The Big "I" on the Cover - Part II

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Continuing last week's round-table discussion, Mike Bullock, Jason Rand, Raven Gregory and B. Clay Moore fill you in on the attractiveness of publishing at Image Comics.

In October’s Wizard #158, Rob Liefeld said “I roll my eyes at Image Comics. It’s out of touch with today’s audience.” In response, I’d say that it is only with upper-tier companies like Image Central prepared to take a risk on unproven properties that we can broaden the spectrum of the industry. I assume all of you feel the same way?

Jason: One hundred percent, bud. Image is good for the industry. In the short term it may be struggling, but in the long term, I believe that companies like Image, who are broadening the horizons of comics, will be what saves the industry. Man cannot live on superheroes alone, as it were - and neither can the comic industry. I mean, I hear people tell that Marvel isn't surviving because of their superhero comics - they're surviving because of their licensing income. Now, those may just be vicious rumours, but it illustrates my point. In the long run, if comics are to climb out of their current, extended slump, it'll take different genres, unique visions and companies like Image that are pushing the best and the brightest and the new from creators, rather than the same old, same old.

Raven: I love Rob, but it's just weird hearing this come from him. It's like hearing someone talk s*** about the home team when they're not in the playoffs. You know what I mean? 
I think the ONLY way to be in touch with today's audience is to be completely uncompromising in putting out what you want to put out. Powers proved that. PvP proves that.  Savage Dragon proves that. Whether or not a book is the biggest selling thing since Ultimate la la land, it's what's inside that counts. That may sound cliché, but that's where the biggest hits come from: people who tell stories from the heart.

Mike: With today’s audience being so much smaller, on a historical scale, than it ever has been, who’s to say what ‘”in touch” is? Readers still buy Spawn, readers still snatch up Witchblade and readers still rave about The Walking Dead. Seems to me that with the sort of response these books generate, it isn’t Image who is out of touch with readers.

Clay: Gee, I can't imagine whey Rob would have an axe to grind with Image. But, yes, I agree with your point. We may be fooling ourselves, but I still hold out hope that people will support good, strong new books with unique concepts. Sometimes it feels as if the adventurous reader has left the building and only those who are slavishly devoted to the Big Icons are left.  But I don't think the industry ever stays in a rut for too long. Things will get better.

I especially admire Image’s current direction because giving up-and-coming creators an opportunity can be a tricky thing. If they make it, they can easily bolt the company looking for greener pastures. Just look at Com.X, a lot of their artistic talent is lured by the Big Two, leaving the company with little chance to grow by itself. I assume that’s a legitimate fear of Image as well, Clay?

Clay: It's really not, Frederik.  Image has always had an open door policy with regard to its creators, and always will. The problem is that Marvel and DC are pretty intent on signing as many guys as possible to exclusives, which makes it harder for them to pursue their creator-owned interests. But Image is as likely to snag talent from Marvel or DC as the other way around. Sooner or later, most creators want to own their work and have the freedom to express their creativity without editorial reins. That's where we come in.  

Jason: I have a few comments here as well. I don't know about the others, but it's something I think about. Honestly, I think WE'RE the ones who think about it more than the Image guys. It's not really their problem if we lose an artist, after all, we're the ones who have to replace them. But on the other hand, the thing about a lot of Image projects is that they become a labour of love for all the creators involved, not just us script monkeys. I know that it'd take a VERY tempting offer to lure Juan away from Small Gods. As it is, he's already turned down a higher paying job (admittedly, not THAT much higher paying).

Mike: I think since everything at Image is creator-owned, the implications of talent being ‘headhunted’ by other publishers doesn’t carry as much weight as it would were Image structured more like Marvel, DC or some others. Image has seen numerous creators come and go, but that doesn’t mean they might not return in the future. It isn’t like quitting a job or running away from home. And I have to agree with what Jason said, the heads of each creative team shoulder a lot more worry about losing a creator than Image does. Thankfully, Jack loves Lions, Tigers & Bears as much as I do and neither of us would abandon Joey, Ares or any of the other characters who’ve become more like our children than our creations.

Speaking of growth, when looking at the market share for October, Image tallied only 2.54%.  Clay, is Image satisfied with that number and what is the company’s goal for an average market share next year?

