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In the 90's, they were style over substance, and sold like mad, till people figured it out - remember Wild C.A.T.s, Wetworks, Spawn, Youngblood, all of em?

About a year and a half ago, Jim Valentino (Shadowhawk) stepped down as Image's publisher, and Erik Larsen (Savage Dragon) stepped up, and the company's been pretty different: its where to go to take your project (for exposure, not as much for pay; i hear every book gets the same rate). They were nothing but superheroes back then; nowadays, they've got everything going on, from Walking Dead to Invincible.


Here's a look a them now:






While the war for market share rages between Marvel and DC both on the shelves and in the news, what of the #3 publisher?


About a year and a half ago, Erik Larsen replaced Jim Valentino as the publisher of the company, with Eric Stephenson shortly after moving up to serve as Executive Director. So, what’s gone on in that time, and where does the company stand now?


We spoke with Stephenson.


Newsarama: It’s been about 18 months since Erik Larsen took the chair as Publisher of Image. Where would you say the company is in terms of where he and you saw it headed when he first came on?


Eric Stephenson: I'd say we're getting there. I look at the books we're doing, the people we're working with, the way the business itself is running, and I can see real progress. The main thing when Erik came in as Publisher – his "mandate," if you want to put it that way – was to do better books. The second thing, which in a way goes hand-in-hand with the first, was to straighten the business side of things out a bit. There were some pretty swift changes on the operational side, but things have moved a little slower where the books are concerned. After a year and a half, though, I believe Image Comics is publishing some of the best comics we've ever published. So, yeah... I'd say we're getting there.


NRAMA: When we last spoke to Erik, as he explained replacing titles with new books, his plan was not to replace a weak book that was fading out with another weak book. Have you been able to do that, as you see it?


ES: Well, I don't want to go all Bill Clinton on you, but I think that depends on how you define "weak," really. If you're looking at it in terms of content, quality of content, then I'd definitely say yes, I think we have been successful there. If you're talking strictly in terms of numbers and sales, then obviously, that's a different story, because we have some excellent books that aren't selling as well as they could. Even from that perspective, though, I think there's been some improvement and to a large degree, I think that goes back to the content.




NRAMA: That said, what are some examples of titles that have come in and really stepped up, meeting or exceeding expectations?


ES: I think Flight confounded nearly everyone's expectations. We're into the third printing on that book and it's only been a year. People always say anthologies are a tough sell, right? Well, Flight was a pricey anthology by a group of creators who, talented as they are, had little to no track record in comics and both volumes have sold like crazy. Ultra has been great. The initial miniseries pulled modest but stable numbers, but the trade has really been something. We're into the second printing on that and it's only been, what? Three months since that first hit the stands? And Girls has been a bit of surprise – the fifth issue numbers are higher than the initial orders for the first one. There's others... Death, Jr., Sea of Red, Ant, Fell...we've been doing alright, I think.


NRAMA: In this same time frame, what are some of the best moves Image has made, either as a company, or in terms of releases?


ES: Literally moving would definitely be number one – getting out of Orange Country and moving up to Berkeley. We were paying through the nose to work in a miserable environment – a soulless concrete box in some crap business park in the middle of what I'm going to charitably describe as a cultural wasteland. When Kazu [Kibuishi, Flight editor and creator] stopped by our office in Berkeley on his way APE earlier this year, he told me he never liked visiting us at the Orange office because it always seemed so cold and uninviting, so uncharacteristic of a comics company, and I think that sums it up fairly accurately. And with Erik in Oakland, communication was really suffering, I don't know that there was a real sense of him being in charge of things within the office itself. He wasn't physically there, and that led to some problems. Now, he's right here, almost every day.


After that, I'd say getting the Image Comics Hardcover finished up and then doing right by the retail community and making sure it was re-solicited. Numerous retailers had made it clear that shipping that book based on its original orders would be a huge problem and no one here wanted to make what was already a pretty lousy situation worse.




In that vein, I think just paying closer attention to what retailers have to say has been important, as well. Bringing Jim Demonakos in had a lot to do with that, actually, because with his experience running his own comics shop – while not as extensive as that of a retailer like Brian Hibbs or Jim Hanley – allowed us to see certain things from a different perspective.


Beyond that, I think getting Todd's work on Spawn back into print, via the new trade paperbacks is smart business. I think getting things like Warren and Ben's Fell out and then bringing Thomas Jane and Steve Niles' Bad Planet over, picking up Rick Remender and Tony Moore's Fear Agent, letting Joe Casey and Tom Scioli just go nuts on a project like GØDLAND, getting things like Steve Englehart's Coyote and Dan Brereton's Giant Killer back into print are all strong choices. We're doing good work.


And if I can get Erik to start cranking out Savage Dragon again, it'll be a banner year.


