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2006 in Review: Image

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Around this time, Erik Larsen will be celebrating his third year as Publisher of Image Comics. BF spoke to him about 2006 and the plans going ahead.

BROKEN FRONTIER: You’ve been Publisher of Image for almost three years now. How did 2006 stack up to the previous two?

ERIK LARSEN: I think that every year at this point it just gets that much better than the one before. I’m very pleased with the way the books are looking and reading—we’re getting progressively better and better and that’s the idea here pretty much: to put out better and better work all the time.

BF: Did you set any specific goals for the company at the start of the year? Have they been reached?

EL: The overall goals were to improve quality and, well, basically improve everything—getting better at making deadlines for example was one of the goals that I had set for myself. With the company being driven by creator-owned projects and people who do books here, there’s somewhat of a limit to what my powers entail in terms of that, but I’m working with folks to make things better for all involved.

BF: One of your own personal highs was the return to Savage Dragon—you put him in a coma, crossed over with Wanted, and released his origin story as a special single issue. Was all that your way of showing how important the character still is in your creative life?

EL: Sure. I’m still enjoying the hell out of doing the book, and I’ve got to do what it takes to get it out there and to keep on enjoying doing it. The enjoyment has been fairly consistent from day one—I’ve always had a good time doing Savage Dragon.

The whole process gets easier and more difficult at the same time. It gets more difficult in the sense that you don’t want to repeat yourself, so you have to come up with new approaches and different ways to do things. On the other hand, it gets easier because you get more comfortable with the characters as time goes on and the story progresses. They say that these things write themselves, and in a way that’s kind of true.

BF: What are you plans for Dragon this year?

EL: I’m going to try to re-establish him in the Image universe as it is. Over the course of the next eight to ten months—I’m not really sure yet how that’s going to work out exactly—I’m going to have Dragon go on tour through the Image universe. Him searching for his wife becomes a bit of an excuse for me to have him and his cast to do some travelling throughout the various corners and meet all the different characters in the Image universe.

It’s simply a neat way to get Spawn in there, and have him meet Madman and Invincible, and it gives me a chance to work with the various characters that are a part of this world.

BF: Is Madman going to be a big factor over the next couple of months?

EL: Oh yeah, he’ll be a big factor, just because it’s a big book and a good one too. The fact that Mike is back on his horse is not just exciting for me, but for everyone really. We’re all big fans of his work, so putting it back in print and having it come out again at Image is just that much better as far as I’m concerned.

BF: Now, Savage Dragon wasn’t the only one of the ‘first’ Image characters to get a lot of attention. Spawn is in great shape too. What are your thoughts about the new direction?

EL: You can expect some big sweeping changes over the course of the next year. One of them is that Brian Haberlin is going to be taking over the artwork. He’s going to give the book a really different look, starkly opposed to past renditions.

Over time, there’s been a period where a lot of guys have taken the property and done their version of Todd’s work and Todd wants to break away from that. He wants to find someone who’s not just aping him, but who really goes out of his way to find his own voice on the book and Brian’s really doing that. It’s going to have an entirely different look and feel to it.

BF: How would you say the relationship or cooperation with Desperado, Shadowline and Top Cow evolved over the past year?

EL: It’s gotten easier. When we started out, it was much more competitive in terms of guys taking artists from others and stuff like that, and in some ways that was counter-productive to what we were trying to do. The line of communication has gotten that much stronger over time: you get that much of a better idea what these people want to do and we do what we can to accommodate them. Better comics are the result, so I can’t complain there.

BF: With a multitude of creators coming in and out to do projects, there’s been one constant face: Robert Kirkman. Has Kirkman getting his big break at Marvel affected sales of Walking Dead and Invincible?

EL: Both books are constantly building, and while his higher profile certainly isn’t hurting, I don’t know whether you can directly attribute their success to Robert doing work for Marvel. When I was doing stuff for them, it didn’t necessarily translate to my Image books doing well, but these things do help in terms of getting the word out. It lets people know that creators like Robert are alive, thriving and doing good work.

You know, Robert is an old-time Image fan. When we started out back in the early Nineties, he was a kid reading Image comics. It’s neat for both of us that he’s now telling stories at our company because he’s a first-gen Image fan who now gets to work with guys whose stuff he was a fan of.

    

BF: I’m sure there’s some undying loyalty at play here, then.

EL: Yeah, there’s certainly some of that. He very much wants to be part of this gang. Years ago, the dream was “Gosh, if I could one day work at DC and draw Superman”, but as time has gone on, that dream has changed somewhat to “I want to create something of my own, and have my own lasting icon.” A lot of creators want to be the guy who created the next Spider-Man or Hellboy or Spawn, and that’s the kind of person who Robert really is. Instead of going, “I want to do the comics that I read,” he wants to create new stuff, kind of like the sentiment I had when I was a kid.

BF: Have the exclusive contracts that have been signed over the past couple of years at Marvel and DC limited Image in any way?

EL: No, I don’t think so. There are certain creators out there who have a fire in their belly and want to create stuff of their own, and these are the guys that didn’t sign exclusives. Those that did are the ones, so to speak, who’d rather color by numbers instead of doing their own painting.