Clay: No, Image isn't satisfied with that number, but it's not a huge surprise, looking at the books that didn't make it out that month.  We don't specifically set a goal for market share, since market share doesn't really effect our bottom line.  But I'd like to see us closer to 10% in the short term.  And I'd like to see us back over 30% before too long.

Let’s get back to the books themselves. None of you is writing about superheroes. Is that a genre each of you specifically avoided?

Raven: Not so much avoided, but I have never enjoyed the fact that you rarely see characters use their powers realistically unless they're villains.  And even the villains can be cliché at times.  I want to see characters act like people would really act. Sure, if you had the powers to control and read people's minds, you might form a group of misunderstood teens and fight against evil mutants in a vain attempt to bridge the gap between prejudice and whatnot...
But, you might say f*** that and have an orgy (see issue six of THE GIFT). 

Mike: I didn’t consciously avoid superheroes, I just had a story I was passionate about that didn’t involve superheroes that I wanted to tell. I do have some superhero tales I’d like to tell later on, but right now I’m more driven to create new worlds and populate them with wondrous new characters like Ares the tiger and his Night Pride friends.

Jason: I wouldn't say that. I have a few superhero stories percolating around in my head and I'm actually scripting an indy superhero comic called Helios at the moment. If Marvel or DC offered me some work, I wouldn't turn it down. But superheroes aren't my great love. And to be honest, before I came up with it, I wouldn't have thought something like Small Gods was either, though it's come to mean a lot to me. I created Small Gods because I believed in the idea, not because I wanted to do something other than superheroes. In fact, with the psychic powers of some of the characters, there are superhuman elements to the stories - and even something a little superheroic in one of the upcoming arcs. It's all about what I feel drawn to write and what my gut tells me is worth pursuing. The next project I'm working on is something of a return to my roots and my great loves - fantasy, in this case. I've got some extraordinary artists lined up on that one and my gut is telling me that this one is special indeed. So I'm going for it, but not necessarily because it's not a superhero story.

Clay: Well, BATTLE HYMN is technically about superheroes.  It's about things going horribly wrong with superheroes in the World War II era.  I have no problem with superheroes.  It just hasn't been something I've been all that inspired to do as of yet.  I'm sure that will change.

Based on the positive reactions from fans – Small Gods, The Gift, Hawaiian Dick and Lions, Tigers and Bears are all considered sleeper hits – do you think Image has the power to help overturn the superhero dominance in the future?

Jason: Damn, I hope so - and so does my wallet. Like I said before, I believe companies like Image are the key to the future of comics. I don't know that they'll ever overturn superhero dominance - hell, I don't know that I'd want them to. I like superhero comics as much as the next guy. But broadening the scope, bringing "alternate" genres - if you know what I mean - the same respect within the industry as superheroes; yeah, that's the kind of thing I see Image doing. It may take a while yet, but that's what we should be aiming at.

Mike: I don’t know if anyone will ever outdo superheroes in comics. I do hope, however, the current rise in popularity of other genres helps to balance the medium a bit more. Comics as a whole can’t exist solely on caped crusaders and anti-heroes month in and month out. With books like Small Gods, Beyond Avalon, Imaginaries and others joining the new rise in alternative choices, I hope that balance is achieved. I don’t ever want to see superheroes go away, but I do want to see them balanced out by other genres so the medium as a whole can flourish.

Raven: You don't beat Spider-Man.  You don't beat X-Men.  You don't outdo Superman and Batman.  You just tell your story and hope people like it.  Most of us are into comics because of these comics.  The Age of Apocalypse got me into comics.  It's not about beating anyone, it's more about bringing something more to the table for people who want something more than what's already out there.

Clay: I think Image can both be a part of superhero dominance and, in some cases, sidestep it with clever takes on other genres.  Image has no preferred genre of choice, so we're as likely to produce great superhero comics as great detective books or all ages books.  That's part of the appeal of Image.

If you guys were to come up with new properties, would they be devoid of superheroes as well, or do you see yourselves writing a superhero book one day?

Raven: Both.  I like writing in my own universe but writing Blade, the Darkness or X-Men would really kick ass.

