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NYCC 2018: Image Comics – We Believe in Horror Panel Recap

Written by James Ferguson

Image Comics kicked off its first panel of New York Comic Con with a look at some of the spookier stuff from its publishing line. Panelists included Will Dennis, editor of Wytches, Moonshine, and Gideon Falls, David F. Walker (Bitter Root), Dennis Culver (Burnouts), Matthew Rosenberg (What's the Furthest Place From Here?), Pornsak Pichetshote (Infidel), and W. Maxwell Prince (Ice Cream Man).

The discussion started with Dennis and Gideon Falls. He's been working as an editor with writer Jeff Lemire for twenty years. The first story arc just wrapped up and a trade paperback is on the way. Gideon Falls #7 explores the backstory of Norton. Dennis said with a second arc you usually want to expand on things and build the characters a bit more.

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Dennis also edits the werewolf comic Moonshine,written by Brian Azzarello and illustrated by Eduardo Risso. The second trade paperback is due out later this month. Dennis said that Azzarello is the opposite of Lemire. Where Lemire will turn in five tight scripts at once, Azzarello will kind of do a couple and then see what happens from there.

The last bit from Dennis was a big one. Wytches is returning with a new one-shot called Bad Egg Special, due out around Halloween. Part of it was previously published in the now defunct Image+ magazine. Writer Scott Snyder wrote an essay for the back of the book about the time in a child's life that we've come to know and love in the horror genre. It features all new characters and I cannot wait for this.

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Dennis was asked about how horror has changed in comics during his time working in the industry, going from Vertigo into Image. He referenced past books like Hellblazer and Swamp Thing that dealt with more fantastical elements, whereas a lot of current horror deals with real world stuff moved a little to the side.

The conversation turned to Infidel from writer Pornsak Pichetshote and artist Aaron Campbell. Pichetshote talked about how he turned a haunted house story into a discussion about racism. By taking something that was very classic and putting it next to something very modern, you look at them in a new way.

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In horror, you don't have to have happy endings, so that's allowed for stories like Infidel. This made for a great place to experiment. Pichetshote was asked how he made the comic without making the main character, Aisha, into a victim. He said this was done very carefully, especially with the covers. He added that there are so many scary things out there and ultimately, just didn't want to be an asshole.

Next up was Ice Cream Man, which Dennis commented on by saying, “This book creeps me the fuck out.” Prince was asked why he took something so wholesome like ice cream and made it evil. He explained that he took the idea of how your perspective on things changes with age. Ice cream is a treat as a child, but later on in life you might not feel well after eating it. That doesn't do the series justice as it is super disturbing. Prince said his two big touchstones for the book were The Twilight Zone and a series called High Maintenance. That makes a lot of sense in seeing Ice Cream Man, as it's presented as an anthology with an overarching narrative weaving through it.

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Ice Cream Man #8 is due out on Halloween. It will feature a variant cover by Vanesa Del Ray that features a clown. It's told from the perspective of the cowboy, who is at war with the ice cream man. It's a love letter to Prince's favorite author, the late Dennis Johnson.

Burnouts was up next. It follows a group of kids who get high and see aliens who they then beat up with bats. When asked how autobiographic it is, Culver said that some of it comes from his experiences in high school. A lot of it comes from horror movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and high school comedy movies.

Culver's idea for the design for the aliens came from half-deflated helium balloons that just kind of float around your house. He was creeped out by this and asked the artist, Geoffo, to work with that. Burnouts plays with the idea of getting really high and paranoid where you can't trust anyone.

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Rosenberg's new series, What's the Furthest Place From Here?, due out early next year, was next in the discussion. He has a preview of the series available at his table in Artist Alley with portions of the proceeds going towards the Trevor Project. Rosenberg described this series as darker than what he's worked on before with artist Tyler Boss. He said it's a spiritual successor to their last series, 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank, not in that it's a comedic bank robbery, but in how they want to grow and try out different things with the medium.

