The opening of WonderCon had me scrambling to get in. Why? Because just thirty minutes after the convention officially opened, upstairs on the second floor in Room 208 was The Mark, Sergio, Stan, and Sometimes Tom Show! This hour long panel was stated in the program as being “The folks who bring you Groo the Wanderer tell you how (and maybe why) they bring you Groo the Wanderer and maybe other things, as well. They are Mark Evanier, Sergio Aragones, Stan Sakai, and maybe the hardest-working man in comics, Tom Luth. Learn what it is that compels these men to, month after month and year after year, tell their tales of the stupidest character ever in comics.” I attended this same panel in 2014, and have been to several and their panels at the San Diego Comic-Con, so I had to attend this one.
As it was the first panel of the day in that room, there were plenty of seats before it began, and I and my daughter sat in the second row. Sergio and Mark entered early and began a “Not the Panel” discussion before the actual panel, since they weren’t allowed to talk until 12:30. The pair pondered the origin of their unlabeled water bottles, with its taste being familiar.
When the panel began, Mark stated that two of the participants were unable to attend: Stan was in Japan, while Tom was probably coloring something. Things have gotten a little easier to color books, Mark told the audience, as Tom doesn’t have to actually hand-color anything anymore, instead using a computer. He admitted to having to have to color some pages of Groo once and found the experience incredibly difficult.
Mark told the audience that he will be having an expanded edition of Kirby: King of Comics coming out soon. This book is recommended reading for anyone who’s a fan of the King or is interested in comic books. Additionally, Mark has written a biography Jack Kirby that will be coming out early next year. I definitely will have my eye out for that!
Sergio said he was currently working on two Groo books a month: Groo: Play of the Gods and Groo Meets Tarzan, with Tom Yeates, who currently illustrates Prince Valiant. Even at the convention, Sergio said he’s inking a page a day of Groo, “…so it’s not late.” He admitted, “I’m putting more detail into my work than I’ve done in my entire life.” Which had Mark add, “He’s doing it because he hates Tom Luth.” This drew quite a bit of laughter. If one has been reading the previous Groo series, Groo: Fray of the Gods, to think that Sergio is putting more detail into his artwork seems impossible, but one to look forward to seeing nonetheless.
Before I could ask my burning question, Mark brought it up: the hardcover collections of every issue of Groo is coming. “If you’ve ever been to one of our panels here before, you’ve heard us say that the hardcover collections are coming. We say it every year. This time we really mean it.” The first hardcover will contain the Pacific Comics issues and the Eclipse Special. There will be about 12 issues per volume. They will be printed in chronological order, unless a four part story would end up split between two volumes. In that case the stories will be shifted so that there’s a complete story in every volume.
With Stan and Tom not in attendance, Mark said they should say something embarrassing about each. They had nothing to say when asked by an audience member to give up the goods on the absent contributors. The only thing Sergio could say was that when they went out together to conventions, Stan would take pictures of this food to show his wife. “If offered a goldfish cracker,” Mark said, “Stan would take a picture of it before eating it.” Sergio said that once he had to deliver pages to Stan to letter, went to his house late at night, and couldn’t remember which house it was. Under a deadline, eleven o’clock at night, Sergio stood in the street, cupped his hands to his mouth and began to yell, “STAN SAKAI! STAN! STAN SAKAI!” All the lights on the houses began to turn on, one by one, until Stan finally opened his door to tell Sergio where he was. “That was more embarrassing for me than Stan.” They had nothing on Tom.
When asked about difficulties on working with franchises and their characters, Sergio yielded to Mark. “He does that stuff!” Mark said that he writes out a proposal on what he and Sergio would like to do, sends it off, he gets a reply or attends a meeting, they shake hands, he returns to Sergio, and then they do whatever they want. They’ve never had a complaint after doing a book, but Sergio corrected him saying there was one. When working on Sergio Aragones Stomps Star Wars, someone at Lucasfilm said that Sergio hadn’t drawn George Lucas’s chin correctly. Sergio thought it looked fine, but he changed it and resubmitted it. He got a call from some others saying it still wasn’t right. They asked he change it again, but he didn’t want to. “I did what you wanted.” He told them they could fix it, and they did. To this day he doesn’t know if George Lucas even knows about it because he’s never spoken with him.
Mark added he’s had good and bad experiences working as a television writer. Working for as long as he did on Garfield, he would just have to call Jim Davis for approval for something and he’d get it. “Jim was fine with whatever I wanted to do.” Working on the Shrek comic book was difficult because the executives didn’t want something in the comic book to contradict what might occur in a future film. For example, should Shrek be allowed to like drinking lemonade in the comic, because he might dislike it in a movie? He also told of the time he was offered to write a spec script for a series and how legal paperwork kept him from ever submitting said script.
A question from the audience asking if there was anything that couldn’t done today in a comic, much as a Blazing Saddles couldn’t be made today, created a spirited conversation between the two on what’s funny and what’s not. Both agreed that they didn’t think that anything in Groo would need to be changed, but on modern humor, they differed. I’ve been to several of these gentlemen’s panels and never heard them discuss humor in this way and it was extremely enlightening.
Alas, the hour went quickly and both men had other panels and booths to attend. I strongly recommend that if anyone ever gets the chance to listen to each of these men speak, do so.