Saturday evening at New York Comic Con, Archaia Comics presented a panel dedicated to its graphic novels for three distinct properties: Space: 1999; Cyborg 009; and Hawken. Archaia Transmedia Specialist Joe Lefavi moderated a panel of people involved in projects: Archaia publisher Mike Kennedy, Hawken creator/designer Khang Le, Space: 1999: Aftershock and Awe writer Andrew E.C. Gaska, Cyborg 009 co-writer F.J. DeSanto, and Cyborg 009 artist Marcus To.
Lefavi started things off my explaining the concept of “Transmedia” that Archaia applies to these comics. Its philosophy is that a great story can transcend the limits of one specific medium, and that an excellent storyteller can take that and deliver a narrative that will succeed and resonate any format. Rather than redundant iterations of a known story or property, they seek to create graphic novels as a way to share a story in a “unique and “significant” way that is only possible through that medium.
With that the panel got down to the business of reviewing each title one by one, starting with Andrew Gaska discussing Space: 1999: Aftershock and Awe. It has its roots in Space: 1999, a 1970s sci-fi program that lasted two seasons. Its story begins when Earth’s moon is blasted out of orbit by a catastrophic explosion of nuclear waste stored there. While the original plot followed the story of the residents of Moonbase Alpha as they are sent hurtling through space, Aftershock and Awe addresses the unexplored subject of what happened to Earth after the disaster. Artwork from the comic was put on display that demonstrated the logic of the “Aftershock and Awe” title all too vividly, as Earth suffers such consequences as meteors falling to the planet and Australia enduring a tsunami.
Gaska divulged that they were able to get the original script for the series, which they drew on and added material to in order to make the story more complete. Lefavi asked Gaska about how accessible the comic is to one who hasn’t seen the show, prompting Gaska to point out that it starts from the beginning of the series and gives readers the introduction and knowledge they need. In addition “personal journals” are being published, intended as items to help readers understood the motivations driving certain characters. As such, this makes for a “more complete” version of this story than before. Besides releasing the new comic, Archaia is also putting out cleaned up and restored issues of the 1970s Space: 1999 comic Comixology, which was targeted at children. A positive contrast was made between Aftershock and Awe and the 70s comics, as the writers for the latter didn’t have all the information they needed to make sure everything they did fit continuity. Another topic of discussion was the challenge of doing a story that takes place in the “future” of 1999. Today this is addressed by the setting being defined as an alternate universe where President John F. Kennedy was never assassinated, leading to space policy working out much differently. Finally it was noted that the Space: 1999 property is in the midst of a comeback, with another aspect of this being a new television show in preproduction.
After the look at Aftershock and Awe the panel turned its attention to Hawken: Genesis, based on the upcoming sci-fi first person shooter from Adhesive Games. Players do battle in armored mechs, though The the shooter is a fast-paced game where players do battle in armored mechs. The game is dated for December 12, 2012, with a closed beta beginning on October 26th. The goal of Genesis is to be a prologue that leads to and sets up what happens in Hawken, thereby giving purpose and motivation to playing the game. Kennedy praised the “fantastic artists” working on the comic, going on to say that they were being careful to stay consistent with the “conceptual style” of Hawken and wanted to present readers a book that was a “visual smorgasboard”.
Lastly, the audience was treated to a discussion and preview of Archaia’s Cyborg 009 graphic novel. This has its roots in the Shotaro Ishinomori’s classic science fiction superhero manga that ran from 1964 to 1981 in Japan. Ishinomori’s story recounted the adventures of nine people kidnapped and given special abilities by the experiments of the malevolent global organization Black Ghost, only for them to break free and turn against the organization. The manga spawned multiple anime adaptations, including the upcoming 2012 film 009 Re:Cyborg. Whereas that movie is effectively a sequel to Ishinomori’s manga, DeSanto described the upcoming book as taking a “Batman Begins approach”. Its story is designed to introduce Cyborg 009 to an entirely new audience and take in the very best elements of its history. As the panel showed off some uncolored sketches of the artwork, Marcus To talked about his experience drawing for the project. His first piece of artwork was his attempt at testing out what the Cyborgs should look like, and since then he’s been doing his best to incorporate the “original stylings” and find a “happy medium” between the classic look of the Cyborgs and his own style.
In regard to how this new vision was sold to Japan, DeSanto made clear that there is a very close working relationship between them and Ishimori Production in Japan. Every element of the book is approved with them, and the publisher is taking pains to be “respectful” of the property. They want to develop the book in a way that fans will clearly perceive that respect, while new readers will be enticed and driven to look up the original manga (which recently became available on the digital comics platfrom Comixology). Archaia hopes that the book is the start of an ongoing relationship that will allow the company to tackle other things from the Ishinomori library.
At this point, Lefavi asked the members of the panel about the pressures they’ve felt as they’ve gone about expanding these brands. Gaska reflected on times where he had been worried about how fans would receive certain scenes, such as when he devised a backstory for one ten-year-old girl that appeared in an episode of Space: 1999. However rather than scrutiny or outright rejection, Gaska has experienced an “amazing” response from fans. In regard to Hawken Khang Le commented that the robot battles alone make it seem like any other property out there, but the graphic novel presents an opportunity to add a human story to its world. Kennedy concurred, seeing it and the “transmedia” approach in general as adding in “puzzle pieces” and different “slices” of story to expand on things. To echoed Gaska’s emphasis on the value of being invested in the property you’re working on, expressing his conviction that if you stay true to what you love about it that will get across to the fans. For him “It’s not about changing things, it’s telling a story through your eyes.”
On the subject of challenges, for Gaska fan enthusiasm has been high and so it’s about getting the attention of people who aren’t already fans of Space: 1999 to be aware of it and recognize its quality. In Le’s case he’s focused on finishing the Hawken game first and foremost, and he was open to fleshing out the setting since he is so invested in the “tone” of the Hawken world as a developer. When asked about the influences on the game’s design, Le said the team took some inspiration from watching such anime as Ghost in the Shell, Akira and Cowboy BeBop as well as 80s sci-fi like Blade Runner.
On Cyborg 009, DeSanto reflected on how they’ve “been through a lot” in their efforts to do right by it. One specific challenge was making sure each of the nine cyborgs had a chance to shine in the story. Ishinomori Productions “policing” things was discussed as an asset, and apparently at this point “…the shackles are off and we can go crazy”. In fact Ishinomori Production had internal encyclopedias full of information about the story and the characters, which they’ve been able to draw on to improve the narrative and characterization. To had plenty to say about fan reception to the graphic novel and his work, calling out what he sees as a popular perception that “…Americans ruin the good Japanese stuff,”. But he’s also encountered positive feedback at conventions, so he’s focused on telling himself that he’s confident and his skills and reminding himself of his love for the story. For him, an understanding of the property is the essential thing to have: “The base of it is the emotional tone of the story, it doesn’t necessarily matter who the artist is. If they don’t get that, then it won’t work out.” DeSanto added onto this with an anecdote ready about Japanese response to the graphic novel. Early on To did a pencil and ink drawing of Joe Shimamura that ended up going viral and making “every newswire in Japan” as news of the graphic novel spread, and the reception was clearly positive. “Honestly,” he said, I think Japanese like it more than Americans do!” When asked about what they considered the beauty of the Cyborg 009 property during Q&A, highlighted how the Cyborgs are a multinational group of nine people forcefully brought together by circumstance. They may not always get along because of that, but nonetheless they have no choice but to lead their new lives and work together.