At Comic-Con international in San Diego on Friday, July 25, the fledgling Radical Publishing held its first "official" CCI panel, in which it trotted out a slew of details about upcoming adaptations of several of its properties by some of Hollywood's biggest directors (more on that later), discussed the comic books it currently publishes ("Hercules: The Thracian Wars," "Caliber"), and also gave fans details and a few sneak peeks at several of its impressive new titles to come.
In attendance on the panel were President and Publisher Barry Levine, Editor-in-Chief Dave Elliott (who also served as its moderator), "30 Days of Night" scribe Steve Niles, "Caliber" writer Sam Sarkar, "Freedom Formula" creator Edmund Shern, Zombies Studios CEO Mark Long, and the legendary Jim Steranko, who lent his talents to produce the painted covers for the first and second issues of the new Hercules series.
Levine kicked things off by thanking fans for their support and interest in Radical Publishing, noting that it can be difficult to make an impact in the comic marketplace as a new publisher when you publish titles that don't star Wolverine, Spider-Man, or Batman.
"I was pretty overwhelmed that we really got the support from the industry that we did," Levine said. "We did a lot of grassroots promotions when we started. We had everybody in our office calling 3500 stores a month, just one or two minute calls, grass roots promotion. To me, the most important part is that if nobody knows who you are, nobody's ever going to read what you publish. So that's how we started."
Levine stressed that, as a publisher, Radical is more concerned about the quality of the books it produces than the quantity and was not looking to grow too fast too soon, noting that Radical only publishes one title a month and will continue to do so until January. At this point, the company will begin publishing two titles a month.
Then the panelist talked about "Hercules: The Thracian Wars," Radical's unique take on the character and concept, and how they eventually landed Jim Steranko to do covers and design work for the new series.
Both Levine and Elliott stressed that Radical was looking to do something with the story of Hercules as far removed from the Disney cartoon or the Kevin Sorbo TV series version of the character as possible, something much grittier, much dirtier - which is where Steranko came in.
"We were looking much closer to that sort of gritty "300" style project, but something that struck to the heart of the character," Elliott said. "We didn't want to cover any ground that had ever been covered before."
Elliot described "Hercules: The Thracian Wars," written by Steve Moore with art by Admira Wijaya, as an extremely dark, grounded take on the Hercules mythos.
"Even though you never see Zeus in the story, [Hercules] believes he is the son of Zeus. Everybody around him believes he is the son of god. So we took that approach," Elliott said. "And the more it became grounded, and when Steven's final script came through and we talked about artwork, there was just one person we could go to."
And that was Jim Steranko.
"It's not the easiest thing in the world to work on characters that everybody knows. Especially characters that everyone already has a picture of that character in their minds," Steranko said, reminiscing about his time spent working on "Dracula" with Francis Ford Coppola in the early 1990s.
"I remember I said to Francis 'there have been about 150 Dracula movies over the years, does the world really need another one'? But, the world did need another one, because Francis made an original vision. There's always something new that can be done if you just have patience and maintain your integrity and imagination."
For his Hercules, Steranko said, he concentrated on the stare.
"I tried to think back in my own background to examples of people that I knew that were very imposing," Steranko said. "And Dave said that he wasn't looking for a muscle bound character, he wasn't looking for a cartoon, he was looking for a man capable of doing things that the rest of us could never do. So he should look like that."
"I started thinking about people that I knew that were like that. You probably know them, too. There's a few people in everybody's past, guys, who you cannot look in the eye because if you did they'd tear you apart. You have to look away. It's like looking at a wolf, you know, you can't do it. They'd tear your throat out. And that's the quality I wanted Hercules to have."
"I decided early on to put him in a very classic pose. I wanted to surprise you. I didn't want to do the obvious thing," Streanko continued. "I wanted to go in the opposite direction."
After what the artist described as "an enormous amount" of emails sent back and forth between Levine and himself ironing out everything from how large the character should appear to what he should wear, the look of Radical's Hercules slowly began to come into focus. It was at this point that Steranko began to layout and design what would eventually become the cover for the first issue of the series.
"I thought, wouldn't it be interesting if about the only thing we can see on Hercules - because he's pretty covered up, he's covered up in leather, he's covered up in weaponry, he's covered up with the lion's skin - what we really see about him, and the most important thing, is the look in his eyes. The only little light source that I really used was a little streak, a little spear of light crossing over that eye, a little highlight right up on his cheekbone so we could see that glint in his eyes and know that he's not the kind of guy you want to mess around with it. And I think that made that statement as well as I could possibly do it. That was the introduction of the character."
There will be a follow-up Hercules series to "The Thracian Wars," with Moore already working on the scripts, which will take place in Egypt and deal with the Egyptian pantheon of gods.
