July 3, 2015

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Weekend Pattering for July 3rd, 2015-- Image Expo Scorecard



** So the latest Image Comics Expo was yesterday.  You know the Image Comics Expo, don't you?  It's their attempt to bypass San Diego and control their news cycle by releasing all of their big news before that big pop culture show where the only news that anyone seems to be interested in anymore is what's happening in Hall H?

It feels like it was a couple of years ago when Marvel and DC realized that any major announcements that they were going to have were going to get overshadowed by all of the movie and entertainment news and started releasing all of their news through the various news sites a couple of years ago.  This year, Marvel even released a teaser magazine showing what their titles will be after their big summer event.

A couple of years ago, Image took the idea of controlling their own news cycle to the next step and launched Image Expo, basically a press conference disguised as a one or two day convention devoted to all things Image.  In 2012 and 2013, it was a once-a-year event.  But last year and this year, it's become a twice-a-year shindig, with one of those shindigs being held just ahead of San Diego Comicon International.

By my count, yesterday was the 6th (?) Image Expo.  If nothing else, Image Expos have highlighted the era where Image became less new creator friendly and became a place for creators tired of Marvel and DC to find a creative outlet.  The Image of today is what Marvel's Icon line could have been if Marvel really gave a toss about giving creators a friendly place to write, draw and own their own comics.  This week's iFanboy podcast features the return of Ron Richards, a former Image employee, who actually talks about this a bit. (FYI, after Richards' successful Morrisoncon years ago, it feels like he may have been a big part of developing and pulling off past Image Expos.)

Richards, a popular podcaster, spent over 2 years at Image as their Director of Business Development.  Returning to comics podcasting after his time in the publishing desert, his cohosts spent some time asking him questions and getting answers from an insider's point of view.  When asked about whether or not Image was still the place to break in and come up through in the comic industry before hitting the bigger companies, Richards answered that the time of new creators getting a book at Image to launch their careers is over. Citing Jonathan Hickman, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie as creators who got first got noticed and established their credentials at Marvel before getting called up by Marvel (mostly) and DC, Richards made it sound like that comics career path is over for now.

But then you have current Image publisher Eric Stephenson giving an Expo-related interview to Paste Magazine where he calls Image "the Alternative."

We’re the alternative. Whether it’s work-for-hire on corporate comics or creator-sharing deals from publishers looking to exploit comics in other media, Image is still exactly what it’s always been: the number one publisher of creator-owned comics. We’re not in the movie business—we don’t promise people a walk down the red carpet while we take 50 percent of their media rights. We make comics, and the reality of the situation is we’re one of the few actual comic book companies left at this point. So many other publishers are focused on finding a way onto TV or into movie theaters—which is fine—but really, that’s the individual creators’ business. They did the work—they should benefit from it.

And regarding whether or not Image is friendly to new creators:

That’s actually something we’re going to be discussing at this next Image Expo, because new talent is one of, not just Image’s, but our industry’s most important resources. We’ve launched a lot of new talent at Image, but there are new writers and artists entering the business all the time. The beauty of what we offer creators is that it doesn’t matter if you’re an established pro or someone working on project number one, the deal is exactly the same, so it benefits everyone involved to help grow new careers.
Personally, I can't tell whether or not Stephenson is referring to this Expo or the next one but I didn't see a lot about new creators in this one.

And all of this happens in a week where a couple of fairly high-profile Marvel writers both publicly announce their not doing any work on Marvel's superhero lines anymore.  First Rick Remender wrote about his plans for the next year.


And then Kieron Gillen did the same thing, not saying that he's not doing any Marvel work but that also he's not doing much more than the Darth Vader comic.  And Gillen frankly talked about burnout.
I think it’s for the best. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve done at Marvel, but I’m aware that I’m starting to feel a little burned out on the MU. Both Iron Man and Young Avengers took more out of me than I was completely aware of at the time, and the work there has often felt hard since that (With the notable exception of SIEGE, which was designed to be a giggle.) That writing Darth Vader was so freeing made me suspect that even if my schedule hadn’t demanded it, I’d be better taking a step away from the MU and superheroes for a bit to recharge. I’ll see where my head’s at in 2016.
And Jonathan Hickman, the writer of Marvel's current big event series, has also announced that once Secret Wars is over, he's taking a break from Marvel.

And while Remender, Gillen or Hickman didn't have any announcements at the Image Expo, they each have multiple books either coming out and in development at Image.

So as Image has gotten good at, they've controlled their news cycle for a day, announcing a lot of books that if history tells us anything we won't see for at least 6-12 months, if not longer.  Chris Butcher, a man of many hats in the comics industry (retailer, marketer, show organizer,) doesn't seem as sold on the Image Expo method of doing this big publicity push on comics that won't be showing up until possibly 2016 or even 2017.

