ECCC 2018: The Imagination Image Comics Panel With Morgan Beem, Ryan Browne, Sloane Leong, Ram V, Kyle Higgins, Tyler Shainline

by Hannah Means Shannon

At the We Believe in Imagination: Image Comics Panel at Emerald City Comic Con 2018, panelists included Morgan Beem, Ryan Browne, Sloane Leong, Ram V, Kyle Higgins, and Tyler Shainline.

Morgan Beem is the artist on The Family Trade, which is illustrated in watercolor style. She describes it is as “all-ages, action-adventure, fantasy book”, and is written by Justin Jordan. She described her process on her art as a little hard on her writers since her thumbnails are very rough. She uses water color paper, where she does both pencils and inks, on a single sheet. If she “blows it” at the final stage, she has to re-do the entire page, though. Asked about margin of error, Beem said that photoshop does help her out.

She can fix things digitally, for instance if ink runs onto a character’s face. Some pages may be weaker due to the “chaotic” nature of the approach, but not being a perfectionist with water color is important, she said. Her “ornate, Victorian, steam-punk world” in Family Trade required a lot of city planning and architecture, which required a lot of reference from cities to sailors. She does “mood sketching” of areas of the settings, which are important to giving the story a lived in feel, so no locations look too similar to each other.

Ryan Browne is known for God Hates Astronauts and Curse Words, and God Hates Astronauts is an “absurdist pop culture explosion”. It does have its own logic, though. He can be as absurd as he wants to be as long as the characters in his world don’t notice, he commented. As long as there are high stakes, the comedy becomes easy, he said. It’s his “one trick” and as soon as someone else figures it out, no one will need to buy his next comic, he laughed. He won’t introduce things that totally derail the story, or “jump a gap where characters can’t logically fall”, he said.

Asked about Curse Words, Browne said he’s influenced by Seinfeld in making the characters all jerks, but ones that you have to continue to root for in order for it to be funny. If someone is “unapologetically cruel”, it throws off the balance, and is no longer fun, so he avoids that. He tries to “push things to the limit” but also tries to avoid being “mean-spirited”. Asked if Wizord will ever encounter redemption, Browne explained that Wizord is a character who was sent to destroy the world, but while in it, he finds the world has plenty to exploit, so “pretends to be a good wizard” to have a cushy life. When he’s pursued by the other evil wizards of his own world, there are increasingly things that challenge the reader in terms of whether you should like him, Browne explained. It’s like The Shield, he commented, creating grey areas around characters. He doesn’t know if Wizord will encounter redemption, but “possibly”. The third arc is going to be very revealing, Browne teased.

Sloane Leong spoke about Prism Stalker, and her design for the world being inspired by biological, organic shapes, since she dislikes drawing architecture. The “bio-punk” aspect interested her. She loves bright, neon colors, and the “overflow of color” from the natural world, having grown up in Hawaii. She’s about “color and no angles”, she laughed.

The story is a lot about being “an indigenous person”, being “displaced”, and similar themes, she said. Asked about the creation of her “sea-slug” monster, she commented on her desire to create hybrid animals in her works, the behaviors of which she often extrapolates into “societal tendencies”.

Ram V spoke about Paradiso, a comic with a living city, that started with short stories that eventually accumulated to be enough for a series. This series is actually alive, not simply enlivened by AI. The city can change roads, drop buildings in your path, and more, if she wants to. Asked about classism in the comic, Ram V said they were looking at “how people interact with their choices”. It’s how people are affected by the spaces, too. He’s a huge fan of “retro sci-fi”, and that influences the book. There’s Stalker and Mad Max influence on the current aesthetic, but that’s going to change depending on the arc. Each arc will have a different aesthetic due to the experience of different parts of the city. Dev Pramanik has had to adapt his art to a lot of these “crazy architectural spaces”, Ram said. He feels like Pramanik often becomes a “different artist” at times.

Kyle Higgins previously did a book with image, C.O.W.L, which transitions between golden age and silver age superheroes during the changing of eras in Chicago, his native city. It started as a short story when applying to film school, and the story led to a short film at film school, and that initially led to work in comics at Marvel and DC Comics. It’s hard to say “no” to Batman, of course. He did a lot of work for hire books, but hadn’t built anything of his own in years, Higgins said. When he told Eric Stephenson about his idea for C.O.W.L. and artwork by Rod Reis, it was greenlit. Venturing into sci-fi and outer space with Hadrian’s Wall, Higgins said that he gets excited by “how he explores” the “subtleties of a world” and the “subtleties of an idea”. Higgins was going through a break up and still having to interact, and he became interested in the idea of the aftermath of a break up. Hadrian’s Wall is a closed room murder mystery, and brought in similar themes. Both he and Reis love 70’s aesthetic and they brought that to the series.

The Dead Hand is also coming up as a genre cold war spy thriller. It explores the idea of a small town with a secret from the end of the Cold War. There are characters who are all some form of spies in one form or another, Higgins said. There’s some 90’s Image Comics influences on this “heightened spy fiction”. He’s writing the book in third person narration, which is something he’s never done before. It’s a “cool way” to lead the narrative around, and opens options for the artist, Stephen Mooney.

Tyler Shainline spoke about his upcoming book The Beef with Star Kings and Shaky Kane. This is a story about a man who eats too many chemical-laced hamburgers and turns into a monster. In conjunction with local pesticides. He’s become the monster called “The Beef”. This is born out of a love for comics, and wanting to make a comic for comic book fans. Asked if he was now  vegetarian, Shainline said watching documentaries about the meat industry made him unable to sleep at night. The more he works on this comic, the more he’s moving away from eating red meat, he confirmed. The comic is out next week.

The panels were asked how they know when to “stop” when imagining new worlds. Leong said, “When the deadline is looming”, to laughter. Higgins said that characters raise questions that prompt the building of the world, but that’s a back and forth, and not done all at once. Ram V said that “throwing random ideas around” is not exactly the way to do it. Beem said that you could spend “years” on world-building and no story comes out. You need to do your preparation, but you also need to start “making” instead of just thinking. It’s important “not to get in your own way”, she said.

Higgins said that to some extent he wants to go back and explore some of the worlds he’s already built rather than just building new worlds. Sometimes the huge amount of research for just a few issues with no return to the ideas on work for hire projects reminds him to create worlds to which he can return on other projects.Ram V also hates watching science fiction done badly, and that’s another indicator of when you need to “temper” your work with knowledge.

Browne said he doesn’t do any planning at all, and often the first appearance of characters in books is probably the first time he’s drawn that character. He “feeds off his imagination” for that day and the following day, perhaps. He will figure out what they mean “later” and in “improv” style finds connections later. He knows the books will be better if he’s “only drawing books he wants to draw”. He never draws cars, for instance. Leong said world-building can get distracting, and she builds cultures “on the fly” in relation to the main character in Prism Stalker. Everything around her and the main themes is created in order to develop “contrast”.

Asked if creating worlds is a reflection of reality or an escape from reality, Leong said though her comics draw on her cultural experiences, they are more of an escape. Higgins tends to “ground” his work as much as possible to explore topical issues, things which are often addressed well by allegory. Ram V said that it’s like having two volume dials—one of your world—and the other of your characters—and if one gets turned up too high, it will “drown out” the other. So balance is key.