the JLA, so it's going to be a big capper to the Two-Face story."
Sharing art duties with Morales has allowed both artist to adjust to some deadline issues they've been experiencing lately, Kramer said. "Working in tandem like that has allowed us to both make our deadlines until we can get rolling again at the face pace we used to go. It's working well right now," he said.
We asked -- what was the last thing he drew in Nightwing #149?
"Hmmm... let's just say we have an entire rogues gallery of Batman villains that I've been drawing for the last few days. It's been a lot of fun -- we're touching on all of them. Just a crazy fight scene with Nightwing and all of them," Kramer said.
Tom Brevoort, the editor for Secret Invasion, was sitting at the Marvel booth drawing some sketches with a Sharpie marker, "just for fun." So we decided to talk to the editor about how well he thinks the Secret Invasion has been coordinated on the editorial side.
"We put a lot of time into coordinating it and going over all the plots and the scripts and making sure that everything kind of fits together. So far, so good. I couldn't be happier with the response; couldn't be happier with the sell-through. Everybody here at the show seems to be really into it, so hopefully we can maintain that right to the end," he said.
Series writer Brian Michael Bendis talked about what's coming after Secret Invasion during his panel earlier in the day, so we asked Brevoort: How far into planning are they?
"We're planned through most of 2009, broadly at least, and most of 2010. Really, every time we do one of these big stories, it's less about the individual story we're telling for six or seven or eight issues and more about the springboard for stuff that's going to go for the next year, year and a half," Brevoort said. "So just like Civil War and House of M, and to a lesser extent World War Hulk, at the end of Secret Invasion, we're going to turn the Marvel Universe upside-down again and put some characters in some new places and see what comes out of that."
The editor said that with all the planning, they've been lucky that there have been few surprises come along, although the one surprise for everyone at Marvel was the response to Captain Britain and MI: 13.
"That's a book that could have very easily flown under everybody's radar. It was a really good book with a great voice from Paul Cornell. And just being a part of Secret Invasion and being able to connect with that in a nice organic way that still let Paul do what he wanted to do -- it brought a lot of eyeballs to that book and got a lot of people checking it out who might not have otherwise given it a second look. And that's become really successful. It's a little buzz book for us right now. So that was a big surprise," he said.
Mike Norton was at his table in the back of Artist's Alley, taking some time out of his busy schedule as the artist on Green Arrow/Black Canary and one of the artists working on the DC weekly comic Trinity.
"We're pretty far ahead on Trinity. I'm working on issue #15 now. But people are working on things ahead of me," the artist said of Trinity. "Tarot is the character who's in most of the stories I'm doing. The other stories I'm doing are pretty fun just because they're dealing with a bunch of characters I haven't done before like Batman and Robin and some of the rogues that I've always thought would be fun to draw someday. Now I'm finally getting to. "
Drawing two different series at the same time is challenging to the artist, but he said it's "working out to I'm averaging maybe 32 pages a month. The back-ups are 10 pages. It's not like I'm doing a whole month's worth [of Trinity] at the same time. There are three other guys and we're cycling through. So that's working well."
Because the series has more than one artist working on Trinity long before their pages are published, Norton said he's constantly communicating with the other pencillers about the designs for various characters and backgrounds.
"We all send each other what we're working on just so we can stay in the loop. Pretty much every day or every other day, we're getting a new batch of pages. It's kind of cool," he said.
On Green Arrow/Black Canary, Norton said he's finished up the "Who Shot Connor?" storyline. "I just got the script for that, and it's kind of cool, kind of weird, and not what people are probably expecting," he said. "I'm actually anxious to read the next script because I want to know where it's going to go from here."
Norton said he thinks that's one of the strongest things about the series -- the cliffhangers. "He's been doing pretty good with these cliffhangers. The last page of each issue, it's like, whoa! Where's this going to go now? I'm liking it. The pages at the end are kind of like the pages you want to flip to the end and read first. Who's going to be on the last page of this one?"
David Finch, who had a constant line at his table, said he has finished drawing the first issue of his Marvel series Ultimatum and is now working on the covers for the series. "I'm working on the rest of the covers for a week just to get them all finished. It's going to be one big, continuous image. So it just comes out better if I do it at once. Otherwise, a month later, I'm trying to piece the next cover to the last one and it just doesn't work as well," he said, explaining that he tapes together the art paper so he can do one image that can also be split into the cover for each issue.
