Eric Stephenson Archives - Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources
Eric Stephenson means well. As publisher of Image Comics, and even before he held that position, he’s often called out for change in the comics industry. I love these calls to action, even if they’re not always graceful; change usually isn’t. Most of us agree that changing the comics industry for the better is in everyone’s best interest, but how to change it and how we define better is when things get messy. I’m usually in agreement with what Stephenson is saying, but his speech last week at the ComicsPRO annual meeting was jumbled and tripped over itself when it came to licensed comics.
Stephenson got hung up on a significant sector of comics publishing, and I think it muddied his larger message. In his speech, as I’m sure you’ve seen re-quoted multiple times by now, he claimed that licensed comics like IDW’s Transformers and GI Joe, and Dark Horse’s Star Wars “will never be the real thing.” In the lead-up, he also explained there are “only two kinds of comics that matter: good comics and bad comics.” Now, he never outright said licensed comics are in the “bad” category, but some certainly viewed that as the implication.
His argument is that comics should rely on original ideas to produce original content, a point he underscored by pointing to the perennial bestseller The Walking Dead and the fast-growing Saga, both coincidentally published by Image. I agree original comics are where the magic can happen, and where the creators can most benefit. But that doesn’t mean everything else is by default a waste of time.
Welcome to Best of 7, where we talk about “The best in comics from the last seven days” — which could be anything from an exciting piece of news to a cool publisher’s announcement to an awesome comic that came out.
And what a week it was, as we learned about a new Rocket Raccoon series by Skottie Young, Paul Levitz getting a new gig at BOOM!, the return of Jellaby and more. So let’s get to it …
Passings | Bomb Queen and Five Weapons creator Jimmie Robinson writes a touching remembrance of pioneering cartoonist Morrie Turner, who passed away Saturday at age 90. Widely recognized as the first nationally syndicated African-American cartoonist, the Wee Pals creator frequently spoke at schools, and it was during one of those visits that he inspired a young Jimmie Robinson: “When he came to our class he spoke about his craft and showed us how he worked and what his job demanded. He spoke about his newspaper comic strip and how he had to write it every day. He spoke about the diverse cast of characters in his strip, but he never once spoke about the issue of his race. But for me he didn’t have to. The fact that he, a black artist, even existed, spoke volumes.” The New York Times also has an obituary for Turner. [Jimmie Robinson]
Welcome to Best of 7, our new weekly wrap-up post here at Robot 6. Each Sunday we’ll talk about, as it says above, “The best in comics from the last seven days” — which could be anything from an exciting piece of news to a cool publisher’s announcement to an awesome comic that came out. I should also note that we skipped last Sunday after being exhausted from all our anniversary content, so you may see an item or two slip in from last week.
So without further ado, let’s get to it …
A lot of big announcements came out of Image Expo today — among them, new projects from Grant Morrison, Matt Fraction, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Scott Snyder and Jock, and Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie — but the most significant may be an unprecedented five-year deal with frequent collaborators Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips.
The agreement allows the creators, in the words of the publisher, “to do anything they want with total freedom, total control, and total ownership over their projects.” Or, as Brubaker told The New York Times, “It really is like a movie studio gave you an overall deal where you could green light your own projects. If you wanted to do a four-hour Russian film, you could — you may not make a profit, but you could do it.”
The first project under the deal will be The Fade Out, which Brubaker said at the expo is “loosely based on things that happened in Hollywood in the ’40s.” It will debut this summer, following the conclusion of Fatale with Issue 24.
Brubaker and Phillips first worked together in 1999 on Scene of the Crime, and reteamed for Sleeper, Criminal, Incognito and Fatale.
Image Publisher Eric Stephenson explained the deal with the Eisner Award-winning duo was easy to approve, telling The Times, “Whoever is looking back at comics history is going to be looking back at the work of certain creative teams and Ed and Sean is one the biggest teams we’ve had.”
