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Comics A.M. | Not-guilty pleas in death of elderly comic collector

Legal

Legal | Rico Venditti and six other alleged members of a stolen-goods ring pleaded not guilty Tuesday to federal murder and racketeering charges following a revised grand jury indictment in the July 2010 home invasion of an elderly comics collector. The victim, 78-year-old Homer Marciniak of Medina, New York, died of a heart attack a few hours after being tied up and assaulted during the robbery, which prosecutors claim was set up by Venditti and two others. [The Associated Press]

Conventions | A preview of the first Image Expo, which kicks off Friday in Oakland, California, does double duty as a profile of Image Comics. [Contra Costa Times]

Conventions | Bruce Lidl looks at the potential “Comic-Con tax” that could hit attendees as a result of the expansion of the San Diego Convention Center. [The Beat]

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ComicsPro: Daredevil: Born Again Artists Edition, lots on digital, more

Daredevil: Born Again

ComicsPRO, the trade organization for direct market comic book retailers, held its annual meeting last week, welcoming retailers from all over for presentations and discussions with various comic companies and other industry reps.

“Advocacy is a vital and important cog in the ComicsPRO machine. Too often, the retail segment is absent when industry plans are formulated and partnerships are forged,” says Joe Field ComicsPRO president, on the group’s website. “As ComicsPRO grows, our goal is to give retailers an equal voice with our other industry partners, so we can take an active role in the decisions that affect all of us.”

Although the meetings are typically closed to the press, some information from the three days in Dallas has come out:

  • Retailer Matt Price, who blogs at Nerdage, shared several tidbits this weekend from the show. Of note is the list of projects that publishers discussed at the show, which include Avengers vs. X-Men, Before Watchmen, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and an announcement from IDW that they’re planning an Artists Edition of Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Daredevil: Born Again storyline.
  • Mike Richardson, Dark Horse president and publisher, gave a keynote at the event on digital comics, on how “changes have been a constant and necessary partner” for the comics industry.
  • Speaking of which, iVerse Media and Diamond Comic Distributors announced a new Digital Comic Reader App at the meeting. “By adding the Digital Reader App into the Diamond Digital program, we’re completely removing our own digital store. This is a much cleaner solution for retailers and will give them the same kind of tools companies like Amazon and Barnes & Noble are using to sell digital on these devices,” said iVerse CEO Michael Murphey.
  • Image Comics sponsored a lunch where Publisher Eric Stephenson spoke on independence and creativity. You can read his entire speech over at iFanboy.
  • Thomas Gaul of Corner Store Comics and Beach Ball Comics in Anaheim, Calif. was elected to the ComicsPRO board, replacing founding member Brian Hibbs.
  • And speaking of Brian, he posted some of his notes on DC Comics from the meeting, including some digital information and the fact that they plan to release the full results from the Nielsen survey to retailers.
  • Bob Wayne, DC Entertainment’s senior vice president of sales, was honored with the ComicsPRO Industry Appreciation Award.

Quote of the day | Eric Stephenson on ‘awesome’ vs. ‘more’

Eric Stephenson

“I think everyone has noticed that Marvel has started publishing a number of their books more than once a month. They’ve been ramping up on this for a while, and it’s something I’ve kind of shook my head at, because it’s a desperate ploy to gain marketshare that doesn’t promote sustainability on any level. It’s a cash grab, pure and simple, and when you couple that with the fact so many of their books are creeping up on $3.99, I shudder to think of the long-term effects.

“And I can hear you shaking your own head now. Okay, maybe I can’t hear you doing that, but I can imagine the chuckling: ‘Desperate? Marvel is the number one publisher in comics!’ – but I’ll stand by my words. When DC launched their new 52 last September, Marvel didn’t fight back with awesome. They fought back with the only real tool in their shed: more. They’re not increasing the frequency of their books out of generosity, they’re doing it to dominate the market. And in the absence of anything even resembling new, all we get is more.”

-Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson, discussing an email he received from a “prominent comic book retailer” about comic content, pricing and frequency. He goes on to talk about many of Marvel’s recent and upcoming event books, from Fear Itself to X-Men vs. Avengers, saying they are akin to a “bored child reaching into the toy box trying to find new ways to wring some meager enjoyment out of faded old playthings. The fun lasts for a little while, but you can only tell yourself something’s all-new and all-different so many times before those words ring hollow. Avengers vs. X-Men wasn’t a new idea when Marvel did it in 1987, and it’s not a new idea now.”

‘Moving forward and creating new things’: Eric Stephenson on Image’s 2011 and 2012

Eric Stephenson

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Image Comics, the company formed by a group of artists who left the security of work-for-hire comics to create and own their own comics. It’s been 20 years of ups and downs, but one thing that has remained consistent is a focus on creator-owned work.

With 2011 in the history books and their big anniversary kicking off with the first Image Expo, a new ad campaign and high-profile series by big-name creators like Brian K. Vaughan, Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Jonathan Hickman, Nick Spencer and many more, I thought it was a good time to chat with Publisher Eric Stephenson about the state of the company, the year that was, their upcoming plans and anything else he was willing to talk about. My thanks to Eric for taking the time to answer my questions.

JK Parkin: Thanks for agreeing to do this interview, Eric. Incidentally, another feature we’re running as a part of our anniversary bash is one where we asked various comic industry folks about what they’re looking forward to in 2012. I got one back yesterday where the answer was basically “everything from Image Comics.” I find that interesting, because there’s a lot of diversity in Image’s line and although I think you guys probably publish something for every kind of taste, I wouldn’t think that every title would appeal to every comic reader. And yet I also find myself checking out at least the first issue of everything you guys have done lately. So from your perspective, what’s the unifying factor (or factors) right now among your titles, if there is one?

Stephenson: I think the main thing is that we’re moving forward and creating new things. We’re not content to just recycle the same old ideas month in and month out and then market it all as brand new. If this was another publisher, we’d be debuting our latest spin-off of The Walking Dead in March, but instead, we’re launching a new series by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, a new series by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra, a new series by Joe Keatinge and Andre Szymanowicz, and so on. For 20 years, Image has put its faith in creative people, and it’s the power of their imagination that links all our titles together, now more than ever.

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Comics A.M. | Image Comics’ ‘terrific year’; Viz Media’s Nook debut

Eric Stephenson

Publishing | Image Comics publisher Eric Stephenson talks about the ups and downs of the past year, including getting Todd MacFarlane’s Spawn on a tighter schedule and the difficulties of selling all-ages comics: “There’s this really blinkered mentality in comics that “all-ages” means only for kids, despite the relatively easy to understand implication that all-ages books can be enjoyed by readers of all ages. Diamond even has this graphic they use for all-ages comics in Previews and it’s these two children that look like toddlers or whatever. People seem to miss the point that most the comics we love from the ‘60s or ‘70s or even the ‘80s to a large degree, were all-ages comics. Stan & Jack’s Fantastic Four was an all-ages book. And it was brilliant.” [Multiversity Comics]

Digital | Viz Media, the largest manga publisher in the United States, began releasing its graphic novels on Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet and Nook Color devices today. As on the Viz iOS app and website, the manga are priced from $4.99 to $9.99 per volume, and they read from right to left, in authentic Japanese fashion. 107 volumes from 18 series are available at launch, although the selection skews a bit older than what’s available on the iOS app, with no sign of the Shonen Jump blockbusters Naruto, Bleach, or One Piece, at least in the initial announcement. [press release]

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Stephenson teases Image’s 2012 comics

Eric Stephenson reveals the covers of five upcoming Image projects at his blog, along with a dig at the Big Two for publishing retreads. Not all the titles are there, but the creators he lists as having upcoming Image books include Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Robert Kirkman, Nick Spencer, Shawn Martinbrough, Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples, Jonathan Hickman, and Nick Pitarra—quite an eclectic group. Over at the Image blog, Stephenson teases a bunch of different series and puts in a plug for the Image Expo as well. You know what would be fun? Going back to that post this time next year and matching the comics to the blind items. In the meantime, though, we’ll just have to guess.