NRAMA: Going back to one of the projects you mentioned as something that exceeded expectations, you also lost Flight earlier this year when the creators took it to Ballantine. Would you characterize that as a mistake?




ES: I don't know that I'd necessarily classify losing Flight as a mistake, because it isn't really something we had control over, but that's certainly the biggest regret. I think the world of Kazu and all the Flight creators and I know they're doing what they feel is genuinely best for the book, but at the same time, you never want to see something like that slip away. We were, are, and will always be really proud of Flight. It was literally the first book Erik picked up after he became publisher. So, it’s bittersweet, I’d say.


NRAMA: In your October letter from the publisher in Previews, you made a point about Image not publishing one kind of book, and embracing diversity. In your view, how does that work in your favor given Image’s history?


ES: Well, I'll put it to you this way: Dreamwave was known for pretty much one thing and that was Transformers. When you're that tied into one thing, your fortunes tend to rise and fall on the success of that one thing. I see diversity as a greater opportunity for success. If Image was just publishing superhero comics, we wouldn't have The Walking Dead.




Even if we only broadened our definition of superhero comics to "action/adventure comics," so that The Walking Dead could sneak past and make in, we still wouldn't have things like PvP or Liberty Meadows or Jim Mahfood's comics. We wouldn't have Flight. And depending on your definition of "action/adventure," something like Fell might not make the cut. I see no down side to cultivating diversity. I think it's one of our greatest strengths.


NRAMA: Arguably, or perhaps argumentatively, it seems that this could work against you, in that people don’t know specifically, from month to month, what Image will be offering – action/adventure, drama, humor, etc…how do you, with increasing diversity, maintain a brand identity?


ES: If our publishing slate was vastly different from month-to-month then maybe I'd agree, but the truth of the matter is we're publishing mostly the same books, month-in and month-out. And we publish a lot of different types of books, but we're not springing anything completely unexpected on people. I think people understand that we publish superheroes and horror and slightly indie-oriented stuff.


The counter to this – that people potentially don't know what they're getting – is to suggest we'd be better off focusing on a single genre. Apart from what I've just said about the negatives involved in following through on that, I just think it's highly unlikely that readers or retailers are going to blindly support the Image brand under those circumstances. You can say, "Well, we don't know what Image is," but if we were just pounding out 20 superhero books a month or 20 horror books or whatever, I don't think there'd be an increase in excitement or support.


NRAMA: So there is a brand identity?


ES: Yes, there is. B. Clay Moore used to compare Image to HBO in that you look at the programs they've come out with – comedies, dramas, you name it – and the thing linking them together is that they're all good. That's the goal here. The goal is to do good comics that, hopefully, you haven't seen before and that brings me back 'round to your original question and that thing I wrote in Previews last month. If you want to know what Image Comics is, it's pretty simple: new comics. New ideas, new characters, new creators.


NRAMA: That said, is the key here – still, after what, 13+ years, getting people to think something different when they think “Image” and the i? Do you think there still are preconceived notions of an “Image book” out there?


ES: For some people, sure. I think there's a tendency to generalize sometimes. Mostly what I hear these days, though, is that people are pleasantly surprised by the type of material we're putting out now. I think people are beginning to recognize we're fairly consistent in our variety.


That said, I look forward to reaching a point where people aren't surprised, where they just come to expect it. And I think we're getting closer to that all the time.


NRAMA: In the “classic Image” vein your latest splash recently has probably been Todd McFarlane’s revitalization of Spawn, as well as the retuning of the trades to print. Any ideas what caused him to dip his foot back in the pool?


ES: You know, I can't speak for Todd, but if I were to make an educated guess, I'd say he probably wasn't satisfied with where things were and wanted to shake things up a bit. In terms of the trades – that's been a subject of discussion for a while. It's something Todd's wanted to do, but I know he was looking at different options, different ways of presenting the material. I think he wanted to make sure that he wasn't just tossing this stuff into the marketplace, and sometimes that requires taking time to collect information.




NRAMA: What do you think a (hopefully) stronger presence from Spawn will do for Image? It seems that while helping to get the company some visibility, it almost could go back to the whole preconceived notion thing, with people thinking, “they’re going back to publishing ‘Image books.’”


ES: We never stopped publishing those books, though. Spawn, Savage Dragon, Witchblade, The Darkness – these books have been coming out all along. When Jim Valentino brought Shadowhawk back, people weren't saying, "They're going back to publishing 'Image books'" – and that book had genuinely been out of the picture for a while. I think everyone – readers, retailers, creators – I think everyone is savvy enough to realize Image puts out different types of books.




NRAMA: Fair enough. Moving on to the larger marketplace, something that often comes up when Image is discussed is the company’s market share – under 5% lately – is that a concern, a time bomb ticking in any way, or just a number?


