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AICN COMICS Q&@: Russ Sheath talks to Aspen Comics' Vince Hernandez about this week’s THE DEATH PRINCESS and plans for their 10th Anniversary!

@@@ What the &#$% is AICN COMICS Q&@? @@@

Q’s by Russ Sheath!

@’s by Aspen’s Vince Hernandez!!!

Russ Sheath here. Aspen Comics is approaching their 10th Anniversary in 2013 and the publisher, founded by the late superstar artist Michael Turner, is planning a huge 10th year including something very special for Michael Turner fans.

This week sees the launch of CHARISMAGIC: THE DEATH PRINCESS, an epic journey into magic and adventure. Series writer and Aspen Editor in Chief Vince Hernandez spoke to AICN’s Russ Sheath about THE DEATH PRINCESS, FATHOM, LADY MECHANICA and all things Aspen.

RUSS SHEATH (RS): Vince, thanks for talking to AICN. This week sees CHARISMAGIC: THE DEATH PRINCESS launched from Aspen. Can you tell us about that and how it links into your other series, CHARISMAGIC?

VINCE HERNANDEZ (VH): We started CHARISMAGIC last year, and it centers on a Las Vegas magician who realizes that he has magical powers that he didn’t know he had. From there it’s an epic adventure where he went off to save the world along with several friends while along the way we introduced wizards, witches and more. Basically, all the magical characters I liked growing up I tried to put into one organic story.

With DEATH PRINCESS, we are going back to the prehistoric times and the history and origin of magic, and within the story you have this woman, Orlana, an incredible source of evil who can control minds, which is a power that is virtually impossible to stop. From there we take it to a more fantasy feel where we have a team of wizards and sorcerers and other powerful magical beings who team up to take her on. I don¹t want to give away too much, but it’s definitely a giant war book, I like big battles and I really hope fans are going to dig it.

CHARISMAGIC:THE DEATH PRINCESS is a 3 issue limited series, and right afterwards we will be jumping into the second volume of CHARISMAGIC. I can say that anybody who picks up THE DEATH PRINCESS and then picks up the second volume of CHARISMAGIC will be rewarded, because a lot of characters overlap. I really wanted to make sure that this wasn’t just a spin off book that had no weight or meaning to it, so if you read the regular CHARISMAGIC series you’ll definitely see a lot of THE DEATH PRINCESS characters, so staytuned because THE DEATH PRINCESS’s story doesn’t end in this three issue mini.

RS: What were your influences when creating the book?

VH: I’ve always been a big fan of fantasy books and I like epic quest stories. I always thought they were really fun. Everyone grows up wanting to go to an alternate world where dragons and all these fun creatures exist, and I wanted to create that over here at Aspen. We already have a lot of fantasy books, but I wanted to create something that touched on some of those other themes. In film I always liked a lot of the magical stories that have come along in the past and featured a strong magician lead, which is a profession that has always been to me something that's unique in that it's a showbiz thing but there's a mystical aspect to it. That's something I could touch upon in CHARISMAGIC.

Christopher Nolan’s THE PRESTIGE was a big push for me to write my own magic story. He did a wonderful job of touching on an era of these magicians in their prime and I wanted to bring that back--I wanted to try to make magicians cool again.

RS: The book looks like it could have been taken from animation cells and has a very animated look to it. When you think of artistic styles and trends, it seems a trend or style that is coming back. Is that a fair comment?

VH: It has to do with technology being so advanced now that you have artists that are drawing straight on the Wacom and applying that to Photoshop and we are developing art in ways that we weren’t able to do ten years ago. That has inspired the more animated design and look. I like the traditional drawn on paper and inked style, but I also like this new computer-age style.

Emilio Lopez is on the forefront of that look and was the colorist on the first CHARISMAGIC. When we began the conceptual art for THE DEATH PRINCESS he volunteered to do the interiors as well. Emilio has been responsible for a lot of the character designs for CHARISMAGIC, and he’s a phenomenal talent. He’s got a very animated look and it almost looks like a Disney movie to me. He’s got a unique look and it touches on the fantasy aspect that I wanted to focus on in the book. Emilio really went to the nth degree with design for this book, which really helped me with the story.

RS: To me, there¹s a look or feel to a lot of Aspen’s output where it seems that Michael Turner could have had a hand in its production. Is that a conscious process you go through when deciding upon a new project?

VH: Absolutely! Everything we do at some point is in respect to Mike’s vision of what he would have wanted. Mike said to me once that he wanted us to be similar to Pixar where we didn’t emphasize quantity over quality and he wanted a specific feel that was Aspen.

A lot of the credit for that goes to our production department with Peter Steigerwald, who came over with Mike when he started the company, and also Mark Roslan, who does all of the visual design on the books. It’s a tribute to those two that when you pick up an Aspen book it has a similar feel to the other books that we do. Also, Mike was not only our friend and founder but he was one of the top visionaries in comics and he knew what would sellwell, what would look great and what would be innovative; we try to stick to those themes when we do our new products.

RS: A particular favorite Aspen book of mine and of many fans is LADY MECHANICA by Joe Benitez. Can you tell us what¹s happening with that book?

VH: LADY MECHANICA is being worked on. I know there's been a lot of anger about the delay, and we are no less frustrated about the schedule, but we are working on it and Joe is working on issues 4, 5 and 6. We aren¹t going to solicit issue 4 until those issues are done, but I can say that issue 4 is looking great and fans are going to be rewarded tenfold when they see the pages.

Joe did a run on SOULFIRE after Mike passed away, and I remember saying then “We need to get Joe and Peter on a book! If you put those two together the book will do gangbusters no matter what the property is!”

