The mood was noticeably buoyant as attendants milled into the Inside Avatar Press panel at the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo. While there were certainly announcements made, panel moderators artist Michael DiPascale and Avatar's Director of Sales and Marketing Keith Davidsen kept the audience in laughs as well, with wild anecdotes and some ruminations on why Avatar Press continues to "push the envelope."
The first big announcement was for Zak Penn (screenwriter for "X2," "X-Men: The Last Stand") and Scott Murphy's co-written superhero book "Hero Worship," featuring art by co-panelist DiPascale. The book, shipping in July, is the end result of about three years' worth of work. "It's basically about society's worship of a hero and how that can be exploited against the society," DiPascale told the audience.
The series' main hero is Zenith, but the story really follows the worship of heroes by a kid named Adam. Davidsen pressed DiPascale for details on Zenith, who is a "Superman-type hero," though his powers are never clearly defined. The series, DiPascale said, is about the fanaticism surrounding the world's heroes more so than the super-powered characters themselves.
From superheroes to super-evil zombies, the panel shifted topics to "Crossed," reminding readers "Crossed: Badlands" will see Jamie Delano take over writing after this month's final issue from Garth Ennis. After Delano finishes his arc, David Lapham will return to the Crossed universe as "Badlands'" next writer.
Davidsen promoted the publisher's webcomic "Crossed: Wish You Were Here," written by Simon Spurrier with art by Javier Barreno, as the "first long-form "Crossed" epic." While "Crossed" creator Ennis and others tend to tell more "in-and-out" stories, the webcomic is designed to have more of a "The Walking Dead" approach to the universe. Characters will die and implications will be felt. The comic, updated every Thursday, was characterized by Davidsen as "an impressive achievement."
In describing what "Crossed" is, exactly, Davidsen said it was about people inhabited by "pure evil." The landscape of "Crossed" is one where, as DiPascale said, "inhibition is a shortcoming." This led to a conversation between Davidsen and a fan about how to introduce people to a story like "Crossed" which involves the most unimaginable horrors, not the least of which are things like the rape of dolphins.
From this, Davidsen segued into a brief discussion of the average comic book reader's view of the publisher. Avatar is "largely pigeon-holed as the extreme horror publisher because of 'Crossed,'" Davidsen said, though he quickly pointed out that while shockingly violent, Ennis' take on the titles are "mostly about character development."
Launching into another Ennis book, "Stitched," Davidsen detailed the history of the series, a war story set in Afghanistan where zombies are used as weapons. "The first story arc is actually adapted from a screenplay that Garth actually wrote," Davidsen said. "We took the screenplay and adapted into a 15-minute film that is available on DVD and comes with behind the scene footage and an interview with Garth Ennis." Mike Wolfer will be the co-adapter for "Stitched" starting with issue# 8.
Another Ennis project, "Dicks," was the briefly touched upon. The title, illustrated by John McCrea, is about a pair of private investigators Davidsen describes as "super-offensive to everyone -- and that makes it hilarious." In addition to the regular series, Avatar will be republishing older "Dicks" material once re-coloring and other reconditioning is complete.
Davidsen was particularly excited to discuss one of his favorite new books, Lapham's "Ferals." "It is a retelling of the werewolf mythos," Davidsen said. "Rather than werewolves being like just random people infected by disease there's actually a subculture that lives in rural Minnesota...who are militant about keeping their secrets."
Davidsen had trouble defining Lapham's latest Avatar project, "Dan the Unharmable." The series tells the story of an invulnerable man, Dan, whose family is all too vulnerable. Telling the audience that the first issue should be out in about three weeks, Davidsen used the series as an example of how Avatar is moving from publishing miniseries to more ongoing titles.
"'Stitched,' 'Ferals,' 'Dicks' (kinda monthly), 'Lady Death' and 'War Goddesses' from our sister company Boundless Comics. We will have more 'Gravel' coming up in the far future. We are definitely putting out lots of products soon."
Asked if Avatar had spoken with Lapham about returning to the long-missing "Stray Bullets" at the publisher, Davidsen said he didn't think so. "Every publisher has asked [Lapham]," he said, but it appears as though the creator has his own plans for the acclaimed title, though nobody other than Lapham knows for sure what they are.
Davidsen then spoke about comic legend Alan Moore's "Neonomicon," which just won the Bram Stoker award for Best Graphic Novel. While there will be no sequel to "Neonomicon," fans can expect a 10 issue Avatar miniseries by Moore. While no details could be released at the panels, Davidsen assured the audience Moore's next project would be in the same vein as his past works.
After some light joking and a tease about the return of "Night of the Living Dead," with a big name writer coming on board to tell a "game-changer zombie epic," discussion turned to Avatar's Boundless Comics. "It's essentially the return of the bad girl," Davidsen said of the imprint. "It is built upon the back of Lady Death, which is a character celebrating her 20th year of publication this year."
With the help of DiPascale, Davidsen walked the audience through the different types of covers they were designing for "Lady Death." DiPascale said that while many of the covers are in the style of art nouveau and art deco, the publisher will continue to offer the tried and true salacious covers Avatar is known for.
The pair hinted the story of "Lady Death" would spin around more of a "Lord of the Rings" style fantasy adventure which would tie into the other Boundless title, "War Goddesses."
Davidsen then announced that Avatar Press proper would be publishing more work by Warren Ellis, Alan Moore and Cristos Gage. In particular, he said Gage's "Absolution" will see a sequel, but he could not say when or what the story would be about.
"World War Z" author Max Brooks, described by Davidsen as "the authority on zombies," will be bringing a brand-new zombie project to Avatar. He further hinted Brooks would not be the last big name to be coming to Avatar this year, with some top name creators from Marvel, DC and Dark Horse all slotted to work with the publisher.
Finally, Avatar's Free Comic Book Day offering, a free "Lady Death" comic that will collect the first few stories of her original run, was discussed. Davidsen also hinted at another industry-wide FCBD-type promotion in October. Unable to discuss any details, Davidsen did say to "go dressed up," implying a costume-themed event.