Mel Caylo, marketing manager for Archaia, moderated the company's panel highlighting Archaia's talent and upcoming projects, for the attendees of the Long Beach Comic Con. Due to space constraints on the stage , the presentation was handled as three mini-panels instead of one big panel.
The first mini-panel consisted of: David Peterson, the creator of 'Mouse Guard'; Joe LeFavi, the Director of Publishing and Development at the 'Jim Henson Company'; and Stephen Christy, the Director of Development at Archaia.
Caylo highlighted the success of Peterson's most recent works. "A couple of months ago 'Mouse Guard, Winter 1152,' the complete collection of the second volume of the series came out in hardcover, and it spent six weeks on New York Times Best Seller List," he said, to much applause from the audience. Caylo then announced that "we will be publishing a black and white oversized edition, 12" x 12"."
Peterson spoke at length on the inception and details of the oversized edition. "We already did one of these for '[Mouse Guard] Fall ,' and it came about because there were a lot of fans asking for a limited edition of the 'Fall' book. I didn't want to do it without doing something special. So we decided to do an oversized copy that was the same size as the original artwork, with vellum overlays where I use overlays for weather effects and such, and that way you can kind of see the process. The problem with getting a 'Winter' one out is, I used three times as many overlay pages. And those pages are all hand-tipped in. So the publishing price goes way up. The only reason that book exists is because the fans said they would tolerate the justifiable price increase, because of the production costs going up. So that's in 'Previews' right now," explained Peterson.
As for what is next in the series, Caylo said "For next year, we have an ambitious project that Dave will be working on. It will be the third volume of Mouse Guard, called 'The Black Axe.'"
Peterson added, "This is going to be a prequel, it's going to span more than one season. If you've read 'Winter,' there is a part where Celanawe says to Liam that he will tell him the story later, about the day he first took the Black Axe. And this is me getting around to telling that story."
Moving on to Joe Lefavi, Caylo explained the background of the Archaia/Henson alliance. "We have a recently announced partnership with the Jim Henson Company. In a nutshell, we partner with the Jim Henson Company to produce comics and graphic novels based on properties such as 'Fraggle Rock,' 'Dark Crystal,' 'Labyrinth,' and 'Mirror Mask.'' As for the first project, Caylo said "It will be a 'Fraggle Rock' anthology book."
LeFavi explained that 'Fraggle Rock' was chosen for the launch because "it's a really fun property, and because it crosses a lot of audiences," he said.
"There's people that grew up with 'Fraggle' that are now in their 20s and 30s, and that was a huge part of their childhood. There are also the children of those people, who are just starting to get into comics, looking for new entertainment. We're actually doing something very ambitious, which is, we're going to be making a comic that appeals to both those audiences," explained LeFavi.
Lefavi explained the goals for the partnership, stating "We want to create something that is in the spirit of what I think all of us love about Henson. Which is the fact that any of their movies, be it the Muppet movies or 'Dark Crystal,' 'Labyrinth,' or any of their TV shows, you can see it as a kid and appreciate it in one way, and you can see it as an adult and appreciate it in another way. We're really trying to cut across all audiences."
Though the two companies have been working on the project for a while, the book will not be debuting in the Spring. "We are taking our time to make sure this is something special," Christy explained. "The whole reason we went into this is, these are not normal licensed books. These are books that we are putting so much time, and so much heart, into. We want it to be something that is completely different from any sort of licensing you've seen. These things will stand on their own, and be really easily accessible, for people who saw the original prior TV show, but also for people who have never [seen] it before. I wish we could say more about the people working on it, or what it's going to look like, and how it's going to feel. But, I just can say I am excited. It's been a really good process so far, and working with Henson is a dream come true."
LeFavi added, "It has been going remarkably well. I can't wait for you to see it. The passion of everyone who is collaborating on these books, it just shines on the page. It's wonderful to see that come to life. It's really going to be something that all of us at Henson are so proud of."
