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Image Month: Nick Spencer Talks his Evolution at Image Comics

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Best known for his Image titles, Existance 2.0, Morning Glories, and the recent Thief of Thieves, writer Nick Spencer is one creator who has truly grown up through Image Comics.  Hitting the comics scene in 2009, Spencer has gone from writing small three issue mini-series’ to collaborating with some of the biggest and most well known creators in the entire industry. 

Though his work eventually caused DC and Marvel to take notice, Spencer continues to return to Image to churn out his most personal work.  How did Image influence his style and both a fan, and then creator?  Find out  below!

BROKEN FRONTIER:  This year marks the 20th anniversary of Image Comics, from the perspective of both a reader and creator how has Image evolved over the past two decades?

NICK SPENCER:  When it started, it was very much about the founders and their books; it was an exciting move that brought the best talents from the big two under one umbrella and let them run wild with their own ideas. It was a huge moment for independent comics, for creator’s rights, and for the industry altogether.

What it has become, though, is something I would argue is much greater, and much more important-- a place anyone with talent and a good idea can go, and tell their story the way they intend to, and keep ownership of that idea as long as they see fit. It’s not just the best deal in comics-- it’s probably the best deal in all entertainment.

It’s a creator-first approach that frees people to make the best work possible with the knowledge that if it’s successful, they’ll be the ones who see the reward. What it’s brought us is an amazing range of stories across all mediums. If you look at a bookshelf of Image books, you are looking at labors of love, and you’re reading them with the knowledge that the people who made those books are the ones who benefit from your attention.

BF:  Were you into any Image books from the start?

SPENCER:  Oh, pretty much all of them. I was the perfect age for that stuff. It was an exciting time. You felt like you were there for the start of something. I think to some extent, that’s something we’re missing a lot in super-hero comics these days. There’s so much playing within the established histories and continuities, so much emphasis on revising and re-telling, it’s easy to forget how much fun it can be to just show up with ten new characters or teams or whatever, and go crazy with them.

      

BF:  Are there any series in particular in the company’s history that really appealed to you and helped form your own creative voice?

SPENCER: I think the first to really have that kind of effect on me was THE MAXX. That’s a special book. That was maybe my first exposure to gnostic concepts, and just the focus on these extraordinarily damaged everyday people... It holds up. It was Philip K. Dick for me before I had Philip K. Dick. I wish I saw more people talking about that book, because I really think it’s a modern classic.

BF:  It seems fate brought you to Image’s doorstep, because you made your first comic book pitches at Marvel and Oni, which were all rejected, before Jim Valentino took a chance on you. Since almost a decade had gone by between your first pitch to Marvel and your first pitch to Image, I assume you never lost confidence that someday, everything would work out?

SPENCER:  Ha, well, truth be told, I didn’t think about it too much during that stretch. I barely wrote anything, let alone pitched. But when I looked at it again, when I sat down and started coming up with stories and getting serious about, Image was certainly where I felt I needed to be. So it’s nice to be a part of the team now.

BF:  Image Comics published some of your earliest projects like Existence 2.0 and Existence 3.0, then the intensely mind-bending Infinite Vacation, and your longest running title, Morning Glories.  Many of these titles are grounded in worlds that requires readers to interact, think, and truly pay close attention to the story.  Do you think that Image’s willingness to explore new creators and projects was vital to those books’ publication?

SPENCER: Oh, without a doubt. To the first part, let’s be honest-- there are very few places a writer with no credentials and few pages worth of a submission can go. The fact that Image even exists is, for creators in that situation, a lucky break. That there’s a company that will look through the slush pile and really consider taking in someone off the street and give them the same deal they’d give an established pro-- that’s amazing.

To the other part, just as lucky for anyone, regardless of their place in the creative food chain, is the fact that that same company is willing to publish challenging, ambitious, not always readily-commercial work. A company that does that shouldn’t even exist, it’s a too-good-to-be-true scenario.

I’ve never had to worry about sales numbers or corporate mandates or someone else’s idea of what my book should be-- I’m empowered to just make the books I want to make and tell the stories I want to tell. That’s an incredibly fulfilling proposition for a creator.