Knowing how many characters showed up on his X-Men #200 cover, we asked -- is he drawing the entire Ultimate Universe for this cover series?
"It's all of the Ultimate X-Men and the Fantastic Four and the teams," he said. "It's not going to be a cover like the X-Men cover was with a million characters. It's just the major characters. With that X-Men cover, I loved doing it. I had so much fun. It took me two weeks day and night to do."
Having read the first issue, Finch said he thinks Ultimatum will live up to the hype "because I think people are assuming it's just hype. But it's going to be a very catastrophic story -- more so than we can get away with in the regular universe."
The artist said he couldn't really share anything he's drawn, although he said his favorite thing was a double-page spread of a major villain on a throne. "I've never had a chance to draw that, and it's such an iconic shot," he said. "I can't wait for people to see it."
The artist said his work can also be seen on a cover for Top Cow's new series Dragon Prince and on an upcoming Red Sonja cover, but most of his time is going to be spent on Ultimatum.
Finch said he's enjoying the chance to get into the Ultimate Universe again, although sometimes he likes the regular Marvel characters better. "It so depends on the character. Like Ultimate Spider-Man is my Spider-Man. It's the one that I love and that I'm familiar with because of Bendis' Spider-Man. But the Ultimate X-Men don't feel as familiar because it's the regular X-Men that got me in. So I'm conflicted, 'cause I enjoy drawing them right now, but I kind of like the regular X-Men," he said. "The Ultimates are a totally different thing. I can't even compare them to the regular Avengers. And I'm such a huge fan of everything Bryan Hitch did. And Joe Mad. They're such a different flavor. But they're so different from what we did with the regular universe Avengers that I can't even compare them. "
Shane Davis was showing off the cover from the Final Crisis: Rage of the Red Lanterns one-shot he's doing with Geoff Johns for November. Having just come off a run on Superman/Batman, the artist will provide interiors for the oversized issue, which kicks off the “Rage of the Red Lanterns” storyline in the regular Green Lantern title by Johns and Ivan Reis.
"The idea is that DC wants to do what they did with Sinestro Corps War to give people a good jumping-on point," Davis said. "And this will start heading toward ‘Blackest Night’ at the end of issue #1. Geoff has astronomical plans for the book. The things he's talked to me about are mind-blowing. So this is the jumping-on point for all that."
Davis said he's already drawing the issue and has really enjoyed getting into the difference between the Green Lanterns who use the power of willpower and Red Lanterns, who use the power of hate.
"I was very surprised on how different a Red Lantern is from a Green Lantern. There's a reason you see the vomit come out of their mouth. It's because of what a red ring will do to a user, filling them with the energy of hate," he said. "When I first saw the different colors, I thought they were just different colors but used in the same basic way as a Green Lantern uses green. But there's a lot more to it than that -- different abilities, different ways they use the rings. Me and Geoff going into it, we weren't sure the Red Lanterns are about constructs as much as just raw, physical energy. Just rage."
The cover image that was revealed this weekend at the con had Sinestro in an electric chair and Hal Jordan's hand beginning to pull the lever to execute him.
"What we really wanted to say to people is, hey, you're invited. You're the people behind the glass. You're watching. And you're going to see that. But this is also Red Lantern stuff. The amount of information and story people are going to get in this issue is astronomical," he said. "I was like, wow, we're fitting all this in 30 pages? This is crazy to get all this in there. I've drawn Atrocitus a lot. And he is a character. He has his motives and he has a distinct personality, and I can really see his perspective."
He said drawing Atrocitus has been a lot of fun for him because he's gotten to further develop his look from the way Reis and Van Sciver drew him in Sinestro Corps War and the Green Lantern series.
"It was really weird because I saw what Ethan had done in that beautiful profile shot in Sinestro Corps War. And I saw what Ivan had done. And somehow my version came between the both of them," Davis said. "Everyone at DC seemed excited about it. I've tried to make it feel like he's the opposite of Hal Jordan. Jordan's a flyboy and playboy and pretty boy, you know? But Atrocitus is all wrinkled up and flashes hate. He's this horrible alien with sharp teeth who's vomiting hate. How can you not make that cool? It's hardcore!"
