At the "Scott Lobdell Has an Announcement to Make" panel at Long Beach Comic-Con, comic book writer Scott Lobdell spoke about his run on "X-Men" and his writing process, leaving his big announcement of a new Image Comics title for the end of the panel. Light and informal, Lobdell invited Aspen Comics colorist Peter Steigerwald to join him onstage. Along with the moderator, Phantom Planet's Sax Carr, Lobdell began with a smaller announcement.
"[Aspen Comics] wants me to take over 'Fathom,' so I'll be doing that for two years," said Lobdell. "'Fathom' will be very fun to write."
Touching on his successful run as a writer for "The X-Men", Steigerwald asked how much Lobdell felt he was responsible for making the X-Men what they are today.
"One third," said Lobdell to audience laughter.
"To all the contributors on the comic, from pencillers and inkers to writers, you say you are one third of that process?" asked Steigerwald.
"That includes the cartoon, too!" said Lobdell as the audience laughed once again.
Getting serious, the writer quickly moved to the main topic of the panel: how to plot a comic book.
"When you write a screenplay, it's very, very, very regimented and very formatted," said Lobdell. "The thing with comic books plots is, there're as many ways to plot a comic as there are writers who plot a comic." He described his method for plotting as taking a loose-leaf sheet of paper and numbering it, one to twenty-two if it's a 22-page comic, one to 60 for a 60-page comic. He then writes one or two words next to the numbers, attaching the comic's basic action and themes to a page. The most important element of plotting, Lobdell emphasized, is how to end your story.
"If you don't break it down to begin with, you might find you have a great set-up and a great opening and you're ten pages in, and then suddenly, you're trying to figure out how to wrap up the story," said Lobdell.
For all his intricate plotting, he admitted he rarely knows how his comic arcs are going to end until he gets to that point. "I knew where it was going, but if I could surprise myself, then the readers would be surprised," said Lobdell, citing the X-Men villain Onslaught as a specific example.
"It was the end of Age of Apocalypse, and [the editors] said, 'If you could do one story, what story would you want?'" recalled Lobdell. He proceeded to paint a scene where the X-Men, at home in the mansion, rush outside to find a dazed and beaten Juggernaut uttering the word "Onslaught" while the X-Men asked who it was.
"I have no idea [who Onslaught is], but that would be so cool," Lobdell recalled telling his editors.
When Marvel decided to move forward with the Heroes Reborn concept, they needed a villain who could shut down the entire Marvel Universe. "The only person who can start a whole universe is Onslaught," Lobdell told them. They asked him again who Onslaught was.
"I don't know," said Lobdell to audience laughter. Despite the ambiguity, Marvel gave him the go-ahead to develop the character of Onslaught, an entity accidentally created by Professor X when a spark of Magneto's mind is left in his consciousness.
"When you are a comic book writer, you're going to get a plot where you have multiple levels of continuity," said Steigerwald. "Scott's way [to handle continuity] is, 'I'm coming up with this one crazy idea, and then this will work.'"
Discussing the idea of being concise in writing, Lobdell cited his career as a stand-up comedian. "In stand-up comedy, you only have the audience in front of you and the words you can use in front of you," said Lobdell. "It's very rare that you can re-visit a joke." This ability to write quickly with little editing served him well when asked to write his first X-Men story within the span of 24 hours. "The first 12 issues of 'The X-Men' I did overnight because the artwork was so late," added Lobdell.
An audience member asked if he felt he had to continue writer Chris Claremont's dark tone in "X-Men" when he came onboard the popular title. Lobdell replied, explaining his character deaths were more a way to get rid of parts of the X-Men that didn't make sense to him. "As a writer, sometimes you just want to clear the slate," said Lobdell.
Finally, it was time for the panel's big announcement. Bringing artist Dan Duncan to stage, Lobdell told the audience the to of them had created a new book for Image Comics, an original five-issue series called "The Butler."
The series tells the story of the butler to an Avenger-esque super team who has, for 30 years, seen superheroes come and go, all the while staying on in his post, "polishing the armor, and changing the oil in the Batmobile," said Lobdell. When the latest super team goes rogue and takes over the U.N., the butler is the only one with the insider knowledge to stop them.
"Its, what if the Avengers snapped and the only one who can stop them is Jarvis?" said Lobdell
"Working with Scott is a blast," added Duncan, who had worked with Lobdell previously on IDW's "Music Box." While there is no scheduled release date at this point, Lobdell and Duncan plan to begin work on the first issue within a month.
Lobdell wrapped the panel with one final announcement: Long Beach Comic-Con marked his official return to stand-up. On Sunday, he performed at Comics and Comics and will be returning to Los Angeles' Meltdown Comics on Friday, November 5 for another performance. Giving the audience a sneak preview of his act, Lobdell agreed to an impression.
"My imitation of Electro if he were Amish," said Lobdell. He then sat quietly for a minute. He waved and the audience chuckled and applauded.