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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.”
“… we could use more books with talking tigers, am I right?”
– Joe Keatinge
If, like Joe, you think comics could use more talking tigers, then Ryan Ferrier has the comic for you. Tiger Lawyer, his self-published comic, is now available through his Big Cartel site as either a print or digital comic, and very soon, it’ll start appearing in Keatinge’s Hell Yeah comic.
Ferrier was kind enough to answer a few questions about Tiger Lawyer and his subpoena into the pages of Hell Yeah.
JK Parkin: I’m sure you’ve been asked about this a million times already, but the title, Tiger Lawyer, is the kind that elicits a chuckle and makes you wonder where the idea came from. So, where did the initial idea come from?
Ryan Ferrier: I really wish I had a cool story for this question, but alas it was one of those things that I’ve completely forgotten, though I’m fairly certain it stemmed from something I posted on Twitter last December, something silly. It was a tweet along the lines of Tiger Lawyer being my next comic, made entirely with sarcasm. I do remember gearing up to tackle a different script, and decided to actually write Tiger Lawyer–the script that would become the first short–one afternoon. I immediately posted the script online, and surprisingly, people dug it enough for me to actually make it.
“The numbers don’t lie: More people are reading Image comics every single week, and those numbers are going to increase, whether they get them from your stores or from someplace else, because no offense to everyone who made the last 20 years so vital and creative, but right now, we’re blasting headlong into the future and creating some of the best comics in history.
See – in the past, when everyone claimed the sky was falling, it was because we were losing readers in droves – and worse, we were losing stores – because our numbers had been inflated by speculation. But the reason the sky isn’t falling now – the reason we’re actually skyrocketing – is because there are readers – real readers, the kind of customers we all want – in abundance. It’s our job – yours, mine, and the creators we publish – to capture their attention and give them the kind of experience they’ll come back for again and again.”
– Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson, in his speech at the Diamond Retailer Summit at C2E2
Awards | Big Questions by Anders Nilsen has won the Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize for 2012, the second such award given by the Pennsylvania Center for the Book. The organization also named four honorees: Freeway by Mark Kalesniko, Habibi by Craig Thompson, Life with Mr. Dangerous by Paul Hornschemeier and Zahra’s Paradise by Amir and Khalil. The awards will be presented during a ceremony at Penn State later this year. [Pennsylvania Center for the Book]
Publishing | IDW Publishing has promoted Dirk Wood to vice president of marketing. Wood joined IDW in 2010 as director of retail marketing. [IDW Publishing]
Conventions | Misha Davenport previews this weekend’s Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo. [Chicago Sun-Times]
Terry Moore fans have recently been greeted with a variety of opportunities to support his work recently–given that on March 28, comiXology released the first half of Moore’s Harvey award-winning, adventure series Echo (which ran from 2008—2011) for all of the company’s digital platforms (iPhone, iPad, Android, Kindle Fire and the Web). As noted by Moore in anticipation of the release: “comiXology is releasing issues 1-15, plus the first three TPB collections. Issue one is just .99 cents. The remaining issues are $1.99 each. The first TPB, Moon Lake is just $6.99 and also comes with bonus material: aka sketches and designs”). Also on March 28, Robert Kirkman offered readers a five-page preview of Moore’s current creator-owned horror ongoing, Rachel Rising, in The Walking Dead 95. Later this month, folks will be able to buy the first Rachel Rising TPB, The Shadow of Death. This Wednesday, comiXology will release the remainder of the Echo series (issues 16-30, and the final three TPBs). I respect the fact that Moore is making sure to maintain a strong relationship with the brick-and-mortor retailers that have supported his work throughout his career, while not turning a blind eye to the potential gains of digital distribution. We talk about that, as well as Rachel Rising in general–as well as his How to Draw projects. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Moore someday hopes to see his work released in full color–and that he approaches his black and white current projects with that hopeful inevitability in mind.
Tim O’Shea: How did Robert Kirkman broach the possibility of previewing Rachel Rising in Walking Dead? What was your initial reaction to his proposal?
Terry Moore: It actually started with Eric Stephenson. We were both at Comics PRO in Dallas recently and Eric told me he liked Rachel Rising. That’s great, I said. Back home, I got an email from him telling me Robert liked it too, and they offered me the preview in an upcoming issue of The Walking Dead. I was thrilled, because it’s a great opportunity to reach new readers, especially with an endorsement. Such a great break for Rachel.
A couple retailers have made what I consider to be a fair comment: We should have known a new series by Brian K. Vaughan would do well and could have printed way more than we did. But using that exact same logic, here’s the thing: They also could have ordered more.
–Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson, on the difficulty of calculating print runs under the current distribution system. He also talks about why selling out, though great for publicity, isn’t a great business model and how it’s in everyone’s best interests–publisher, retailer, and reader–to have books on the shelves where people can get their hands on them.
“I don’t advocate retailers ordering with wild abandon anymore than I am in favor of blindly overprinting in large quantities,” he writes, “but the best way to avoid these constant sellouts and multiple printings, is by supporting titles that legitimately deserve it, by getting behind series and creators that are going to help grow a more sustainable direct market.”
Of course, many retailers point to customer pre-orders as an important tool in determining how many copies they’ll stock of a comic, so there’s a lot of finger-pointing in general. Everyone’s shy about taking the financial risk, from customers not wanting to commit to buying a comic they haven’t seen yet to publishers not sure how many to print, and retailers are caught in the middle.
The first Image Expo kicked off Friday in Oakland, California, with a keynote speech from Publisher Eric Stephenson that emphasized creator relationships as the company’s foundation, and laid out more than a half-dozen titles that will be announced this weekend for release later this year:
• Happy!, by Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson, a mysterious title the writer says is “in a genre I’ve never really tackled before — but with a bizarre twist, of course.” It’s the first of several potential Image projects from Morrison. [iFanboy]
• Confirmation of a third volume of Phonogram, by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson, called The Immaterial Girl. Gillen says the six-issue miniseries, which will likely debut in November, is “primarily about the war between coven queen witch Emily Aster and the half of her personality she sold to whatever lies on the other side of the screen. It’s about identity, eighties music videos and further explorations of Phonogram’s core ‘Music = Magic’ thesis. There is horror. There are jokes. There are emotions. There may even be a fight sequence. It also takes A-ha’s ‘Take On Me’ with far too much seriousness – which, for us, is the correct amount of seriousness.” [Kieron Gillen’s Workblog]
• Chin Music, by Steve Niles and Tony Harris, described by the artist as “a 1930’s Noir, Gangster, horror story.” [Tony Harris]
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 | 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]
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:
“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.”
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.
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]
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.
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.
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]