Mike: My next property, Gimoles, is also an all-ages fantasy story, however, I do have a few superheroes I’ve created over the years. Who knows, maybe one of them will show up in the pages of Invincible or Savage Dragon some day. Like Raven, I’d love to write some stories for existing characters. I’d love to write a Magdalena story or a (DC’s) Captain Marvel mini-series or Marvel Age Spider-Man arc or a new Moon Knight series. While I think my true passion will always remain in the original all-ages material, I’ve loved super heroes since my brother taught me to read with them when I was only 3 or 4. Somehow, I just don’t see that love ever dying.

Jason: I think I already answered this one earlier. I see myself writing superhero books, sure. I am writing a superhero book. Will I ever write raditional superhero stories? Maybe not, I'm not that traditional a guy. I also already mentioned my next project and what's up with that. Writing my own personal superhero vision could happen though, I even have some ideas along those lines. But, again, it sure as hell wouldn't be traditional.

Clay: I'm actually working on a superhero book right now with an artist named Ramon Perez.  As with everything I do, it's not going to be your standard superhero fare, but I think it'll be fun.

Speaking of artists, how did you guys come across the artists drawing your books? And, more involved with the issue at hand, how close a team are you really?

Raven: Renae Geerlings over at Top Cow showed me some of Tyler Kirkham’s pencils and I just knew I had to get this guy on the book.  Whenever we get down time we’ll spend hours just talking shit on the phone.  Throwing nuggets back and forth.  I’m really lucky to have found someone as talented as him to work with.

Mike: Well, I met Jack in a round about manner after researching small press publishers for my Broken Frontier column. We got along great and talked about doing a series together at some point, but it seemed to be just talk for a little while. Then we were chatting one day and he told me he was leaving his other creative endeavour and I seized the opportunity to toss some ideas his way. He immediately fell in love with Lions, Tigers & Bears and had the first character sketch of Ares to me in a matter of hours. We’ve done nothing but grow closer since then. 

Jason: Ah, how many times have I told this little tale? I’ll try to keep it short – looks like I’m already the wordiest bastard around here. But to put it simply, the internet – Digital Webbing in particular. That place has got an invaluable resource called the Talent Search for anyone who needs to hook up with artists, but who doesn’t know any and finds it difficult to meet any (we don’t exactly have a lot of cons over here in Australia). I advertised, Juan answered. More than once. I won’t go into all the sordid details, but Juan wasn’t my first choice. Now…I really do wonder what the hell I was thinking. The pages he’s turning out at the moment on #7 are nothing short of mouth-watering.

The team isn’t just Juan and I, though. It’s Kris and Kep as well. We’re kinda like the Three Musketeers (don’t ask me who’s D’Artagnan). We all get on well, we all have input when we want to and we all have fun. We’re friends, no doubt, and good friends. That’s the way I always operate when it’s up to me – I just think that forging a team and friendships makes the whole process more enjoyable, and the final product much better.

Clay: Most of them have been guys who’ve either approached me about doing something together, or that I got to know and like and then suggested we collaborate.  The exception being HAWAIIAN DICK’s Steven Griffin, an Australian whom I met in an online chat room dedicated to Kangaroo on Koala porn.

Final question: based on your experience with the company, would Image be your first choice to publish a second project?

Raven: If for no other reason that I am loyal by nature.  I'll be at Image for as long as they'll have me.  They'll be the first one to hear about my next project.

Mike: After consulting my Magic 8-Ball I can honestly say “signs point to yes”.

Jason: Ah, now that's a toughie. My answer would be... ‘it depends’. Mostly on finances, I have to admit. I love how Image operates, but they can be an expensive proposition (though nowhere near what it costs to self-publish), unless you can somehow put together an Image-calibre team that's prepared to collaborate without up-front pay. I mean, I work a day job as well as writing and a lot of my money goes into the book. But I like the guys at Image and I like Image and honestly, I'm proud to have that big I on the cover and be associated with a lot of other quality comics and creators (present company ex...no, in! included!), so if I can afford to go with them, I will.

Clay: Since I've got at least three new projects coming from Image in the next year (BATTLE HYMN, THE EXPATRIATE and CLEAN LIVING), I think the answer is pretty clear!

Of course, you’re their PR guy! [Laughs]

- Frederik Hautain

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