The Writers of Image Comics panel consisted of some of the industry's current best and brightest scribes. Joining previously announced panelists Kelly Sue DeConnick, Matt Fraction and Nick Spencer were some of the event's special surprise guests, Scott Snyder, Ed Brubaker, Bill Willingham and panel moderator Kieron Gillen. While most of the panel participants were current Image talent, Snyder and Willingham were not -- until the the keynote presentation earlier that day, when Image Publisher Eric Stephenson separately introduced the pair as two of the Image Expo's surprise guests.
While Snyder is re-teaming with his "Detective Comics" collaborator Jock for the horror comic called "Wytches," Willingham's Image project is a comic rooted in magic. Titled "Restoration," the series will launch in late 2014 with artist Barry Kitson.
To open things up, Gillen asked, "Why do you write? What makes you do it?"
"I don't know how to do anything else," Brubaker replied. "I honestly don't know. I think it's an illness. You're either a writer, or you aren't a writer. I feel I get more irritating than normal if I haven't written that day. It's something that I have to do."
Willingham's answer opened with a similar sentiment. "I have no other skills. It's one of the few ways to get paid for lying to people." The "Fables" creator described writing as an extension of sorts to settle disputes one has when they are a child such as who would win in a fight, Thor or Superman? "At least, I'm a little closer to the point that I can settle that definitively.
"I think there's a bit of selfishness in that writing is an act of jumping up on a stage (metaphorically for the most part), and saying, 'Give me your time and attention for as long as I want it, and pay me for it. I promise I won't waste your time.'"
Fraction identified with what Willingham had to say, and added his thoughts from an introspective angle. "They might be stories of what I might be going through, and ultimately, an act of self-examination."
Snyder described himself as an anxious kid that wanted to write and draw, finding it a means of escape. "For me, it's a way to more explicitly examine how I see the world."
"There's something terrifyingly addictive to telling stories," Spencer said. "The most intoxicating thing is seeing people connect with what you're doing."
DeConnick also touched upon that same yearning. "It's that need to connect with other human beings," she said. "A shared experience and emotional connection is key." She added that when mapping out a story's opposing views, "I'm trying to figure out where I might stand, but I can write both sides of a story."
"Writing is empathy," Brubaker added. "You have to put yourself in the situation. I have to be able to understand the good guys and the bad guys. Ultimately, everyone thinks they're the good guy."
The next topic Gillen had for the panelists was what about their lives as writers could sometimes have negative effects on the lives of their family and friends. Or, as Gillen more succinctly put it, "Which bits about you being a writer make you a bad person?"
"Writers are not off duty; it takes a long time to do what we do," Willingham answered, expanding with an example of a time he shared an apartment with a friend. While his friend would head into an office work most days, he would, from time to time, ask Willingham to run various errands since Willingham worked from home. "Nobody will ever truly believe that you are working," Willingham told the crowd.
"That thing about not being present can be really difficult for that other person," Spencer said in agreement. "The time we spend typing the words is minuscule to the time we take to think about these words."
Snyder talked about how he feels bad that his wife has read his comics, which are filled with morbid plot beats, such as those in his recent Joker epic, "Death of the Family." "I don't think I could put up with that on the other side."
DeConnick mentioned that she used to collect crime scene photos, but now, being the mother of two small children, her perspective has changed to such a degree that she can't even bear to read any true crime stories featuring children.
Before jumping into the audience Q&A portion of the panel, Gillen first insisted on getting one of the more common questions out of the way. Namely, "How do you break into comics?"
Brubaker quipped, "Don't send your comic scripts to Marvel. They're not gonna read it." Fraction, on the other hand, joked, "I wanna know how to break out of comics."
It was Willingham who answered the question best and most honestly. "The nice thing about today is with publishing online and things like that. The gatekeepers are still here, in the sense that publishers have their people that decide who they publish, and who they do not -- [but] the gates are no longer there. There is now nobody that can say, 'You are not ready for comics,' and make it stick. You get to decide that. The problem is, you get to decide that! Some people still need filters and direction."
Picking up on an earlier thread, a fan asked the panelists who they thought would in a fight: Thor or Superman?
DeConnick and Fraction both believed Thor would win. Then, Snyder answered, "I'm the only DC guy on this panel, what else could my answer possibly be?" The response elicited a nice roar of laughter from the crowd, which continued after Willingham's answer: "Whoever landed the first sucker punch." The laughs continued when Brubaker gave his answer, "James. Tiberius. Kirk." The "Fatale" writer said, confidently and matter of fact, "He would talk them out of fighting -- that is, until the Hulk would arrive."
Asked how to write women, DeConnick replied, "Well, pretend they're people, too." Prefacing that there might be a level of snark in the rest of her answer, DeConnick suggested using the "sexy lamp test" since, as she joked, "the Bechdel test is just too advanced for the comic book industry. If you can take the girl out of the story, and replace her with a lamp, and the plot still works, well, fuck you!" The applause and laughter from the crowd was instantaneous. Mind you, DeConnick obviously did not direct the expletive to the questioner, but just meant to express the point that women are worth more than just their relationships to men and cosmetics. "I love lipstick, but we're more than that, too."
Later, another fan asked to which degree the writers find themselves getting a sort of running commentary from their characters stuck in their head. DeConnick said Carol Danvers is a character who has become very real to her, and joked sometimes she'd like to hurt Jonathan Hickman because the character would utter some perfect piece of dialogue he'd written for "Avengers" that she wished she had scripted.
"Aside from Kelly, the longest relationship I've had is the four years writing 'Iron Man,'" Fraction said, reflecting on his time writing Tony Stark's adventures. "That voice that came with being the 'Iron Man' writer was hard to shut down."
In a similar vein, Brubaker reflected on his time writing Captain America's exploits. "I wrote 'Cap' for so long, I can't do anything Cap-related without the voice popping up."
As for what types of actions each of the panelists takes to help them zero into their respective writing zone, Gillen joked, "Masturbation."
The most common serious answers, given to close out the panel, were taking a walk, a shower or a drive. Willingham and Brubaker discussed first person shooter games; while Brubaker stressed positive research findings, the former found video games too distracting, saying that for him, video games are instead a great way to detach from his writing zone.
Concerning video games, Brubaker shared with the crowd the fact that it was while playing ping-pong on the Xbox that he and Fraction were able to break down the outline of what would become their run on "Iron Fist." Brubaker also noted that, more often than not, Fraction got the best of him during these matches, letting fly a playful, "Fucker!" as emphasis.