At the Image Expo today, more than 20 new projects with the publisher were announced–some of them sound neat, some of them do nothing for me, but the earliest any of them starts seems to be late this fall. Meanwhile, at the Image Expo that happened about a year ago today, a great new project was announced that is only just now being offered in the catalogue, for release in September. SO far as I can tell it wasn’t mentioned at Image’s big expo at all today, despite it still effectively being an unreleased book, but one that could certainly use a the strong promotion that event provides, since now is the time for retailers to actually buy it. Don’t you think it’s profoundly weird that the biggest bit of press a book might get is six months, 12 months, or more, before the book is a real thing? I do. But you look around, and that’s where the discussion, where the conversation in comics is at.

It’s weird.
 Yes, Chris.  It is weird.
So let's take a look at the past Image Expos and count up what was announced and what was published:

Image Expo 2012:  16 new comics were announced.  13 books have been published, all within reasonable timeframe of their announcements if I remember correctly.  There are 3 books, Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl, Chin Music, and Crime and Terror, that have not been published yet as far as I know.  That third Phonogram series will finally be coming out this summer.  The biggest book of this Expo is easily Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples' Saga.

Image Expo 2013: 12 new comics were announced at the 2013 expo, including the return of J. Michael Straczynski to comics with a number of new and resuscitated tiltles.  One of the so far unpublished JMS books was supposed to have Bill Sienkiewicz artwork but Billy the Sink was just recently announced as providing the artwork on a new Kelly Sue DeConnick book. Honestly other than the JMS/Bill Sienkiewicz joint, most of the other books have been published.  This was the Image Expo that really saw a lot of Marvel talent launch their creator owned series at Image.  Brubaker, Fraction, Aaron, Millar, and JMS are all creators who had books in Marvel's Icon line but went to Image for their new projects.  The loser of this Image Expo was clearly Marvel Comics as creators began to see that they could start making as much money from successful creator-owned comics.

Image Expo 2014 #1:  2014 was the first year where Image would have two Expos, one in the winter and one in the summer.  At the January 2014 expo, Image went big with around 19 new books announced.  Again, there's only been a couple of those books which haven't been published yet.  But to show the long lead time, Brandon Graham's 8House books were announced then and the first one was just published this past week.  Kelly Sue DeConnick's Bitch Planet looks to be the book with the most heat still out of this Expo that included some DC names like Grant Morrison, Scott Snyder and Bill Willingham.  If the 2013 Expo was a shot at Marvel's Icon, the first Expo of 2014 went after DC's Vertigo creators.

Image Expo 2014 #2: 12 books announced and 10 have had issues published.  Unlike the last couple of Expos, there's nothing that really jumped out at these announcements except maybe the Moon Knight team of Warren Ellis, Declan Shaley and Jordie Bellaire starting up a new Image title but there are some solid comics in there like Humans, Invisible Republic and Rumble.

Image Expo 2015 #1:  19 new titles!!!  Only about 6 or 7 have been published so far but this was only 6 months ago.  Of course, one of those titles, Phonogram: Immaterial Girl, was first announced at the 2012 expo.  Again, nothing really stand out above any of the others.

Image Expo 2015 #2: And the announcement train just keeps on rolling.

From all of these announcements, the track record isn't that horrible about the ratio of publications to announcements.  It probably doesn't look any better or worse than most comic companies over the long haul but as Butcher pointed out, having a big unveiling for a new title almost 18 months before it hits the stands is a weird thing.  The Brandon Graham announcements in 2014 were exciting.  As the book hits the stands in July 2015, the book is still really good but there's very little heat behind it.  We could be talking about a Brandon Graham comic that's out now or two (TWO!) Tarantino-like comics that were just announced and who knows when they'll be coming out.

So San Diego Comicon is next week and we already know a lot of the Marvel and Image news.  And to both of them, there's that feeling of serving the existing fan base whether it's through characters or creators that they know.  At this point, is a new Wolverine series really all that different from a new Jason Aaron series?  Yes, it's cynical but Image seems to have learned what it's good at and currently that's giving a new outlet to established creators.  They're good at servicing the writers and artists who have been published by DC, Marvel, Image and even Dark Horse and Oni Press.  Gone are the days of Jim Valentino or Eric Larsen really trying to establish Image Comics as a medium between the Superhero Mainstream and the true Alternative scene of the 1990s and early 2000s.

Image has figured out how to leverage the comic show vibe and use it to generate a bit of heat around their future publishing plans.  Can you imagine what Stan Lee would have done with this back in his heyday?  I'm picturing a show, sometime in late 1970.  Stan Lee takes the stage, wearing a black turtleneck and yells out "Greetings, True Believers! Let me tell you about this new team that's going to knock your socks off, The Defenders!"

The rest, as they say, would have been history.