All it takes is the right vehicle.

Every year, a new set of creators emerges from the ether, successfully expanding my budget along the way. 2002 was a good year for comics, but judging by what’s approaching this year, ’03 will see the industry taken to another level, and who better to accomplish such lofty ambitions than a hot roster of talent that stand to bring mad wood to the table? In the interests of supporting the New Hotness on a consistent basis, and being able to rightfully declare, “I told you so,” when the smoke clears, here are my personal picks for the guys and gals poised to do it real big in 2003.

We’ll begin with an interview featuring Brian K. Vaughan, writer of Y- The Last Man, and the upcoming Marvel Tsunami titles Mystique and Runaways.

Brandon Thomas: You’ve been in the industry for a few years now with gigs on Swamp Thing and even a few issues of Batman to your credit, but your career reached new heights with Y- The Last Man. What do you think made Y your breakout project?

Brian K Vaughan: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I think most of the credit for Y’s success belongs to penciller and co-creator Pia Guerra. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some pretty amazing artists during my short career, but no one’s ever clicked with me quite like Pia. Her “performances” really sell my dialogue, and her artwork always makes an unbelievable world look and feel absolutely real. She’s the best.

Thomas: How long did it take to develop the concept of Y? What background material or life experience provided the original germ that would eventually become the series?

Vaughan: Well, I started thinking about Y and doing research for the book about two years before I ever turned in the first script, but the idea’s probably been percolating in the back of mind since third grade, when I realized that I could get that cute redhead to fall in love with me… as long as every other boy at school dropped dead. Y is very much about subverting that young nerd’s daydream, and showing it for the nightmare it would really be.

Thomas: Given that the series is finite, do you have an idea of how everything ends?

Vaughan: Yep, I know the last panel of the last page.

Thomas: Provided you do have a mental outline for the series, have you found yourself deviating at all from the prescribed plan?

Vaughan: Not yet, amazingly, but I’m sure we will soon. I had a VERY detailed outline for the first two years, but things loosen up a bit after that. But just a bit. I like being a man with a plan.

runaways1Thomas: You’re picking up a couple monthly titles with Mystique and Runaways this year. How many titles do you think you could write comfortably, while maintaining your edge?

Vaughan: I dunno… five, six? I could write wimps like Bendis under the table.

Thomas: How did you end up with two titles in the Tsunami line, and what do you expect to bring to the overall imprint?

Vaughan: To be honest, I didn’t even hear about Tsunami until a few weeks ago. But I always try to keep my stuff completely accessible to new readers (especially non-comics readers), and to tell stories in self-contained arcs, so Runaways and Mystique definitely fit in with what Marvel is trying to accomplish with this new loose confederation of titles. It’s really more of a non-line, primarily made up of relatively young creators who have little cynicism and lots of passion. Mystique and Runaways are totally different from each other, but I like to think that they’re both cool stories with incredible artwork, which is really all that matters.

Thomas: What will surprise readers the most about the two titles?

Vaughan: Hopefully, the fact that they’re both GOOD. Mystique isn’t a gratuitous T & A book, and Runaways is far from a typical “teen hero” comic. They’re smart, fun, great-looking new series that are completely different from anything else on the stands.

Thomas: With so many plotlines, characters, and threads going between projects, how do you mentally keep everything straight? How does Brian Vaughan keep his mind right?Myst1

Vaughan: Well, my mind has never been quite “right,” but it is pretty straight (not counting that one experience at summer camp). Seriously, staying ahead of schedule is key. That allows me to concentrate pretty much exclusively on one book a week.

Thomas: Are you a better writer when under tight deadline, or when you’re far ahead on projects?

Vaughan: I can handle either, I think. I’m one of those writers who hates writing, but loves having written. I have to force myself to be disciplined, which means writing seven days a week, 365 days a year (like a friggin’ vampire, I write from midnight until 8 am or so every single night). I’ve been doing that conditioning for so long now, I get the shakes when I go a night WITHOUT writing. My brain needs to work on SOMETHING, so new projects are always welcome, whether they’re due tomorrow or six months from now.

Thomas: Do you have a specific method or ritual to clear up any writer’s block you may get?

Vaughan: Just keep writing, even if it’s shit. Going for a walk or calling a friend is fine when you need a breather, but after a while, it just becomes procrastination. Like a good little sculptor, you need to keep chipping away at that stone, and pretty soon, you’ll find the figure hidden inside of it.

Thomas: Name any book or character that you’d write without hesitation.

Vaughan: Oh, I’d like to write a Spidey story before I die, and it would be cool to work on Batman again, but I’m primarily interested in writing my own creations.