Swastikas removed from Image Comics artwork for December’s Previews

Pigs #6

Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson said on his blog yesterday that the cover for Pigs #6 and an image from Glory #23 include swastikas and thus will not be featured as originally drawn in Diamond’s December Previews. The catalog is distributed in Germany, where the law prohibits the “use of symbols of unconstitutional organisations,” which includes the swastika if used in conjunction with Nazi idealism.

“This is nothing new,” Stephenson wrote. “Swastika-laden images have been prohibited from appearing in publications sold in Germany for decades at this point. I’m not sure I understand what the point is, though. World War II did happen, and Nazis did exist. I understand not wanting to encourage modern day Neo-Nazi groups, but censorship isn’t a particularly effective weapon against hate groups of any kind. Plus outlawing specific Nazi iconography seems strangely revisionist, as though it’s best to just not acknowledge the impact that symbol had, or the evil associated with it.”

The law Stephenson refers to is a remnant of the “Denazification” efforts in Germany by the Allies after World War II. Among other initiatives, the Allies sought to remove all symbols of Nazism, such as the swastika, from German culture. In a post written in 2009, when a swastika appeared on a cover for The Boys, German writer Marc-Oliver Frisch noted that the law has an exceptions clause, that it “shall not be applicable if the means of propaganda or the act serves to further civil enlightenment, to avert unconstitutional aims, to promote art or science, research or teaching, reporting about current historical events or similar purposes.” While The Boys issue with the swastika was not distributed in Germany, the German version of Maus, however, uses the original cover art that includes the swastika — but convention posters that used the Maus artwork have also been known to be confiscated by German authorities.

“Now you could argue that the paragraph clearly says that one of the exceptions is a work of art, which comics clearly are,” German blogger Subzero wrote in a post earlier this year. ” Well, not here in Germany and I guess it’s going to take a few decades till somebody here is willing to go to court on that point. In Germany comics don’t have that position.”

The Glory image that will appear in the catalog will not include the symbol, while the Pigs cover will be blurred out, as seen in the above image. You can find the Glory image by artist Ross Campbell, and a larger version of the uncensored Christian Ward-drawn Pigs cover, after the jump.

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Comics A.M. | The once and future Extreme Studios; Colleen Doran’s digital success

Youngblood

Creators | With the announcement that Rob Liefeld’s Extreme Studios is back in business, former Extreme Studios employee and current Image Comics publisher Eric Stephenson reflects on his time with the studio. “From 1992-1998, Extreme Studios was more or less my life. Youngblood, Supreme, Brigade, Bloodstrike, Team Youngblood, New Men, Prophet, Youngblood: Strikefile, Bloodpool, Glory… We put out a lot of comics, and for the most part everyone involved was incredibly young. Rob and I were amongst the oldest at 25. So many of the artists involved in various aspects of production were just out of their teens, and that made the work as frustrating as it was fun. But looking back, the main thing I remember about that time is Rob wanted to share his success with people who loved comics and wanted to make a living in the business as much as he had.” [It Sparkles!]

Webcomics | A Distant Soil creator Colleen Doran, who began serializing the comic online in 2009, notes “my bottom line is up significantly, and my online audience is ten times higher than when I started the five day a week online serialization of A Distant Soil 2.5 years ago.” She also shares advice she received when she started the endeavor that hasn’t worked for her. [A Distant Soil]

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NYCC | Why would Ed Brubaker be at an Image Comics panel?

