I read comics. So should you.

Image Comics, Past and Present

In history on February 6, 2017 at 2:26 am


Today, while most folks are enjoying the Super Bowl, I’m drunk as shit, reminiscing about my misguided youth, most of which was spent sampling the delights at the buffet table of early 90s comic books. Not as exciting as, say, coming back to win after your opponents have a twenty-one point lead on you, but this wacky world of funny books has always been less about visceral, outward excitement and more about intellectual power trips. No one was better at that than Image Comics was when it was founded by a gaggle of renegade artists back in ’92.

They are names that you know if you’re a mainstream aficionado: Erik Larsen, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Whilce Portacio, Marc Silvestri, and Jim Valentino. They were superstars in a very small world, highly stylized hotshots who were selling a SHITLOAD of issues for Marvel Comics. But they weren’t happy with how they were being treated, and how much they were being paid. So they conspired, and made a grand exit so they could found a new publishing company, one that would change the rules of the game and give creators control of their work. Image was born, from rebellion and scratched up Bristol board, screaming into a world which wanted more comics. Even when they were released insanely behind schedule.

The same year that this fledgling organization enthusiastically squirted out its glossy new books onto store shelves, I was an impressionable and curious young asshole of fifteen years. I wrote terrible poetry, I listened to Metallica, and I spent an obscene amount of time playing Sega Genesis games. I knew very little, but I knew that I loved comic books. I couldn’t get enough of them. So when something arrived at my local shop and it stood out on the shelves, I blew all of my dishwashing or grocery bagging money on it. Image books were custom made for marks like me.

The original Image lineup had certain key things in common, and these are qualities that are still loved today, despite my feeling that once you’ve graduated from college you should have outgrown them and moved on to things with a bit more to offer. Sure, you can tell the styles apart, but they’re the ones that made comics big business, and they did that for very specific reasons. These are comics about angry vigilantes and government-sponsored hit teams, splash page after splash page of angular musculature and three thousand hatch lines. It speaks to the angry young nerd, and gets their heart racing. It did for me, I’ll admit it. I wanted Spawn to stab serial killers with popsicle sticks, and I wanted the WildC.A.T.s to chop up the evil Daemonites that possessed Dan Quayle.

There’s a lot more to the Image story, but I’m going to get divisive and blow right past it, to the point I refer to as ‘The Kirkman Era’. Lots of other creators were brought into the fold in those early years, with varying degrees of success, but then the collector craze that they were largely responsible for formed a speculator bubble, which quickly burst and nearly killed the whole industry by the end of the century. There was a period of wonderful experimentation when comics were attempting to rally in the aftermath, and it’s in this environment that Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead appeared. Five years later this hot new creator has done so well that he’s a partner in the company, and the flood gates are open for fresh talent.

Suddenly I’m wondering what dear old Image is up to. Oh, not much. They just introduced the world to Jonathan Hickman through books like The Nightly News, and Kieron Gillen via Phonogram, and The Luna Brothers. They provided a new home to greats like Brian K. Vaughan and Colleen Doran and Rick Remender and Warren Ellis. Suddenly there are books about everything under the sun. There’s a huge resurgence in Science Fiction. More and more women are making comics, and people from every social, racial, and sexual strata, too. Is this entirely the work of Image? No, that just isn’t true. BUT, they’ve been a big part of it. Their business model and their team of editors have allowed diversity to thrive, and as a result we have the landscape that exists today.

So here we are, in 2017, and my pull list is majority Image. The books I most look forward to each week are often theirs. I rant and rave to my customers about the big ideas and bold approaches to the medium found in comics like Bitch Planet, Manifest Destiny, Lazarus, and Chew. It’s easy to dismiss those halcyon days of giant guns and foil variant covers as a mistake, but they paved the way for a new golden age, so that gets them a big pass. You like what you like, so by all means go read your old copies of Youngblood and Pitt, but I’m still going to make snarky jokes. Sorry. I’m only human. A kinda petty, snooty human.


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