Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Image 20th Anniversary

Since I have been shilling for this company for several weeks now on the AICN site with reviews of many new Image books, I figure it's time for a bit of a talky talk about what this company is doing right now and why I like it so much. Basically to breakdown their position in the industry, which I think finally a realization of what the company could have/should have been at launch, but now twenty years on. It is not all peaches and cream I would argue - and I'll get to why - but the intent of what the publisher was when it launched, that of some of the biggest talents in the business having a home to do their own thing, is coming into its glory. The irony, I would argue, being that I never for once thought of the original Image staff was realizing the "height of their creative freedom" or however you want to phrase it.

What I mean by that last part is that, well, look, I grew up with those books. I read pretty much all of them as they came out - WildCATS, Youngblood, Spawn, etc. - because they were the "Big Thing" on the block. And it was pretty well obvious to even fourteen year old me that they were what they were; and that was Jim Lee drawing the X-Men again with a space theme, Liefeld doing the Avengers with more blood and guts and so on. Obviously they weren't all like this, SAVAGE DRAGON was and still is a prime example of what that company was supposed to at its heart. Hell, a lot of the three of you who may read this post may even disagree with this line of thought in general and say they were really letting their creativity flow with this jaunt (and I would agree with that from a literal artistic point, i.e. linework) but I'm just calling it the way I saw it then and the way I see it now in hindsight. And, yes, I bought all 14 parts to Extreme Prejudice, which I a prime example of why I do not think I have to go any further saying that most of these talents were going with what they knew in that in hardly any time after Image was launched, they were doing giant ass crossovers designed to get you to buy most of their books.

Twenty years on and Image's biggest seller, THE WALKING DEAD, is also a hit TV show. Now, that is also partly a sign of the times as much as it is a realization of what the company has become, but either way it is a big deal. Whereas the company was founded by talent moving from the "Big Two" of (mostly) Marvel and DC Comics, now it seems like it is the place those companies go when it comes time to root for talent. Jonathan Hickman, Rick Remender, Matt Fraction, and even the biggest name in the business, Brian Michael Bendis, all had if not their starts their big breaks with books they moved with the big "I" on their covers. Sadly (well, okay, that's probably harsh because I've like what they've done since with some of my favorite characters) lots of those names have left and stayed gone but, again a sign of the times (I hope), it has prompted one of those two companies to make its own imprint for creators to house their own stuff. Oddly enough though, not many have taken them up on that offer. Hmm....

There is a slight downslide to the prominence Image has seen in the past couple years, some of which I think can even be attested to the success of WALKING DEAD, and that is if there is any sort of "speculator boom" going on in the world of comics right now, usually it resides with the Indy publisher. Since this is the place that Hollywood is now looking first for optionable properties, it is also the place people willing to drop three or four bucks on a new #1 are going to in hopes they may get ten even twenty (and right now in the case of TWD almost two-hundred) times their money back. Obviously this is not going to be the case all the time - the issues going for over a grand, not the speculation part - but that it has happened to one series and may happen to another (CHEW #1's are going for over $200 now and it is also in TV development) which could easily be enough get people who do no normally buy Image books to start paying attention, for less than stellar reasons. I also doubt this would reflect on the Editorial Staff of Image's scouting policy, i.e. trying to find more of these "hits" out of pitches that look like they could be appealing to a network, but I could also see the temptation being there. Just because you're adamant about being faithful to your husband, it doesn't mean that if shirtless Tim Riggins happens into your life that that ruleset does not immediately go out the window.

Right now, though, I think Image is actually becoming that bright spot in the industry of just burgeoning creativity. Not that the other Indie producers out there - Dark Horse, Oni, Top Shelf, IDW, etc. - are not doing their own quality workload of creator goods, but every month it seems like Image is in overdrive and bringing six new pieces of creator owned content to shelves. There's a great diversity of books there, from Noir to Fantasy to Horror to long-running serials (hell, The Darkness still exists even, and has had some really good runs) and on and on. They are not always winners, that's the downside to the volume aspect of things, but it's rare that the new #1's flowing out of the company are not worth a look, even as just a campy piece of genre fiction. I'm as differentiating as anyone when it comes to my tastes and my Image pulls now are double that of my Marvel or any of the other Indie companies I mentioned and equal to that of my DC pulls which are pretty high right now as I'm flush with New 52 titles. And it looks like more will be getting added to the mix as some big name talents in the industry, Brubaker, Hickman (who never really went away from the company) and Brian K. Vaughan are starting to make their home there. If it's good enough for some of the biggest names in the business that should have no problem getting their creative-owned work published through the Big Two, then that should be an indication of how well things are going over there. If that is not a sign of success for the original mission set forth twenty years ago, I really do not know what could be.

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