Robot 6

Image’s Eric Stephenson on creators’ rights, Saga and sales figures

In a three-part interview with ICv2.com, Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson talks in his typical straightforward fashion about a number of topics, ranging from the state of the market and the phenomenon of The Walking Dead collections to the early success of Saga and competing with “the DC and Marvel superhero stuff.” The entire Q&A is worthwhile reading, but here are some of the highlights:

On creators’ rights: “People talk to me about what’s going on with the Watchmen stuff. If Image Comics had been around when Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons wanted to do Watchmen, they would have had someplace else they could have gone to do that type of work.  The situation that developed out of what did or didn’t happen with those contracts would have been irrelevant because they would have had a deal that offered them 100 percent creator ownership.”

On competing with long-established properties from Marvel and DC Comics: “If you look at the success stories over the last 20 years (start with Sandman, which is a weird deal between DC and Neil [Gaiman]), and moving up until now, you can’t point to anything new that has been created by Marvel and DC that’s had any lasting impact, but there are all these things, whether it’s Bone, Hellboy, Sin City, The Walking Dead or Y: The Last Man, that are all tremendously successful properties that have done especially well as trade paperback sales both in and outside the comics market. Those things support the fact that there’s an audience for new material. Is there an audience for superhero stuff? Of course, all of the DC and Marvel superhero stuff that goes back 50, 60, 70 years, those people are going to be there, but I think there’s an audience that craves something new. Once you’ve read a story about Spider-Man fighting the Green Goblin for the dozenth time, I think you get hungry for something else. I think there are publishers out there who provide that something else.”

On the success of Saga, the new series by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples: “It’s been our biggest launch of the year so far. We just announced a fourth printing on that. [...] We’re getting to the 70,000 mark, and that’s in addition to really strong digital numbers on the book too, which I find heartening in terms of the conversation of print vs. digital.”

On the disparity between Diamond sales estimates and the actual figures: “Just going off of what happens, usually in the space of a month, there seems to be a pretty great difference in how things are being reported. If that’s being reported to you as the U.S. numbers as opposed to U.K. numbers, that’s not how the numbers come to us. That to me seems a little odd. [...] I would love an explanation of why those numbers, including Diamond UK, aren’t reported. They’re reported to publisher. When we get our numbers from Diamond, it is not broken down by channel; it is ‘here is a lump number.’ Why we would be provided one number and reporting for sales would be different, doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”

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“If Image Comics had been around when Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons wanted to do Watchmen, they would have had someplace else they could have gone to do that type of work. The situation that developed out of what did or didn’t happen with those contracts would have been irrelevant because they would have had a deal that offered them 100 percent creator ownership.”

Like 1963, which Moore has buried and refused to allow to be reprinted? Yeah, that would have been great for Gibbons.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m generally on Moore’s side in the Watchmen debate. But people tend to gloss over the part where he’s sometimes used creator-ownership to shaft his co-creators.

“If you look at the success stories over the last 20 years (start with Sandman, which is a weird deal between DC and Neil [Gaiman]), and moving up until now, you can’t point to anything new that has been created by Marvel and DC that’s had any lasting impact”

Hm, depends on how you look at it, I suppose. Deadpool’s been something of a hit, and the past decade’s worth of superhero books have all cribbed pretty heavily from Authority and X-Statix. But I’ll grant that none of them have been as big a hit as Walking Dead, Y, or Fables in terms of sheer sales numbers.

(But dude, Neil Gaiman? Not necessarily the best name to bring up in the context of how great Image is at respecting creators’ rights.)

Great interview. Though I do have some issue with his talk of FOC and retailer orders.

No doubt, FOC has been a great boon to retailer with having more accurate orders. Ordering 3 weeks out (i think that’s what it is) rather than the old 2+ months is amazing.

But these are still advance, non-returnable, orders we’re talking about here. Retailers can’t order more than what they perceive the demand to be. overstock may be inconvenient for creators, but it can death to a retailer. In comics, like any other medium, promotion for a new book ramps up in the weeks leading up to the release. Weeks post FOC. Ramped up promotion means ramped up demand, and now retailers have to get advance reorders in.

It’s not a perfect system, but asking retailers to order above their demand is a far worse alternative to publishers having to go into 2nd printings to cover advance reorders.

@Thad

Yeah, people love to champion Alan Moore’s position with DC, but not many care to speak up for Bissette and Veitch when it comes to 1963 and Moore’s almost unbelievably childish behavior in the matter. (Moore won’t even speak to Bissette directly, all their dealings had to be pass through a third party.)

Glad that Saga is doing so well ( isn’t 70k higher than every Marvel ongoing??) – And in single issues to boot!! I expect the trade to sell like hotcakes too!

Issue 1 was great value. And by issue 2 I was really engrossed in it. And from someone who had high hopes for this title, its already passing my expectations! :)

Stephenson also conveniently fails to mention that part of what pushed Watchmen was, amazingly, enough DC’s marketing department, which was much stronger in the ’80s than Image’s has EVER been. DC promoted Watchmen through house ads, convention materials, the Direct Currents paper that used to go to comic shops, and more. Image got enormous hype from Wizard when they launched, but part of the boom in the comics industry that allowed Wizard to exist was owed to the Renaissance brought on by Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns. His fantasy scenario is broken, as is his understanding that Y and Fables are, technically, DC books.

“Once you’ve read a story about Spider-Man fighting the Green Goblin for the dozenth time, I think you get hungry for something else.”

Fair enough unless you really love Spider-Man and you want to buy every adventure he’s in. I think sometimes as adults we tend to forget that alot of these comics were originally meant for kids. If you’re tired of reading Spidey vs. Green Goblin then by all means you should try something new but the Spider-Man fan might not find what they’re looking for in a comic book. Image is a great alternative for comic book readers but it’s too simplistic to offer an alternative if someone isn’t interested in that alternative.
That said, I enjoy some Image titles because I am getting tired of what DC and Marvel offer. Unfortunately, I’m a superhero fan and things like Saga don’t appeal to me. I’m glad that it’s a success though.

“Once you’ve read a story about Spider-Man fighting the Green Goblin for the dozenth time, I think you get hungry for something else, like Spawn fighting the violator or Savage Dragon fighting a big monster or Invincible getting really bloody in a fight or Rick Grimes hitting a zombie with a hatchet, none of which have happened more than once, EVER.”

Pot, Kettle, I believe you’re acquainted.

@Dave: “His fantasy scenario is broken, as is his understanding that Y and Fables are, technically, DC books.”

Weeeell, yes, but his point is that they’re (at least ostensibly) creator-owned books, and not from DC’s work-for-hire stable.

@Shawn: “I think sometimes as adults we tend to forget that alot of these comics were originally meant for kids.”

Most of ‘em sure aren’t now.

“Image is a great alternative for comic book readers but it’s too simplistic to offer an alternative if someone isn’t interested in that alternative.”

You realize that’s tautological, right?

“Unfortunately, I’m a superhero fan and things like Saga don’t appeal to me.”

I think that’s a little baffling — I’m a superhero fan too, but I found Saga to be immediately engrossing. Indeed, the first issue reminded me of nothing so much as New Gods.

At any rate, the good news is Image has good superhero titles too. I’ve never been much into Spawn or Savage Dragon, but I like Invincible and Super Dinosaur pretty well. Madman’s not being published at present, but I recommend the trades, and the It-Girl spinoff might be good.

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