In a SKTCHD interview posted on Monday, Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson discussed the problems presently facing the comic book industry and the recent successes of Image, despite them. With Marvel and DC Comics, the “Big 2,” as the prime examples, Stephenson is concerned over the continual use of new first issues, incentive variant covers and other short term focused business practices. And, in direct contrast, he emphasizes Image’s commitment to organic growth by appealing to readers, instead of speculators. After reading Stephenson’s words, it is hard not to feel like Image Comics is the “white knight” that can save the comics industry. As Image Comics approaches its 25th anniversary next February, there is one big play they could make to disrupt the reign of the Big 2 in the very near future.
Throughout entertainment, revitalizing beloved concepts of yesteryear is an undeniable trend. Comic books are no different and few independent comic book publishers have unfettered access to classic comic book properties like the Image Comics partners. When Image Comics launched in 1992, comics were booming, with some single issues selling over a million copies. Image’s “Spawn” #1 among them. However, only two of the early Image properties, “Spawn” and “Savage Dragon,” have been consistently published since their launch. If the other Image partners committed to revitalizing their iconic properties, with themselves involved or with some of today’s top talent, then Image could accelerate their rise as a true third contender in the comic book marketplace.
The blueprint for this initiative lies within the aforementioned “Spawn” series. Early last year, series creator Todd McFarlane brought back Al Simmons, the original Spawn, after a years long absence, breathing new life into the property. Then, late last year, McFarlane teamed up with fellow Image co-founder and partner, Erik Larsen (creator of “Savage Dragon”) to co-produce the “Spawn” series. Two legendary creators working together on one iconic character. The pair share the duties of plotting, scripting, penciling and inking the series and the results are outstanding.
If, ahead of Image’s 25th anniversary, the publisher could garner commitments from its partners to revive/expand their classic properties with the above formula of iconic character(s) plus top creators, it would make a significant impact both within the comics industry, as well as to the larger public, potentially bringing in many lapsed fans. Combine this with Image’s commitment to growing readership through sustainable means and not only will they garner fans’ excitement, but readers can feel like they are helping to strengthen the overall industry.
Naturally, there is something to be said about injecting a number of, predominantly, superhero titles on the comics market. However, given fans’ continuing disenchantment with the way DC has presented its classic characters over the last few years and with how Marvel just grossly over saturated its own readership, fans would respond favorably to a publisher providing them with what they want and in a reasonable measure.
As far as expanding existing lines, some of that is already in the works. Erik Larsen has plans to launch an “Ant” series, starring the character Larsen bought from creator Mario Gully, to coincide with his continuing “Savage Dragon” series. Larsen would handle writing and art duties on that title, in addition to his work on both “Savage Dragon” and “Spawn.” Larsen, also, has a few other properties in his Dragon Universe that have had their own titles before, top among them being “SuperPatriot,” so conceivably, they could again. Larsen has allowed other creators to make books with his characters before, including fellow Image partner Robert Kirkman. So, the Dragonverse could be expanded a bit more beyond Larsen’s considerable efforts.
Speaking of Robert Kirkman, he has the two franchises at Image that are most ripe for expansion, “The Walking Dead” and “Invincible.” Spin-offs of “The Walking Dead” alone would boost Image significantly closer to DC in sales and units. Afterall, “The Walking Dead” #150 was the best selling comic in January 2016. Two obvious spin-offs come immediately to mind, both a result of the property’s success on television. A “Fear The Walking Dead” comic book series could follow the zombie apocalypse on the west coast. Also, the introduction of Daryl Dixon into the comics universe would be a huge moment were it to ever happen. Just imagine if it was in his own solo title, “The Walking Dead: Daryl’s Ride,” anyone? It could be set in and around the Georgia to Virginia area just as the main series, however, along a separate path. Perhaps Daryl even encountered some of the same characters that Rick Grimes and crew did, just at different moments. A flashback story to an early encounter with The Governor would do tremendous numbers. If original “The Walking Dead” artist Tony Moore was on one of the series, that would just up the ante even further.