And, as Radical announced on Wednesday at CCI in an exclusive interview with Comic Book Resources Shaun Manning, director Peter Berg ("Hancock," "The Kingdom") and his Film 44 production company will produce a film based on "Hercules: The Thracian Wars." Ryan Condal (currently working on an adaptation of Warren Ellis' "Ocean") is slated to write the adaptation.
"This particular Hercules caught the eye of Peter Berg," Levine said. "What can you say about Peter Berg? I don't know if any of you have seen his latest film, 'Hancock,' but it says everything. He's the perfect person for this project."
The discussion then turned to Radical's second title, "Caliber." Writer/Creator Sam Sarkar was on hand to discuss the genesis of the project, which he said was an idea that had been kicking around in his head since films like "Tombstone" and "Wyatt Earp" sparked a Western revival in the early 1990s.
It was also announced on the panel that "Caliber," a reimagination of the Arthurian legend set in the Wild West, is coming to the big screen as well, with John Woo attached to direct the project.
"Sometimes people attach themselves and that means nothing," Levine said. "Because you really have to work with people who not only will attach themselves but really buy into the vision. So it's not just another piece of film to them, another project on their slate. Sam and I flew over to Beijing to meet with John Woo, and we had a chance to talk with him and hear his ideas and get his feedback and watch him work. And that sold us. So we're pretty proud of that. And I've known John's partner for about 10 years, and he's always wanted to make a Western."
With the panel now running short on time, Radical showed off its upcoming projects in quick succession of one another.
First up was Niles "City of Dust," an upcoming mini that will blend action, Sci-fi, and Niles' trademark brand of horror.
Niles described the series as "sort of an Orwellian world where everything, any kind of storytelling, anything to do with imagination, prayer, fairytales, comic books, anything, was gradually and systematically censored away. So ['City of Dust'] is about this young cop whose completely...he's a cop of that time. He shows up at a crime scene and it's almost all done for him. There's robots flying around helping him figure everything out. Basically, it's to the point where they can find the murderer before they even wrap up the body - they know who the killer is, pick him up, execute him, and move on to the next case."
"So there's a character in this world who wants to reintroduce things of the imagination, and he decides to start with these kind of dark characters," Niles continued. "He doesn't know what he's doing, and basically what he does is creates these individual monsters. When you create evil, beneficially or not, it's evil. And you're going to loose control of it, and that's what happens in this world, these things start spilling out of nowhere. So [our cop] has to backup and learn how to be a detective for the first time ever. That's basically the gist of it."
Levine reiterated that the first issue of every new series that Radical publishes will be 48-pages, because he feels it allows writers and artist more freedom to fully flesh out the character and explore their world.
The topic then turned to Shern's "Freedom Formula," a five-issue mini series described as a futuristic "The Fast and the Furious," only with mechanized exo-suits having replaced the flashy cars.
Elliot noted that it was just announced that morning, on the front page of Variety no less, that Bryan Singer's Bad Hat Pictures had attached itself to the property with the intent of turning it into a live action feature.
Slides were shown for "Aladdin," another reimagination of a classic legend that Radical has streamlined and, like its take on Hercules, made much darker, much grittier.
Created by Elliot, with scripts by Ian Edington and the art chores handled by Shern's Imaginary Studios, Elliot described the series as "Star Wars meets Pirates of the Caribbean, only darker. Much darker. It will be a big project for us in 2009."
"Shrapnel," an upcoming mini series described as "Joan of Arc in space" was then previewed. Created by Zombie Studios and writers Nick Sagan ("Contact" author Carl Sagan's son) and M. Zachary Sherman, "Shrapnel," the first entry in a planned trilogy, will debut as both a video game and a comic in 2009.
"'Shrapnel' is this epic solar war trilogy," Long said. "It's very Greek in its themes, it's almost Thucyclides 250 years in the future. Two great cities, or two great civilizations, lurching towards this ruinous war egged on by the hotheaded rhetoric of politicians. I pitch it as 'Joan of Arc in space' because it has this great Greek tragic heroine who at the beginning of our book is actually hiding out in the most remote colony in the system, Venus, after five long years of war, she's just trying to get as far away from it as possible. So she's this reluctant hero whose actually pulled back into the resistance."
There was no time to take questions, but Levine wanted to end the panel by reiterating that although Radical Publishing may be having a great deal of success in terms of getting its properties into the hands of some of Hollywood's biggest movers-and-shakers, the comics will always come first: "I just need everybody to really understand that we're so grateful that we are doing these films and it helps brand the [intellectual property], but we're staying true to what we do with our publishing and our comic books. That is our first priority, not only to us but it's the priority of the artists and writers that are involved in these projects as well."
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