SDCC 2018: The Berger Books Panel With Karen Berger, G. Willow Wilson, Ann Nocenti, Dean Haspiel, Christopher Cantwell, Richard Bruning, Dave Gibbons

by Hannah Means Shannon

At the Berger Books Panel at San Diego Comic Con 2018, G. Willow Wilson, Ann Nocenti, Dean Haspiel, Christopher Cantwell, Richard Bruning, and Dave Gibbons were hosted by Karen Berger.
Berger introduced the esteemed panelists, and explained that they’ve been very busy at Berger Books Central over the past year, with 6 months of comics being released so far. Their second wave of titles after the initial 5 led to She Could Fly, followed by The Seeds, Olivia Twist, and more.

She Could Fly came out last week and Cantwell pitched the series to Berger after meeting another contributor to Berger Books. Cantwell has primarily been a TV writer in the past, and Twitter played a role in putting he and Wilson together. He came across a Tweet from Willow critiquing Halt and Catch Fire and it brought them into conversation for a couple years. Wilson put him in touch with Berger regarding a comic idea he had.
The idea for She Could Fly goes back a long way, wondering what his own idea of a superhero would be, and it would be a person who could fly with no explanation. Main character Luna becomes obsessed with the flying woman, and she’s OCD, struggling with obsessiveness. When the flying woman explodes and dies, Luna becomes obsessed with finding out why.

The Seeds #1 is officially out August 1st. Creators Ann Nocenti and David Aja have been keeping things under wraps regarding this book that combines many genres. The book is based upon many obsessions, Nocenti said, including her obsession with her phone. In the book, people decided that they had to smash their phones. There’s a wall which a journalist, Astra, becomes obsessed with finding out what’s on the other side of the wall. It turns out that there are aliens, who have come to collect the last seeds on the planet, which is failing. It’s a love story between one of the aliens and the journalist. Things get “scary”. This is Nocenti’s first creator-owned comic series, though she has previously done a creator-owned graphic novel. It’s also she and Aja’s first non-superhero book, and as a “little indie comic” it’s strange. They also work in an odd fashion, throwing the script around, with Aja changing things to make them “equal storytellers”.
The Alcoholic was originally created by Jonathan Ames and Dean Haspiel, and is back in a new 10th Anniversary Edition from Berger Books, originally published by Vertigo. Haspiel said that Ames was someone whose essays he’d been reading in newspapers, and one day Haspiel walked into a local café and saw him. Haspiel walked up and told Ames that they would work together, at least that’s Haspiel’s perspective on it. Ames had been a comic reader as a kid. The project they created was eventually brought in to Vertigo by Jonathan Vankin and Karen Berger.

It’s a heartbreaking story about an alcoholic, but there’s a lot of levity and humor in the story as well, Haspiel said. Serious messages are best told through comedy, Haspiel feels. There’s also action, romance, and an account of a life from childhood to adulthood. Haspiel loves the ending, too, and was proud to “convey the story visually”. Berger commented that Haspiel is one of the best storytellers in the comic industry. When the book went out of print at Vertigo, the creators asked Berger if she’d like to do another version. It arrives in September, with designs by Richard Bruning.
Haspiel thinks it’s cool that the new release of the book is that his own work and also Ames’ work has risen in the intervening 10 years, which means even more people will be aware of it.
Incognegro Renaissance, by Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece was described and discussed by Bruning, a murder mystery with racial elements involved since the main detective can pass for a white man, but he is a “black man inside”. The question is whether he can use that to help black people infiltrate white culture. Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery is also out as a second printing.

The imprint has also published the series Mata Hari, the story of the real historical turn of the  century figure, dancer, and allegedly a double agent who was executed by a French firing squad. She had a “shitty” trial with poor representation, and was treated badly because she was a woman, and her behavior didn’t fit into the accepted patterns of the time. Emma Beeby researched the book from historical diaries. The fifth issue arrives in August and the graphic novel will come out early in the new year.
The Originals is a book originally published by Vertigo, and Dave Gibbons won an Eisner Award for it. It’s the first work that Gibbons did with his whole voice, both as writer and artist. It taps into his youthful experience of groups and gangs, and hating one’s rivals, and helped him create the drama easily. It contains a lot of autobiographical elements, Gibbons said. The new edition contains new design work, sketches, notes, and a larger size format as well. This is the “essential” edition of the book.
Olivia Twist is coming up this autumn from Darin Strauss, Adam Dalva, Emma Vieceli, and Lee Loughridge. It’s a steampunk story about a girl who joins a street gang, with many gender-swapped characters inspired by Dickens’ work. The writers are actually Dickens scholars.
LaGuardia is a series created by Nnedi Okorafor, with Tana Ford and James Devlin. It’s a story that’s like a futuristic Contract with God, containing alien immigrants and African themes. Our pregnant protagonist has a secret that she’s hiding.
Invisible Kingdom is recently announced from G. Willow Wilson and Christian Ward. There are two female stars of the story, and it’s about a young religious acolyte who discovers collusion between religious leaders and a large corporation. A freighter pilot also discovers it and gets drawn in, and they have to go on the run together across the galaxy. It investigates the relationship between faith and religion, and how the acolyte can keep her faith after losing trust in her religious leaders. The book arrives at the end of March 2019.
Hungry Ghosts will be collected on October 2nd, a four issue series that launched Berger Books and a special hardcover will be coming out. It also contains extra elements, including Anthony Bordain’s extra recipes, more information on ghosts from different cultures, art from the contributing artists, and more. Sadly this is the last published work by Anthony Bordain, who helped launch the line at New York Comic Con last Fall. His passion for comics was kind of a secret, but comics people were very aware of it, Berger said. She was “honored and humbled to publish what will be his last work”. Berger said that people don’t like to talk about suicide, but it is something that we should talk about. She encouraged people to reach out to those who might be in need of support, and to reach out if they themselves need resources.

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