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Erik Larsen joins us to discuss how he experienced 2005 as Publisher of Image Comics and what the company’s plans are for 2006. Next to that, we also asked Erik how he feels about Image’s status as an ‘independent’ company. His answer may not be what you’d expect…

BROKEN FRONTIER: From the start of your tenure as Publisher, it has been your primary objective to restore Image to prominence as the premier publisher for creator-owned projects. Are you happy with where things are at today?

ERIK LARSEN: I am. Things are coming along very nicely. That’s not to say that I’m willing to sit back and let things stay as they are—I want to keep pushing—but that I’m pleased with the direction we’re heading in.

BF: Were there any goals you had set for 2005 specifically, both for Image and for yourself, as the head honcho of the company?

EL: There were projects that I wanted to have completed and in stores, like the Image Comics hardcover, and there were sales numbers that I felt needed to be met. They were, but it’s pretty much impossible to predict what’s going to happen with creators, so setting goals like “I want to have us publish at least six issues of Liberty Meadows” is a ridiculous goal to set given the control I have over Frank Cho. Also, I fell vastly short of the amount of Savage Dragon issues that I wanted to come out and I do have some control over that creator. Things don’t always work out the way you’d like them to.

BF: About Savage Dragon: 2005 was a pretty slow year for the title since you had (and have) your hands full running the show all the time. Will see Dragon on a more regular basis next year?

EL: Absolutely. Last year was brutal on my schedule. I’m working on changing all that.

BF: The one thing that has plagued Image the most this past year is the erratic shipping of its publications. Will that problem be solved once and for all in 2006?

EL: As I said, it’s difficult to control what goes on with individual creators. 2005 was actually a pretty decent year in terms of getting certain publications in print and on time. I expect things to get better and we’re making more of an effort to schedule books in a way to insure more timeliness.

BF: Image Central offers fans a wide variety of books and genres. There’s horror, sci-fi, superhero, action, mystery, you name it… you guys are publishing it. Still, is there any genre you want Image to carry more books of?

EL: I don’t push for any kind of genres. What I want to see from creators is for them to follow their muse. Too often, I think, people do things in a certain way because they feel that it will be better received and I’d like to see more creators take a risk and forget about what the audience wants to see but rather what they want to do.

There was no particular demand from the audience for crime fiction before Frank Miller started Sin City. It was something Frank wanted to do and I can’t help but think that a good part of the reason it succeeded was because of the interest, intensity and passion he brought to it.

Too often, creators do what they think is expected of them and often the result is pretty lacklustre. That’s why I like to flip through artists’ sketchbooks, to see what they like to do on their own when the approval of an audience is not a factor. Often in sketchbooks you’ll find artists drawing in a style they’ve never used on a comic book page featuring subject matter that you’d never expect them to be interested it. The best comics are sketchbooks in print.

When I worked with Dave Johnson on SuperPatriot years ago, he turned in his first few pages and they were competent, workman-like efforts and I called him up and bellyached about them. His sketchbook was alive with these distinctive, cool characters and yet he was drawing these generic cookie cutter people going through their paces. I wanted to see his sketchbook—not his comics work—and, to his credit, Dave scrapped his first pass at it and turned in pages which were infinitely superior.

BF: Looking back on the year, what was the most defining or most important moment for Image?

EL: There were several ones, actually: the continued success of the Luna brothers, the debut of Fell, the mainstream breakthrough of Robert Kirkman (which, in turn, boosted sales of his Image books), etc.

    

BF: How did the relationship with Top Cow progress over the course of the year? They created several new properties, all of which are more ‘glossy’ and ‘commercial’ than the average Image book, and which, consequentially, don’t really seem to mesh with what Image Central has been doing.

EL: I don’t think Top Cow books “don’t mesh” particularly. That implies that we’re only about doing a limited range of material, but they’re continuing to do the kind of material that they do best. Top Cow is like an imprint of Image much in the way that Vertigo is an imprint of DC. The big difference is that the chicks in Top Cow books are a lot hotter than those in Vertigo books.

Oh, yeah…!