As for what else Henson will be doing with the property, LeFavi said "It actually is going to be quite a remarkable year for 'Fraggle' as well. We just announced that we are launching an entire line of geektastic consumer products for 'Fraggle.' It's a whole line called 'Fraggle Rock Forever.' Basically, every single thing you have ever wanted as a 'Fraggle Rock' fan is coming out next year. Plush toys, apparel, T-shirts, sneakers, adult costumes, upscale jewelry, and my personal favorite, puppets…these are going to be affordable and yet quality puppets for you and your family. It's really great to see something I love to much, it's going to be everywhere. It's just a whole re-launch and rejuvenation of 'Fraggle Rock.' So 2010 is going to be a really great year, and I am really excited to see how you guys respond to it all."
Asked what the word is on the 'Muppet Show' coming back to life, LeFavi begrudgingly responded, “Uh, I have no comment on that. It's one of those things that, you know, everyone loves that franchise. Disney has been looking over it for a lot of years. It's got a great arc to it. If anyone heard the announcement from the recent Disney convention, Disney is doing a lot to get that back out there in the world. So the official word is 'No plans yet.' But you never know. Something that special tends to re-emerge.”
Stepping down from the stage, Caylo introduced the next mini-panel: Trevor Roth, the CEO of Roddenberry Productions. Joshua Hale Fialkov, the creator of "Tumor." and Josh Finney, the writer and artist on "Titanium Rain."
Caylo began by introducing the "Days Missing" project. “In August, we launched a new series with Roddenberry Productions called 'Days Missing.' We were well reviewed, and we are very excited, "said Caylo as Roth took the microphone.
"It's an assembly of stories about the lost history of humanity. It is based around a character called The Steward. The Steward interacts and interferes with humanity, from the beginning of time until today. He has been an essential part of who we are as people, who we have been, and who we will become, because of his interactions with human beings," explained Roth.
How this mysterious Steward interacts with mankind is the subject of each comic. "On any given day, if you know of what happened on July 12 and July 13 of 1971, what you may not know is there is a day between those two days that was pinnacle to who we are as human beings, and where we are going. The adventure of that day is captured in a single issue of 'Days Missing,' as an example that would explain to you a little more about our history," said Roth.
Caylo detailed Archaia's initial release for the project and creative teams, stating "It's a five issue miniseries, and each issue is worked on by a different creative team. The first and fifth issues are worked on by Phil Hester and Frazer Irving, who will sort of book end the series. In between we have three other creative teams. All the main covers were done by the great Dale Keown, creator of 'Pitt,' [who is] working on 'Darkness.' All the second covers of the issues were done by Frazer Irving, and the third covers of each issue, which are internet exclusive that can be bought only on DaysMissing.com, were worked on by the interior artist of that issue. And, [it's] interesting to know that the 'B' cover, or second cover, for each issue, when all put together, will connect. You can put them side by side by side, and they will all connect. That's something we have not really announced until today. It's a cool little extra perk if you buy all the 'B' covers to 'Days Missing,'" said Caylo, as he displayed some art from the project, including art by Hugo Petrus.
Though the covers may be directly connected, the issues are more of a serialized nature he explained. "While each issue features the same character, each issue is new reader friendly. Each issue is a self contained story," said Caylo.
Roth provided a brief synopsis of the stories for each issue. "The first story takes place in 2004, for issue one, and yet at the same time takes place in prehistoric times, as a sort of flash back. Issue number two is a monster, sort of a horror type of a book. Issue three takes us to almost today, and talks about a fledgling creation of a technology within our day. And issue four goes all the way back to the Conquistadors, and talks about a story back then. At the end of the day, when you reach the fifth book, I think you'll be extremely excited. The fifth book is tremendously good," said Roth.
As for why the issues jump between time periods, Roth said "Between all those time periods, and the way we are telling the stories, out of order but sort of peeking at annals from The Steward's library, allows you to see the many stories we can tell, and the kinds of stories we can tell, in ways that really allows you to get the fullest experience from 'Days Missing' and The Steward that I think you can have."