Kirkman’s Invincible Universe has attempted to branch out before, namely “The Astounding Wolf-Man,” “Tech Jacket” and “Guarding the Globe,” however, none of those series seemed to have staying power, despite the overall strength of the Invincible Universe. Perhaps it is because it did not feature any of the main supporting players from “Invincible.” While Atom Eve is an obvious choice, she may be too closely tied to the main series to venture out in her own ongoing series. However, Omni-Man, Allen the Alien, Bulletproof or Invincible’s half-brother Oliver may be more feasible options. Perhaps a series starring one of Invincible’s villains would be a suitable option, such as Anissa, the Viltrumite. Naturally, a prime candidate to do monthly art chores on an “Invincible” spin-off would be “Invincible” co-creator Cory Walker. Additionally, “The Shadow Hero” creative team of Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew would be an exceptional choice for a Blind Tiger series.
McFarlane’s “Spawn” series has featured expanded titles, as well. “Haunt,” “Sam & Twitch” and “Angela” among them. Some of those titles could return, but what could possibly have the most impact is a series about Spawn’s opposite number from Heaven, Redeemer aka Anti-Spawn.
Marc Silvestri’s Top Cow Productions’ flagship title for the last twenty years, “Witchblade,” has just come to an end and Silvestri’s initial Image launch title, Cyber Force, is currently a free weekly webcomic, co-written by Matt Hawkins, Top Cow’s President/Chief Operating Officer. So, the two strongest candidates in the Top Cow stable are unavailable. However, what could overcome their absence on comic shelves is a series penciled by Silvestri, himself. A new “Darkness” series or perhaps a “Cyber Force” spin-off starring Ripclaw with Silvestri on interior art would be a true “rebirth” of Top Cow’s Artifacts Universe.
Rounding out the current Image partners, Jim Valentino’s Shadowhawk has laid dormant the most of the launch titles. A new “Shadowhawk” by Valentino could be the surprise hit of this initiative after fans have been without this creator/character combination for so long.
Image co-founder and former partner, Rob Liefeld, started a revitalization of his Extreme Universe in much the same vein as described here. The legendary creator had plans to relaunch his “Bloodstrike” and “Brigade” titles. However, after a strong start with “Bloodstrike” #1 selling out, the relaunch was put on the back burner as Liefeld took on a number of commitments related to the pending release of the “Deadpool” movie. With that film’s record breaking opening now over, hopefully, Liefeld is able to return these properties to prominence.
Image co-founder Whilce Portacio’s “Wetworks” is now owned by DC Comics, along with co-founder and former Image partner Jim Lee’s Wildstorm characters, so they could not be a factor here. Portacio does have another Image character, Fortress, which could be an option for a new series. However, he has recently stated he has a new unnamed project coming out soon, though it is unclear whether it will be with Image or elsewhere.
Any combined effort by the Image founders may be faced with some criticism as the last time they did so, the “Image United” limited series in 2009, the project was never completed. However, the distinction here is that the founders would be working on their own projects, so any delay from one, would not affect the others. Also, as mentioned in the above SKTCHD interview, Stephenson credits Jeff Boison, Image’s new Director of Publishing Planning & Book Trade Sales, and Corey Murphy, Director of Sales, with instilling a priority on scheduling, so, hopefully, any projects would be kept to a manageable degree.
Image Comics has been gradually increasing its market position thanks to a diversity of offerings and a concentration on organic growth, in stark contrast to the practices of the Big 2. Theoretically, a broader reliable offering of Image’s iconic super hero characters and other popular franchises could propel Image into parity with Marvel and DC Comics. Comics readers frustrated with the practices of the Big 2 can currently find comfort in the stability of long running Image series such as “Spawn,” “Savage Dragon,” “The Walking Dead,” and “Invincible.” Support of titles such as these supports the long term sustainable of the comics industry.