BF: I have to agree with that. [Laughs] To continue the argument on ‘commercial’ books for a moment, it seems to me that with a title like Steve Niles and Thomas Jane’s Bad Planet, Image is trying to win the hearts of the more commercially-minded reader as well. Do you feel that it is of great importance for the future success of the company to add more mainstream-oriented titles to the mix? After all, swaying DC and Marvel fans is becoming harder and harder…

EL: DC and Marvel fans want good comics—period. The problem is that, in the past, Image books would start up and then fizzle out without there being any closure to the stories. Fans don’t want to get caught up in a series and have it end mid-stream, but these days that’s been less of a problem. More Image books are hitting and sticking. We’ve got a lot more ongoing books that will continue for the long haul whereas a lot of Marvel and DC books—particularly those not starring Spider-Man or Batman are getting cancelled before they go much of anywhere.

We’ve had far fewer ongoing books close up shop over the last year than either of the others. Given that, I think readers have come to expect that a new book featuring new characters from Image is far more likely to be around for the duration than new characters from other companies.

BF: I find it rather problematic that fans and critics alike only think of the Big Two as being ‘mainstream’ companies. Image is considered to be on the ‘independent’ side of the comics spectrum. If it bothers me, I can imagine it must bother you too…

EL: Not as much as you might think. The bulk of what we do are independent-like books with more of an independent attitude.  Jim Mahfood’s stuff isn’t mainstream; the mainstream tends to shy away from horror books and science fiction books and books from a more personal viewpoint. I don’t find the word insulting in the least. On the other hand, books like Spawn, Savage Dragon, Gødland and Invincible I would consider mainstream, if only for their subject matter.

BF: Next to problematic, Image’s exclusion of the mainstream can also be called ‘paradoxical’, because while more and more people proclaim they’re relieved that not every book features mutants and other supermen, the mainstream is becoming more and more synonymous with the superhero genre by the day …

EL: I tend not to get caught up in all of that. I’m more concerned with doing good books than worrying about what label people want to slap on us. A number of Image books will be turned into movies and TV shows over the next few years. What will people say when these “independent” books become “mainstream?”

Time will tell.

BF: Do you think that the growing screams for more variety will lead to a widening of the mainstream by the end of the decade? Or do you fear that big crossovers from Marvel and DC—done, perhaps, in an attempt to squash those screams—will make things harder for lesser-known properties?

EL: Not really, because there are only so many Spider-Man stories anybody can read. Eventually, folks grow up and get tired of the same old same old and move on to more challenging reading. When they do, there we are. I don’t see anybody getting squashed any time soon.

   

BF: In a way though, it seems that Image is benefiting from the Big Two’s dominance, because several smaller properties—such as Runes of Ragnan, Hysteria and the Beckett line—joined the company to fortify their position in the industry. Is that so?

EL: I don’t know if I’d call that ‘benefiting.’ Every time Marvel and DC do a big event, it hurts the rest of the market and it hurts their own weaker titles. Properties coming to Image is not a result of DC and Marvel fighting it out—it’s the result of people wanting to make a move to a more visible publisher and be part of Image Comics.

BF: To close things off, what exciting new projects will Image wow the industry with in 2006?

EL: A ton of stuff, really, much of which can’t be divulged here without spoiling surprises or pissing off people who have been promised exclusive rights to announcements. There are a few things I can mention off the top of my head, though:

Put the Book Back on the Shelf: A Belle & Sebastian Anthology, which is filled with adaptations of the Scottish band's songs by some of the hippest names in the industry. We’ve also got Loaded Bible: Jesus vs. Vampires by Tim Seeley, Nate Bellegarde & Mark Englert that sees Jesus kick vampire ass. Then there’s Rocketo, which we are extremely happy to have coming to Image, and the return of Lions, Tigers & Bears, a terrific all-ages book. Also coming up this year is Truth, Justin and the American Way by Scott Kurtz, Aaron Williams and Giuseppe Ferrario, which is going to be a great comedy/faux ‘80s nostalgia book.

There is, of course, a lot more than that and we get pitched terrific new books on an almost daily basis, so there’s a lot of cool stuff in the pipeline in addition to the terrific titles that we already publish.

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