"It's 'CSI' meets 'Harry Potter,'" joked David Atchison, co-creator of "Occult Crimes Taskforce," the new Image/12-Gauge Comics series starring Rosario Dawson. But take note, "OCT" is not one of those fly-by-night comics using the expensively licensed likeness of a popular actor. Co-plotting the series is Dawson herself, a confessed comics fan who discussed at some length her history with the medium and her eagerness to become involved with the creative process.
"I saw [the five-page 'Occult Crimes Taskforce' pitch] and I read it and thought it was really amazing, but I wanted to be creatively part of it, not just the face of it," the actress-writer said.
The story follows Sylvia Ortiz, a member of the Occult Task Force, a special group within the New York City Police Department whose job it is to ensure that those who use or control magic don't infringe on the rights of non-magical residents. The comic also seeks to create clever explanations for some of America's more unusual historical anecdotes and incorporate them into the series' back-story. Co-writer David Atchison described, for example, the story of European businessman Peter Minuit purchasing Manhattan from its native peoples for what may have been as little as $24 (the accuracy of this story was disputed by some in the audience, but that's another article).
"The premise of the book," Atchison said, "Is that the Indians knew Manhattan was a vortex of evil so they sold it cheap."
The series will also mine many of America's ridiculous laws for your entertainment: "Did you know," Dawson asked, "That in Florida, it's illegal for a dog to marry an elephant? Someone actually took the time to put that into law. We say there's a reason for that, that the union between a dog and elephant would result in something evil that the OST needs to take care of."
"OST" stories span past and present. Dawson and her collaborators intend to explore magic and mischief in a variety of settings, including stories not featuring Sylvia Ortiz. Dawson is a full partner in the endeavor, and her enthusiasm for comics goes beyond stories featuring her likeness.
"My Uncle Gus introduced me to comics," the actress-writer said. "He was always a big Green Lantern fan.
Uncle Gus, who was also present on the panel, explained that he would allow his niece to read his comics over his shoulder. When she'd finish a page, the young Dawson would have to announce, "done!" so that he could turn to the next.
"Going to the comic store with my boyfriend and sharing comics is actually a big part of my life," Dawson confessed.
Illustrating "OST" is Tony Shasteen, who spoke extensively of his employment of photo-referencing in his artwork. Dawson explained she often poses with innumerable variations of smiles, expressions of anger, and things like broomsticks for images of her character holding a shotgun. Shasteen remarked had Rosario Dawson chosen not to be the model for Sylvia, he would have used his own wife, who is reportedly very jealous of the entire affair.
The look of the series is very reminiscent of that of the films "Se7en" and "The Silence of the Lambs," a similarity Shasteen happily concedes: "I'm probably more influenced by film than by comics," he said.
When asked how she finds time to co-plot a comics series whilst working on films, Dawson replied: "Luckily, I'm a night person. [David and I] do a lot of our stuff online. [David and Tony] live in Atlanta, so most of the work is done over the phone and the Internet."
She explained much of the writing process is actually inspired by the Internet, incorporating things she and writer Atchinson come across online and "things that are striking to us in the universe."
As is the case with virtually every panel at Comic-Con, Dawson was inundated with questions concerning things decidedly off-topic, such as her policy on people showing her unsolicited screenplays, although it helps if there's a great part in it for her.
"But of course!" she laughed. "You have to go through my management. I have a couple of friends who've [accepted unsolicited scripts] and got sued, so I don't do that."
When it comes to rejecting scripts, she has help, although she doesn't always need it, she said.
"If they suck it's really easy to reject those. Luckily, I have a manager and an agent who help me screen things. They know my tastes. But right now because I'm getting into producing and developing things, I'm being very selective."
One script she didn't need to reject was Kevin Smith's "Clerks II."
"He sent the script over to me. It was very hush-hush. I always wanted to work with him, especially since 'Chasing Amy.' My uncle is a penciller so I was always saying, 'I'm glad you're not a tracer!'"
Working with Smith was an experience she hopes to repeat on his next project, she said.
"I hope so. I'm kissing butt like nobody's business. I'll babysit!"
Rosario Dawson concluded the panel by saying she's in "OST" for the long haul, and working in comics is currently the most exciting thing she's ever done.
"I'm really energized about ['Occult Crime Taskforce'], and I'm creating the time for it because I do have that creative input to the writing and the dialogue that as an actor, I rarely get to have."