Ed Brubaker

iFanboys Ron Richards caught an interesting little aside on Image Comics publisher Eric Stephenson’s blog. Today at 4 p.m. Eastern, Stephenson will join Robert Kirkman, Rob Liefeld and Tim Seeley for the panel “Creator-Owned Comics with Robert Kirkman.”

“We won’t be joined by Ed Brubaker. Or will we?” Stephenson writes.

Is this a tease that Brubaker may be doing something for Image Comics? That might be jumping to conclusions, especially since Brubaker seems to be pretty busy at Marvel with Captain America and his various Icon series. But you may remember that Kirkman and Stephenson held a similar panel in San Diego this past summer, where Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples’ upcoming project Saga was announced.

“The BKV announcement was THE news of the show, so, it’s safe to say there’s some level of expectation for a similarly sized announcement,” Richards said on iFanboy. And a new Brubaker-at-Image project would certainly fit that bill.

I guess we’ll find out at 4 p.m. if a) they actually are joined by Brubaker at the show and b) if he’ll be there to announce something. Maybe he’s just interested in talking about creator-owned comics …

Update: Brubaker was only at the panel in video form, but they did announce Fatale, an Image series by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips.

Comics A.M. | ‘Pop artist’ accused of stealing art; CBG goes digital

Chad Love Lieberman

Copyright | After running a feature about “New York Multimedia Pop Artist” Chad Love-Lieberman, nephew of Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the website Campus Socialite retracted its story upon finding out that Love-Lieberman “is a fraud, taking other people’s art from the web, touting it as his own, and worst of all – selling it for profit.”

Ursula Vernon, creator of the webcomic Digger, noted that one of the pieces in the article was actually hers. “Mad props to the staff at the Campus Socialite, who got back to me in under ten minutes and promised to pull everything and edit the article — they were just as outraged as you’d expect them to me. I’ve actually granted them permission to use the art with appropriate credit if it’ll help illustrate the issue (pun intended),” she posted on her LiveJournal. The domain for Love-Lieberman’s site, art4love.com, isn’t working, but the site is still up. Artist Deirdre Reynolds has a list going on DeviantArt of all the pieces on art4love that artists have identified as their own. Gary Tyrell, meanwhile, has reached out to both Love-Lieberman and his uncle for comment. [Campus Socialite]

Digital | Comics Buyer’s Guide has gone digital; issues of the long-running industry publication are now available on iVerse’s Comics+ application. Johanna Draper Carlson notes that only two CBG-related publications are currently available — the July 2011 issue and 1000 Comic Books You Must Read by Tony Isabella. [press release, Comics Worth Reading]

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SDCC ’11 | Is Brian K. Vaughan announcing a new project?

Brian K. Vaughan

Writer Brian K. Vaughan has been added to an Image Comics panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego, igniting speculation that the acclaimed co-creator of Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina will announce a new title.

The news came Monday from Image Publisher Eric Stephenson, who revealed on his personal blog that Vaughan will be among the special guests on the “Creator-Owned Comics With Robert Kirkman” panel, scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday. “You’ll want to go to this panel,” Stephenson wrote. “Why? Well, we’ve roped Brian K. Vaughan into attending, along with some other great guests, so … yeah. Be there.”

It’s been nearly a year since the conclusion of Ex Machina at WildStorm, and more than three years since Y: The Last Man wrapped up its 60-issue run at Vertigo. Since then, there have been few clues as to what the Eisner Award-winning writer had planned next — a return to creator-owned comics or a continued focus on film and television projects. But this news certainly suggests we’ll be seeing a new book from Vaughan in the near future. As Ryan K. Lindsay writes, “Why else would BKV be there except to announce something new?”

Read the panel description after the break, and follow Robot 6 and Comic Book Resources for any developments on Saturday.

