HeroesCon 2011: The Thor Panel With Matt Fraction, Roger Langridge, and Jonathan Hickman

After getting hammered on Saturday night, I headed off to the “It’s Hammer Time!” panel at HeroesCon on Sunday, where… Okay, I can’t think of a third hammer pun, but point is, a relaxed crowd flooded the Charlotte Convention Center on Sunday – the last day of the Con – with a good chunk of the attendees turning out for a spirited discussion about Marvel’s God of Thunder, with three of his most recent writers.

Before we get into the recap, in case you don’t know them off hand: Matt Fraction has been writing Thor in the pages of The Mighty Thor, as well as Marvel event Fear Itself; Jonathan Hickman wrote an excellent mini-series called Ultimate Thor; and Roger Langridge wrote the critically acclaimed, all ages title Thor The Mighty Avenger. And now, on to the panel!

Actually, just two quick notes: before the panel started, Fraction and Hickman were having a discussion about creating a pill that can turn you into a Senator; and before he sat down at the table, Roger had never met Jonathan Hickman. Fun facts!

Starting off, the moderator asked what the panelists thought of the movie. Langridge hasn’t seen it. Fraction thought the Asgard stuff was great in the movie, but there wasn’t enough time for the Earth stuff to cook. Also, “What the hell was that big round building at the edge of town? I had more problems with that than the rainbow bridge… And astrophysicist Natalie Portman.”

Fraction continued that he felt the movie needed a training montage, like in Rocky, pulling tractors, and handing a little hammer to a kid.

“That’s great. You should write Thor,” quipped Hickman.

After laughter subsided, Fraction joked, “Let’s watch two guys talk about watching a movie. You guys seen Limitless?” Which was followed by literally one clap from the audience.

Moving on, the panelists were asked how they ended up on Thor:

- Langridge got a call out of the blue to write Thor, he had read the Kirby stuff, and some of Simonson’s run.

- Fraction repeated the famous story about never wanting to pitch Thor, before he got the one-shots, then got to pitch for the main title, and got it. It came when the JMS and Olivier Coipel title was taking too long to come out.

Fraction added, “There was an issue that came out where there were a lot of meetings. It was a beautifully rendered committee meeting, and a fantastically written committee meeting, but we waited months for this?” Fraction would try to get the title, calling up his Editor leaving messages like, “It would be great if there was an army of skeletons, and it was raining blood, and Thor had to smash them with his hammer… Okay, I’ll talk to you later.”

- Hickman wasn’t sure if he wanted to write Ultimate Thor, until he was promised writing The Ultimates if he wrote the miniseries. So he wrote Ultimate Thor as a love letter to the first Ultimates series, to set up the new title.

The discussion then turned to corporately owned versus creator owned work.

Langridge talked about how there were a couple of corporately dictated ideas when he sat down to write Thor The Mighty Avenger – though the boundaries were great, because rather than starting with a blank piece of paper, there’s somewhere to start.

Fraction continued, “It’s ultimately not your toy. I can’t just suddenly kill Thor, and everybody will be… There’s this innate understanding that it’s work for hire. I got the Thor book when the movie happened, because I got the Iron Man book when the movie happened.”

Then somehow, the discussion turned to Hickman’s refusal to respond to his wife’s texts if she doesn’t spell out words. “If she texts, ‘R U Okay,’ I won’t respond. I could be dead.”

After this continued for another few minutes, clarifying just when Hickman would text his wife back, Fraction asked, “Where were we again? Talking about Thor?”

Getting back to talking about indie comics versus corporate comics, Hickman and Fraction talked about the joy of just getting art in your mailbox, versus having to track people down. “It’s this beautiful machine that produces comics,” said Fraction. He said in a certain sense, it makes him happier, because there’s not as much stress, things to worry about.

Hickman found the challenge in writing Ultimate Thor was not making it a simple origin book, but its own story. It was more of a calculation than a writing process, and not his favorite thing to do – but he’s happy with how it turned out.

Talking about the familial relationships in the book, Fraction talked about almost – but not quite meeting Stan Lee, which he’s glad didn’t happen because he would have had to say the following:

“Where do you get off rewriting a… Myth? People used to slaughter goats to this guy, and you said, “I can tighten this up!” But the one thing he kept was the relationship between [Odin and Thor]. Someone asked me the other day why Odin lets Thor go to Earth after telling him no. It’s because sometimes you have to let your kids touch the hot stove, I know that now, having kids.”

“I’ve flipped it in the Ultimate Universe, I made him benevolent and loving because it will become more important later on,” said Hickman.

Langridge and Fraction talked about how tough it would be for Odin to exile Thor, and how that says a lot about his character.

One thing Fraction is leading up to is, “Where did the women go? That’s something we’re leading up to.” Turning to Hickman, he said, “And I’ve changed one other thing, I’ll tell you later… I’m bringing Johnny Storm back, is that a problem?”