There’s just a difference between how people approach stuff—some people don’t have really big ideas in their heads and are happy with drawing Spider-Man or whatever for the rest of their lives and that makes them happy. I’m glad for them, but that’s not the folks we’re searching for anyway…

We want people who come to us with characters and projects of their own that they’re passionate about. If someone comes to us and says he’s passionate about Batman, well, we can’t give you Batman. [Laughs]

        

BF: Some of the most critically-acclaimed new titles to come out this year from Image were Cassanova, OCT, Phonogram and Elephantmen. What do you feel they say about Image as a publisher?

EL: I think over the years what has happened is that what we are has been redefined in a way. When we started out it was, “Hey, here’s a group of new superheroes from your favorite superhero creators.” While we’re still doing some of that, what we’ve evolved to become is the world’s greatest creator-owned comic company. That’s really what I want to be doing here…

This is a company in which what you’re getting from our creators is their passion, and you get to read the stories they most want to tell. I don’t think you’re really getting that anywhere else. Writers can’t totally write what they want when they’re doing Batman, because they’ve got editorial looking over their shoulder and saying “You can’t do this or that, he has to be alive for the next guy to do his story,” so they’re not allowed to change the status quo too much. And I think that inhibits people creatively to have a huge amount of restrictions being placed upon them.

BF: You can bring them back from the death, of course…

EL: Yeah, well, it’s better for them and for everyone involved where if you want do a superhero story, that it starts with your hero’s origin and leads all the way to his death in a dramatic fashion. If you get the freedom to do that at a company where they actually let you go all the way, that’s waaay better than having to fight a company over wanting to tell the story you want to tell.

    

BF: The company attracted several projects previously released elsewhere, like Rocketo, Runes of Ragnan, and True Story Swear to God. What was the main motive for these creators to come to Image?

EL: Image gets creators better placement in Previews, better exposure, better distribution, better resources to get the word out, we have people whose job is to market stuff—it’s very difficult to do all of that on your own. For us, we’re getting guys who’re publishing great books. We were fans of Rocketo and True Story Swear to God and various other things we’ve taken or are helping put back together one way or another.

Image is attractive because we don’t own a piece of a creator’s project. Really, what our competition tends to do is to want a piece of it in some way contractually—you get that when people go like “Hey, if we do zippo lighters or land a movie deal based on your property, we want our name attached to it or want a piece of the revenue that comes in.” Image doesn’t do that. We don’t take a piece of somebody’s rights or merchandise or anything. We put this company together to be a publisher which we ourselves would want to work for if we as individuals were looking to do business with someone.

We don’t want there to be anything for us personally to be fighting over or anything like that. We want to offer people the best possible deal, and I think we’ve succeeded very well in doing that, all the while retaining a certain easygoingness about it all.

BF: Image has also released some successful anthologies and original graphic novels, like Afterworks, 24Seven, The Tourist and Red Warrior. Is that a trend that will be continued as 2007 moves along?

EL: Absolutely. We’ve got a number of projects that are being brought to us, but we’re also doing some of them ourselves. It’s a cool way for people to get a bunch of stories that are thematically related. I like it, and it’s nice that people not have to buy anything else in that they’re self-contained.

It’s also easier to put them into the bookstore market, which heats these things up a lot. And of course, they’re all good books by good people, so that helps too. [Laughs]  Other companies have tried doing monthly anthologies before, and that can fall apart if they’re not able to line up talent on a regular basis.

BF: What are some of the other noteworthy things on Image’s publishing plan for next year?

EL: I don’t really want to announce anything before we’re announcing it. [Laughs] I can tell you though that 2007 is shaping up to be an outstanding year, because there’s some great talent coming up that hasn’t done work with Image before, and also people that wanted to come back to us that have worked with us in the past. We’ll also be collecting a lot of material that’s been done elsewhere and put stuff back in print that hasn’t been out there for decades.

I’m ecstatic to bring Mike Alred in and to have Kyle Baker coming over. There’s plenty more coming, but I don’t want to jinx anything at this point. [Laughs] We’ve established a great line-up and I’ve never been more excited about Image.

It’ a great time to be reading comics, from any publisher really. Image wants to make it so that any comic is one you want to read—that’s what we’re doing and I’m really pleased. There are times when [being Publisher] is just the greatest job in the world. You just sit there and it’s really exciting to be a part of the entire creative process and to help put these books together. A lot of newer guys who’re coming onboard are willing to involve us in their creative process, if, for example they’re not sure how a costume should look or whatever, we’ll go over things, run things by them, and it turns into a nice collaborative effort.

BF: Is that what you enjoy the most then, helping new people creatively and help them break into comics?

EL: There are lots of things I enjoy about the job, but that’s definitely one of them. Take for example a book like Gødland. Joe Casey had an idea for a new project and was looking for an artist, and I was able to pair him up with Tom Scioli. Together, they’ve come up with a brilliant book, of which people go like “Wow, this is one of my favorite comics!” Had I not been here in this position, I’m pretty sure that it wouldn’t have existed; the chances of these guys stumbling upon each other and putting together a book was pretty remote.

Shepherding these various creators to the process is cool. You almost feel like a teacher in a way because you can educate people on how they have to tackle various stages of the creative process. For folks that haven’t done it before, it can seem intimidating, but we can help them through the process and it’s extremely rewarding to see everything come together.

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