Heading Into The Future of Comics Image: “Cultivating Identity” panel at Emerald City Comic Con on Friday afternoon, during a very full day at the convention, leading people to exclaim “we didn’t know there were this many people in Seattle”, Ray Fawkes, Corinna Bechko, Donny Cates, Declan Shalvey, Gabriel Hardman, took the stage.
Hardman spoke about the “intense horror one-shot” called The Belfry. It was a book he created without a lot of fanfare for personal reasons, and it got picked up by Image. He gets a lot of social media reaction and people have really responded to it, he said. It shocked him because he didn’t think a one-shot would work initially. Maybe people want a breather from long-form storytelling, he said, based on this reaction. He’d like to do more since it’s a great way to flex different creative muscles, he said.
Corinna Bechko joined the panel to talk about “poly-sci-fi” story Invisible Republic. It’s about a woman who has been erased from history and the ways in which the truth will eventually come out. It’s a “feminist sci-fi story” Hardman added, who is the co-creator on Invisible Republic.
Ray Fawkes has a new title coming out soon, Underwinter, with the first arc called “symphony”. It’s about a band who finds out that the audience they are playing for is actually hellish, and they disintegrate over time. It’s about a battle being waged all over the world by artists. The question coming up in the comic is why people would willingly try to create beautiful things given the way the world is. It’s a fully painted book, and this is something Fawkes loves to do. The art style is meant to be very expressive, and he has to portray music through paint, he said. One of the reasons he does indie books is because he can experiment, go wild, and try and say things he can’t find the place to say anywhere else, whether through art or story.
Declan Shalvey, who works on Injection, has a new issue coming out March 15th. The story is basically about 5 eccentric characters who used to be part of a thinktank that is ultimately going to destroy the world. Written by Warren Ellis, each character is a kind of archetype—James Bond, Doctor Who, and the like. The first trade is weird sci-fi, the second is more a detective story, and the third one running now is a VR, trippy story about a skeleton found in an ancient stone circle. Moon Knight, which he worked on with Ellis, was instantly entertaining, but Injection is more about the long form and showing how things come together over time. It’s a very rewarding series to work on, he said.
Donny Cates spoke about his current book, God Country, with art by Geoff Shaw. It’s about an old man in West Texas with alzheimers, and is becoming confused and angry. His son is in a torn position trying to take care of his ailing father and be a good husband and father. A magical tornado destroys their town and home, and Emmet Quinlan finds a magic sword that restores his personality and memory. The only problem is that the owners, 20 foot tall Fourth World Kirby-style gods, want the sword back. Cates says he gets asked a lot about the dichotomy of trying to balance the country with the gods, but his answer is that there is only one conflict in the story—a family trying to grapple with forces beyond their control. That conflict only gets bigger with gods involved. It’s a big piece of Cates’ heart and it means a lot that people have responded well to it, he said.
Cates said that searching “god country” on Twitter is a bummer, but his follow up book title, Red Neck, is even harder to search. He finds it unbelievable that the title of a vampire book has never been Red Neck before, but it’s true. It follows a family of vampires living in East Texas. It’s a kind of a mirror to The Walking Dead, he explained. TWD is about a group of human beings trying to lead their lives around monsters, but Red Neck is about a group of monsters trying to live their lives surrounded by US, but that is way more dangerous in many ways.
The vampire population has been decimated, so now this family is trying to live in peace, and live on the blood from their cattle farm. “Some people start some shit”, of course. You learn to love this family, he said, in the first issue, but as the series goes on, you are made very aware that they are lions and monsters who can do some monstrous, brutal things. It’s the most deeply personal thing he’s ever written, he said. His father came from a family that was somewhat stereotypically red neck—prejudiced, racist, abusive—but once his kids were born, he “took a chainsaw to that branch of the family tree”. It’s about a family trying to “defy the bad blood that lives in their veins”.
Asked more about Invisible Republic being a feminist comic, Bechko reflected on a Facebook “memory” that popped up in 2012 where she was asking why America was so anti-feminine. So that has reminded her of the undercurrents that have now surfaced. Hardman said they talk about the book in those terms privately, but in public they don’t try to tell people what to think about the book. It’s built to be grappling with issues that are always relevant.
Shalvey agreed that making things too overt isn’t as useful, and it’s about “smuggling” ideas in, says Hardman. It enables readers to “get there on their own”, which is important. Fawkes agreed that provoking thought was the most important element in storytelling. Hardman said he’d like people to come to a story who may or may not agree, and Shalvey jumped in with a testament to the role of science fiction in introducing new ideas.
Cates finds working on an IDW Star Trek book a really great venue for talking about recent social conflicts, however much fun it would be to do a lighter story. That’s what sci-fi is there for, Cates said. Hardman and Bechko have worked on Star Trek and Planet of the Apes, and finds it’s a really important “cover” for talking about major ideas. Fawkes said that if one was to write a story directly about “hypocrisy” and “ugliness”, people would find it offensive, but doing a horror story like Underwinter, he can talk about hypocrisy through the creatures of hell.
Cates said that most of the elements of horror are not even on the screen. The best vampire stories of all time are not about vampires, he said. Vampires are stand-ins for the weirdos in East Texas, which is not a great place to be a different kind of person, in Red Neck, Cates commented.
But comics can also become a way of talking about the act of creation and the tortuous elements of that, Fawkes said, regarding Underwinter. There’s a “deep necessity” for the creation of art, despite those experiences.
Asked about featuring Texas a great deal in his work, Cates said that when he was a kid reading the history of Texas, he recalls reading a line from Captain America that it’s possible to love a place and hate its government. He’s not blind to how wretched the place can be to some of its more marginalized citizens. Speaking about a recent death in his family, he said it related to this topic. As he’s learned in the past few days, Texas is not a great place to a 28 year old trans person, he said. And in that regard, it can go fuck itself. But it is a beautiful land and country, and feels he has a responsibility to show people that it’s not all bad.
All of these creators are in Artist’s Alley and you can visit them during the convention!
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