ES: It's just a number.


NRAMA: Really?


ES: Really. Something that isn't being considered when discussing market share is that, yeah, we've seen a decline, but when you look at Marvel and DC – they're pumping out a lot of books. The number of books we put out per month is fairly static. Right now, we're actually looking at a fairly substantial increase in sales over 2004.


NRAMA: Back when CrossGen was a going concern, Mark Alessi made a fuss about that when he got 5% of the market share, CG would have to be listed with the brokered publishers in the front of Previews. While the validity of his claim was suspect, is there any market share level that Image has to remain above in order to stay in the sweet spot of Previews?


ES: Well, if you're asking if Image is in any immediate danger of losing its real estate, the short answer is no.


NRAMA: Is there a longer answer that you could explain?


ES: Not really, no.


NRAMA: Looking at the landscape, with a handful of new publishers sprouting up and offering creators deals to publish their books, is Image still competitive, or in the lead of the deals it can offer creators?


ES: Well, I don't know what these newer publishers are offering, so I can't really speak to the differences between their deals and ours. I do know we have a pretty tough deal to beat. Someone from another publisher called a creator publishing at Image in the last year and claimed to offer a better deal. They made their pitch, the creator outlined his deal with Image and they couldn't better it. Conversely, there are creators who have brought their projects to Image after receiving contracts that didn't quite honor the "better" offers they'd been made by other publishers.


I don't think anyone here spends much time worrying about what these guys are doing. But, I think it says something that the Image deal is more or less the standard these other companies use to measure what they have to offer. And I'll say this, too: Image has yet to publish anything rejected by one of these new publishers, whereas books we've turned down tend to pop up all over the place.




NRAMA: Obviously, the deal of allowing creators to retain 100% ownership of their properties was crafted somewhere just under a decade ago, and the world has moved on since. Does that deal still work?


ES: We're still here.


NRAMA: Could we ever see, say, an Image that claims a set percentage of the rights to books it publishes?


ES: As our standard deal for all creators? No, I don't see that happening. Could there come a time when we negotiate specific deals like that on a case-by-case basis? Possibly. I think I'd be naive to rule something like that out. For that to happen, though, I think it would have to be mutually beneficial to both Image and the creator. A great deal of consideration would have to go into something like that.


NRAMA: Brushing against the market share and sales issue again - in your view, where’s the disconnect with Image books in terms of seeing sales increases? Is it potential readers not knowing about the titles out there, or retailers not taking the risks, and leaving books that would most likely sell in their stores unordered?


ES: It's a combination of all these things, really. It's a crowded marketplace and things get overlooked, both by retailers and by readers. And you know, readers only have so much disposable income. That said, I can't tell you the number of times someone has told me they couldn't find one of our books at their local shop. That Four-Letter Worlds anthology we put out earlier this year? To this day people e-mail to ask if it ever came out. Joe Casey just forwarded me an e-mail from a reader complaining that his shop didn't order GØDLAND. Someone asked me the other day why Sea of Red #3 never came out. It did – their shop just didn't get it.


Part of the problem there is that some stores are only ordering these books to fill pre-orders, they're not ordering them for the racks. Another problem is that we've published our fair share – maybe more than our fair share, to be perfectly candid – of late books. That's never an incentive for support. The bottom line in both these cases is if the books aren't on the racks, they may as well not exist.


NRAMA: So what’s the fix for it?


ES: I think a big part of that is simply re-establishing a solid level of trust with retailers, and by extension, with readers. Part of that is making sure the books reach the stores on time and part of that is doing exactly what we've been doing: improving the level of quality, putting out good books. I think a retailer is going to be much less reluctant to support a new Image title if we're consistently meeting those criteria. Looking at books like The Walking Dead or Girls, I think you can see that: They're good books and they're in stores, month-in and month-out. If a book is bad or a book doesn't come out – that's like asking someone to do a job with faulty tools, y'know? We can't ask retailers to get behind what we're doing if we're not giving them something they can work with, which kind of brings us full circle I think: We're getting there.


NRAMA: Okay – finally – give us the sales pitch – the five best things Image is publishing, or will be by October, that people aren’t paying enough attention to…




ES: Right off the top of my head, I think I'd say GØDLAND is an amazing book that clearly isn't on a lot of people's radar. I think there may be the perception that it's some kind of retro book due to Tom Scioli's Kirby-esque artwork, but there's nothing retro about it. GØDLAND combines cosmic Kirby action with postmodern characterization and some of the craziest visuals in comics for what I think it's one of the best things Joe Casey has ever done. It's kind of a bridge between Joe's work on Automatic Kafka and some of the crazy comics Kirby was doing in the 70s. I think Randy Lander described as "crack for the imagination-starved" and I like the sound of that.