“I think a big reason our industry is experiencing so much growth right now is because we’re finally doing the kind of comics that resonate with a diverse readership. It’s kind of like what happened a decade or so back when comics first started gaining acceptance in bookstores and getting written up in the mainstream press, really, because it’s a slow process and there’s no one way to reach everyone. I mean, for a very long time, comic books and superheroes were practically synonymous, and it took a lot of unique work by a lot of different men and women to finally open things up to the point where someone other than the standard comics reader see the full potential of our medium. If you do different things, you attract different readers. It’s that simple.”
– Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson, addressing the importance of a diverse readership in an interview with Comic Book Resources
Digital comics | Apple rejected 59 comics this year for in-app buying, although many of them were allowed into the iBookstore. I looked at the phenomenon, and talked to Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson about the effect that had on Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals, which is available via the comiXology website and Android app, iBooks, and Image’s own website, but can’t be bought in-app from comiXology’s iPad app. “”It absolutely hurt digital sales on Sex Criminals #2,” Stepheneson said. “This is a series that is getting fantastic word of mouth, it’s amazing work by Matt and Chip that is receiving rave reviews and selling out instantly. Not being able to offer the book to curious readers through our app or the comiXology app is a significant deterrent to reaching the widest possible audience.” [Publishers Weekly]
Conventions | Declaring this weekend’s inaugural Lakes International Comic Art Festival in Kendal, Cumbria, England, a success, organizers have already announced the dates for next year’s event: Oct. 17-19. “Our first year has been everything we could have wished for,” said festival director Julie Tait. “There was a huge buzz right through Kendal – from The Brewery Arts Centre right to The Box on Wildman Street, as well as at the shopping centre and the library. The town has really got involved and there has been art work on every street. It feels like the weekend has involved everyone – from adults following their passion for Viz humour to kids learning how Peppa Pig was created.” This year’s festival featured guests ranging from Charlie Adlard and Ed Brubaker to David Lloyd and Trina Robbins. [Cumbria Live]
There are certain artists who prove that their work only gets better with each new project and new issue. Such is the case with Nick Dragotta on East of West, his new creator-owned ongoing series with Jonathan Hickman.
I relish any opportunity to interview Dragotta, particularly in the same week that East of West 5#. His ability to lay out some spectacular action scenes continues to be a given in this Image Comics series, but I have also grown to appreciate his ability to develop distinctive architecture as well as engaging, yet more sedate, scenes.
In addition to discussing East of West, Dragotta also brought me up to date on Howtoons, which we talked about in our first interview in 2011. As the father of a kid who loves do-it-yourself activities, I appreciate the involvement of the artist and his wife Ingrid in a project that fosters fun, educational activities for children. To learn he has gotten creator favorites of mine, such as Fred Van Lente (no stranger to educational entertainment), Jeff Parker and Sandy Jarrell involved is just icing on the DIY cake.
Back to East of West, the artist and I also got a chance to (hopefully) satiate Comics Should Be Good’s Greg Burgas’ curiosity regarding the East of West creative process that he broached in a recent essay on reviewing the art in comics. In addition, Dragotta was kind enough to share an unlettered page from East of West #5 as well as unlettered pages from issues 2 and 4. With the first trade (collecting issues 1-5) set for release on Sept. 11, we also discuss its potential impact on audience growth. Full candor: Dragotta blindsided me with his Rob Liefeld fan club confession. Seriously, though, it is refreshing to see a talent such as Dragotta reveling in the opportunity to do creator-owned work.
While the launch on Tuesday of Image Comics’ DRM-free digital comics storefront rightfully attracted a lot of attention, the bigger eye-opener may end up being some of the numbers behind that decision.
The publisher shared with Wired.com statistics — and charts! — that should go far to ease lingering concerns about piracy and digital’s “cannibalization” of print sales: As you can see above, digital sales accounted for 12 percent of Image’s overall revenue in 2012, a figure that’s expected to increase to 15 percent by the end of this year. Twenty-two percent of the sales of the bestselling Walking Dead comes from digital (presumably that’s monthly sales, although the article doesn’t specify). What’s more, “when measured solely against print comics sold in the direct market at comic book stores, digital makes up 27 percent of revenue.”
