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Image Expo | Grant Morrison, new Phonogram and much more [Updated]

Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl

The first Image Expo kicked off Friday in Oakland, California, with a keynote speech from Publisher Eric Stephenson that emphasized creator relationships as the company’s foundation, and laid out more than a half-dozen titles that will be announced this weekend for release later this year:

Happy!, by Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson, a mysterious title the writer says is “in a genre I’ve never really tackled before — but with a bizarre twist, of course.” It’s the first of several potential Image projects from Morrison. [iFanboy]

• Confirmation of a third volume of Phonogram, by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson, called The Immaterial Girl. Gillen says the six-issue miniseries, which will likely debut in November, is “primarily about the war between coven queen witch Emily Aster and the half of her personality she sold to whatever lies on the other side of the screen. It’s about identity, eighties music videos and further explorations of Phonogram’s core ‘Music = Magic’ thesis. There is horror. There are jokes. There are emotions. There may even be a fight sequence. It also takes A-ha’s ‘Take On Me’ with far too much seriousness – which, for us, is the correct amount of seriousness.” [Kieron Gillen's Workblog]

Chin Music, by Steve Niles and Tony Harris, described by the artist as “a 1930’s Noir, Gangster, horror story.” [Tony Harris]

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‘One More Time': Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie reunite

They’re getting the band back together. That’s the story hinted at with this teaser image (at right) that debuted this morning on iFanboy. Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Matt Wilson came into the public eye in 2007 with Phonogram from Image, and over the course of two limited series rose from their U.K. indie-comics roots to be notable figures in the comic scene. The comic also paved the way for all three to become in-demand creators at Marvel.

This mysterious teaser promising “One More Time” — that’s also the title of a 2000 Daft Punk song — doesn’t indicate whether that’s the name of a series or merely a tagline for something else. Many presume this heralds a third Phonogram series, especially since this weekend’s Image Expo is expected to have a host of new series announcements … but I’m not so sure. In a 2010 interview with ComicsAlliance, Gillen shot down the idea of a third Phonogram series pretty soundly due to low sales of the previous volumes.

“I feel frustrated. Enormously lucky, sure, but frustrated,” the writer admitted. “We’ve done this wonderful thing we’re crazy-proud about. But if the whole economic system was just a couple of degrees to the left, everything would have been different. I mean, just to give you an idea about narrow the margins are between what we are and what we could be, if we were selling 6K instead of 4K, we could have done those 44 issues. The difference between breaking even and actually being able to do it in comics is insane. It’s like being kept under ice, clawing. I feel like a bonsai plant.”

Have things changed since spring 2010 that could make a Phonogram project feasible? The comics market as a whole hasn’t gotten any better, but with Gillen entrenched as the writer of Uncanny X-Men and McKelvie coming off his X-Men: Season One book, they’re both at the height of their still-young careers. Maybe their experience and added sales draw makes them believe numbers would be different. Or maybe it’s something besides Phonogram completely.

Food or Comics? | Prophet profiteroles

Prophet #21

Welcome to Food or Comics?, where every week we talk about what comics we’d buy at our local comic shop based on certain spending limits — $15 and $30 — as well as what we’d get if we had extra money or a gift card to spend on a “Splurge” item.

Check out Diamond’s release list or ComicList, and tell us what you’re getting in our comments field.

Graeme McMillan

If I had $15 this week, I’d avoid Marvel and DC altogether and go for some more independent offerings. Top of the pile would definitely be Prophet #21 (Image, $2.99), Brandon Graham’s much-anticipated revamp of the Rob Liefeld book from the mid-90s, recreated (with artist Simon Roy) as some kind of Heavy Metal fever dream; I’m a massive fan of Graham’s, and excited to see what he can come up with when he tries to play it (relatively) straight. I’d also grab Dynamite’s Kirby Genesis: Dragonbane #1 ($3.99), another spin-off from the Busiek/Ross/Herbert series this time focusing on the almost Thor-analog warrior, and IDW’s Memorial #2 ($3.99), continuing the urban fantasy series that I enjoyed so much last month. Lastly, I’d grab the cheap relaunch for Antony Johnston’s Wasteland (#33, Oni, $1.00); I’ve really enjoyed this post-apocalyptic world building book for awhile, but this relaunch – which will return the book to a monthly schedule as well as debut new artist Justin Greenwood – looks set to be a good jumping-on point for those who’ve never sampled its charms before.