Thomas: Best thing about writing comics?

Vaughan: Having people talk about your work.

Thomas: Worst thing about writing comics?

Vaughan: Having people talk about your work.

Thomas: Thanks for stopping by Brian. Best of luck with all the projects.

Vaughan: My pleasure Brandon.

Vaughan was able to complete this short interview on top of his full plate of scripting projects, and I would encourage everyone to give them all a read. There’s a reason the industry is buzzing at the mention of his name recently. The man has arrived. All we have to do is keep him here.

Here’s the remainder of my ‘picks to click’ for the year…


Gail Simone-

I’ve raved about Gail before. I’ve done an interview with Gail. You’re probably well aware of my respect for her work. Yet and still, this year is going to be huge for her. Call it a hunch. Having to leave a title she made incredibly notable over “creative differences” could’ve easily slowed her down, but she’s following her run on Agent X, with a tenure on Birds of Prey that is going to rock the charts and the critics.

My confidence comes from an incredible faith in the abilities of Ms. Simone, but also from the fact that I have some idea of what she’s planning. She told me what she’s going to do. And it’s going to take this title to new heights. The confident mix of action, humor, and intrigue fit Gail perfectly, and just when you think the New Hotness is sewn up, she’ll reach back and hit you with Rose and Thorn. By Spring 2004, the Distinguished Competition will be floating exclusive contracts under her nose. Watch it happen.


Keron Grant-

I’ve dug Keron’s work from the beginning. For many, his spring-debuting New Mutants series will offer their first glimpse, but I’ve been following Grant like a mindless lemming since his days at Awesome Entertainment doing a little book called Kaboom with Jeph Loeb. Though ringing a bit cliché, even back then I knew the man would do big things if given the right opportunity.

With a couple of Matrix comics to his credit, a short run on Iron Man with Frank Tieri, and an assortment of fill-ins and variant covers, it’s time that the rest of you learn. New Mutants will turn Keron into a household name and rightfully cement his position within the industry landscape. He’s about to blow up. Irrefutable evidence is located at www.kerongrant.net


Clayton Henry-

Clayton’s another artist I took to instantly. He did a Nine Rings of the Wu-Tang mini-series for Image awhile back that cast the hip-hop group into a fantasy/adventure tale before sword and sorcery became vogue. Area 52 allowed him to stretch his abilities even further, blending action and humor with the occasional extraterrestrial.

Recent contributions to Star Wars Tales and X-Men Unlimited only confirmed that he was improving with every assignment, leaving it only a matter of time before he was offered a steady gig. Apparently, that time is now. Henry takes over Exiles with issue 26.


Nunzio DeFilippis & Christina Weir-

Skinwalker was one of the best mini-series’ released in 2002. Despite the excellent premise, framing a murder mystery on an Indian reservation and setting two law officers from completely different perspectives against each other, all wrapped around a horrific twist, there was something else. The preceding likely becomes a completely different story depending on the writer (or in this case writers) depicting the tale, but the brilliance of the whole thing lied in the execution brought to the game by Nunzio and Weir. Two characters with two wildly divisive monologues, neither right, neither wrong, attempting to do a horrible job that no else can. Through the narrative, not only are we trawling the psyche of two richly developed personalities, but also we’re having to make an important choice…what is more interesting? The overall murder plot of a killer than can switch identities be donning another person’s skin, or the interaction between the two cops trying to bring him down? Doesn’t really matter because the pair delivered on both counts. This spring, they’ve got Three Strikes from Oni and New Mutants from Marvel. Would you care to bet against them?


Priest-

This almost goes without saying. It’s the same blind hope that Chicago fans hold for their consistently disappointing sports teams…that this year is gonna be different. That the tide will change. So considering this, let me once again lodge the hope that the industry will awaken to the fact that Priest is one of the best doing it today. As usual, we don’t know whether Black Panther will survive the next six months, but all I know is that The Crew is coming. More monthly Priest in only the manner that he can give it to you. Intelligently. Consistently.

Initial reports classify the new series as the “anti-Avengers”, a loose conglomerate of heroes bonding together for a common cause, but deep down, all hating each other’s guts. One of the team members may even make an annoying habit of betraying his teammates. This concept has been seen before, but none of that really means anything…because well…this is Priest. His last four years on Panther have proven that The Crew will be anything but typical, and nothing but unexpected. All you have to do is buy it. Preferably in large numbers.


