Image Month: TFAW's Andrew McIntire on the Image Phenomenon

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During our Image Month event, we’ve not only focused on books and creators from the Big I. We also wanted to gauge how retailers look back on 20 years of Image and thus we had Flying Colors’ Joe Field and the Graham Crackers crew share their thoughts on selling Image titles and working with the company as store owners. Last in line to offer this kind of insight is Senior Director of Retail Operations for Things From Another World (TFAW.com) Andrew McIntire.

BROKEN FRONTIER: How do you look back on the early days of Image? What was your reaction when you heard Image was forming? Were you already in the retailing business back then?

ANDREW MCINTIRE: The first time I read an Image comic remains a very vivid memory of mine. I was in tenth grade and sitting in the back of math class with my friend and fellow geek Gordon. Instead of paying attention he was engrossed in reading something he had tucked into the pages of his math textbook, in the vain hope that his rapt attention would be mistaken for some newfound fervor for algebra.

Knowing damn well that Gordon was no more a fan of algebra than I was, I leaned over the aisle to read over his shoulder and lo and behold, he had tucked what I believe was Spawn #4 into its pages. I was blown away and fairly certain that it was my loudly exhaled “Whoa!” that drew the attention of our long suffering teacher Mr. Sawtelle and the subsequent confiscation of said comic. That said, as soon as the final bell rang, I was off to the comic shop to purchase my own copy—and a replacement copy for Gordon.

BF: Have you dealt much directly with some of the Image publishers? If so, what’s your relationship with them, and how would you describe how they each helped shape the company in their own way, and with their own vision?

MCINTIRE: I’ve had the pleasure of working with many of the fine folks at Image, Top Cow, and Skybound over the years and have only kind words for the caliber of support we’ve received—in particular Eric Stephenson and Shawn Kirkham have always been extremely receptive and supportive of the retail community. I’ve had very limited professional dealings with the partners. However, in matters as diverse as supportingTFAW’s annual collaboration with the CBLDF to taking time from his busy schedule to sit for an interview, Jim Valentino has always been generous and engaging in equal measure. I’d certainly not claim that we are friends, nor even close professional acquaintances, but I will say the man has style aplenty.

BF: Fans keep on craving The Walking Dead, as it continues to be the #1 success story for the company. Do the singles and collections fly off your shelves too?

MCINTIRE: Constantly. The Walking Dead is, first and foremost, a great title that built to a fever pitch at the perfect time in regard to the zeitgeist. It has also been extremely well marketed with solid execution across numerous channels in a way that really doesn’t have any parallel in the history of independent comics. Every time we start to think we’ve seen a slowdown in interest, we find a new wave of fans who are being turned on to the source material by friends, media coverage, or first-hand exposure via the show. This is a spoiler folks, but I can’t tell you how many times someone has asked me “So is the show the same as the comics?” and upon hearing me reply “Well, kind of, but not really—things happen differently” their eyes light up with excitement at the opportunity to further explore this world through the “new” stories they will find in the source material.

BF: Does the success of The Walking Dead have a direct effect on how the sales of other Image titles in your shop?

MCINTIRE: Somewhat. It certainly has an impact on the sales of other Kirkman titles in our stores. Furthermore, it serves as an enabling reference point in the sales process. By this I mean, if someone who is relatively new to comics comes into our stores looking to explore the medium further and says “I don’t know a lot about comics but I really like The Walking Dead” that gives us a lot of referential information right off the bat to aid us in guiding them to titles that will similarly appeal to their tastes.

BF: Can you share some info on how the recent wave of new titles has performed for TFAW (Fatale, Saga, the Extreme relaunch, Manhattan Projects, …)?

MCINTIRE: Fatale, Saga, the Extreme relaunch, Manhattan Projects—all have been extremely solid performers. Saga in particular posted numbers that rivaled some of the core books from the big two, and for good reason, that book is amazing. Go. Buy it. Now. Unfortunately you’ll have to buy it from somewhere other than TFAW.com because we sold out—we couldn’t keep it on the shelves, and believe me, we ordered heavily.

BF: Looking at the other side, was there a time where selling Image titles was really a struggle? If so, what do you think the reason was?

MCINTIRE: I think every publisher has peaks and valleys in their journey, and Image is no different. While the majority of their titles have been consistently above the curve, it is no secret that they had some very high profile struggles with regularly missing deadlines. This in turn made it difficult for retailers to confidently order on their titles, as comic readers are by nature conditioned to expect periodic releases, and will abandon even the best of titles if they have no faith that the story will be conducted in a timely fashion.

However, to the credit of the company, some hard decisions were made and Image has really improved in this regard across the board. This renewed commitment to making deadlines, coupled with a string of just plain great titles, has definitely set the foundation for a period of creativity and performance on their part that I feel may be their best to date.

BF: Overall, do Image sales via the TFAW website differ a lot with what your in-store customers buy? Or are the numbers pretty much consistent across the board?

MCINTIRE: While there’s obviously a difference in terms of scale, the ratio of interest tends to be pretty consistent. The major difference occurs when a marketing initiative on the net to promote a specific title (an interview for example) generates a viral response and we’ll see a subsequent surge in interest.

BF: Do you make any specific efforts to spotlight creator-owned books?

MCINTIRE: Yes! We love creator-owned books. We have had some great successes in promoting independently created and published books as a genre in the past, as well as individually focused spotlights such as our ongoing partnership with the amazing Sam Humphries on his book Sacrifice.

To be absolutely blunt, the biggest problem we run into when spotlighting creator owned titles tends to be unrealistic expectations on the part of the creator—namely, they see the size of TFAW and assume that our order will be able to subsidize the entire print run of their book (it won’t) and/or expect terms that are completely outside the scope of industry expectation.

However, taking those two caveats into consideration—creators, we are always thrilled to work to bring attention to creator-owned and/or independent titles and our blog is full of interviews with some amazing folks whose work we love. Check it out, and let us know if you have something we and our customers should be reading.

BF: Lastly, as a reader, what are some of the Image books you’ve enjoyed a lot over the years/currently?

MCINTIRE: Sheesh. Where to begin? This is by no means an exhaustive list, however in regard to current titles, I’m going to skip over Kirkman’s ouevre (which is great, but he sure doesn’t need any promotional help from me), and tell everyone to be certain and go read Saga. Next pick up Hoax Hunters by my buddies Michael Moreci and Steve Seeley. Since we’re talking Seeley, if you’re not reading Hack/Slash by Tim Seeley then there’s something wrong with you and I don’t want to be your friend.  Chew is a great title, and I’m a big fan of Elephantmen—also a big fan of Brandon Seifert and Lukas Ketner’s Witch Doctor. Historically speaking I can say no end of wonderful things about Astro City, and I believe that The Mice Templar should be required reading.

And… I am pretty sure I officially started gushing about three sentences ago, so I’ll close by saying to all the folks at Image “Thanks for the countless hours of enjoyment. It’s been a pleasure, and I wish you every continued success.”HoHh

You can follow TFAW on Twitter here and check out their website here.

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