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Buffy & Firefly comics at Wondercon 2007 : Dark Horse Panel

Graeme McMillian

Saturday 3 March 2007, by Webmaster

Hot on the heels of their NYCC panel last week, Dark Horse’s WonderCon 2007 on Friday panel still managed to contain a couple of pieces of news that hadn’t been released before, and a focus on new creators. Leading a panel that consisted of editor Shawna Gore, director of marketing Dirk Wood and Skullboy creator Jacob Chabot. Publicist Jeremy Atkins opened the hour by talking about the upcoming Buffy The Vampire Slayer #1, which Atkins described as shipping "in a week and a half, two weeks’ time," in response to rumors on the con floor about a possible delay. "I’ve seen the first issue, and I can tell you that it’s awesome," Atkins announced. After asking whether the audience loved Buffy creator Joss Whedon (and getting an enthusiastic response from the women in the audience, leading to Atkins joking that LL Cool J now stood for "Ladies Love Cool Joss"), it was confirmed that September would see the launch of a new Serenity series, Better Days, which will be trailed by new PVC figures of River, Jayne and Mal.

After a quick straw poll revealed that not many people in the crowd had managed to win one of 300 passes for the evening’s screening, someone in the audience shouted, "If you’d named the book 900, we would have had a better chance." "That’s the sequel," Atkins joked. Still on the subject of Frank Miller and in response to the question of whether any new Sin City stories were on the cards, Wood responded by saying the questioner, "If he tells you, tell us." He went on to say that Frank Miller wanted to do something in time for the next movie, but was busy right now working on The Spirit movie. Gore added that she knew that two further stories were already plotted, but not drawn.

Listing upcoming new projects, Atkins talked about the Abe Sapien and Lobster Johnston series mentioned at NYCC, as well as The Umbrella Academy (written by Gerard Way from My Chemical Romance), new manga, MPD Psycho (described as "This is one of the most disturbing things you’ll read in your life and you may never be the same again,"), Fear Agent (Originally an Image book, but "we stole it," according to Atkins), and the plans for the 25th anniversary of Matt Wagner’s Grendel series, which include a collection of the never-before-reprinted original three issues, an "Art of" book and a brand-new Grendel book by Wagner that will be previewed at SDCC. "It’s kind of a big deal," Atkins explained.

Robert E. Howard fans will continue to be well-served by the publisher. In addition to the already existing Conan book, a non-fiction book called Conan: The Phenomenon is planned for the end of the year, described as "a total completist book" looking at the various portrayal of the character throughout the years. Not that Conan will be the only Howard character Dark Horse will be tackling, as new series are planned for Kull (written by Rex Mundi’s Arvid Nelson, with an art team still undecided but probably Will Conrad) and Solomon Kane, who will get a mini-series "hopefully" in early 2008. In addition, Howard’s famous horror short story, "Pigeons From Hell," is being adapted into comic form by Joe R. Lansdale.

Shawna Gore talked about her work editing the Emily The Strange comic, opening by saying that the series was surprisingly much more successful in the direct market than bookstores, with comic stores outselling bookstores by 2-to-1. Because of this response, the format of the book is changing to something closer to the traditional comic, with both the length and the cost being cut in half for future issues. She went on to say that the Emily book was part of an attempt Dark Horse is making to reach female readers, adding that she wanted to talk to women at the convention - Dirk Wood interjecting at this point that she’s already talked to too many men there - about what they would want to read. "There’s stuff that we could be making for you guys," she explained.

Atkins introduced Jacob Chabot to the audience, and explained that his new series Skullboy had come to the publisher through two of their new talent initiatives, Strip Search and the New Recruits Program. Asked for a description of the book, Chabot joked "The short version of the comic is that they’re all a bunch of jerks," before going on to give a longer version that involved criminally insane turnips, corporate takeovers and something called the Skullboy Army. The series will launch with a collection of Chabot’s minicomics of the character along with a PVC figure because, as Atkins put it, "he’s really cute. Let’s be honest here, folks."

The conversation moved on to the New Recruits Program, which is still active. The winner of the 2005 program was announced, "Uncle Silas" by David Follett ("He’s Australian. That’s really all I know about him," Atkins elaborated), before Wood explained that the program existed because Dark Horse wants to help new creators find an audience and get started in the industry. Initiatives like this are funded in part by the success of Dark Horse’s licensed books, Wood said, before turning to Chabot and with mock-seriousness saying, "Jacob, I hate to tell you this, but we’re not getting rich off your book yet."

Wood then went on to talk about Dark Horse’s most successful licensed titles, the Star Wars books. He said that, much to everyone’s surprise, the audience for the books has grown by 40% since the last movie came out, and that everyone working on the books was now able to take advantage of the editorial freedom available to them without fear of working around the next movie.

Opening up the panel to questions from the floor, the topic moved back to submissions. While Dark Horse has an open submissions policy, the New Recruits Program was described as the best way to show submissions to the company, with a preference on finished comics as opposed to written pitches. Gore explained that this was not only because it was a good way to evaluate talent, but also because managing to make a minicomic requires effort and "shows us that you’re serious."

When the question of intellectual property theft came up in response to open submissions, Gore said that the easiest way to avoid such issues was the copyright your work before submitting it, and to keep track of your own work. She went on to say that Dark Horse tries very hard to avoid even accidentally infringing on intellectual property theft, even going so far as to recently turn down a pitch from an established creator because it had similarities to a pitch from six years ago by Geof Darrow.

Another good tactic to breaking in would be to keep up good relationships with editors, everyone on the panel agreed. Gore said that the licensed books offer the opportunity for new talent to get exposure, adding that sometimes submissions that didn’t lead to published work can still keep you in mind for editors who may be looking for creators to work on outside ideas.

When asked how best to become an editor in comics, Wood said "Move to Portland and picket our offices," before going on to say that, as before, having good relations with a publisher is a good start. Gore added that having a familiarity with the industry helps, and that the last two interns hired at Dark Horse had previously worked as retailers. "If you really love comics, then there’s a way to do it," Atkins offered.

Maybe the most interesting part of the panel came from the Q & A session. When asked about a rejected Groo/Conan crossover that Sergio Aragones had mentioned earlier, Wood replied that the project wasn’t quite as rejected as the questioner thought, adding that nothing was official yet, but there was movement this week that suggested that the project was still alive. "Remember Archie versus The Punisher?" Wood asked, adding "This will make it look like... Archie versus the Punisher." Atkins went on to say that, with comparisons like that, Dark Horse was setting its sights high for the project.

The panel had an optimistic view for the next year for the publisher, in large part because - according to Wood - Dark Horse was "kind of becoming a comic book publisher again." This comment was meant as a statement about the company’s new focus on individual books as opposed to graphic novels, a move made by founder Mike Richardson simply because he loves the format. Shawna Gore explained that Dark Horse was "a company populated by people who love the medium of comics and keeping in touch with fans," before going on to admit, "I love comics with staples in the middle."