Joshua Middleton-

Meet one of the most dynamic cover artists of 2003. Last year, the industry was blown away by the cover work of Kaare Andrews, but ’03 should belong to Middleton. One of the first talents at CrossGen (check out the first Meridian trade for details), Josh has been gradually dipping his toes back into the pool with a cover here, some interior work there, but New Mutants (there’s that title again) will put him on the map. And there’s always his creator-controlled Sky Between Branches to look forward to – hopefully issue one will be out sometime in 2003.

I’m not even going to gush extensively about him, because the image speaks for itself. Give him four months and he’ll be beating off the editors with a large stick.


Those are my predictions for the heavy hitters this year, disagree at your own peril. There’s a lot of talent at a lot of companies that stand the chance to make a lot of noise before the curtain closes, so what do you all think? Who’s the next big industry success story?

Who got next?


The New Hotness-

Ultimate X-Men #30 (Mark Millar/David Finch/Art Thibert)
I’ll tell the truth. This had me at the cover. Cyclops is easily my favorite X-Man, regardless of continuity, and Kubert’s expert rendering of Scott Summers is suitable for framing. Even ignoring that, Millar begins to remove the gloves in his final storyline, depicting Magneto as the most dangerous of lunatics…one who refuses to see any perspective contrary to his own, and a frightening intelligence and swagger that just may convince you he has a point. The master of magnetism literally holds the world in his palm, and with a chilling twist, we realize just why Xavier attempted to control this nut in the first place. I have no clue what’s coming next, and Return of the King is shaping up as an impressive endcap to Millar’s run. And hell, did I mention how much I’m diggin’ that cover?

Adventures of Superman #614 (Joe Casey/Derek Aucion)
This makes two weeks in a row for those keeping score. Let’s hope that Casey, Kelly, and Seagle represent this year to such an insane degree, that crossovers between the S-books become a distant possibility. Casey seems to excel whenever allowed enough latitude to just write without tremendous restriction, and perhaps I’ve been reading too many interviews with the creator recently, but his last few issues of Adventures have been damn impressive. The concept of a town filled with super-powered residents of a forgotten age is well presented, as is the increasing mystery of the Hollow Men and their attacks on lesser-known members of the superhuman community. Besides that, there’s an excellent scene between Supes and a certain detective that leaves the mouth watering for Casey’s eventual turn with the character later this year. Believe the hype, Superman has been hot the last couple months. Let’s hope the trend continues.

Ultimates #9 (Mark Millar/Bryan Hitch/Paul Neary)
You should know the deal by now. This is one of the best superhero comics available, and despite a somewhat infrequent schedule…the best it still remains. Captain America is highly pissed at his teammate Hank Pym for a bout of spousal abuse, and he wants the highly medicated scientist to pick on someone his own size. You could imagine what follows next, but just know this…Cap ain’t no punk. While the two men have their “conversation,” the rest of the squad prepares to repel a massive alien invasion that’s been in the making for several decades. While Millar’s sense of character dynamics has taken center stage with this series, there’s just something about watching Hitch unleashed with some large set pieces to bring down. And the last page leaves no doubt…things are about to get messy. Suffer the delay and realize these boys are gonna deliver more of the same.

Y- The Last Man #9 (Brian K. Vaughan/Pia Guerra/Jose Marzan Jr.)
For months, Vaughan has positioned Yorick and his sister Hero on opposing paths in this apocalyptic new world, and this chapter contains the violent reunion between the siblings. The scribe calmly sidesteps the obvious, avoids the cliché, and offers yet another impressive installment of the best new title of 2002. You may think you know what happens from here, but you don’t. From the reaction of the Marrisville residents, to the fractured relationship between brother and sister, leading to that shocker of a final page, it’s all unexpected, yet strangely appropriate. There is little reason not to support this book. Don’t wait for the Eisner nomination to come through. Y is as good as everyone says it is.

New X-Men #138 (Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely)
The true measure of any storyline is the ending. Have the characters been maneuvered into a different place than they were when things started? Grant cocks back and proves the necessity of this storyline with an amazing conclusion that solves some lingering questions, while posing a few more. Open Day was a disaster and the X-Men are still picking up the pieces, with Professor Xavier considering the unthinkable…that perhaps he is wrong. Emma Frost has also suffered a serious blow, once again watching one of her students fall in battle. What she does next will leave you panting for the next chapter as Morrison drops a wonderful cliffhanger into the mix that may just change everything. From the “widescreen” opening sequence, to the very last panel, Grant and Quitely finish off their riot in style.


Special thanks to Jim at ACME Comics who provided First Looks at Y and New X-Men, and a reminder that Rex Mundi #2 hits stores this Wednesday.

Peace.

 

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