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Comics A.M. | Ghostface Killah sued over Iron Man cartoon theme

Ghostface Killah

Legal | Composer Jack Urbont is suing rapper Ghostface Killah of the Wu-Tang Clan and Sony Music Entertainment for illegally sampling the theme to the Iron Man animated series from the 1960s. The theme was used on two tracks from the 2000 album Supreme Clientele. Killah, who sometimes goes by the alias Tony Starks, had a song in the 2008 film and appeared in a deleted scene on the DVD. [Rolling Stone]

Digital | In Maps & Legends co-creator Michael Jasper shares a breakdown by percentage of where their sales are coming from, noting almost half of their sales are through Barnes & Noble’s Nookbook Store. [Michael Jasper, via The Beat]

Digital | The Globe and Mail looks at how electronic publishing is changing the way authors tell stories: “The Next Day is a graphic novel about people who have attempted suicide. Once it is posted online in September, you’ll be able to click your way through it according to your own preferences about how it should unfold.” [The Globe and Mail]

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Kickin’ the Gun #1: Bunn, Zubkavich on Skullkickers, Sixth Gun, process and more

Cullen Bunn and Jim Zubkavich

Many who have been following this blog know I’m a fan of both Image’s Skullkickers and Oni’s The Sixth Gun. So when I saw that the two creator-owned books were having a mini-crossover of sorts — or, to be more specific, an ad swap — I thought it might be fun to see if Skullkickers writer Jim “Zub” Zubkavich and The Sixth Gun writer Cullen Bunn might be up for interviewing each other.

So the duo hit Skype and had a long conversation that covered many different topics — how they pitched their books, their writing process, how they work with their artists, finding time to write and much more. My thanks to both Cullen and Jim for doing this, with an extra tip of the hat to Jim for transcribing it. Be sure to check back tomorrow for the second part of the interview.

*****

Zub: So, let’s start right off with the big news. Did I hear correctly that you’re now writing full time? You quit your day job?

Cullen: I did. This is my third week as a full-time writer.

Zub: Awesome. What were you doing before that?

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More on the Image/Top Cow consolidation and Image’s marketing role

In January, Image Comics announced that it had reached an agreement with the largest studio under its umbrella, Top Cow, to assume the duties of marketing, production and sales. In this consolidation the central Image office took over the responsibilities of production, marketing and sales; editor Phil Smith, Sales/Marketing Director Atom! Freeman, and Publicity Manager Christine Dinh were all let go.

At the same time, the central Image office –- called aptly enough “Image Central” –- announced a change in its own marketing department, with 10-month hire Betsy Gomez heading out and Image Administrative Assistant Sarah deLaine taking the role of public relations and marketing coordinator. Although the initial reaction to this story has been minimal, further talk around the virtual water cooler among journalists, professionals and industry watchers see two things revealed in this – the downsizing of Top Cow’s office in order to maximize profits, but secondarily – and maybe more importantly – is the state of publicity and marketing for the third-largest comics publisher in America. As a journalist covering comics for Robot 6 and other outlets, I’m without a doubt more acutely aware of any changes in the publicity desk; they’re the point-of-contact for journalists big and small, from Comic Book Resources to USA Today. But I’m also aware from my own background working as a publicist and marketing professional outside the comics industry.

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Comics A.M. | Spiegelman talks Grand Prix, Stephenson talks industry

Art Spiegelman

Creators | Michael Cavna talks with cartoonist Art Spiegelman about being only the third American to receive the Grand Prix from the Angoulême International Comics Festival. As recipient of the honor, the 62-year-old artist will help plan next year’s festival. “I don’t know whether you should say ‘congratulations’ or ‘condolences,’ ” he says. [The Washington Post]

Legal | A Michigan judge on Monday ordered the DNA of former retailer Michael George to be compared with a hair found on the body of his wife when she was shot to death in 1990 in their comic book store. George, 50, was found guilty in March 2008 of first-degree murder, but that conviction was set aside because of prosecutorial misconduct and the possibility of new evidence. [The Detroit News]

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