“Panels are boring!”
Portland’s Oni Press brought a panel of talent to WonderCon in San Francisco, and Sales and Marketing director Cory Casoni promised that Oni’s panel would not be typical of most publisher get-togethers. He encouraged questions during the proceedings rather than holding them until a specific time, and the atmosphere was lively.
Eugene Ahn, also known as rapper Adam Warrock, was the first to talk. Though he does not draw or write comics, and does not work for Oni Press, he was asked to join the publisher’s presentation. Ahn has produced a free album celebrating Oni’s comics, The Oni Press Mixtape, in which each song is about one of the company’s books, rapped over beats culled from indie rock songs. The Sixth Gun, Hopeless Savages and Super K.O. are among the books celebrated, and the rapper even includes a track about Matthew Loux’s all-ages Salt Water Taffy.
Though Ahn has been making music for quite a while, there was a three-year period in which he practiced law as an attorney. “This guy told me once, ‘You’re like Daredevil, but with music,'” he remembered. Laying the law aside, Ahn now lays down the beats full-time.
A devoted comics fan, Ahn reportedly asked other publishers if he could write about their books, but they either ignored him or refused to allow their works to be used. Brian Hurtt (The Sixth Gun) considered that a huge misstep: “I’ve sold books this weekend because of that song,” he said. Mixtape also includes brief interviews with Oni creators Greg Rucka, Jen Van Meter and several others.
Using his experience as co-host of comics podcast War Rocket Ajax, Ahn compiled a list of Oni comics he wanted to write about. Oni editor Charlie Chu helped to narrow down the list to the final version, but there are more comics that Ahn would like to write about. “I would do Volume 2 without hestiation,” he stated emphatically.
Casoni took time to point out that Oni publish quality comics for kids, and that they were working to get them into libraries as well as comics shops. He showed some slides of Possessions Volume 2 by Ray Fawkes, which continues the adventures of a demon trapped in the body of a cute 6-year-old, collected by an old woman with a fondness for the supernatural.
Also of interest to kids will be the offering on Free Comic Book Day, when Oni offers a look at two all-ages books in one issue. The first is Power Lunch, about a boy who discovers that his mother’s warnings about food allergies were only covering up the superpowers he would gain from consuming them. In the same free book, Sketch Monsters tells the tale of a girl who expresses her emotions in her sketchbook, where they come to life and challenge her to overcome them.
Continuing the tradition of releasing the first book of a new series as a Free Comic, as was done last year with The Sixth Gun, Oni will give readers a look at Spontaneous. The suspense thriller about spontaneous human combustion is written by Joe Harris (Ghost Projekt) and illustrated by Brett Weldele (Surrogates).
Casoni made much about the price of the comics offered on Free Comic Book Day (May 7), asking the audience the price of the books and prompting his beleaguered but laughing panelists to ask him the same question.
Fans of Courtney Crumrin, a young girl who lives with her warlock uncle, will be excited to know that Courtney Crumrin Tales is returning with volume 2: The League of Ordinary Gentlemen. Slightly embarassed, Casoni admitted that he did indeed know the difference between a warlock and a wizard. “If you like Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl,” he predicted, “you will like this book.”
On May 25, Oni will be releasing The Tooth, called by Casoni “an homage to 70s-era Marvel comics,” about a man’s tooth that grows in size and fights monsters. Developed by writer Cullen Bunn as he and Sixth Gun artist Hurtt were on a road trip, The Tooth is aimed at comics fans who remember the less than logical stories populating the comics of yesteryear. Designed to look like a stack of pulp comics, the hardcover book does not have the creators’ names on the spine. Instead, they are written on the cover in ballpoint pen, as a young devotee might have done.
Not just a writer of stories for younger readers, Ray Fawkes is releasing One Soul, a conceptually advanced book that Casoni called “deeply emotional.” Arranged in 9-panel pages, every two-page spread shows part of the lives of 18 different people from diverse backgrounds. A single life can be followed by reading the same panel on each page, but the reader can also benefit from reading the panels in many different combinations. Given a prestigious starred review in Booklist, Casoni claimed that One Soul “kicked Chris Ware’s ass 18 times over.” One Soul is due out in July.
Brian Hurtt was on hand to receive praise from Casoni for his work on The Sixth Gun. During the panel, an audience member actually texted Casoni to describe it as “Lord of the Rings meets True Grit.” The book has been receiving positive reviews ever since its release as a Free Comic last year.
Also notable was the fact that Hurtt and writer Cullen Bunn have released every issue of the book on time as scheduled. Casoni decided to do some research and find other books that had done the same thing for a year, but wasn’t able to find any, so he reduced the timeframe to six months. Only then did he find a run of Amazing Spider-Man that met the criteria, and that was a time when each issue used a different artist.
The first collected trade paperback of The Sixth Gun is available now, and the next one is due in mid-June. Casoni told the audience to expect a new trade every six months, since the creative team was so adept at meeting their deadlines.
Finally, Casoni introduced Tyler Crook, who is the author and artist of Petrograd, a book based on new evidence about the attempted assassination of Rasputin, advisor to the Russian tsar. “England created a spy to do this before there really were spies,” Crook explained. The 274-page hardcover, which he also colored, is Crook’s first book, and is due out on August 3rd.
Crook is also the new artist on Dark Horse’s supernatural series B.P.R.D. When asked how he got the job, Crook smiled. “I worked on Petrograd for two years,” he said, “then I went to the Long Beach comic convention and showed it to [B.P.R.D. creator] Mike Mignola. He asked me to friend him on Facebook, but by the time I did it, I found that he had friended me first!”
Oni Press, located on Martin Luther King Blvd. in Portland, will be the subject of the next publisher profile by the Portland Comic Books Examiner.