Big Apple Comic Con had four guests billed in advance: Marvel Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada, "Dark X-Men" writer Paul Cornell and artists Carlos Pacheco ("Ultimate Comics Avengers") and Phil Jimenez ("Astonishing X-Men."). However, Pacheco was the only announced guest in attendance at the panel, alongside host and "Wizard" editor Mike Cotton and "X-Force" artist Mike Choi.
According to Cotton's introduction, Quesada couldn't make the panel because he was stuck at the Marvel Comics offices across town. (Quesada did, however, make it to his VIP signing at 3 p.m.) Cornell relayed on his blog a day before the con that his travel arrangements hadn't been taken care of, and so he was forced to be absent. Jimenez reportedly had to cancel due to a family emergency.
With initial complications out of the way, the panel began with an emphasis on working as a pro comic book artist.
The first discussion covered how the artists made their way into comics. Choi related that, after working at IBM and moving to Top Cow with the intent of being a marketing guy at the comics company, he kept practicing till he made it as an artist. Pacheco, after apologizing for his English, kept his explanation simple: "Basically, I'm a geek. I grew up reading comics." His fandom of American comics led him to pursue comic art. Pacheco, who's from Spain, said his goal was always to be an American comics artist, and after doing some work overseas, he caught the eye of someone at Marvel ("'Who's this spanish hick?' And hey, that's me!" Pacheco said of his discovery in the mid-90s) and he began doing work for Marvel's British division.
Next, the artists were asked if they check out the work of younger and upcoming artists.
"I don't like looking at younger people's art, 'cause then I feel really discouraged," Choi joked. Later in the panel, the artist elaborated by saying he looks at art as both a fanboy and as an artist. Citing both Kenneth Rocafort and Sean Gordon Murphy, Choi explained that these were two artists whose posts on deviantArt have really gotten other artists talking.
"I'm sitting at a panel with Carlos Pacheco, and that's still crazy to me," Choi said, implying that he still felt like one of the newer artists he was asked to talk about.
Pacheco joked that any "new" artists he might name would probably be people who had been working in popular comics for a few years at least.
The artists then discussed if projects they would love to do but haven't been able to yet. Choi explained that the fact that most of his work has been for the X-Men section of the Marvel Universe has him pretty excited to draw anyone else in the 616. Choi cited Ultimate Captain America as a character he loves and also said he'd be keen on doing an Inhumans book.
Though he said he enjoys doing team books, Pacheco lamented that his success with them hasn't allowed him to do many solo books. The artist said he would love to work with Spider-Man, before expressing his enjoyment in working with second tier characters, explaining that people expect certain things from a Wolverine story, but an Iceman-centric story would allow creators a bit more freedom.
"You can be more creative working with them than the big characters," Pacheco said.
The artists were then asked about working relationships with writers.
"I hate the writers." Pacheco joked. After being asked about working with Mark Millar, Pacheco commented, "he's paid just because he's crazy" before explaining that he enjoys how Millar looks beyond the classical trappings of superheroes comics in his work.
Choi said he likes when he is working with a writer where the relationship allows him to suggest things in the process—such as drawing scenes in different ways. Later in the panel, the artist explained that he was a bit nervous when he started working with Ed Brubaker due to the writer's Eisner winner status and the fact that "Uncanny X-Men" was a very popular book. However, Choi said that by the end of their working relationship things were very smooth.
Suggesting a theory that working in American comics was like being in a rock band, Pacheco explained that he loves to collaborate closely with a writer in the early stages, but then have freedom to work once he has the script—saying he prefers not to be on the phone with writers everyday about the project. Once he has worked out the plot with the writer, he would rather be free to concentrate on his work.
"If I was the guitar player, I wouldn't want to tell the bass player how to play [bass]," Pacheco said.
During the panel, the artists were asked about their view on motion comics.
"I'm really losing touch with the generation younger than me. Everyone under 25 is a douchebag to me," Choi teased after explaining he'd rather read a comic book. "What I like about comic books is definitely the fact that I get to read it at my own pace. [Motion comics] are almost like getting a comic read to you."
"But the ones Marvel is doing are really awesome," Choi followed up, jokingly.
Pacheco weighed in by saying that what he likes about comics is the language of how the words and images tell a story. The artist then explained that, while his son has never read a comic, he is a big fan of Spider-Man and the X-Men. He then suggested that at some point, it might be possible that people could forget those characters came from comics, much like people often forget James Bond originally came from novels. He finished by saying that he wants to do comics, not just because of the characters but because he loves the medium as a whole.
A fan question then closed out the panel by asking about deadlines in the comic book industry.
"The best case scenario is that you are two or three months ahead," Choi said about deadlines. The artist also related that working closely with his fiance/colorist Sonia Oback also helps keep him on track, though he admitted things had been particularly crazy for the past few months, even causing the two to work through their birthdays.
Pacheco then explained that working in the Ultimate Universe means artists must focus on realism. This precision is crucial in panels where locations like Paris needed to be drawn, and doing so takes time for reference. Though he realizes that getting books completed on time to do right by advertisers and retailers is important, Pacheco said he admired Quesada's decision to allow Bryan Hitch time to complete his run on "Ultimates 2."
Choi also emphasized that he believes Marvel's commitment to quality is very high before mentioning a constant fine gripe about late deadlines. Explaining that fans sometimes say that Jack Kirby could complete work on multiple books in the past so modern artists shouldn't miss deadlines, Choi said that while Kirby was a genius, he thinks that the standard of quality for comic art is higher now. He went on say that books like "Watchmen" and "Dark Knight Returns" had late issues, but no one remembers that now. Pacheco thanked DC and Marvel for understanding that artists now don't work like artists did back in the day.
"Every artist can do a book in two weeks," Choi said. "[But] it's gonna suck."