WWLA: Aspen Comics Panel

Fri, March 16th, 2007 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Hannibal Tabu, Columnist

At Wizard World LA, Aspen began its panel somewhat later than expected, as the company's Peter Steigerwald showed up to set up an iBook for the company's AV presentation and offered to have a message board poster named Simon dance for the assembled crowd in order to kill time.

Simon -- a six foot tall lanky gentleman with short blond hair and glasses -- protested, "I'm from Sweden, I don't have any rhythm!"

Steigerwald was nonplussed. "Any Germans who would like to attack his country to motivate him to dance?" Simon said something difficult to decipher and Steigerwald replied, "Just because no one wants to go to your country doesn't make it entertaining."

The fan gave in and walked in front of the projector screen, proceeding to start with possibly the worst Cabbage Patch ever. "I'm charging for signatures by the way," he offered as he switched into a strange kicking movement. Steigerwald was not impressed, and Simon protested further, "I'm Swedish! We don't know how to dance! Have you seen ABBA? You call that dancing? Ace of Base, did they dance? Roxette?"

Despite an attempt to get the crowd to clap a beat for the poor Swede, it was silence in the room by 4:37 while Steigerwald continued to hook up cables. He then tried to get Aspen message board posters to introduce themselves, the only ones willing to do so, including a board moderator, seated on the front row. Steigerwald was displeased with this, asking, "What are you guys, Marvel fans?" He then indulged Simon in a game of twenty questions, letting the crowd jump in as well. Getting to sixteen questions was an overwhelming struggle for some reason, and Steigerwald continued to berate the crowd. "Come on, it's not like you guys are social outcasts who hang out at home!" he said.

The Aspen staffers started to file in a little after 4:45 PM -- pencil artist Micah Gunnell, inker Don Ho, writer Frank Mastromauro, studio head Michael Turner, colorist Beth Sotello ("who's very embarrassed to be here," Steigerwald pointed out), inker Jason Gorder, writer JT Krul and editor Vince Hernandez.

Holding up a cast, Hernandez said, "I have a broken wrist, because I fell down a hill."

"He tried to pull out of it, but the hill fought back," Steigerwald commented.

"I'm not answering any questions about my wrist," Hernandez warned before muttering, "No provocation ..."

"We're not gonna say who's at the top of the hill," Steigerwald said, glancing over at Mastromauro. "He was like 'dude, stop falling!'"

"He did say that," Hernandez agreed.

"Enough of that tomfoolery," Steigerwald said, before getting Hernandez to recreate his Wondercon version of the company's panel opening "Aloha!" The panelists each introduced themselves before Michael Turner gave an update on his health. "I've been on chemo for last three months, and it's working. I'm having no pain. I was on twelve pain killers a day now I'm down to zero. I'm gonna continue to do every cover he hands me to do. I'm feeling good, I'm gaining weight back, and I'm feeling great. Thanks for all the support and thanks for waiting."

The show was turned over to Mastromauro, who talked about upcoming events and the slides shown. The company plans to return to the "Soulfire" series, showing a cover for issue eight featuring a battered winged man in dreamy illumination. A print of that image, Mastromauro announced, was available at the Aspen booth.

They also announced a new series called "Soulfire: New World Order" written by Krul, which will debut in May. The iPhoto slide show was vexing Mastromauro, and Krul said, "if you go on YouTube, you can see the Wondercon panel, it went great!" Krul went on to describe the project as "a darker story ... jam packed wit its own crazy characters. It predominantly takes place in San Francisco ... magic is coming back and people are struggling to find their place in this new world."

"Shrugged" was next, with the cover to issue five showing a visual theme similar to the classic James Bond poster from "For Your Eyes Only." A convention exclusive variant showed a colorful butterfly-themed girl posed amidst a field of color. Issue six's cover had the main character's hand encased in flames a la Johnny Storm, issue seven's cover showed a number of bodies on the floor while a menacing figure looms over them, and issue eight ("which will be oversized") had an entire city and all the title's characters bursting from the head of the protagonist.