Josh Finney chimed in with his own observation on the comics. "I am a sci-fi writer, I have a reputation for being known as a sci-fi guy, and I have got to say that this project, 'Days Missing,' is the equivalent or the modern day answer to the 'Twilight Zone.' It has all of the huge ideas, yet the humanity, and something everyone can relate to. It is brilliant, get it!"
The discussion then turned to digital distribution, as Caylo announced, "About six weeks ago, Archaia was the first publisher to debut an original graphic novel on the Amazon Kindle, and also on the Amazon Kindle app on the iPod and iPod Touch. [It was] created by Joshua Hale Fialkov and artist Noel Tuazon. They first collaborated on a little independent series called 'Elks Run,' and now 'Tumor,' [which] is a black and white graphic novel specifically meant for the Kindel."
Fialkov summarized the project as, "A Los Angeles noir about a private detective named Frank Armstrong. He's down in the gutter. He's made a mess of his life. He gets a big case for the first time in years on the same day he is diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. The story is about how Frank has to cope with this thing, solving this case, doing good for once in his life, before he drops dead. While at the same time he is suffering from the effects of having an actual late stage brain tumor. Which means seizures; loss of time; tactile, visual, and auditory hallucinations. It becomes a story of not only Frank trying to find and protect this missing girl, but also the disappearance and murder of his wife twenty years prior, and his role and responsibility for that," said Fialkov.
Introducing a short digital motion preview of the comic, Fialkov said "There is a quote I read, that went 'It's a cross between the film noir classic 'D.O.A.' and 'Memento,'' and that's probably the easiest way to explain it."
"It's a really gritty series," added Caylo. "The fifth issue recently debuted on Amazon.com. You can download it right now for $0.99, though the first issue is free."
And, for those lacking the electronic book displaying device, "We're actually giving out business cards [to a select few] for the detective in the book. And on them is a link, and that link gets you access to downloadable PDFs. Please share them, go ahead and put them on file sharing networks," said Fialkov, to some hesitant laughs from the audience.
"No I am serious. At the end of the day the reason we are doing digital comics is…it's our job as fans of comics, and as creators of comics, to be evangelists for our medium. And the best way to do that is to actually get comics out there. So one of the other things that we did was create the website TumorTheComic.com, and on there you can actually read, for free in a flash viewer, the comic about a week or two after they come out on the Kindle," explained Fialkov.
Fialkov spoke at length on the difficulty of working with a crime book in a medium often dominated by superheroes, and the difficulty of getting the word out on independent books. "We're trying to do stuff that's different than what a lot of people are doing. There is a rich tradition in comics of great crime fiction. If it were movies, it would be a mainstream action movie or suspense movie. But in comics, we're considered sort of this oddball, off to the side thing. I look at it as my job, and kind of my mission for what I do with my own creator-owned work, to get it out there and let people know outside of the of people who just like Marvel and DC. What I really love is the power of the medium, and how you can tell adult stories in a way that no other medium can do. So please, check out the book, and if you like it, tell everyone you know, especially people who don't read comics," implored Fialkov.
Caylo then announced that the collected book would be released in January 2010. "It's going to be a beautiful hardcover. It's $15. It'll be 225 pages," added Fialkov.
Regarding bonus features in the hardcover edition, Fialkov said "Our goal is to have an extra fifty pages in the book that is entirely new stuff [different from what is online]. Stuff that is going to enhance the experience, and make you understand what we went through to make the book. Why we made the book the way we did."
Turning to the next panelist, Caylo introduced creator Josh Finney as he displayed a short animated preview of the book with voice-over. "Coming from Archaia, very soon, a science fiction limited series called 'Titanium Rain,'"
"In the year 2031, man's survival instinct is put to the test. When a civil war in China spirals into a global conflict, nations are destroyed. Millions are killed. And for many, like U.S. Air Force pilot Alec Killian, survival will depend on surrendering his humanity to biotech and machine…" said the voice-over to the preview.