Amazing Joy Buzzards is another one. There was a write-up in Wizard that said something like, "dull comics just got a rock and roll body slam" and that just about sums it up. Mark Smith and Dan Hipp are kind of bringing the sensibility of something like Gorillaz to monthly comics, combining off the wall action/adventure with humor and a pretty vast knowledge of pop culture. The trade paperback for the first run of the book is out now, and I think it's one of the coolest things we've put out.


After that, let's see... Rick Remender and Eric Nguyen are tearing it up on Strange Girl. Eric's artwork is just plain gorgeous and the story – I think Rick has come up with a really cool approach to the tired old end of the world epic. He's combined a lot of his influences to come up with a freewheeling romp with a kick-ass female lead that doesn't simply trade on sex appeal.


Grounded is a really fun and different take on superheroes. The first issue sold out pretty quickly and we're going to back to press on it, so if you haven't had a chance to read it – grab a copy when it comes out. The tagline for this one is, "The good news: Superheroes are real - The bad news: You're not one of them," and writer Mark Sable really follows through on that premise, taking us into the world of a young boy obsessed with superheroes –not just in a fanboy collector kind of way, but in the jumping off the roof to prove he can fly kind of way. The visuals by Mark Azaceta are pretty stunning, too. Both of these guys are creators to watch out for.




And for the last one – since you're only giving me five here – I think I'm going to go with Noble Causes. I was in a comic book store a couple weeks ago and one of the guys on staff there asked me why Noble Causes isn't one of our biggest sellers, and I'll be honest with you, I don't know. Jay Faerber's around twenty-five issues of the book at this point and there are now four trade paperbacks collecting about 16 of those. It's sex, lies and superheroes from a guy I view as one of the most underrated writers in comics, and I think artist Fran Bueno just gets better with each issue.

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Someone seems to've forgotten the ruuuuules. There were some pretty pictures there tho. I like the whole 'everything from Walking Dead to Invincible', is there anything good going on in that stable that's NOT written by Robert Kirkman?

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wha? i commented....


The answer's yes, but im just not readin non-Kirkman stuff right now; i missed the first few issues of Noble Causes, im readin anything by the Luna brothers (Girls), dont know bout Flight or the others, and ive got some issues of Hunter-Killer that i also havent gotten to yet. Im sure there's more stuff too...isnt Zombie King under Image?


Also, universes are crossin over lately: characters in Invinicible are "porting" over to Y: The Last Man in their book, and now it looks like Kirman's got an Invincible/Spidey crossover comin up too, should be cool.


skeet's just mad they havent brought Violator or Deathblow back...in chromium

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The official IMAGE Comics thread.


I love comics. Especially small press underground, different, non mainstream types like Image has.


In the 90's, they were style over substance, and sold like mad, till people figured it out - remember Wild C.A.T.s, Wetworks, Spawn, Youngblood, all of em?

About a year and a half ago, Jim Valentino (Shadowhawk) stepped down as Image's publisher, and Erik Larsen (Savage Dragon) stepped up, and the company's been pretty different.


It's where to go to take your project (for exposure, not as much for pay; It's more than rumor that every book he does he gets the same rate). They were nothing but super-heroes back then; nowadays, they've got everything going on, from Walking Dead to Invincible.


They also have a new series coming out and are trying different "hero" characters and starting new lines of books. Below are some of their new ideas and what they're up to now.

Click on their link for their site which includes an online comic vault for viewing some books online.







This is the official board where the inkers, writers and artists hang out and post believe it or not! At Image Comics community. Check it out. It was cool to post and send messages back to Mario Gully who did the writing and was the artist for this new book from #2 to the present.



Image comics



Mario Gully


Erik Larsen


Image Comics











**Rick Remender's running a contest on getting some free Nyguen art**












Here's the scoop. You promote Strange Girl to the hilt on other forums using any of the art from THE STRANGE GIRL thread on my Rick Remender forum at www.imagecomics.com or any previeous issues.


You post what you've been doing in the thread at the Image site.


The top "Strange Girl promotion artist" will recieve a full color mat finish print of your favorite page or cover from the series signed by myself and Eric Nguyen with a personalized sketch by Eric, well worth framing quality. Also the two runners up will recieve a signed set of Strange Girl 1-3, including the Kaluta variant to issue #1.


So go tell all the kids, do it for free shite or do it to help a book you like. All forums/threads that get posted in that receive credit (including this one) then you just post the link over there and they tally it up. It's a constant thing with new artists and books getting involved more by the day.






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no problem, thanks for the :pimp2: ing MM, ill have to look into that!


daytripper - IP theif? Im lost, too.

Skeeter - It happens in Invincible, one porter references a timeline where its all chicks, except for one guy and a monkey, and he spends most of his days there, funny shit.

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