If I had $30, I’d be likely to put Dragonbane back on the shelf and try out Marvel’s Fear Itself: Journey Into Mystery Premiere HC collection ($19.99) instead. Not having been a fan of Matt Fraction’s Thor, I skipped the first few issues of this and then, by the time I kept hearing great things and realized I actually really enjoy Kieron Gillen’s writing, it was far enough into the run that I knew I’d end up waiting for the collection. Color me cautiously optimistic.

When it comes to splurging, my love of comics from around when I was born rears its ugly head again, and I find myself drawn to Marvel Firsts: 1970s Vol. 1 TP (Marvel, $29.99). This is possibly my favorite era from the House of Ideas, so the idea of an anthology of some of its weirdest hits sounds right up my alley.

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Gillen’s X-Men as a modern-day Authority?

In the wake of X-Men: Schism, Marvel’s mutants are split down the middle and heading in two divergent directions. While Wolverine’s team is following in the footsteps of Xavier’s original plans for the X-Men, the Cyclops-led team based in Utopia is on a different track. Dubbed his “Extinction Team,” the primary purpose of the team is to stand between mankind (not just mutantkind) and threats that would render them extinct.  It sounds like a unique kind of mission for the X-Men, but an interesting question on writer Kieron Gillen’s Formspring reframes it in a familiar way.

Gillen was asked: “The x-men seem a lot like the old superhero team The Authority lately. is that intentional?”

“The Authority are certainly one of the big influences on [Uncanny X-Men],” answers Gillen. ” The Extinction Team are certainly the closest the MU has ever had to something that occupies the niche the Authority dominated in the Wildstorm U.”

While saying that most modern super-hero comics were inspired by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s The Authority isn’t too far off-base, seeing this straight correlation by Gillen fires off my fan synapses and helps define a team that, frankly, I was having trouble with even after reading Uncanny X-Men #1. Although I don’t want to see Gillen and crew follow this analogy too closely, it makes me more interested to see where the book goes next.

Also, isn’t it interesting that in the pin-up for Avengers vs. X-Men that it’s Cyclops’s X-Men versus the Avengers pictures? Both Wolverine and Beast seem to be lunging after their former teammates in the X-Men rather than the Avengers, who they currently owe more allegiance to.

Comics A.M. | Alan Moore responds to Frank Miller’s Occupy remarks

Alan Moore

Creators | Watchmen writer Alan Moore responds to recent comments made by The Dark Knight Returns creator Frank Miller: “I think that the Occupy movement is, in one sense, the public saying that they should be the ones to decide who’s too big to fail. It’s a completely justified howl of moral outrage and it seems to be handled in a very intelligent, non-violent way, which is probably another reason why Frank Miller would be less than pleased with it. I’m sure if it had been a bunch of young, sociopathic vigilantes with Batman make-up on their faces, he’d be more in favour of it. We would definitely have to agree to differ on that one.”  [Honest Publishing]

Conventions | Tom Spurgeon files a lengthy report from the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival, held Saturday in New York City. [The Comics Reporter]

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Chain Reactions | Uncanny X-Men #1

Uncanny X-Men #1

Uncanny X-Men returned this past Wednesday with a new #1, just two weeks after the previous run ended. Written by Kieron Gillen with art by Carlos Pacheco, Cam Smith and Frank D’Armata, the story revolves around Cyclops and his post-Schism “Extinction Team” of Storm, Hope and a bunch of folks who couldn’t participate in a game of “raise your hand if you’ve never gone through a stage that others characterized as ‘mainly super villain.'” The book features a more serious tone and mission for the team than their back-in-Westchester friends appearing in Wolverine and the X-Men, as well as the villainy of Mr. Sinister and cameos by most of the other “Team Cyclops” mutant characters who decided to stay on the West Coast.

So what did folks think of this issue? Here’s a sampling of reviews on Uncanny X-Men #1:

Ron Richards, iFanboy: “Uncanny X-Men #1 is everything that Wolverine & The X-Men #1 was not, and I mean that in absolutely good way.  Where Aaron delivered a whimsical, comedic at times, fresh new start for Wolverine and the mutants at the new school in Westchester, Gillen’s representation in Uncanny X-Men #1 is a serious, more adult world that these mutants live in. And that’s exactly how it should be.”

