The mood in the Moscone Center South's Room 220 was one of childlike glee as the gathered audience's favorite mustachioed cartoonist, Sergio Aragones, took the microphone before the panel officially began. "He doesn't wanna be in panels anymore," Aragones joked as his longtime creative partner and writer Mark Evanier stepped away from the table, commenting on Evanier's relentless WonderCon panel schedule. Aragones continued to entertain the crowd with an easygoing chat, discussing everything from his thoughts on tomato soup to why the Marx Brothers weren't popular in Mexico.
When Evanier made his return, the panel quickly started with a question from the audience about how Aragones got his start as a cartoonist. Aragones told the story of his beginnings in New York in 1963, after numerous unsuccessful attempts to sell his cartoons to small publications in The Big Apple. Following the advice of his colleagues, he skipped the small houses altogether and took his work to the biggest game in town, "Mad Magazine." As Aragones spoke very little English at the time, he asked to speak to "Mad's" only other Spanish-speaking artist, Antonio Prohias. Prohias welcomed him with open arms, being that he spoke even less English than Aragones, and introduced him around the office as his hermano. "Mad" bought some of Aragones' astronaut strips and told him to "make this magazine your home." Little did they know he would take them up on it and move in permanently.
From there, the duo made an announcement that pleased the gathered fans of Aragones & Evanier's long-running, series "Groo." First up was the once-delayed upcoming Dark Horse crossover book "Groo Vs Conan," an idea which at one time was rejected flat out by both creators as being a bad fit for the Groo universe. But books like "Sergio Aragones Destroys DC" and Sergio Aragones Massacres Marvel" convinced the duo that they could craft a book that would poke fun at the world's other famous Barbarian without compromising the integrity of the Groo universe, though Evanier did complain regarding some of Aragones' creative decisions. "You keep drawing yourself naked," Evanier exclaimed. Aragones promised many caricatures of his own backside throughout the book, "Buy a copy and be mooned!" The release date for the series will be announced soon, with Tom Yates doing the artwork for the Conan pages and Tom Luke coloring. Unfortunately, Stan Sakai will not return on letters for this project. When asked about the seemingly incongruous pairing of Conan and Groo, Evanier joked, "I think that Groo is Conan done seriously."
Aragones announced a number of other upcoming solo projects, including as a series of "Simpsons" comics from Bongo Comics, a new series premiering at Comic-Con International entitled "Sergio Aragones Funnies" featuring what Aragones calls "personal stories," an upcoming winter book for Bongo and a national campaign for "Dilbert." And of course his continuing work for "Mad."
Speaking on a recent "Mad" piece, a satire of the TV show "Hoarders," Aragones admitted his research had brought him to a personal realization, "I am a hoarder!." He admitted his collection of comics and figurines was borderline obsessive. After his wife tried to throw some of his collectibles away, he knew he understood the people on the show. "Now I realize it's a sickness, so I'm getting rid of five of my storage units," he joked.
Evanier was equally candid about his overloaded schedule, with season 2 of Cartoon Network's hit "Garfield" series completed, the writer is hard at work writing, producing and voice directing season 3. He is also working on a new Jack Kirby line for Dynamite Entertainment while continuing his popular blog, News From Me.
Aragones and Evanier's banter was the true star of the panel, delighting the already jubilant crowd with anecdotes of their years of collaboration in the comics industry. Evanier shared story after story about Aragones' creation of himself as a cartoon icon. Much was made of Aragones' relationship with his fans, as well. Where other creators of the era would craft recurring characters, Aragones would draw himself so readers would identify him. Aragones' first pocket book "Viva Mad" sold, according to Aragones, 1,200,000 copies. When asked how many Aragones had autographed, he responded "one million two hundred thousand copies."
Aragones' famous generosity with fans showed through in another of Evanier's anecdotes. At a restaurant a few years prior, while planning their "Boogeyman" collaboration, Aragones proclaimed to Evanier that he was fed up with the number of personalized sketches showing up for auction on ebay. As he laid down his plan to end all free sketches, their waitress politely asked for a sketch for her son. Aragones took the receipt and sketched on it without a moment's hesitation. "I love to draw!" said Aragones with a smile.
Evanier opened up the panel to crowd questions. Fans asked after the possibility of collected editions of older "Groo" comics. Evanier said that if demand met the cost, it would be a possibility and Aragones expressed his interest in having a large size volume so that fans could see the detail of the original artwork. Questions regarding the rumored "Groo" movie adaptation met similar response, but Evanier mentioned that the previous discussions had been rejected as the movie studios involved would not allow the pair to maintain creative control.
When asked about their working schedules, both Evanier and Aragones admitted to being night owls, often working well into the early hours of the morning, citing a need to work without distraction. Aragones likened his creative process to a moving train, where any minor deviation could derail a good idea. " It's the little break that absolutely breaks the train of thought. At night there is no break." Evanier added, "Also, if you work at four in the morning, almost everything is funny."
As with most panels at WonderCon this year, the talk quickly turned to the shift towards digital media. This sparked a passionate, but divergent answer from the duo. Evanier began by talking about the necessity in embracing technology as it comes. "It's amazing how much technology has made my life better," said Evanier, focusing on the importance of using technology as a tool instead of as a replacement. "Don't let the machine control you," Evanier said, citing Jack Kirby's often dead-on predictions about future changes as a moral of acceptance in the rapidly changing comic book industry.
Aragones explained that he had spent 60 years developing his methods for paper and did not find working on a computer to be a good fit for him, but advised young artists to incorporate digital toolsets in order to stay marketable in today's work environment. Aragones turned the talk to the problem of value on a digital platform stating, "Everybody wants everything for free." The cartoonist did sound hopeful about the development of future models, stating that it was the responsibility of companies to pay their authors.
Both Aragones and Evanier agreed that if a good offer were to come through for digital distribution of "Groo," they would be amiable.
When an audience member asked if either of the pair was ever jealous of the other, Evanier launched into a long message of admiration and mutual respect for his compatriot, stating "we have no jealousy between us." Aragones echoed this sentiment saying, "It's not jealousy; it's just total admiration."
Aragones & Evanier finished up by answering a question about the nature of their 40 year relationship as writer and artist. "We don't care if this entertains you; we do this to please ourselves," said Evanier. The kinship between the two talents could not have been more apparent, and after over an hour of hilarious back and forth, the audience walked away from room 220 to the madness of the Con floor with smiles on their faces.