Dragon*Con 2012′s Aspen Comics panel was attended by co-owner and company president Frank Mastromauro, co-owner and company vice president of publishing Peter Steigerwald, creator Joe Benitez (Lady Mechanika), and creator Alex Konat (Fathom).
Peter Steigerwald opened the panel with his traditional, loud, audience-participation, “ALOOOOOOHA!” Mastromauro followed with a 20-minute promotion of Aspen Comics’ upcoming releases which included details and cover art for Soulfire, Executive Assistant Assassins, Idolized, Homecoming, Kiani, Lady Mechanika, Charismagic, Broken Pieces, Michael Turner’s Fathom, Shrugged, Dead Man’s Run, Haunted City, Mindfield, and Zooiverse, which will most likely see a title change.
Frank Mastromauro said that the late Aspen Comics founder, Michael Turner, helped with the character design and storyline of the new series, Homecoming. He described the storyline as “Smallville-esque” where it is sci-fi, but not hardcore sci-fi—it has aliens. Kiani’s final issue will be out soon. A new artist is standing in for Oliver Nome who is recovering from recent surgery on his glioblastoma. Nome, a freelance artist, had no medical insurance to cover the costs of the procedure. Peter Steigerwald noted that they are holding auctions and accepting donations to help Nome cover his medical costs. They recently concluded a successful IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign for Oliver Nome’s medical costs.
Aspen Comics will be celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2013 with its 10 For 10 promotion. Beginning in February 2013, Aspen Comics will release a brand new book every month for ten months. This new comic will cost $1 and come with a 100% satisfaction guarantee. More information can be found at Twitter hashtag #Aspen10, where Aspen Comics will also seek fan ideas and comments on their anniversary events. They are also planning a big party at Comic-Con 2013 in San Diego, California. Aspen Comics is also releasing some merchandise such as skateboard decks and Aspen Comics logo pendants. Finally, they are releasing their first novel, Lost Park, by JT Krul in January 2013. Their aim is to publish 1-2 novels each year.
The panel then opened up to a fan Q&A session. One question concerned future plans for Ekos. Peter Steigerwald said that there are plans to do something in the future, but those plans are currently on hold due to Geoff John’s unique situation with DC Comics. Frank Mastromauro added that Ekos definitely deserves more attention since it was nearly Aspen Comics’ flagship title instead of Soulfire. A Wizard fan poll decided which title Michael Turner should produce; Soulfire won by a slim margin.
Another fan asked Joe Benitez about the differences between each company creative processes. Benitez said that at Top Cow he had a lot of say in the creative process whereas at DC Comics the process was rigid and highly structured. He said that artists are not given much room to make collaborate with writers on titles and told a story about how he raised a stink at DC when he took some creative license on a splash page. Overall he prefers creating own stories versus working on someone else’s story with the Big 2. Benitez also noted that with Lady Mechanika his aim is to basically create a steampunk Star Wars. He was highly influenced by Star Wars and G.I. Joe in his childhood and wants those similar themes in his book.
A fan asked if the comic Girl Genius influenced Lady Mechanika. Nobody on the panel had ever heard of the web comic. The question then evolved into the scientific research that goes into producing a steampunk comic. Joe Benitez said that he had to research things for steampunk and mentioned that he was amazed the Tesla was developing technology such as wireless communication, anti-gravity, and death rays.
The panel was asked about their thoughts on the digital distribution of comics. Peter Steigerwald said that they always knew from the inception of Aspen Comics that they would be involved in digital distribution. Their approach is to add incentives to purchase the print versions such as variant covers and interviews. They respect the brick-and-mortar comic shops and want to support them, so they aim for a window between print and digital releases—although that window is shortening. He is encouraged by the always increasing sales numbers of both digital and print versions of their comics. Steigerwald attributed timeliness, making deadlines, as one of their main factors of success with their print comics.
Fathom artist Alex Konat was asked if he feels pressure having to follow-up Michael Turner on the title. Konat said that he feels pressure, but most of it is what he puts on himself. The panel then joked about how they needed to stop sending him weekly emails telling him how Michael Turner would have done this page different. Peter Steigerwald added that Fathom is a delicate and difficult book for artists to wrap their minds around with the underwater physics. Steigerwald said, “Alex gets that in the way that Mike got it. Alex gets not just the aesthetic, but the idea and feel.” This is Konat’s first Dragon*Con. The panel pointed out that he has yet to hit the Marriott bar at night and take in the sights — a must for any con-goer.
The final question asked the panel to elaborate on Aspen Comics creation. Peter Steigerwald and Frank Mastromauro discussed how most retailers thought that, with Michael Turner’s cancer diagnosis, the company was destined for failure. They said that changes at Top Cow in 2002, a changing of the guard, encouraged them to leave. It wasn’t necessarily a bad change, but just different. Michael Turner and Mastromauro hypothetically discussed leaving Top Cow during a Fathom tour. One month later, they did it. He said they’ve never been one’s not to try something. Steigerwald said that he became frustrated at Top Cow because he was working as vice president and doing management, but his income came from the creative process. He chose to follow the management and publishing career route at Aspen. Steigerwald said that Top Cow they were just a bunch of young 20 year olds who made a lot of mistakes—Aspen Comics is the result of the lessons that they learned from those mistakes. He said one lesson learned is to not allow video games at work—while they’re fun, the marathon Halo sessions killed productivity.
Peter Steigerwald then concluded the panel with an audience-participation, “ALOOOOOOHA!”