Caylo began, stating "The double size issues #1 and 2 will be out in a couple of weeks. A month after that, there will be a double sized issue #3 and 4, and by the end of the year, we'll have a full collection of all four issues in a nice fancy hardcover."
On the topic of that hardcover, Finney said "The graphic novel will be hardbound, the first four issues plus an extra fifty pages, including two unpublished stories, vehicle specs, and a ton of extra material. We are working with a lot of guest people within the extra pages. And it's on Amazon right now for $13. Now that's a deal," he said laughingly.
Finney then expanded on the summary given in the clip. "The western nations are pulled into this war. Outnumbered and outgunned, they turn to cybernetically enhancing their pilots to make up the difference. In the process it starts to call into question all sorts of things. Like, what is humanity? What is our relationship to technology? Basically, the question of the nature of war. It is a very simple thing to tell a war story that says war is bad. That's obvious. I am trying to take it a step further; is it necessary? It's basically a war epic with a lot of big themes."
Finney continued, "One of the things that really drove me to tell this story was, what is human nature? We have a lot of preconceived notions about what we are about. What better way to really dig in there and explore us as a species than to push us to the brink, drag us down to the worst, World War Three, self destruction, and ask what happens after, what is after."
Finally, Caylo introduced the last mini-panel for the afternoon: Tom Pinchuk, writer of 'Hybrid Bastard'; Michael McMillian, writer of the upcoming 'Lucid'; and Corey Moosa, of the creative production company 'Before the Door.'
Caylo stated that Archaia will be coming out with a hardcover collection of 'Hybrid Bastards,' explaining that it's a story which "we started before Archaia's restructuring."
Pinchuk provided a brief, humorous summary of the book. "'Hybrid Bastards' is about creatures born to what amounts to an epic practical joke of mythic proportions. It's about a Greek god who is duped into conceiving creatures with inanimate objects, with a wall, a car, a pile of laundry. And because he's a god, these things get pregnant, and they give birth to unholy bastards. And when these things come of age, he's disgusted by his children and wants to sweep them under the rug. And they want what all children want, they want their fathers love. They want his acceptance. And there is the conflict of wills, the fractured family drama," he said, to an often laughing audience.
Caylo asked about the art style of Kate Glasheen on the book. "Kate is a total lunatic," said Pinchuk. "She went to a private school, she comes from a very atypical background. More of an abstract style. She starts with pen and ink, and then goes over it with watercolors. And we've done comics that will not seem like anything else out there. Your mind will be blown so bad your brains will be all over the ceiling."
The topic then shifted to Archaia's recent film partnership. "In late July we announced a partnership with a company called ,Before The Door. Which is the production company formed by Zachery Quinto, the actor in 'Heroes' and 'Star Trek,' with…Corey Moosa and Neal Dodson," said Caylo.
The first of two projects Archaia is working on with Before the Door is "Lucid." Caylo introduce Michael McMillian, one of the creators of the project, who summarized the concept. "'Lucid' takes place in a parallel universe a lot like ours. We have a new President named Jefferson Monday. Major world powers in this universe wield secret agents with combat powers called combat mages. They are sort of protecting the realm of the United States, or England, or China. Our main character is the combat mage in the United States called Mathew D. 'Lucid' is the adventures of Mathew D in a time of crises."
The second project Archaia is working on with Before the Door is named "Mr. Murders is Dead," written by Victor Quinaz. Moosa described the project as "a crime noir. We follow a character called Gould Kane. He is an old, beat up, washed up detective. He's past his prime, out of shape, overweight - he smokes cigarettes, he's an alcoholic, he's just like your grandfather. The story starts with his arch nemesis, Mr. Murder, and he's dead. And where do you go when your arch nemesis is no longer there? [The story explores] how that evolves Gould's character. That's how our story starts, and I am not going to tell you too much because that would ruin it."
Asked where Archaia stands on motion comics, McMillian said "I think they are a really cool idea. I would love to see more of them. And done well. I think the 'Spider-Woman' comic is really cool. So coming from a 'Lucid' standpoint I would love to see a 'Lucid' motion comic. I think it would be really fun."