What's the Further Place From Here? is a dystopian story mixed with a coming-of-age tale. Rosenberg said that Boss is playing with the page to change the pacing and challenge how you read the story. Based on the preview images shown, this looks like an awesome comic.

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Finally, we got to Bitter Root. Walker said that this was in the works for some time. He came into the project as an “evil task master” to get the rest of the creative team together. The series was inspired by barbers back in the day who also did everything from dentistry to exorcisms. The family in Bitter Root will explore a number of aspects of American history through their generations.

The monsters in the story come about through disease. There is a thread of optimism in Bitter Root, as a portion of them believe you can heal an infected soul. The other half wants to just kill them. This presents a really interesting dynamic.

When asked about the development of the monsters, Walker said he initially thought incorrectly that the monsters should look like regular people. He then realized that that wouldn't work in comics. The creative team had conversations about what the monsters should look like, but ultimately the artist is going to do whatever they want anyway.

Bitter Root is set in Harlem, as it's a focal point of history with so much coming out of there from culture. It creates a contrast where jazz is coming into its own on one side of the country and down in New Orleans, people are getting lynched.

The panel was asked what scared them the most as a kid and how that helps in writing today. Walker said he was 13 when he saw Night of the Living Dead for the first time and nothing had ever scared him the way that film did. He was scared by how the monsters looked like people and how there were people that couldn't communicate, leading to their death. He said he's seen it more than any movie ever, probably 400-500 times.

Dennis joked and said public speaking. He said that his babysitter growing up took him to see Jaws and that was the last time he saw her.

Pichetshote said that he “was such a chickenshit little kid,” so everything scared him. In an effort to not get scared, he would deconstruct what was on the screen. The music would mean that one thing was going to happen.

Culver said that what scared him was the unseen entity and how the mind fills in the gaps. Think about stuff like the shadows you see in your room when you shut out the light.

Rosenberg's mother wrote a horror movie and he saw it at a young age. It became something personal to him, so horror movies never really scared him. When he was out with his brother once, they encountered a group of people that were going to mug them. Seeing his brother scared was a shock to the system and made him realize that there were real horrors in the world, not just in movies.

When pressed for what movie his mother wrote, Rosenberg revealed she wrote Maniac. This blew Walker away. He was pretty impressed. Rosenberg gave an anecdote about how the film was called misogynistic since it's about a guy hunting women. When it was screened, the filmmakers asked if they could credit his mother by her initials as they were trying to lean into the women-hating aspect of it. That was the '80s!

Prince said that he hasn't seen a lot of horror movies and doesn't know much about the genre. When he was a kid, he had two friends who had their dads leave, so his biggest fear was that his dad would leave. He didn't so he hasn't been scared of anything. Dennis told him to just say “Jaws 2” next time he was asked.

The panel was asked what aspects of horror work well in comics. Rosenberg said that comics forcing you to be in the story in certain ways that movies and TV don't. There's a barrier to immersion in prose and in comics you can slow things down with the artwork and layouts to make for an immersive experience that's more voluntary. You want to look away, but it's so good, you don't. The reader is putting themselves.

Culver pointed out that film can be manipulative with music and jump scares and you don't have that in comics. Walker joked that he likes to sneak up on people while they're reading his comics and scare them. Writing horror comics is tough and he doesn't entirely consider Bitter Root a horror book, as it's tough to scare someone in this medium.

Pichetshote said that you can't manipulate time in comics the same way you can in movies and TV, but you can manipulate space. You can play with what you show and don't show and that's something that he's tried to lean into with Infidel.

The panel was opened to Q&A. A fan asked if Pichetshote was familiar with Junji Ito's work and Pichetshote said that he sent copies of Uzumaki to the rest of the creative team when they started working on the book.

About The Author
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Lord of the Funny Books
James has a 2nd grade reading level and, as a result, only reads books with pictures. Horror is his 5th favorite genre right after romantic comedy and just before silent films. No one knows why he's here, but he won't leave.
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