The Archaia Entertainment panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego was the first real outing for the publisher since being acquired by BOOM! Studios, and it began with a visit from BOOM! CEO Ross Richie, who was wearing an Archaia T-shirt. Richie reminisced about having the booth next to Archaia founder Mark Smylie at his first Comic-Con in 2004. "We got along like a house on fire," Richie said. "I have always been intrigued by Archaia. They have done terrific material, really artistic and beautiful, thoughtful, and I think what makes Archaia special is nobody in the space does anything like what Archaia does. So I am just here to say that as an Archaia fan, I can guarantee you the quality, the creative material you have grown to love is not going to change."
The panel closed with a visit from another special guest, actress Alyssa Milano ("Who's the Boss," "Charmed," "Melrose Place"), who was there to talk about her first graphic novel, "Hacktivist," the story of a hacker who is out to change the world. "What if Anonymous is just one guy, sitting behind a computer, changing the world by hacking?" she said. "What if it was one guy that was completely the impetus for the Arab uprising and organizing all the protests?" The hero of "Hacktivist" is a social media mogul based on Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, who is the godfather of Milano's child. The graphic novel is part of Archaia's Black Label division, which brings people in from outside the field to work on comics -- Milano worked with artist Marcus To and writers Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly to produce the book.
In between those two guest appearances, Stephen Christy, formerly Archaia's Editor-in-Chief and now Vice President of Development for BOOM! Studios, led the panel of creators through the pitches for each of their new books. First up was Chris Northrop, whose "The Reason for Dragons" debuted at the show and is on sale now. Northrop told the audience he had been working on the idea together with writer/artist Sean Murphy for years but then fate threw him a curve ball: "I was going over to his house one night to work on it and I was mugged," Northrop said. "Someone tasered me. I lost all my work." Over the course of the next few years he made a new version of the book and eventually pitched it to Archaia.
Northrop's story is about a 15-year-old boy whose father is dead and has a strained relationship with his stepfather. "He is not really good at mechanical things, or applying himself in what most people would call a manly way," he said. "He's a daydreamer." After a fight with his stepfather, Wendell runs away to the edge of the nearby woods, where a group of bullies dare him to go to a burned-out Renaissance Faire and steal a pamphlet. When he reaches the fairground, though, it is not entirely deserted -- he meets a man dressed in homemade armor claiming to be a knight who seeks the dragon that burned down the fair.
Despite the fantasy theme, the book is grounded in reality. "It's about a kid who was lost trying to find himself," Northrop said. "He's got these two opposite father figures, this wacky knight and this really stern father who has a resemblance to Clint Eastwood -- because we really liked 'Gran Torino.' Wendell deals with the things I dealt with as a kid, and it was good to get them off my chest in this book. The first person I gave this book to that read it and called me was my dad. It really helped my relationship with my father."
"Dragons" is illustrated by Jeff Stokely, who was recommended by Northrop's ex-girlfriend. "Jeff had a weird relationship with his father, so it appealed to him on that level," he said.
Archaia has put a little something extra into the book -- a pamphlet like the one Wendell steals. On one side is a map of the fairground and on the other is a space for readers to draw their own dragons, which they can send to Archaia to be posted on tumblr. Northrop, who is a teacher, hopes readers draw their personal dragons. "The title is in reference to personal dragons," he said. "I hope people draw things they are really afraid of, not the real dragon. If they have a problem with a bully at school, draw the bully. If they have a problem with math class, draw math problems. That's what I would like to see."
Next up was Megan Hutchinson, who described her book, "Will o' the Wisp," as "a gothic Nancy Drew." Hutchinson and her co-creator, Tom Hammock, are both filmmakers and the story is loosely based on Hammock's father, who is a toxicologist. In the book, a young girl is orphaned and goes to live with her grandfather on an island in the South. "The island is a cemetery island," she explained. "You can't bury people in New Orleans because they rise above the ground and they float down the street, so they used to bury people on these islands out in the swamp. So the entire island is just this mass graveyard and everyone who lives there works for it." When people start mysteriously dying, the girl has to use a combination of science and magic to solve the crime. "And she has a pet raccoon, who is her sidekick," Hutchinson added.
"Wisp" is Hutchinson's first graphic novel, and at 200 pages it became a challenge for her. "I remember drawing page 118 and thinking I'm going to die," she said. "My head was going to explode. It was definitely an endurance challenge, but as I got through it, things got faster and easier for me -- I grew as an artist. I actually had to redraw most of the beginning pages, because by the time I got to the end of the book, it was completely different from the beginning."
Still, she found it a nice change from filmmaking. "I am a production designer," she said. "I do all the physical stuff behind the actors and sets. It's a very collaborate effort and the nice thing about making a graphic novel is I am now also the director, cinematographer and the editor. I don't need to have all those people telling me what to do." "Will o' the Wisp" will be released digitally, chapter by chapter, starting in August. The printed version goes on sale in November.