BF:  Morning Glories has been quite successful and popular throughout the industry, leading to rumors about a television pilot.  Is there any new information about adapting Morning Glories for a new medium and audience?

SPENCER:  No news yet, no. I know there’s a lot of enthusiasm out there for the idea. I know a lot of people see it as an easy one to transition. I take a lot of influences from outside comics and bring them in, so I think a lot of my work reads ‘screen friendly’ to people. But at the same time, I think there are unique challenges to translating a story like this to television, and I want to make sure if we do it, it doesn’t adversely affect what we’ve built here in the pages of the book.

BF:  Not all of your books are so heavily science-fiction focused.  The recently released Thief of Thieves is a deeply character based project that focuses on the now retired “King of Thieves,” Conrad Paulson (aka Redmond).  What was the inspiration for this stellar book?

SPENCER:  Well, the inspiration is more for Robert to talk about, really, but I can say when he showed me the document he’d put together for the story-- which was a sort of broad rundown of the entire cast intermingled with ideas for plot points over the first twenty or so issues-- I was so impressed by it. It was a story I had to be a part of telling.

BF:  Thieves also sees you partnering with Image Comics giant, Robert Kirkman.  Is the creative process of Thieves vastly different than your solo works?

SPENCER:  I’m very conscious of the fact that this is Robert’s story, and I view myself as a caretaker of sorts. Even more so than when working on a Marvel or DC book, really, because this isn’t something that’s passed down for generations and you can argue has really become a sort of public trust. This came from one writer’s head-- and it’s my responsibility to take his ideas, and try to communicate them to the audience as effectively as I know how.

BF:  The recent Image Expo gave the industry the bloody first taste of another forthcoming project, Bedlam.  What is the deadly mystery behind Bedlam’s lead character, Fillmore Press?

SPENCER:  Press was once Madder Red; a homicidal maniac and criminal overlord who ruled the city of Bedlam for years. After his most vicious crime spree, he is finally brought to justice, and administered an experimental treatment that cures him of his mania.

After a period of supervision that confirms his restored sanity, he’s released, given a new identity, and put into transitional housing for former mental patients. From there, he starts obsessively and compulsively solving crimes in the city he used to terrorize. It’s a big story about regret, retribution, and redemption set in a teeming Rust Belt metropolis that’s a character of it’s own.

BF:  What can readers expect from Bedlam’s artist, Riley Rossmo?

SPENCER: Anyone who has seen Riley’s work on Proof, Cowboy Ninja Viking, Green Wake, or Rebel Blood knows what he’s capable of. He’s got such a distinctive, expressive style, something that’s his and his alone. He conveys tone and atmosphere as well as anyone in the business, and he’s a consummate storyteller. His characters are alive on the page. I’m terribly excited about working with the guy, I think he’s really going to do something special here.

BF:  The last few years have seen you break into the mainstream comics world with small runs on several titles at both DC and Marvel Comics.  What is unique about Image and the avenue of creator owned properties that continues to draw you back?

SPENCER: Creator-owned comics will always be my first priority. I have a lot of fun at Marvel, and I’ve gotten to work with some great artists and editors there, telling stories with characters I’ve been reading since I was a kid. But I’m very proud that even last year, when I was doing all kinds of assignments for both Marvel & DC, I still managed to get out something like a dozen issues of creator-owned work. I never put it on hold.

That’s because I know, at the end of the day, that stuff is all you really have. No one can take it away, because it’s yours. There’s so much in this industry you can’t control, but at the end of the day, the books you own are under your charge completely. So I decided to build a house on that, and everything that comes elsewhere is just bonus. 

BF:  With Image being a “creator-owned” publisher, how does the actual production of each book differ from your titles in the DC and Marvel Universes?

SPENCER: It’s much more hands-on. You’re involved in every step of the process. You have to create your own success. While the folks at Image are very helpful and supportive, at the end of the day, they’re just giving you the tools to excel. It’s up to you to use them. It requires a level of commitment much higher than just turning in a script, but the rewards are so much greater, too. And the obvious benefit of greater involvement is greater control-- you can rest assured that what you want the story to be is what winds up in the finished book, after all.

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