After he's finished with the oversized issue, he said he's doing some Green Lantern covers and "there are talks of other projects, but right now it's super secretive. And I see a little red laser pointer hitting my head. I'm pretty sure it's a sniper rifle. Go ask Dan [DiDio] -- I think that's him with the scope."
We ran into writer Marc Sumerak as he entered a panel room before the beginning of a Marvel panel on Sunday and took the opportunity to talk with him about his "What If?" issue that was announced over the weekend.
The story is titled What If? Fallen Son and asks the question -- what if Iron Man had died instead of Captain America during Civil War?
"We're following the same structure as the Fallen Son mini-series. Much like Jeph Loeb focused on each of the stages of grief in his series -- each one being the focus of an issue -- we're taking all five stages and packing them into 22 pages worth of comic," Sumerak said. "So there's the initial death of Iron Man, which I won't give away too much, but it's an interesting twist on what happened after the trial of Captain America. It leads right into the denial stage, and then to anger and bargaining and depression and then acceptance."
Sumerak said the issue will focus on characters who would be directly impacted in Iron Man's world.
"So you'll see Jim Rhodes, Pepper Potts and characters like that. You'll see a big fight between the Mighty Avengers and the New Avengers as Tony's ideals are suddenly heightened in his absence. There's a much larger reason for the registered heroes to go out and sweep for the unregistered heroes and get them off the street," he said.
This is the first time Sumerak has gotten to write many of these characters, usually writing all-ages books for Marvel. "I've had a little bit of involvement with some of them in the past, but this is the first time, with the Avengers characters, that I'm getting a chance to work with them other than the Marvel Adventures universe. So it's a really exciting chance for me, even if it's a What If? story, to do some mainstream characters," he said.
Another fun element of the issue is that it focuses a lot on a character who isn't alive in the Marvel Universe now -- Captain America. "It's the only place you're going to see Steve Rogers that month other than Marvel Adventures Avengers, so I'm really excited about that," he said. "It's nice to be able to look at what could have happened to Cap had he not been assassinated, and what he would have done had he carried on the torch that Iron Man left behind."
The seriousness of the issue is quite a departure for Sumerak, who is best known for his Franklin Richards: Son of a Genius series.
"I've always enjoyed doing all-ages books. I've usually had a humorous bent to the work that I've done. But to be able to shift to a different gear and do something a little bit more serious, with a little more emotional impact to it, has been an exciting experience for me," he said. "And actually, that's going to lead into other work that I'm going to be doing this fall that has a little bit of a stronger emotional bent to it as well. There's going to be another project for Marvel this fall that should be announced later this summer that is definitely going to have a large appeal to it and is going to deal with some pretty cool characters."
A lot of the buzz at the show was about Jonathan Hickman working with Marvel on Secret Warriors, the comic he's co-plotting with Bendis. And we found one of Hickman's current collaborators in Artist's Alley -- Ryan Bodenheim, the artist on the Hickman-written series Red Mass for Mars.
So far, Hickman and Bodenheim have released one issue of Red Mass for Mars, and Bodenheim said he's hoping more people check out the title now that Hickman is getting a little attention from Marvel fans.
"It's about a Superman-type character who, instead of coming down in Kansas and having a nice, moral upbringing, he comes down in the Dark Ages. And he doesn't quite have the family there to root him," he said. "The main story itself is about how, in the future, the world has basically survived every imaginable catastrophe you can come up with. And the world is rebuilding, and a worse threat is coming. The main character, Mars, is the one person who can stop it, and he won't."
He said it's been "delightful" working with Hickman. "He gives me enough space to let me do my own thing. I think it's because he's an artist as well. It's very smooth going back and forth with him. And he just gives me a lot of freedom on stuff," the artist said.
As we talked to him Bodenheim at his table in Artist's Alley, we discovered that he got his start in comics at the same time as Jason Aaron, when the two were winners in the 2002 Marvel Talent Search.
"Jason won the writing portion of the Marvel talent search, and I won the artist side," Bodenheim said.
However, Bodenheim left comics for awhile after that success -- but he couldn't stay away for long. "I think I just decided one day I couldn't stay away any longer. And within 24 hours of making that decision, I ran into Jonathan Hickman online. He put out an ad and I answered it, and within two hours, I'd pretty much signed on with him," he said.
Hickman said Red Mass for Mars is four issues, and after it finishes, he's probably going to be working on another title with Hickman. "We've got a few ideas. But I haven't decided yet," he said.