While the snake-punching molar of Cullen Bunn's The Tooth attracted a lot of attention, the centerpiece of the Oni Press panel at Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo was Ray Fawkes's complex, multilayered graphic novel "One Soul."
The panel kicked off with music from Adam WarRock's Oni Press mixtape and a round of applause from the crowd for Bunn, who writes "The Sixth Gun" and recently quit his job to devote himself full time to comics. Cory Casoni, Oni's director of sales and marketing, kept things light and casual as he led Bunn, artist Brian Hurtt, and artist and writer Ray Fawkes through a selection of recent books.
Fawkes started off with an introduction to his children's graphic novel series "Possessions," a slapstick comedy about a demon that has been captured by a little old lady who collects ghosts. Fawkes described it as "a kids' book where the main characters light on fire and scream and run around."
"Gurgazon the Unclean is a demon possessing the body of a little girl, and she is captured by the butler of this eccentric old lady who collects ghosts for her own entertainment," Fawkes said. "Gurgazon is kept captive in this old lady's house and is constantly trying to rail against the house and perhaps gross out or even kill the old lady, but the more she tries to freak her out or kill her, the more the old lady enjoys it." The reason: The old lady and her friends are collectors and connoisseurs of ghosts. Even the color scheme of the books fits the theme with the first volume printed in black, white and "sickly green" (which Casoni claims is a real Pantone color), and the second is black, white and icy blue.
"I love the dialogue," Casoni remarked, showing a slide where the series protagonist declares, "Gurgazon will dine on the entrails of her enemies."
"I'm just trying to teach vocabulary to kids," Fawkes said.
The first volume, "Unclean Getaway," was named to the Young Adult Library Services Association's Great Graphic Novels for Teens list, and the second, "The Ghost Table," debuted at the show. Fawkes is currently at work on a third volume, "The Better House Trap."
Attention then shifted to Bunn's new graphic novel, "The Tooth," a lighthearted spoof of old horror comics. "The Tooth is an overgrown molar that comes out of this guy's mouth and fights other monsters," Casoni said, summing the title up succinctly. The book is designed to look like a bundle of old comics, complete with a letters column in the back and a worn and beaten cover featuring The Tooth punching a snake.
"It's like Marvel's Man-Thing from the '70s meets 'Clash of the Titans' meets every awesome comic your parents threw away when you went to college," Bunn said. "It's definitely a monster hero kind of story." Bunn claims the idea came to him while riding home from a convention years ago with Hurtt and Shawn Lee, who co-wrote the comic. Matt Kindt (Super Spy) handled the art.
"We would not have been able to get this through the Comics Code," Casoni said. "They would have absolutely assumed that there was some sort of bizarre message to youth."
"There is," Hurtt said. "Thirteen-year-old boys would love this comic."
Casoni then swung the spotlight to Hurtt and Bunn's "The Sixth Gun," which he described as "'Lord of the Rings' meets 'Deadwood,' which I actually think is pretty accurate. It's a supernatural Western."
"It's a little more lighthearted than 'Deadwood,'" Hurtt added.
"…without the sex and cussing," Casoni finished, which admittedly, doesn't leave much besides the cowboy hats. The premise of the book is that a powerful magic pistol has fallen into the hands of an innocent young woman, and a horde of assorted ne'er-do-wells are after it. The series started 11 months ago and, Casoni noted, #11 is coming out next week. "That doesn't happen in comic books," he said.
The first volume of the trade edition, released in January, has already gone back to press; at Emerald City Comic Con, Oni had sold two cases of books by Saturday afternoon of the three-day show. "I went back to the table and there was a guy purchasing the last one, on Saturday afternoon, and I thought, 'We haven't done that before with anything,'" said Casoni. "That's kind of awesome."
Hurtt and Bunn have plotted out the entire story, which they estimate will run 50 issues of the comic, and they have a guest artist, Tyler Crook, coming in beginning with issue 14. Crook was recently hired as the new artist for Dark Horse's "B.P.R.D.," and he is also working on a book for Oni Press titled "Petrograd." Hurtt said they would love to do some spinoffs, but not this year or even next.
The panel concluded with the big announcement of the day: Oni will publish Fawkes' "One Soul," an ambitious graphic novel that tells the life stories of 18 different characters simultaneously, charting their lives from birth to death. Each character lives in a different time and place, and they never meet, but their lives have many parallels. "These 18 people never meet each other, but their lives when strung together tell a single story," Fawkes said. "It's a story about conflict and faith and death and love. It's about being human."
Fawkes went on to describe how the book works: "Every two pages is a double-page spread with 18 panels on it, so each double-page spread shows you one moment from all 18 characters' lives. As you turn the pages, each character occupies the same position on the double page spread. So for instance on the top left corner, you have a prehistoric hunter. That prehistoric hunter's life plays out in the top left corner of double page spread. If you choose, you can read only his life from the beginning to the end of the book, or you can read it as part of all the overall narrative of all 18 characters' lives put together."
Casoni showed a slide from the book, and the audience broke into applause.
"The book is full of patterns and parallels and links between the characters' lives, these characters who never meet," Fawkes continued. "The book has patterns on certain pages, if you pull back from it you can see an overall pattern of light and dark that forms a shape of its own. Other pages are not like that.
"One of the things that this book is about is the human capacity to see patterns were there may or may not be any. And the question, if there are patterns that I put in the book on purpose, does that mean those patterns are there throughout the book even when I wasn't trying?"
Fawkes worked on the book for over three years, and he said it took him a year just to figure out how to tell the story.
"One thing you can do with comics better than any other medium is, you can play with time. You can move the readers back and forth through time because the reader can flip back and forth very easily through the pages, especially if what they are looking for occupies the same place on every page," he said. "The reader, when reading this book, will be encouraged to manipulate time whichever way they want. They can move forward through time normally or they can flip back and forth in time."
The characters in the book span all of history, from prehistoric times to the modern day. "I wanted the story to cross races, classes, religions," Fawkes said. "I wanted people from all around the world. I wanted people who were Muslim and Christian and atheist, I wanted people who were well off, people who were not well off, I wanted people who were generally compassionate and kind and others who were abusive and violent, so I had to plan everyone out to make sure I had the bases covered."
The 176-page book will be an oversized hardcover and will premiere at Comic-Con International in San Diego in July.