SDCC 2018: Image’s We Believe In Suspense Panel With Donny Cates, Mirka Andolfo, Jacob Semahn, Dean Haspiel, Megan Hutchison, Steve Orlando

by Hannah Means Shannon

The Image Comics We Believe In Suspense Panel on Saturday at SDCC 2018 contained quite a full slate of panelists including Steve Orlando, Dean Haspiel, Donny Cates, Mirka Andolfo, Jacob Semahn, and Megan Hutchison.

Asked about coming up with the idea of having the government limit reproductive rights in Unnatural, Andolfo said that she wanted to create something kind of serious since her other creator-owned series in Europe is just a sexy comic, and even though Unnatural is sexy, it has that edge to it, too. It was inspired by seeing advertising trying to urge women to have children right away, and not wait, which felt intrusive. She created some test pages, and while working on it, Italy had “Fertility Day”, which played into her theme and made her think, “This is happening for real??” Leslie is a pig who is attracted to a wolf in the comic, and Andolfo wanted to avoid spoilers about whether the two will meet in real life, since right now it’s just Leslie’s dream.
Asked about his work on Virgil with forces trying to limit identity in characters, Orlando said that “queersploitation” has been on his mind, allowing everyone to have revenge stories. The idea for anger within a community was the inspiration. He’s since heard that setting the book in Jamaica is more like Jamaica 2007 and things have started to move forward in some ways within that community. Virgil is about a time and place that was struggling with the LGBTQ community. Crude, also from Image, addresses some of the same issues, and is a kind of “spiritual sequel”, going to a different place, changing the genre, and the lens of seeing some of the same ideas. Crude is the father’s point of view in many ways, and the “tragedy of the book is that we don’t talk to each other”, Orlando said.

The tension in this comic is “personal tension” from the father who is trying to protect his son from his own darkness. It’s set in an oily refinery town, with plenty of fight scenes, but the true tension in the book is family tension. Orlando also loves “messy, ongoing” revenge stories that don’t end too cleanly. There’s a price to when we engage in these “massive emotional journeys”, Orlando said. He’s also interested in exploring the “aftermath of violence” and feels it’s irresponsible not to if you introduce violence into a story.
Donny Cates’ work on God Country started with a severe health issue that Cates experienced that was a life and death event. Previously the germ of the idea had occurred to him, but coming out of the health experience made him want to write about death and mortality, so the story built out further. The main character, Emmett, became engrossed in his legacy and how he will be remembered as an old man losing his identity to alsheimer’s. The story was challenging, since it’s not really a story about a magic sword or cosmic things, though it may appear to be—it’s about a father-son relationship, Cates said.
In Redneck, Cates found himself writing about family more because during his health crisis, his family really rallied around him. There’s plenty of conflict in his own family, with Cates’ father breaking away from a dark family history of racism and abuse. It’s hard to ignore that background, though, and it comes out in Redneck. This story of a family of vampires trying not to be monsters is close to home for Cates, as a family with “evil in its blood” that’s trying to be good. Many of the characters are based on real friends of Cates’ in Texas (who actually attended the panel) even down to the names.
Hutchison was asked about handling a massive occult element in Rockstars. She feels that music lends itself to these subjects naturally. Music’s history during the “Satanic panic” of people trying to play music backwards and hear messages influenced the concept of the book. However, she usually brings occult themes into her books, even her children’s book. “Music is magic. It can be used for good or for evil.”, Hutchison said. There’s no good or bad in Rockstars, she clarified. The current arc of the series deals with 80’s hair metal.
Hutchison and Cates are going to be working together on a book, they said, and they will be produce the soundtrack to the book themselves, as they are in a band together. Sometime next year we’ll hear more about that.
Jacob Semahn’s story with Jorge Corona, No. 1 With a Bullet, is partly inspired by Semahn’s experiences working with American Idol and people who wanted to be famous at any cost. We live in a new age of people wanting fifteen minutes of fame, and being villainous on purpose just to get highlighted, Semahn said. In the book, having been the victim of the release of an unauthorized sex tape, our main character becomes uncomfortably famous. There are dystopian “tech” aspects to the comic, too, which actually exists and has been patented, where eye lenses can play video and more. At the moment, they cost 8,000 dollars, but in the future, they could be more available.
Dean Haspiel’s Red Hook is kind of an avatar for Silver Age sensibilities, and his long history of working with many legendary comic creators starting in the 80’s onwards. He populated the comic with his “best friends”, a lot of early superheroes, but he’s created his own. There’s an innocence to earlier comics that still appeals to Haspiel, and you’ll find old school stuff thrown into the comic, like classic tropes. He likes to flip and modernize elements, too. There are some politics in the comic, too, like economic commentary on the role of art and the need for supporting artists in society. Creating art creates a kind of “energy”, he feels, and hopefully a positive one, and yet rents rise and spaces shrink, limiting the ability of artists to survive.
Asked if there’s anything particular they do to incorporate suspense into their stories, Cates said that Redneck is built around “long, looming threats”. Visual language and emotional language in comics is really important, he feels, rather than just being visceral in your threats. Haspiel added that you should ask more questions than you answer in a comic, and that also develops tension.
Working on Red Hook for Line Webtoon, which has a vertical scroll, had different reveals and structures based on the reading media, and it took some experimentation and tweaking from him to get suspense into it differently than on a comic page, he said.
Cates said that he is a proponent of the “baller double page spread”, but that doesn’t lend itself well to an iPad, but he thinks that the media needs to catch up to art form. He makes choices based on what’s a good comic instead.

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