So, Joe came to us with the idea of LADY MECHANICA, and none of us knew that steampunk was as popular as it is because when we released the first images from LADY MECHANICA it just took off. Even today our Facebook page for the book has hundreds of new likes every week. LADY MECHANICA only has an issue 0 plus three regular issues and it seems like the fanbase grows substantially each week. I honestly wish every title was received like that.

It¹s a tribute to Joe’s legacy. He¹s been involved in a few characters that are still living on today like The Darkness and Magdalena. They were created at Top Cow but they wouldn’t have been as popular as they are if Joe hadn¹t been involved in those properties. I feel like Joe is one of those people who’s never quite hitting that level where people recognize how good he truly is, but as far as I’m concerned he’s always been right up there.

RS: Tell us what Aspen has planned for the upcoming 10th anniversary of the company?

VH: This 2013 we’re bringing it! We are bringing out one new series each month for 10 months. We’re calling it the “10 for 10” and each one is going to be done by one of the Aspen creators who have been with us for the first decade. We are taking the spirit of what we did in the first decade and taking it into the next one, and I hope the fans respond to it because they are the ones who kept us going this long and we wouldn’t be here without them—it’s more of celebration for them.

It’s been a rough ten years with losing our founder in 2008, and there are a lot of critics who thought we wouldn’t keep going, but we have tripled our line of books in the last three years and I’d like to think that we maintained the quality that Mike set as a vision for the company. We are rounding up this year with the release of CHARISMAGIC: THE DEATH PRINCESS, which was announced at New York Comic-Con, so I’m excited, but I’m also biased because I’m the creator.

RS: What else is happening at Aspen over the coming months?

VH: THE LEGEND OF THE SHADOW CLAN and SHRUGGED were our first two "10 for 10" releases announced at New York Comic-Con and we will be hinting at the next books very soon! We have a big crossover with the EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT books called “Executive Extinction”. It’s a ten part story that goes back and forth between the EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT IRIS book and the EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT ASSASSINS book. The Executive Assistants are fighting for their lives and we are playing for keeps! There are going to be a few popular characters who aren’t going to make it out of this storyline, and it’s going to be our biggest crossover ever, starting in December.

FATHOM and SOULFIRE will both be finishing their current runs this winter; come spring and those two titles play a big part in our “10 for 10” plans. I can't give away much more than that, but I will say that we are looking to reintroduce FATHOM and SOULFIRE in 2013, so look for a new launching point for them. It will be FATHOM’s 15th anniversary next year, and we are hoping to introduce it to a whole new generation of readers who didn’t grow up withMichael Turner and Fathom.

We are finishing FATHOM: KIANI VOLUME 2, which sets the stage for what's happening for the next year, and we have huge plans for her and also involving Aspen. They have never really gotten along, and there has always been a colliding force issue where those two meet, so there are going to be some interesting things with Kiani and Aspen that fans aren’t going to see coming. I've written so many Kiani books, and I’m more excited than most Ithink—she’s a brilliant character!

RS: With the 10th anniversary on the horizon, are there any Mike Turner-specific plans that you have coming up based around his art and his legacy at Aspen?

VH: You’ve hit the nail on the head, and I’ll give you a small teaser here for fans who have been following Michael Turner’s art for this past decade and even before’ll be excited in 2013, because we are finally putting together a project that will be one big Turner product. You’ll definitely be able to get your Michael Turner art fix from it. We're really excited and it will probably be our biggest release ever!

RS: Let’s talk about the industry in general. How do you feel about what is being perceived as a reinvigorated interest in independent comics?

VH: Not to discount anything that Marvel or DC have done, but fans want to see other properties or ideas that may not be The Avengers, Batman or Superman. Comic book readers and entertainment fans in general are on the lookout for something different, and Image Comics had a big hand in opening the door with THE WALKING DEAD, which opened peoples’ eyes to the other genres, titles and publishers that are out there.

There are a lot of independent publishers right now that are putting out really good products. Image, Dark Horse, IDW and I of course include Aspen in there, too, want to tell a great story and I think there’s a market for that. There’s a shifting landscape when it comes to what the fans are looking for, and there’s not a lot of money to go around in peoples' budgets. I think that everybody has to be a little more selective in what they pick up, so for us we have to keep putting out entertaining and good stories, otherwise they just won’t buy it.

RS: Aspen has a great presence via the digital platform and seems to have really embraced that method of getting your comics to readers.

VH: I actually met with the founder of Comixology last week and we chuckled, because I remember when he would come up to us a few years ago and tell us what he had planned with Comixology. It was ambitious, but I knew it would work. I was definitely pushing for it sooner rather than later, and the numbers we’ve got back from downloads have been phenomenal: in the last quarter we had something like 200,000 downloads of our free issues, and those numbers are staggering to us. We are definitely on board with that movement and I don’t look at it like are taking our print stuff and making it digital; I’d like to think that we can do a little extra to cater to the digital market. I’m excited; I think there’s a big future with the digital stuff.

If you have an iPad you can carry a whole collection with you where you can’t with the print version, but I think print really caters for the collector aspect--and I don’t know about you, but I think every comic book fan likes holding an actual comic in their hands. For us, it's all about adapting to the times and whats’s coming out; everybody has a smartphone andeverybody in the creative medium seems to have an Ipad, so it makes sense.

RS: A huge thanks to Vince for his time. CHARISMAGIC: THE DEATH PRINCESS is out this week from Aspen Comics, and look for an exclusive Aspen competition later this week.

You can follow Russ Sheath's blog Russwords here and on Twitter here.

Editing, compiling, imaging, coding, logos & cat-wrangling by Ambush Bug
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G

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