Late this year, Aspen promises a new Fathom series, but at WWLA they were premiering "Fathom: Kiani," which features an alternate cover by Talent Caldwell and an incentive cover by Michael Turner. Turner and Steigerwald had a WWLA exclusive cover as well, VIPs received an exclusive variant, and a UK exclusive with the British flag in the form of a bra was shown. "A limited amount will be available on our website," Mastromauro said. Randy Green did an alternate cover for issue two, Ande Park on issue three, with Micah Gunnell on an alternate for issue four. "Fathom: Killian's Vessel" is slated for late summer, a "dark love story" written by Vince Hernandez.

Many "classic" and swimsuit images are being re-introduced as prints due to fan demand. This summer's Free Comic Book Day will feature a new "Worlds of Aspen" sampler with snippets from "Fathom: Kiani," "Soulfire: New World Order," "Shrugged" and "Soulfire."

Aspen busts (the character Aspen, Kiana, Cannon and a black armor variant of Aspen) shipped last week, according to Diamond Distributors, "and should be sold out by Monday," said Mastromauro. Their long-awaited Kiani statue was delayed by many things, including Chinese New Year, but as Steigerwald said, "By 2008, you'll have it." The "Ekos" project got just a logo on a slide and Mastromauro's comment, "Coming ... soon."

They then delved into work for the big two, showing Turner's "Justice League of America" cover with Amazo as Red Tornado, then showed the cover for this month's issue seven, featuring Wonder Woman, a teaser cover for issue nine that had Red Arrow, Hawkman and a character hidden for contractual reasons. They then showed a cover showing Power Girl and Black Canary that's generated seventeen pages of commentary on a comics message board, characterized by Mastromauro as "a good read if you want a laugh."

Switching to Marvel, the "Civil War" #7 alternate cover was shown, as was an alternate for "Black Panther" #25. Turner will be doing a run of "Fantastic Four" covers, showing some that had the Silver Surfer facing off with the Black Panther. A cover for "Hulk" was shown, as well as the first of a series of covers for a new "Namor" series.

The "Ultimate Wolverine" cover image drew gasps, showing Logan's claws slicing through a field of red.

The discussion turned to "Heroes" webisodes done weekly by the company,

Questions included asking why the relentlessly taciturn Sotello was embarrassed to be there ("because she's so much better than everyone else on this panel," Steigerwald offered, and she simply shrank and waved and had little to say on almost any subject), how the "Heroes" project came to be (Mastromauro is friends with "Heroes" producer Jeph Loeb, who's also working with Turner on "Ultimate Wolverine," and Aspen is contracted for three seasons worth of webisodes), that trade paperbacks are planned "one per quarter" which will reprint some of the material from the Top Cow era, starting with "Soulfire: Dying In The Light" and an "Absolute Fathom" hardcover, which had some legal snafus along the way.

"The 'Fathom' movie is now not really happening," Turner announced. "We had some problems with some scripting, we had some name issues with the 'Surface' thing ... It was definitely an experience that we had with Hollywood. All the scripts were completely different from what you know of 'Fathom.' We're going back and starting again." The first script, apparently, had no powers or ships, just a character named Aspen, and "they kept trying to fix it," Turner said.

Mastromauro added, "We're set up at a whole new agency, with a whole new set of eyes." "Shrugged" was also mentioned as an element in these movie-related talks. As with discussions of animation and video games, where talks are happening but nothing concrete is in existence, Turner said, "Do something big or don't do it at all."

By 5:17, Steigerwald was struggling to get questions for the panel. "what's my fourth favorite cheese? Vince," he quipped.

Steigerwald asked each panelist about who their favorite character was, and only Turner and Steigerwald even mentioned Aspen characters (Batman, Wolverine, Spider-Man and even Danger Girl and Warbuck got mentions). Hernandez said his favorite was, "Doomsday, because he stands for everything that's right in the world." He continued, "I have the only piece of artwork where he's killing a kid and he's holding a kitty."

Hernandez was asked what it's like to write a female lead, and he said, "I'm doing the best I can, because I don't know anything about how women think." "Are you single?"Steigerwald wondered. "... yes," Hernandez replied sheepishly. Apparently, Mastromauro reads back Hernandez' scripts in the office, and Steigerwald said, "It is the most annoying thing in the world to hear Frank reading back his scripts." "With funny little voices," Hernandez complained.

The panel ended with another hearty "Aloha" (after some quipping about how Hawaiian is too simple a language, with a word that means so much) and fans filed out to get one of 150 numbered prints of the Turner/Steigerwald alternate cover to "Shrugged" #5.

 
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