Continuing on talking about the family, Fraction talked about Loki, and how he’s his favorite character. Hickman agreed, saying he’s an, “Absolutely tragic, wonderful character.”

Talking about whether there would be an all-ages Thor book, Langridge said, “Well I was working on one for a while. It didn’t work out.” Fraction explained that even though everybody wants it, and everybody would love it… The retailers don’t know what to do with it.

Langridge added that he found out Thor the Mighty Avenger was cancelled when he was on issue six, but was told there would be a four issue mini-series tying everything up – so wasn’t able to change his outline to actually tie things up with issue eight.

Talking about the cancellation of Mighty Avenger, Fraction said you can be spoiled by great shops, because titles are regularly available… So you don’t have to pre-order. But pre-ordering is how comics survive. Hickman also chimed in that on The Nightly News, his sister bought three of six copies, and Hickman told her to bring them back. Fraction finished up by saying that there’s no other industry where you have to commit to buying something you’ve never seen, three months in advance. But you’ve got to do it, to save titles you love.

Asked what would have happened in the last four issues of Thor The Mighty Avenger, Langrdige said Thor was going to confront the villain who wiped his memories way in the beginning. It was Krask, the baddie behind everything. By using Thor as a conduit to get to Asgard, he thought he could get eternal life. The climax would happen in Asgard, and Thor would save the day by embracing his humanity. Krask is a human who wants to be more, Thor is a god who wants to be human… So Thor would save the day by becoming human.

Langridge added that he wasn’t allowed to say why Odin banished Thor in the book – and also, he wasn’t allowed to use the word, “god.”

Talking about the evergreen topic of digital comics, Fraction asked, “Who here has a laptop, a cell phone, or an iPad?” When everybody raised their hands, Fraction said, “That is a comic shop in your pants.”

The panel talked about how paper isn’t going away, but we need to embrace digital. That said, there’s danger in cloud technology. “One thing goes wrong, and the cloud goes away,” said Fraction, using the recent Sony hacks as an example.

Hickman feels that the price-point is what keeps people from jumping in, if everything was ninety-nine cents, it would be easier to just buy. Talking to a retailer in the audience who has made the transition to just being a trade paperback selling shop, he stated that he’s had plenty of customers who read a book digitally, and then come into the shop to buy the paper version.

Fraction added that he thinks digital will save a lot of little titles, but it sadly doesn’t help titles right now. Turning once again to Langridge, he asked whether the writer thought digital would have saved The Mighty Avenger.

“If it had been available on a platform the general audience could have found, it might have gotten to a general audience,” said Langridge.

Moving back to story, Fraction stated that we’ll get to see more of the nine realms in his title, and how Ragnarok affected the other realms. He’s not a big fantasy guy, so he needs to find ways in for himself, doing weird things like stone colossuses, and smoke elves, and appreciates the opportunity to reinvent the mythology.

Asked about popular Thor characters, Fraction said, Executioner is dead. Enchantress, yes. Ulik, Fraction likes, we’ll get there eventually. Also Mangog.

Talking about pulling from actual myths, versus the Lee/Kirby “myths,” Langridge said, “It’s using it as a seasoning, really.” Fraction felt he could move away from the myths, because Lee and Kirby did, too. Hickman on the other hand pulled heavily on the myths, as well as the Marvel Universe “myths.”

Hickman loved the original idea of Ultimate Thor, whether he was a man or a god. “I liked Tree-hugger Thor,” said Hickman. Fraction added that the page where it starts raining, Thor smiles, and you don’t know whether it was him or not might be his favorite Mark Millar – and Bryan Hitch – page ever.

Asked whether The Wrecking Crew would come back, Fraction said, “We’re bringing back The Cutting Crew. Anyone want to hear Hickman sing some Cutting Crew?” Sadly, we weren’t treated to any, “Died In Your Arms.”

On the topic of bringing back Beta Ray Bill or Thor Frog, Fraction brought up a fetish called, “masking,” where guys where women’s masks. Interrupting, Hickman said, “Raise your hand if you have ever heard about this before right now.” Two people raised their hands, to laughter from the audience, and Fraction continued that he would feel like he was doing masking with Walt Simonson if he approached Frog Thor.

“Space Horse Thor I love. But frog stuff is Walt’s signature move,” said Fraction. “It would feel fraudulent. Frogulent. Sometimes stories are perfect, and you just shouldn’t mess with them.”

He then threatened your faithful blogger, telling me not to put this online. So we can not confirm, sadly, at this time, that Matt Fraction is super into a fetish called masking, which he may or may not have created.

Talking about what they have coming up, Langridge chatted again about Snarked, Fraction said Casanova is coming back soon, and Hickman also plugged Casanova, saying when he read it, he felt inadequate as a writer. “And as a husband… And a father…” quipped Fraction. Hickman finished up by plugging Red Wings, which will be out from Image soon!

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