NYCC ’17: Karen Berger Hosts The Creators Of Berger Books

by Hannah Means Shannon

Karen Berger hosted the Berger Books Panel at New York Comic Con with a host of talent on Saturday. She introduced Dave Gibbons, Jose Villarubia, Anne Nocenti, Joel Rose, Anthony Bordain, and Richard Bruning.
Some of the books coming up in the Berger Books line at Dark Horse Comics are Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery and Incognegro: Renaissance, Hungry Ghosts, The Seeds, Mata Hari, and The Originals.

Four issue miniseries Hungry Ghosts is by Bordain and Rose. Other artist like Paul Pope will also be involved in the book. Bordain said he was fascinated by Japanese ghosts stories, and started to read up on the characters and context of them, which led him to “prints” of the stories. It seemed to present a great idea for an anthology and go beyond tradition to make a great graphic novel. Not all the stories are set in Japan, he explained, though some are more traditional. France and Italy, as well as other time periods, will be involved. These were “lurid” stories originally, not necessarily family-friendly. But he and the artists are having a lot of fun with them. International chefs are telling these ghosts stories, a group of them at a gathering having prepared a meal for a Russian oligarch.
Rose came to the stories through Lafcadio Hearn’s research into different types of stories and creatures. In the original storytelling tradition, samurai would tell the tales, and when the candles were extinguished one by one, at the end they’d look in a mirror to see if they had conjured the Yokai. In this story, the chefs will do the same, Rose said. Bordain surprised the audience by saying that he attempted to break into underground comics as a young person, both writing and drawing self-published comics, but as Rose commented, it was his writing that was promising, and, of course, he has pursued that.

Villarubia said that he worked on the Get Jiro graphic novels with Bordain, and Paul Pope was also involved, too, so things have come full circle for these collaborators. He added that in the last 20 years, he’s had a lot of freedom in his color work in comics, which is unusual. He’s very careful about coloring food, particularly, to get it right, and the rest follows, he laughed.
Bordain horrified and entertained the audience by walking us through an inked page showing a character having a full menu based on horse parts, one by one. And assured us some of it was good, “if you like that kind of thing”.
The Seeds, by Nocenti and artist David Aja was next on the menu. Nocenti said that she had worked with Aja on Daredevil, and wanted to work with him again. He “lifts the story somewhere new” and they work together “in a mysterious way”, she said. She commented on the intense deadlines of her past experience working in superhero comics, but in this case, they were able to allow time for their subconscious to work and “let things in” to the storytelling.
The story is about a journalist, and use of hexagons and bees has been a big thematic element of this near-future tale. There’s a wall separating two areas of habitation, and the events on the two sides of the wall are very different. They also play with street art and graffiti in the comic, Nocenti said. The journalist is tracking a story about an alien and human “tabloid-like” sex story. It’s hard to tell a “pure story” as a journalist, and this female character is on a journey to try to do that.
Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery is a graphic novel that Berger originally published at Vertigo, and now they are doing a 10th anniversary edition and a new book. Berger said the story is inspired by true events that happened in the pre-civil rights South. The creators felt that, 10 years ago, talking about that period would help discuss issues going on at the time with racism, but looking back now, they feel they were “naïve” because things are so much worse at this time. Now Incognegro: Renaissance, the new work, is set in Brooklyn, and deals with “inherent racism” and “casual racism”, but is about a murder at a literary book party. They are hoping to do yet another sequel, and then have three books as a set, Berger revealed. Bruning said that the new edition has been given “texture and depth” with grey tones. Both books are out February 7th, and that coincides with Black History Month.
Mata Hari is told from her own perspective as an exotic dancer and a convicted double agent in Paris after WWI. As a unique historical figure, Berger said, she fabricated her whole life story, had dozens of affairs, and had tied to the French and German governments. Her children were taken from her, and was accused and jailed, as well as executed for crimes that were “flimsy” at  the time, and possibly had more to do with her infamy than her actions. Getting to the “facts” of who she was required a lot of research, and determining whether she was “set up” simply for being a “loose woman” during intolerant times. This book will be out at the end of February 2018.
The Originals was an Eisner Award-winning graphic novel by Dave Gibbons and is coming back to Berger Books. Gibbons reflected that he used to go to New York Comic Con in the 1970s. He had also worked with Karen Berger previously at DC Comics. He said once he was out driving, a motorcyclist with “greasy black hair” was zooming past him, and made him want to drive him off the road, a strange impulse. That idea made him want to do the book. The book reflects many things that actually happened to him in the 1960’s, but actually some was too “unbelievable” to include. He found it difficult doing it without a collaborator, and not having a sense of someone else’s perspective. It was originally published at DC. It was in black and white to have a “retro, documentary feel”, he said. The new edition will be “bigger” with a lot of back-matter, 32 pages of new material in total. He used mind-maps to plot out the script, Gibbons said, and showed an example to the audience. The new edition will be published at the end of April 2018.

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