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Comics A.M. | Susie Cagle arrested at Occupy Oakland; more on Steve Rude

Susie Cagle

Legal | Susie Cagle, the cartoonist covering Occupy Oakland who was tear-gassed last month, was arrested early Thursday morning during the protests in Oakland. According to her father, cartoonist Daryl Cagle, Susie was being held at Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County, Calif. and was charged with unlawful assembly, even though she was there covering the event and had a press badge. Update: According to her Twitter account, Susie Cagle is out of jail and was charged with a misdemeanor, “present at raid.” [Fishbowl LA]

Legal | Tom Spurgeon offers more details on comic artist Steve Rude’s Halloween altercation, which led to the Nexus creator’s arrest that same night. According to Rude’s wife by way of Spurgeon, Rude was in costume handing out Halloween candy to kids trick-or-treating when his neighbors’ dogs began barking. Rude threw rocks at the neighbors’ fence, which led to a confrontation with them. Rude tore the neighbor’s shirt and pushed him, leading to the assault charges. Rude suffered physical abuse during the arrest and in jail before posting bail. [The Comics Reporter]

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Comics A.M. | Comics market on the verge of a turnaround?

Action Comics #1

Comics | ICv2’s latest report on the comics market shows a mixed picture for monthly comics and graphic novels. While DC’s New 52 reboot has helped push comics sales, the graphic-novel versions of those comics won’t be out for months — and Amazon is gobbling up a larger and larger share of graphic novel sales, especially at the high end. And this is interesting: “Digital sales are growing as a percentage of the market, but apparently not at the expense of print sales. Retailers interviewed by ICv2 do not feel they’re losing sales to digital competition on DC’s day and date titles.” That seems to be more anecdote than data, but you would think retailers would be the first to notice a drop in sales. The report also includes lists of the top 10 properties in various categories. [ICv2]

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Food or Comics? | Batwoman, 20th Century Boys, Regenesis and more

Batwoman #2

Welcome to Food or Comics?, where every week we talk about what comics we’d buy at our local comic shop based on certain spending limits — $15 and $30 — as well as what we’d get if we had extra money or a gift card to spend on a “Splurge” item.

Check out Diamond’s release list or ComicList, and tell us what you’re getting in our comments field.

Chris Arrant

If I had $15, I’d first grab hold of my favorite of DC’s New 52, Batwoman #2 (DC, $2.99). J.H. Williams III has successfully kept up to the immense expectations he accumulated following his run with Greg Rucka, and the artwork seems to benefit even more by J.H.’s input into the story as co-writer. Next I’d dig down for two of my regular pulls, Northlanders #45 (DC/Vertigo, $2.99) and Uncanny X-Force #16 (Marvel, $3.99). For my final pick, I’d have to miss a bunch of other titles for the chance to get the CBLDF Liberty Annual 2011 #4 (Image, $4.99). I love the anthology format, and having that plus the good cause plus the a-list talent makes it a must get; seriously, can you imagine one comic book containing new work by Frank Quitely, Williams, Mark Waid, J. Michael Straczynski, Matt Wagner AND Craig Thompson? BELIEVE IT!

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Comics A.M. | Michael George to stand trial again; cartoonists remember 9/11

Legal

Legal | A Michigan judge on Monday denied a defense motion to dismiss the murder case against former retailer and convention organizer Michael George, who will now stand trial a second time in the 1990 shooting death of his first wife Barbara. His trial is set to begin Sept. 7. George, 51, was convicted in 2008 of killing his wife in their Clinton Township comic book store. However, later that year Macomb County Circuit Judge James M. Biernat set aside the conviction based on claims of prosecutorial misconduct and the emergence of new evidence that might have resulted in a different verdict. [The Detroit News]

Comic strips | On Sept. 11, the Sunday comics pages will mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11 as 93 strips from six syndicates participate in “Cartoonists Remember 9/11.” After publication, the strips will be collected at CartoonistsRemember911.com. [USA Today]

Education | Updating Monday’s report about rising waters in White River Junction, Vermont, imperiling The Center for Cartoon Studies’ Schulz Library, Director James Sturm says that while the building was seriously damaged, thanks to the efforts of students, staff and alumni, not a single book was lost. Cartoonist Jen Vaughn, meanwhile, details the rescue, with accompanying photos. [The Comics Reporter, The Beat]

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Food or Comics? | Vengeance, Flight, crossovers and more

Vengeance #1

Welcome to Food or Comics?, where every week we talk about what comics we’d buy at our local comic shop based on certain spending limits — $15 and $30 — as well as what we’d get if we had extra money or a gift card to spend on a “Splurge” item. We’re coming a little late today due to a power outage in my neck of the woods — due to a blackout, not because I spent the money for the electric bill on Flashpoint or Fear Itself tie-ins.

