Leigh Walton, Marketing Director for Top Shelf Productions, began Top Shelf’s Comic-Con panel by introducing the talented assemblage of writers and artists who publish their work through the venerable outfit, including James Kochalka, Johnny D. Arnold, Nate Powell and Rich Koslowski.
Walton reviewed the noteworthy events of 2009, beginning by mentioning Nate Powell’s Eisner win for “Swallow Me Whole” and noting 2009 as the year the movie “Surrogates” came out, based on Top Shelf book by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele.
2009 also saw the popular “Swedish Invasion” event, whereby Top Shelf published a broad variety of Swedish comic books in English for the first time, including: “Second Thoughts” by Niklas Asker, “Hey Princess” by Mats Jonsson, “The Troll King” by Kolbeinn Karlson, the anthology “From the Shadow of Northern Lights,” “A Swedish Comics History” by Fredrik Strömberg, and “The 120 Days of Simon,” a biographical story by Simon Gärdenfors. James Kolchalka noted that Gärdenfors won a $100,000 grant from the government to research the book, or as he lightheartedly put it, “To travel around the country and do drugs with strangers.”
Last year, with James Kochalka and Andy Runton’s “Johnny Boo’s” continued popularity in libraries, Top Shelf attended the American Library Association conference, and more recently, 2010 has garnered three Eisner nominess in the Top Shelf family: “Far Arden,” “Essex,“ and “Alec.”
Walton went on to discuss Top Shelf’s more recent publications, including James Kochalka’s irreverent “SuperFu*ckers,” which Kochalka described as being about a group of teen age superheroes living together. “It’s like a college experience,” he said. “So basically it’s like my own college experience.”
Walton interjected, “Except you didn’t have super powers and super drugs.” To which Kochalka replied; “Yes we did!” which elicited chuckles.
More recent publications include Matt Kindt’s “Super Spy: The Lost Dossiers;” Jeffrey Brown’s “Undeleted Scenes;” Kathryn and Stuart Immonen’s “Moving Pictures,“ a story about people smuggling during the second world war; and Rich Koslowski and J.D. Arnold’s “B.B. Wolf and the 3 LP’s,” an unconventional retelling of the fairy tale wherein a black man called B.B. Wolf refuses to sell his family farm. The three little white pigs, in an act of violence against him, burn his family and his farm, which causes B.B. to embark on a journey of revenge. Rich Kowalski added, “I’ve been approached by a lot of writers, but this is the first project where I thought, ‘Wow this is okay!’” “USA Today” picked the book as one of the “books to watch” at the convention. J.D. Arnold showed the hardcover, and also the limited edition boxed version, complete with a CD that B.B. Wolf and the Howlers had recorded in 1919, as well as versions of the songs by contemporary bands, plus custom shot glasses and coasters.
Also published this year was Eddie Campbell and Daren White’s book, “The Playwright,” a romantic comedy about the sex life of a middle-aged man. The book is his journey into finding love and is painted with watercolors. “The rich colors of his interior fantasies contrast well with his drab daily life,” Walton said.
The biggest departure from the familiar in Top Shelf’s recent publications was “AX: A Collection of Alternative Manga.” Walton talked about Top Shelf Publications’ long desire to publish some kind of manga, but waiting until the appropriate material came along. From a magazine of underground comics in Japan called AX, this is “surreal, fun, manic, energetic storytelling. It will change your view of Japanese comic books, it’s different from the material that we traditionally associate with manga. Like all western comics, there is a broad range of styles.”
“Fingerprints” by Will Dinski was described as a surreal story (with shades of David Lynch) about a plastic surgeon. With spot gloss on the cover, it is a beautiful book.
Volume four of Kochalka’s “Johnny Boo” books is “Johnny Boo and the Mean Little Boy.” Kochalka said, “The thing I like about Top Shelf is that I can do what I want, and in children’s books people are afraid to take risks. This is about a little boy that pees his pants. All other children’s books are about boys successfully peeing. This is something different.”
Kochalka continued, “Johnny Boo is me. I was a big fan of Casper the Friendly Ghost. Obviously Johnny Boo does not have Casper’s personality. He has wild mood swings. It’s actually fairly biographical.”
For 2011, Top Shelf announced a wide variety of books: Alex Robinson’s second book, “Tricked,” will come out in a new hardcover edition, with a new cover designed by Matt Kindt; Rob Venditti and Mike Huddleston’s full-color book, “The Homeland Directive,” a medical-themed political thriller about slowly uncovering a deadly virus; “Incredible Change-Bots Two” from Jeffrey Brown continues his ironic take on the Transformers trend; Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s next “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” called “1969,” set in swinging London and featuring lots of pop music and culture references; another of Alan Moore’s books, this time with Steve Parkhouse, will be “The Bojeffries Saga;” and Nate Powell’s “Any Empire” will be following three people from childhood to adulthood, growing up in a southern town, their fantasies about violence, the Reagan era, and examining their changing attitudes to violence. Nate Powell added, “There is a turtle murder mystery too. I’m really excited!”
Finally, also coming up in 2011 will be Matt Kindt’s “Super Natural,” a full-length graphic novel followup from “Spy Spy” and Jeff Lemire’s “The Underwater Welder.”
Christian Slade’s beloved children’s series “Korgi” will see a third volume, “A Hollow Beginning,” and Andy Runton’s “Owly” has been licensed to Simon & Shuster for two books as a supplemental to the main Top Shelf graphic novel series. Runton is working on Owly Vol. 6 for Top Shelf currently. Coming out in March 2011 is a full-color, 30-40 page, hardcover book called “Owly and Wormy: Friends all Aflutter.”
Next year will also see five brand new children’s book series: Eric Orchard’s “Maddy Kettle,” Rob Harrell’s “Monster on the Hill,” Ray Friesen’s “Pirate Penguin vs. Ninja Chicken, Book 1: Troublems with Frenemies” (which apparently is “very silly”), Chris “elio” Eliopoulos’ “Okie Dokie Donuts” (where a donut-making robot goes bad), Jess Smart Smiley’s “Upside Down” (about a confused vampire bat), and James Kochalka’s “Glorkian Warrior,” which is also being developed as a game.
New authors who will be joining the ranks of Top Shelf include Kagan McLeod with “Infinite Kung Fu,” a story where 1970s funk and zombies and guns all coexists. The book will be compiled, re-inked and reprinted. Jess Fink brings “Chester 5000 – XYV,” which is an adult/erotic comic book about a steampunk robot created to please and inventor’s wife. Also coming to Top Shelf is “We Can Fix It,” a time-travel memoir, Diana Thung’ “August Moon,” Colleen Coover and Paul Tobin’s “Gingerbread Girl” and “Small favors,” Jennifer Hayden’s “Underwire” and “The Story of My Tits” (about dealing with breast cancer), Eric Skillman and Jhomar Soriano’s “Liars Kiss” and new work by Ray Fawkes.
New Top Shelf international releases include Masahiko Matsumoto’s “The Cigarette Girl,” published for the first time in English. Also published in English for the first time, the award-winning French comic book “Lucille” by Ludovic Debeurme.
With just a little time left, there was time for one audience member to ask the Top Shelf authors about their own relationships with more traditional, mainstream comic books. Nick Powell spoke for everyone when he answered, “Most of us owe our love of comics to traditional or mainstream comics. The weirder [our comic books] get, the more they owe a debt to them.” Rich Koslowski added, “I still collect my Marvels and DC. I buy indie and superhero comics. A good comic is a good comic.”