WW PHILLY '08: The Avatar Panel

“Thank you, Warren,” was the theme of the Avatar panel, as such a large chunk of Avatar’s output is written by Warren Ellis. Editor-in-chief William Christensen and artist and writer Mike Wolfer devoted most of their time to discussing the various Ellis projects, with some added space for books by Garth Ennis and Alan Moore.

Ellis’s Black Summer will be wrapping up this summer, and Ellis and artist Juan Jose Ryp will be turning around to work on No Hero, another unique take on superheroes in the same seven-issue plus a 0-issue format as Black Summer. According to Christensen, Ryp has turned down offers from Marvel to continue to work at Avatar, “to draw Black Summer where he gets to kill the president.”

Anna Mercury, another Ellis book, will have a five-issue run through the summer and then see a sequel in 2009 with the same creative team, featuring artist Facundo Percio, who Christensen called “the next Adam Hughes.”

Doktor Sleepless, Ellis’s mad scientist series, is ongoing, though Christensen said that the scheduling will change to accommodate the problems they’ve had shipping the book on time. Instead of twelve issues a year, Avatar will print three or four issues and then skip a month to allow for catch-up time. Issue 8 is coming soon, though, and will bring the end of the first story arc and Christensen promised good things: “Warren’s breaking some s**t.”

Gravel, based off of Ellis’s first Avatar book, Strange Kiss, is also an ongoing series, co-written by Wolfer and Ellis. Wolfer explained it as Ellis providing a short, seven or eight page, story for each issue with most of the action and the important dialogue nailed down and Wolfer, the original artist on the series, turning that story into a traditional 22-page comic script which Ellis then approves. Wolfer also does some of the covers for the book.

“It makes you feel kinda dirty,” Wolfer said of the book.

In time for the Wizard World Chicago convention, Avatar will be releasing a hardcover Gravel collection titled Never a Dull Day, that will be signed by the creators. “It’s two inches thick, you could kill a baby with it, it’s awesome,” said Christensen.

The trade won’t be cheap at $99, but it will be “really high-end,” Christensen promised, adding, “I want one for my bookshelf, so please buy it.”

Since Ellis will be a guest at Wizard World Chicago, Avatar will be debuting more projects and products there, including a Doktor Sleepless bust complete with plasma globe that plugs into a USB computer port.

Among other Ellis projects are the ongoing free Web comic, Freakangels, and its spinoff message board, Whitechapel. Avatar will be putting out a print Freakangels trade, and Christensen notes, “Doing a giant free Web comic is frickin’ expensive,” but he wanted to do the best one out there.

Ellis’s barbarian comic, Wolfskin, which Christensen called “Warren’s Conan with balls,” will also be returning, also co-written by Wolfer and with art by Gianluca Pagliarani. Wolfer noted that like a lot of comic fans, he was not originally interested in the barbarian genre, but Ellis’s characterization and political overtones drew him in.

Aetheric Mechanics, another 48-page original graphic novella by Ellis, will be out in time for Christmas as well, and will feature, according to Christensen, “A giant robot rampaging through Victorian England—and that’s just part of the backstory!”

Christensen said that bookstores hate the 48-page softcovers, but that he and Ellis like them so he’s going to keep publishing them.

“I do publish other writers,” he noted, moving from Ellis onto his other “horsemen of the apocalypse,” Alan Moore and Garth Ennis.

Alan Moore will also be creating a 48-page graphic novel for Avatar, titled Light of thy Countenance, due in early 2009, and he’s working with Jacen Burrows on a horror series titled Neonomicon. Christensen said that while working on the book, Moore asked him, “There are no editorial restrictions at all? You’re sure?” Christensen replied, “There are things that will get me thrown in jail,” and Moore said, “Right. What are those?”

“Talk about somebody who still scares the piss out of me when I call him on the phone,” Christensen said.

Garth Ennis was the last big-name writer discussed by Christensen and Wolfer. Christensen called him “the best dialogue man in the business,” and recommended Streets of Glory, an epic western with art by Wolfer, with its fifth issue hitting stores in two weeks.

Glory is unlike anything Wolfer’s ever drawn before—“If I’m lucky,” he said, “It’s helicopters crashing into things,” so it required a lot of research.

“Don’t mention horses,” he joked. “And the things Garth has me doing to horses.”

Not to mention that the final sixth issue is a double issue on the same deadline. Westerns are usually a tough sell, Christensen said, but much like Ellis’s work on Wolfskin, Ennis’s work on this book draws in people who pick up an issue, say, “Jesus, what did he just do to that guy?” and buy a stack.

Ennis’s Chronicles of Wormwood will be picking back up soon as well, with Ennis starting to work on it this fall. Christensen promised, “Really heinous s**t. Just ‘cause Jacko’s dead, that doesn’t mean anything.”

But they saved their highest praise for Crossed, where Christensen said Ennis is “blazing through scripts…doing the worst things we could possibly do to a school bus full of children.”

Crossed is about how evil people can be to other people, Christensen said, and asks the question: what is the nature of real horror? It will have less of the black humor commonly expected from Ennis. “It’s not a warm fuzzy happy book,” he said, “I’ve actually recoiled in horror from a few scenes.”

Jacen Burrows is doing the art on Crossed, and Christensen said he too is having a great time with it. “I get to disembowel how many people?” Christensen quoted him as saying.

“We’re thrilled to give him [Ennis] all the rope he wants to hang himself,” Christensen said.

And that was the answer to the biggest question asked at the panel: how does Avatar manage to bring in such top-level talent again and again? With new artists from around the world paired up with the biggest names in comic book writing, Avatar seems to be doing something right.

Artistic freedom, fair pay, and love for the business. “Avatar is a labor of love,” Christensen said. They don’t try to put out a lot of books, but he’s willing to hold a book back because it’s not perfect.

“It drives the distributors crazy, and it drives the fans crazy, but at least our books don’t suck.”

In talking about Avatar's 2009 publishing slate, which will increase to about 6 titles a month, Christiensen said that firm announcements about new projects will come in Chicago, where Ellis will join the Avatar staff for a late night panel, complete with bartenders. "The alcohol was part of Warren's rider, and well, we want to spoil him....Around 11pm, it's going to just descend into madness."

Before a fan Q&A, the duo also discussed Max Brooks's fall-debuting Zombie Survival Guide - Recorded Attacks OGN and indicated that there may be more work from Brooks in the works.

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