Check out Diamond’s release list or ComicList, and tell us what you’re getting in our comments field.

Chris Arrant

If I had $15, my first pick off the shelf would be Vengeance #1 (Marvel, $3.99); I love Joe Casey, and especially when he’s given a long leash and room to play in a big universe. Seeing Nick Dragotta drawing this is an added bonus. Next up would be comics’ dueling summer blockbusters, Flashpoint #3 (DC, $3.99) and Fear Itself #4 (Marvel, $3.99). After that, I’d get the excellent Flashpoint: Batman, Knight of Vengeance #2 (DC, $2.99); when Azzarello is on the ball he’s great to read, and this seems to be that.

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Bachalo, Land, Pacheco to draw dueling X-Men titles

Who will you follow?

The Associated Press announced this morning that following this summer’s X-Men: Schism event, two series will take the place of the ongoing Uncanny X-Men series. October’s Wolverine & the X-Men by writer Jason Aaron will feature, obviously, a Wolverine-led team, while Uncanny X-Men #1, due in November, will feature a Cyclops-led team written by Kieron Gillen.

But who is drawing them? Marvel.com revealed the art teams for both books this morning. Wolverine & the X-Men will be drawn by Chris Bachalo, who has a long history with the characters. Uncanny X-Men will have two rotating artists — Greg Land and Carlos Pacheco. Land has been drawing arcs in Uncanny X-Men for awhile now, while Pacheco recently returned to the characters to draw the Point One issue.

“The best thing about this split is that the two books hit two very different chords. One is hardcore super hero action and the other is something else entirely that I can’t go too deep into without spoiling `Schism,'” Editor Nick Lowe told the AP. “The best way I can describe it is a return to a structure that made the X-Men what it was.”

The current Uncanny X-Men series ends with issue #544.

Update: Aaron has a post on his blog about the news, where he says not to read too much into the accompanying promo image: “I can’t say who’s going to be on my team, other than Wolverine of course. I can’t say where they’ll be or what they’ll be doing. I will say, don’t assume you know the full roster for either team based off this one promo image. Both sides will feature their share of surprises.” Gillen says something similar on his blog.

Quote of the day | Kieron Gillen on the end of Uncanny X-Men

Uncanny X-Men #544

“When I joined Uncanny after S.W.O.R.D. I thought ‘There’s no way I can get THIS cancelled.’ But there are no limits to my power.”

– writer Kieron Gillen, reacting to this morning’s news that Marvel’s
long-running Uncanny X-Men series will end in October with Issue 544
as a result of X-Men: Schism

What Are You Reading?

Kirby King of Comics

Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading? Our special guest today is Ryan Cody, creator of Icarus and illustrator of Villains and Jesus Christ: In the Name of the Gun. You’ll be seeing more of Icarus around these parts starting very soon …

To see what Ryan and the Robot 6 crew have been reading lately, click below.

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Kieron Gillen on living as a comic writer and his pact with Jamie McKelvie

I’ve known Kieron Gillen for years. I’ve had the opportunity to interview him multiple times, from his early beginnings in the British indie-comics scene to his first formative pro work Phonogram and on to his growing resume at Marvel, which includes Thor, Ares, S.W.O.R.D., Generation Hope and his recently announced gig co-writing Uncanny X-Men with Matt Fraction. Prior to comics he was a video-games journalist, carving out a niche for himself in print magazines — and one that he continues with his website Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

This interview was conducted before news of his Uncanny X-Men gig was announced, so that’s not discussed; I’d like to think even if I knew about it I’d avoid mentioning it just for laughs.

Chris Arrant: Let’s start with an easy one — what are you working on today?

Kieron Gillen: It’s Saturday! I’m slacking.

Well … not just slacking. I’m basically letting my subconscious —  and semiconscious — chew on something that hasn’t been announced yet.
I’ll probably write some of that down later. Alternatively, I’ll polish the basically done third issue of Generation Hope, which is going splendidly.

[Editor's note: This was emailed later by Kieron about his day]  I scrawled out masses of notes from my subconscious in the evening, while watching a fairly middling film. See, the process: It works.

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