By Michele Brittany, West Coast Bleeding Cool Correspondent
Over this past weekend at Wondercon, Image Comics hosted a few panels that assembled creators by genre. In this particular panel, moderator David Brothers introduced science fiction comic book writers and artists that included Eric Canete (RunLoveKill), Jonathan Tsuei (RunLoveKill), Fred Van Lente (Howtoons: [RE]Ignition), and Corrina Bechko (Invisible Republic).
Brothers began the hour long panel by asking each panelist what their entry point was for getting into the science fiction genre. Van Lente remembers standing in line for Star Wars. Bechko concurred and added Star Trek. She said she also read John Carter from Mars. Canete cited landmark films Blade Runner (1982) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) were influential for him, while Tsuei stated that he watched mostly Japanese anime such as Robotech.
Each panelist described what they were currently working on for Image Comics. RunLoveKill is an upcoming series (mid April release) that is from the creative team of Tsuei and Canete. Canete describes the series as essentially “a book about choices.” Van Lente’s Howtoons: [RE]Ignition follows a group of children in a post-apocalyptic environment and along the way, they learn how to make DIY projects while promoting a green environment. Invisible Republic follows a reporter who finds a journal describing wartime events that have been stricken from history. The first issue released last month.
What comics are the panelists reading and finding inspiration from? Bechko is reading Trees; Tsuei is reading Low and Pretty Deadly; Van Lente is reading G-Man; and Canete is reading Saga and Black Science.
Brothers opened up questions from the audience. The group was asked if they could talk about their business relationship with Image Comics as creator-owners of their comic books. Canete said he and Tsuei have been guided with a “gentle hand” from the indie-friendly publisher. Brothers added that creative decisions remain squarely with the creators. Image Comics take a flat rate on the comics to cover comic distribution, however all other media aspects are controlled by the creators. For example, if a studio is interested in turning a comic book series into a television show and/or film, the producers would reach out to the creators, not Image Comics.
What did the sci-fi creators wish there was more of in the comics out there today? Canete said he wanted more romance: he then said he was sort of joking, but meant that he wanted to see more “moments” in comics then there is today. Character-drive plots and more human aspects Tsuei stated. Van Lente would like to see more historical fiction. Beckho agreed with Van Lente and added she would like to see more thoughtful sci-fi/horror.
All the panelists agreed, when asked if they know the end of the story when they start out, that they have a good idea of the ending prior to going into the series. Tsuei stated that while it’s important to know where the story will end, there is a need to be flexible since the conclusion may change.
One of the hot questions that I’ve heard in many of the panels I attended over the weekend is the dreaded and deadly “block” that stops progress from being made in writing and/or art. Canete refocuses his attention to another creative outlet, which Tsuei revealed that he’ll step away and engage in a non-creative activity. Van Lente stated that he just pushes through the block. He sets a daily page goal and good or bad, he said he could always re-write. When Beckho has a block, she volunteers with the animal association she supports.
What does one have to do to reach the panelists’ level of talent and how long did it take each panelist to get to the level they are at? Van Lente advises writers to keep at it every day and to make writing goals for themselves. Bechko suggested that to gain advanced levels of expertise, find a community of writers/artists to associate with and share ideas and support. She and her husband use travel experiences to aid their stories. Tsuei encouraged people to keep at it every day so they build good habits. And Canete stated it took him about eight years to get to the level that he at now. Additionally, he related that a folded architecture book inspired him and Tsuei with their series, RunLoveKill.
And, what is their creative process? Bechko and her husband collaborate so they talk through their ideas, jot notes, discuss and make decisions; she said they are inclusive of each person’s feedback and point of view. Canete and Tsuei work from a general story framework that includes the beats for each issue. Canete draws full pages and then they discuss. Sometimes it means scrapping panels and replacing, but has Canete states, “its controlled chaos.”
I thought this was a good question: what did each panelist feel/think when there’s a similar project out there that seems like their own? Canete said, “bring it on – I love competition.” He added, why not have two good things out there instead of one? Bechko said similar projects are usually a result of the popular culture zeitgeist at that moment. Van Lente said that an initially a project may seem similar, but in fact, each creator brings their own unique voice.
And, the last question of the hour: do you use a script when collaborating with an artist? Van Lente said that 60 to 70% of the artists he collaborates with want a full script. He includes the beats as well. Bechko uses a script because she said that is the blueprint for the story. And for Tsuei, he relates that comic books are a visual medium first so he keeps his text brief. That said, he did add that “words and art should support each other.”
You can find Van Lente’s Howtoons: [RE]Ignition and Beckho’s Invisible Republic in your local comic book store or at Comixology, while RunLoveKill is scheduled to release April 15 by Tsuei and Canete.
Michele Brittany is an independent popular culture scholar and semi-professional photographer and editor of James Bond and Popular Culture: Essays on the Influence of the Fictional Superspy (McFarland & Company). She regularly posts reviews and analysis on the spy/espionage genre on her blog, Spyfi & Superspies and can be followed at Twitter @mcbrittany2014.