The Big "I" on the Cover - Part I

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What makes Image Comics such a great company for up-and-coming creators and industry veterans alike to publish comics at?

Writers Jason Rand (SMALL GODS), Raven Gregory (THE GIFT), our very own Mike Bullock (LIONS, TIGERS & BEARS) and Image marketing director B. Clay Moore (BATTLE HYMN, HAWAIIAN DICK, THE EXPATRIATE) put their heads and hearts together in this round-table interview that discusses why it's good to see that big "I" on the cover.

Jason, Mike and Raven, the three of you joined Image not too long ago, while you, Clay, have recently launched your second Hawaiian Dick mini and have several new projects coming up next year. What makes Image the right company for each of you?

Mike Bullock: For Jack (Lawrence) and I, Image just offered the best combination of exposure, distribution, support and reputation. Retailers will give our book a chance that they may not have given it had we gone a different route, and fans will do the same.

Raven Gregory: Image has been known to break the rules when it comes to what you can and what you can't publish in a comic. That's what I love about Image and what makes Image right for The Gift.  The things you see in the book, you won't see anywhere else.

Jason Rand: There are a number of reasons, but the primary one is and always has been creator ownership - both regarding the creative process and actual ownership. As far as ownership goes, well, Small Gods is my baby, you know? I never liked the idea of signing over a portion of the rights to someone else, which is what a lot of other companies demand. If I was writing for DC or Marvel and creating characters for them, I'd be creating characters for them, I'd have no problem with that, but Small Gods and the characters involved I created for myself and for my own use.
This brings me to creative control. I don't pretend to be perfect. After all, the first person in the Small Gods team I ever hired was Kris, our editor. She keeps me on the straight and narrow for sure, but even then she isn't dictating to me. We work together to come up with the best possible story. Meanwhile, Image gives us advice and tips when we need them (you'll see Erik Larsen's influence in many of the recent and upcoming covers, for instance), but they never tell us what we can and can't do. They let us shape our own destiny as it were, and right now the shaping is going fine.

B. Clay Moore: Image is the only place that allows a creator the freedom to follow his own vision without grabbing a huge chunk of the pie.  And it gives a creator the best chance to succeed in today's market with creator-owned goodies.  I came on board as a creator, and now work there full-time because I truly believe that jazz.

Everybody here except Clay either pitched their current projects to other publishers or came over to Image from a different publisher. Did Image’s unique publishing policy make the company come out on top?

Raven: Of course.  They have the best deal in town. 

Mike: While we had offers from other publishers, just as I said earlier, Image offered the best overall package. Not to mention Jack and I have dreamed about being Image creators for a long time. The opportunity to make a dream come true can be very motivating when it comes to making a decision.

Jason: Image was always our first choice for Small Gods, and I wouldn't say I came over from a different publisher, considering that Small Gods is my first published work. But in a way, that makes your point for you anyway. Before I pitched Small Gods, I evaluated the different publishers out there and Image was the first company I sent it to. Lucky for us, they said yes. And yeah, it's all about the publishing policy. I mean, it's not always easy working this way, but I'm learning a lot and the payoffs in the end, monetary or otherwise, make it worth it.

Aside from the publishing policy, is there anything else that makes the company attractive?

Jason: Erik Larsen is a sexy, sexy man.
What, you want more? Well, the thing about Image is that they’ve always been groundbreakers. The ‘founding fathers’ were making new strides when they founded the company, and Image has continued to break new ground in mainstream comics under Jim Valentino and now Erik Larsen. I like that. And I like the books Image publishes. Why wouldn’t that make Image attractive?

Raven: The women really dig guys who have a BIG “I” on their books.  It’s hot!

Mike: The Image Mystique. I can’t really put my finger on exactly what that is, but ever since I first heard of Image back in the early ‘90s, the company’s name has always conjured a bit of imaginational magic in my mind.

Clay: The profile, obviously. There are only two companies that have a chance to give your book more exposure than Image, and they don’t do a whole lot of creator-owned books without editorial control.

With so many different studios and different ideals all under one umbrella, does such a thing as an ‘Image bond’ between the different creators exist? When your first Image projects were announced, did other Image creators welcome you as part of the family?