The singly-named writer Matz came to Comic-Con International from Paris to talk about the fourth volume of his series "The Killer," which is a story written from the point of view of a hit man. "You are inside his head," Matz said, "and he tries to make sense of what he does. He justifies himself in some way by observing the world and saying it's a bad place and what he does doesn't really make a difference anyhow. On the one hand we are inside his mind and we are trying to figure it out, and on the other hand it is more a reflection of the world we are in. People tend to think this is a cynical piece of work, but I disagree. The character himself is cynical, but the book is not cynical -- it's a real reflection of the world."
Matz found the artist for the series, Luc Jacamon, through a friend and had him audition by drawing a five-page script. "There is no shortage of good artists, especially in Paris," he said, 'but there is more to comic books than just being good at it. You have to draw day after day, the same character over and over, so you have to have this solitary mindset allowing you to be consistent throughout one book and possibly throughout the years. Every once in a while Jacamon wants to take a break from 'The Killer' because we have been doing this since 1997. Sometimes he gets bored with drawing the same guy over and over again, so he changes the glasses. And I gave him a new girlfriend."
The fourth volume starts a new cycle of the story, in which the hit man uses his skills in the business world -- "he becomes sort of a third-world James Bond," Matz said.
Andrew E.C. Gaska's remastered version of "Space 1999" has two parts. His "Aftershock" and "Awe" comics gave the backstory for the original 1970s show, which starred Martin Landau and Barbara Bain. In the show, a nuclear accident on the moon blasted it out of orbit around the Earth. Gaska set the new comics in an alternate universe in which President John F. Kennedy was never assassinated. As a result, the space program was more prominent and he also explores the ramifications of the moon's orbital change.
The newest comic, though, is "a remastered version of the original 'Space 1999' comics that were produced by various publishers in different countries in the 1970s, most of which were printed in black and white and were written by people who clearly had never seen the show," Gaska said. "My original thought was, I want to reprint this stuff because there is some beautiful art in there. We then found out we didn't have the likeness rights to Martin Landau or Barbara Bain. They were not part of the license. So we were told the only way we could reprint this stuff was if we went in and altered their likenesses. So it was like OK, now I have to go and tread on hallowed ground and mess with this art, and I started realizing there were a lot of discrepancies there -- people didn't have the right reference when they drew things, they made someone hold the communicator backwards, things like that. So we decided we were going to remaster this." Gaska rewrote the script to match the continuity of the television series and the personalities of the characters, and his artist Miki redrew the parts that needed to be changed. The comic is also in color for the first time. "We're not trying to pretend the original versions don't exist," Gaska said. "The original versions are readily available in black and white on eBay, and if anybody wants them, that's cool. The original versions are awesome, but the only way to bring this stuff to a new audience was to remaster it."
The next speaker was Mark Long, who described his "Rubicon" as "'Seven Samurai' with SEALS in Afghanistan. Long created the book together with Dan Capel, a founding member of SEAL Team VI, and screenwriter Chris McQuarrie ("The Usual Suspects"). "The book started with a really drunken conversation with the three of us in LA, bragging about stuff we were never going to do," Long said. "At the time, Iraq and Afghanistan were pretty much box office poison, and Chris wanted to do something with SEALs in Afghanistan, something like the movie 'Zulu,'" he said. "I couldn't get that out of my head. I thought it was a brilliant idea. I went back to Seattle and wrote him and said, 'You know, what's better is 'Seven Samurai' because we have the warriors protecting the innocent villagers.' So I asked if I could borrow his idea and Chris said 'That's awesome. In Hollywood people just steal your idea, they never ask permission. Yes, I'd love to collaborate with you.'"
Long plans the book as the centerpiece of a trilogy, all based on the films of Akira Kurosawa. The prequel, "Yojimbo," will be a video webseries and the sequel is based on "Sanjuro." "Rubicon" is the debut graphic novel for artist Mario Stilla, who is based in Naples.
Like many Archaia graphic novels, this one contains some extras. "If you remember 'Seven Samurai,' there are a number of scenes where the lead samurai is pointing to a hand drawn map -- I included the map in this book and there's a little version of it," Long said. "There's a purple heart certificate, an unsent letter from the hero to his pregnant hot mess of a girlfriend, and a brochure to a memorial service for a SEAL who is killed in the first couple of pages. Once you have read the book, if you are like me, you just want to hug all that stuff, you don't want to leave that world and getting to physically hold the materials really extends my consciousness into the world."
Actor and filmmaker Dan Fogler introduced his first graphic novel, "Moon Lake," which, like Milano's, is part of the Black Label division. "Moon Lake is a place that is inherently haunted, a crossroads of so many different kinds of evil that it is hysterical. I directed a movie called 'Hysterical Psycho,' which was like Hitchcock on acid. I thought if I can do that, why can't I do 'Hitchcock Presents' on acid? That became 'Moon Lake.'" Fogler said he was also inspired by the movie "Heavy Metal" in which evil weaves its way through different stories in the same universe. His comic is an anthology of stories, by different writers and artists, all set at Moon Lake. "We have zombie dinosaurs, going back to the beginning of time, all the way to the present intertwined in our everyday conspiracies," he said. "Everything makes its way to Moon Lake, essentially." Fogler plans at least three more volumes, and a preview comic of "Moon Lake" was handed out, along with a preview of "Hacktivist," to the audience as they exited the panel.