Thought Bubble 2018: The Berger Books Panel Dives Into Olivia Twist, Invisible Kingdom & More

by Olly MacNamee
(From l to r): Christian Ward, Ariela Kristantina, Emma Vicelli, Warren Please, Emma Beeby, Richard Bruning

Karen Berger was one of the guests of honour at the Thought Bubble Festival’s comic con that ran over the past weekend. Sitting on her panel and discussing their upcoming Berger Books (an imprint of Dark Horse), were Emma Vicelli (Olivia Twist) Emma Beeby (Mata Hari), Ariela Kristantina (Mata Hari), Warren Pleece (Incognegro), Christian Ward (Invisible Kingdom), and Berger Books art director Richard Bruning.

Here’s what I learnt about some of the books either already out there, or up and coming books like Christian Ward’s Invisible Kingdom, due out next spring.

Olivia Twist

Writers: Darin Strauss, Adam Dalva

Art: Emma Vicelli 

Simply put, this is a Dickensian dystopia and Vicelli was allowed a free hand in designing the look and feel of the characters and this future world. Very much edging on Steampunk, this reimagining of Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist is a sci-fi story on the surface, but like a Dickensian novel, at its heart beats social commentary. It came out last week, so you may still be able to find a copy at your local comic book store. Here’s the plot for anyone interested, like me, in comics with a social conscience.

To save a boy she barely knows, teenage orphan Olivia Twist joins the Esthers, a rag-tag girl gang of thieves running free in a dangerous future. Olivia’s life in this London of internment camps and dark technology gets even more complicated when she discovers that she has more power and wealth than she’s ever dreamed of. But it comes at a great cost.

Invisible Kingdom

Writer: G. Willow Wilson

Artist: Christian Ward

This one was the big announcement of the panel, in my minds, as it’s not coming out for a good time yet, but Ward was on hand to discuss some of the details of this sci-fi series summarised as ‘The Characters of Cowboy Bebop in the world of Frank Herbert’s Dune‘ by Ward. And, like Olivia Twist, it uses a sci-fi backdrop to comment on contemporary issues. In this case, religion and the hold it can have on people.

It’s the tale of two women in a distant galaxy who uncover a conspiracy linking the galaxy’s major religion and corporation, Lux, the ‘future equivalent of Amazon’. Ward summed up his chance of art style on this book as ‘more elegant, purer; more painted’ than his recent work on Marvel’s Thor which he described as ‘rock opera’, a style suitable for the subject matter. I must say, those of us in the packed auditorium, were suitable impressed. This is definitely a book to keep an eye on not only for the art, but for the subject matter too.

Anthony Bourdain’s Hungry Ghosts

Writer: Anthony Bourdain

Artists: various

A moment was given over to briefly memorialise Bourdain, who has recently passed away, but in Hungry Ghosts – a contemporary take on Japanese ghosts stories, with food at the centre of each story – we have his legacy as a writer at least. It’s been recently reissued and worth hunting down.

The Originals

Writer/Artist: Dave Gibbons

Berger announced that this new reprint included an additional 32 pages of new material and was, in her opinion, the best version to date. With 32 extra pages, I’d have to agree too. that, and it’s oversized! Always a treat for comic book fans.

Mata Hari

Writer: Emma Beeby

Artist: Ariela Kristantina

The recount of one of the early 20th century’s more intriguing real life characters, Mata Hari is told through imagined diary entries but using the historical facts available to flesh out the stories of this exotic dancer and spy! Beeby was intrigued by her story and in telling her story was also able to readdress her previous historical presentation and reposition her in a more enlightened, politically astute contemporary readership. It came out earlier this year, but is available as a trade now.

Along with The Originals, Berger has also recently re-released Incognero by Mat Johnston and Warren Pleece, with a new prequel, Incognegro Renaissance, in which we learn how the book’s protagonist, Zane Pinchback, got involved with investigative journalism in the first place.

Overall, the panel may well have been a plug for Berger’s Books, but it’s a panel in which we all learnt about new, and existing books, that we may not have heard of, or even consider reading. With each book suggesting more depth than your average comic, many of these titles appealed to me and I’ll be certainly checking some of them out. Especially Wilson and Ward’s Invisible Kingdom! Spring can’t come quick enough.

I’ll leave you with a closer look at some of the art on show during the panel.

Cover for Incognegro Renaissance by Mat Johnston and Warren Pleece
A Lux space cruiser by Christian Ward
Character designs for Invisible Kingdom, by Christian Ward

Olly MacNamee

A unashamed DC Comics fan and sometime teacher for over 20 years! I got lucky and found the escape hatch. Now, I just read and write about comics all day long. Co-host of the ICE-Cast podcast and one third of the brains behind Birmingham's street art and graffiti festival High Vis Fest.

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