Joe's Comics "Sidekick" panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego brought to light new ideas and concepts to the medium with panelists J. Michael Straczynski, Studio JMS CEO Patricia Tallman, editor Phil Smith and artist Bill Sienkiewicz, who was an unannounced guest. Currently Joe's Comics -- an imprint of Image Comics revived last year as part of Straczynski's new media company, Studio JMS -- is publishing "Ten Grand," "Guardian," "Book of Lost Souls" and beginning August 7, "Sidekick."
"There are ways of using the comic book medium that have not been explored yet," JMS said. He referenced a scene from "Rising Stars" where the character of Lionel Zerb, who could talk to the undead, is sitting in a chair seemingly speaking to himself. When the reader turns the page, they see ghostly images with word balloons that are filled with backwards dialogue. "Then you realize if you hold the previous page up to the light you can see the ghostly figures talking to Lionel."
Sienkiewicz, who is drawing variant covers for the "Ten Grand" title, said it is this creativity from JMS that makes him look forward to getting work from him.
"I can't wait to see what Joe will be sending," Sienkiewicz said.
"Whatever you want to do, unless you are way off the mark, we let you do," JMS said on encouraging artistic freedom.
In regards to the larger comic book companies Sienkiewicz said creativity is often limited when working for them, and not because of how the audience will respond to their work. "When you are told you can't do something, it's because you will upset the shareholders," he said.
Another factor that helps them maintain their creativity is the fact the company is not trying to keep a title continuing forever, unlike other publishers who are concerned with the ongoing nature of their books.
"We are not worried about keeping the books going forever," JMS said. "They are designed to go 6-12 issues and then they are done."
Sienkiewicz said that for him, being able to maintain his ability to be creative is about the passion he feels as an artist. "I have a childlike point of view. To me it's always brand new," he said, adding he makes sure his artwork compliments the vision of the writer. "My maturity is doing it in such a way that I don’t get in the way of the story. When it feels like I am firing on all cylinders I feel like a conduit. It's literally like doing something new every time. I have all these ideas and yet no ideas at the same time."
JMS said some of his best successes have been the result of him not taking a standard approach to storytelling. "It's about taking chances and experimenting and being counterintuitive," he said.
The writer talked about approaching writing "Thor" in just this way when he came up with the idea of moving the floating city of Asgard to Broxton, Oklahoma.
"Why would you do that?" is a question commonly asked about this direction. "It makes Thor more godly and yet it makes him more human," JMS answered. "When you see (the Asgardians) talking about plumbing it humanizes them."
He really enjoyed being able to show the interaction between Asgard and the human town of Broxton in often humorous ways.
"There's a whole part where the people of Broxton realize Asgard does not have a mailbox so they put a mailbox out there with the address of One Asgard Drive," JMS said with a smile. "You take the concept and turn it upside down."
In addition to the titles that were announced at the panel, JMS said there will likely be another coming down the road, and this one is a direct result of a casual encounter that happened at this year's Comic-Con International.
"I ran into John Romita, Jr. and found out he is free from his contract at Marvel. I told him we are doing a book together in 2014-2015," JMS said, adding the artist's response was "You're on!"
The writer then discussed his new title coming out with artist Tom Mandrake, "Sidekick," saying it's about a superhero sidekick with the ability to fly, aptly named Flyboy, who finds his life drastically changed when his superhero mentor, Red Cowl, is seemingly killed.
"The first issue takes place right after the death of the Red Cowl," JMS said, saying the events test the character's mental stability. "I want to eventually drive him insane. Especially, when he finds out the Red Cowl is still alive and that it was all an elaborate ruse to ditch him."
JMS said Joe's Comics is trying to not only compete in the market with great writing, the company is competing by also having strong artists on their roster like Tom Mandrake, Bill Sienkiewicz, Jae Lee, and Ben Templesmith. Additionally, the books the publisher puts out have a very mainstream appeal to readers who may not be regular comic book readers, or into standard superhero comics.
"I think that overall my books read really well for people who don't normally read comics," he said.
Tallman talked about one of her first experiences reading comics when JMS gave her a trade paperback of "Midnight Nation" to experience.
"I found it was a fantastic story that just happened to have pictures," she said.
A free audio recording of the first issue of "Ten Grand" was available to readers who bought it and were then given a QR code to obtain the recording -- being an actress gave Tallman the connections to create such a concept.
"I hired my actor friends to do an audio version of the first issue," she said, recommending that readers read the issue with the audio version.
JMS said aside from the extras that can be offered with comic books, the central selling point is about having great characters and great stories.
"It better be a goddamn strong story," Joe said, saying this is especially important considering they are competing with video games, which provide many hours of entertainment by themselves.
"Sidekick" #1 goes on sale August 7