Raven: Everyone has been really awesome, but for some of us, it's like we were already family.  Mike was the first one to ever review The Gift (back in the glorious days he still wrote reviews for BF – ed.), so to have him come aboard was just friggin’ sweet. And I love the fact he got to bring a kid book to Image. He's doing something that I can give to my kids to read.  I love it!

Mike: Erik Larsen and Raven Gregory were the first to welcome us aboard. Despite what some people might think, Image is a family and it’s very nice to be a part of that family.

Jason: I'd say so, yeah. As you say, Image is a very diverse publisher and because of all these different creators all bringing their own unique visions there, you're not always going to like everything they publish, though I’d like to know how that differs a lot from other publishers.

Equally, you're not going to get along with everyone there, but there's a certain camaraderie between Image creators - we've all "made it" with our own babies at a very competitive publisher. It isn't easy to get the nod from the big I, so I have to feel there's a certain respect between everyone there. For me personally, I'd been hanging around the Image forums for a couple of years before Small Gods came out. I'd already become friends with people like Arvid and Eric of Rex Mundi, Clay and Steven of Hawaiian Dick, Azad of Sammy and more. Arvid even gave me some tips on the first draft of Small Gods #1 before Kris got her hands on it. So I felt very welcomed when we were accepted at Image. Now I try to extend the same courtesy those guys gave me to other new Image creators and those creators who are still trying to get in.

Plus, there are just some really damn nice people over there. I'm looking forward to the next time I can get out to San Diego and hang with people like Jim Valentino, Jim and Lainie Di Bartolo (of The Drowned), Azad, Eric, Clay; and Erik, Eric, Brett, Allen and the rest at the home office, too. Not to mention the rest of the Small Gods team (although I've only ever met Kris in the flesh - I still have to get together with Juan and Kep sometime). And Todd Livingston and the other Black Forest/Wicked West guys. And the NYC Mech crowd. And the Kurtz and Kirkman road show. And...you get the picture.

Clay: Yeah, I'd say there's a lot of that. Robert Kirkman and I broke in at Image around the same time, and he was one of the first Image creators I heard from after HAWAIIAN DICK broke.  Obviously, as the marketing guy, I try to get to know most of our creators, but there's a definite group of "core" creators who chatter back and forth about things. I also generally find myself hanging with other Image creators at conventions.

Over the past few years, the company has really altered its – for lack of a better word – image, more specifically when Erik Larsen took over publishing duties from Jim Valentino. Image Central seems to be more and more about giving underdogs a chance in the spotlight.

Raven: He sees something in us - whether it is drive, determination, talent, or just a really good concept - and he wants to give us a shot.  He believed in us when no one else would.  You don't find that often in an industry built on who's the current "it" or "thing" that selling big.  He finds the new "BIG" thing and gives it a place to call home.  I like that.

Mike: I think Erik has a great eye for talent and he realizes that everyone was a nobody at some point in their career. Someone gave Stan Lee a chance, someone gave Todd McFarlane a chance and someone gave Erik Larsen a chance. Now it’s Erik’s turn to be that someone and give a new generation of talent a shot.

Jason: Well, Erik's been doing his part for sure, but Jim Valentino had his hand in a lot of the changes we're still seeing. I think it's hard to say where one man leaves off and the other begins. Clay's probably in a much better position to answer this one than I am. Suffice it to say, I'm an underdog, I'm getting some spotlight over here and I'm really enjoying what I'm seeing from Image these days.

Clay: Well, I'm not sure I'd agree with that, to be honest.  Jim brought a ton of new talent into Image, and I think Erik has followed suit to some degree.  But Erik is also pretty focused on luring some of the more established "pros" into the fold.

How does Erik’s handling of matters differ from Jim’s then?

Clay: I think Erik’s still sorting things through as he takes the reins, to be honest.  2005 is sort of the “GO” year for Larsen’s run as publisher.  So it’s probably too early to tell.  Erik made some immediate changes, some that Jim was probably going to undertake on his own, and some not.  The important thing is that they’re both good guys, and Jim’s still one of the Big Dogs at Image.

To be continued...

- Frederik Hautain

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