Hello everyone, Happy Memorial Day weekend to America, and welcome one and all to What Are You Reading? This week we are joined by special guests Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder, the creative team behind Halloween Eve and the upcoming Rocket Girl. I spoke to them earlier this month about Rocket Girl, which surpassed its Kickstarter goal but you still have some time to get in on the action and rewards.
To see what Brandon, Amy and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.
Legal | Singapore cartoonist Leslie Chew was arrested last week on charges of sedition, held over the weekend, and released on S$10,000 bail. His cellphone and computer were also confiscated. The charges stem from two cartoons on Chew’s Demon-cratic Singapore Facebook page. [Yahoo! News Singapore]
Crowdfunding | Chris Sims tells the truly bizarre tale of a crowdfunding scam: Someone copied Ken Lowery and Robert Wilson IV’s Kickstarter campaign for Like a Virus, including the video, and made it into an IndieGoGo campaign, presumably planning to pocket the money and run. [Comics Alliance]
“Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose the former and have seen no reason to change.” — Frank Lloyd Wright
It’s a telling quote, both for Wright and for Eric Stephenson, who used it on the masthead of the personal blog he wrote from 2010 to 2012. The word arrogance may have its negative connotations, but when practiced in a measured way it exudes confidence and pride in your work. Wright had it. Steve Jobs had it. And Stephenson, as a nearly 20-year veteran of comics publishing, and the public face of Image Comics, has it.
And in recent years, Stephenson has a lot to be prideful about. Image has been experiencing its best years since its initial debut with The Walking Dead, Chew and Saga. It hosted an well-received expo last year, and has successfully wooed some of Marvel and DC’s top talent for a return to creator-owned work. Stephenson, the company’s publisher, also has finally been able to return to his neglected passion for writing with Nowhere Men, a collaboration with artist Nate Bellegarde.
Although best known for his work behind the scenes — he’ll mark his fifth year as publisher of Image in July — Stephenson has written comics for Rob Liefeld’s Maximum Press, Marvel and DC, not to mention his creator-owned titles.
In February we spoke to Nowhere Men artist Nate Bellegarde, and now we turn to Stephenson to discuss the series, and his past work, but also to delve into his publishing duties — specifically, headhunting talent, finding a place for Image in digital comics, and separating the company from the crowd.
Digital comics | The manga publisher Viz Media has signed on to iVerse’s digital comics app for libraries; this is big news, because manga, especially Viz’s teen-friendly line, is still very popular in libraries. [press release]
Publishing | In his address last weekend to the ComicsPRO annual meeting in Atlanta, Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson urged the audience to continue asking “What’s next?” [Comics Alliance]
Retailing | Journalist and retailer Matthew Price wraps up the ComicsPRO meeting, noting Diamond’s report of a healthy year for comics retailers, with comics sales up 16 percent, graphic novels up 13 percent, and merchandise up 9 percent from last year. [The Oklahoman]
When Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson came up with the idea for Nowhere Men, he knew not just any comic artist could handle the project. Luckily for him, Nate Bellegarde isn’t just any comic artist.
Based in Boston, Bellegarde clawed his way into comics at an early age, making his professional debut at age 16 with a back-up strip in Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore’s Battle Pope. He continued his association with Kirkman, providing back-ups for early issues of Invincible with Benito Cereno before segueing to their own standalone series with Hector Plasm. Bellegarde kept busy doing the first volume of Tim Seeley’s Loaded Bible before being enlisted by Kirkman for Invincible spinoff books like Brit and Invincible Presents: Atom Eve & Rex Splode. His art had the crisp, clear style of his colleagues Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley, but his linework betrayed a more subversive subtext. Each of his previous projects seemed to capitalize on part of the skill set Bellegarde had been honing over the years, but never quite captured all of it at once — until Nowhere Men.
Mixing the interpersonal conflicts of science projects like The Right Stuff with more esoteric fiction constructs like the best of Franco-Belgian comics (and a side of British Invasion-era music), Nowhere Men is an uncommon, and uncompromising, piece of work. With three issues on stands and the fourth due March 6, I spoke with Bellegarde about Nowhere Men and its role in his pursuit of a life in comics.