POPPREVIEW: IMAGE COMICS: THE ROAD TO INDEPENDENCE
by George Khoury
IMAGE COMICS: THE ROAD TO INDEPENDENCE
Authored by George Khoury
280-page softcover with color section
$34.95 U.S. cover price
Diamond Order Code: MAR073745
Welcome to this exclusive preview from the pages of Image Comics: The Road to Independence, a TwoMorrows Book release that will be on-sale everywhere starting on June 20th, 2007.
In 1992, seven artists shook the foundation of the comic book industry when they left their top-selling Marvel Comic titles to jointly form a new company named Image Comics. With no certainty of success, they formed a home that would allow themselves and other artists the opportunity to tell their stories without any censorship or editorial restraints. Even more importantly, Image would finally give creators full ownership of their properties. In an industry that began with artists working in sweatshop-like conditions, Image remains a living beacon for any creator that dares to dream.
Image Comics: The Road to Independence is an unprecedented look at the last big bang to happen in the comics industry from every single angle imaginable. An incredibly dense 280 page tome that's packed from cover to cover - this isn't your granddad's book about comics history - it's an intense, refreshingly candid, and vivid experience about not only Image Comics, but in many ways the last twenty years of the comics industry!
Featured are new interviews and art from Image Founders Erik Larsen, Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Whilce Portacio, Marc Silvestri and Jim Valentino. Also, the book spotlights many of Image Comics' most popular creators from the first fifteen years of the company: Jae Lee, Jeff Scott Campbell, Larry Stroman & Todd Johnson, Steve Oliff, Sam Kieth, Dale Keown, Brian Michael Bendis, Robert Kirkman, Frank Espinosa and Scott Williams. There are more articles, art, and a ton of photos to document this larger than life story.
For me, this book was not only the hardest single thing that I've ever worked on, but the most rewarding one in terms of its large scope and what it says about the future of this industry. Whether you're a fan or not of Image Comics, you have to respect them for bringing an infusion of tenacity and influence that changed the landscape of comics forever. This is the book for you, the comic reading audience; without you there isn't an Image Comics or comics industry.
George Khoury, author
Robert Kirkman Interview
(c) 2007 George Khoury and TwoMorrows Publishing
When Robert Kirkman was a wee lad in the bluegrass state of Kentucky, instead of picking up a banjo or making bourbon whiskies, he exposed himself to the world of comics by reading Savage Dragon, Spawn, Youngblood and the rest of the titles in the early Image Universe. For better or worse, Kirkman is an undeniable product of the Image Comics generation. Making in-roads by self-publishing the cult Battle Pope, young Robert fulfilled his childhood dreams by working with Erik Larsen (on SuperPatriot) and Jim Valentino's Image Central era (on Tech Jacket). An opportunity on Valentino's emerging super-hero line allowed Kirkman to scratch his super-hero itch by creating the ongoing modern classic Invincible with artist Cory Walker. Robert's romanticism for zombie films inspired him to make The Walking Dead, a compelling gritty character drama that's helped revive the horror genre in comics. With the help of Image, Robert Kirkman has emerged as one of the most naturally gifted writers of the medium today.
KHOURY: When you started getting into comics, were you already reading Marvel books?
KIRKMAN: Well, I started reading comics in 1990, so I started reading comics when Todd was doing Spider-Man and Larsen was doing Amazing Spider-Man, Rob was doing X-Force, Jim was doing X-Men, and Marc Silvestri was doing Wolverine.
KHOURY: There was an excitement to those Marvel books especially, right before Image started?
KIRKMAN: Yeah, yeah. Those were the books that I gravitated toward and enjoyed the most. I also enjoyed Dale Keown and Peter David on Hulk, and Larry Stroman and Peter David on X-Factor. It was all guys that eventually went to Image. I also liked Sal Buscema's Spectacular Spider-Man stuff.
KHOURY: So when these guys started Image, did you think that was going to be the end of your comic book reading?
KIRKMAN: Well, I wasn't reading comic book news at the time, because you couldn't find Comics Buyer's Guide or anything like that at Wal-Mart, so I didn't know anything about it until I actually - I lived in a small town in Kentucky, there's a larger town in Kentucky that's close by, and my family would go there to shop and visit friends and stuff like that, and so while driving through that larger town, I saw a sign for a place called the Comic Interlude. It was either a comedy club or a comic book shop, but I didn't know what it was. I noticed it said something about comic books on it. I didn't even know comic book stores existed, and so I had to beg my mom to stop and let me go to this place. And when I went in there, there was an advertisement on the wall for Youngblood. And all I saw was Rob Liefeld's name and this new thing. I thought it was a Marvel comic. And so I remember asking the store owner, "What's this Youngblood thing you've got this poster for?" And he was like, "Oh, Rob Liefeld and a bunch of other guys from Marvel are starting this company called Image Comics," and blah blah blah, and I started a reserve box, a folder thing - .
KHOURY: I remember one thing that, all of a sudden Rob's art started disappearing on X-Force. It started to look a little different.
KIRKMAN: Yeah, I believe that's when Mark Pacella was doing stuff, but he was still writing it, and so I didn't know anything was going on. I thought Rob was going to come back after a couple of issues. When I saw that, I didn't know anything was going on. Todd had retired. He had stopped doing Spider-Man, and Larsen had come in and taken over Spider-Man, but Larsen's Spider-Man issues were still coming out. I can't remember if Silvestri was still on - .
KHOURY: Silvestri and Whilce were the last to leave to Image.
KIRKMAN: Yeah, Art Thibert was doing those issues of X-Men. So I didn't know anything was going on, but as soon as I heard Image Comics and these guys were coming over there, that was when I got a reserve folder at the store and reserved all Image comics.
KHOURY: You didn't notice a difference in the story quality at Marvel?
KIRKMAN: Well, I definitely noticed a shift in quality on the Marvel titles. I remember thinking, "What the hell happened?" I wasn't too into Mark Pacella, and that Art Thibert stuff was a slight bit wonky compared to the Jim Lee stuff that had come immediately before it. And I believe Rick Leonardi did some issues of Spider-Man immediately after Erik Larsen's "Revenge of the Sinister Six," and Rick Leonardi's a brilliant artist, but back then - I mean, back then I hated Mike Mignola, you know? We used to make fun of Mike Mignola and say that he drew with his toes. Which now is like, I can't believe we ever said that, but we were kids and we didn't know what the hell we were talking about. But, yeah, there was a definite shift. And Mark Bagley was doing Amazing Spider-Man. I think Mark Bagley is a fantastic artist, and he was essentially really good then, but he just wasn't what I was used to getting. So, yeah, as soon as Image came out, I completely stopped buying anything else other than Image comics. But a funny thing to note is that I had been reading comics so briefly, I didn't know who Galactus was, and I had never read any of the historic runs of any Marvel comics. So I didn't know, I hadn't read any of John Byrne's Fantastic Four, I hadn't read any of Walt Simonson's Thor run, and I didn't know much of anything about anything. So when Youngblood Yearbook #1 came out, there was basically a Savage Land rip-off, there was a Ka-Zar guy there, and there was an island in Antarctica that had dinosaurs in it, and Youngblood goes and visits it. And Eric Stephenson actually wrote that story, and so I've talked to him about this. He's the executive director at Image now. And I read that and I was like, "Oh, this is totally neat! They've got dinosaurs, oh, this is great!" Eventually when I saw Ka-Zar and the Savage Land at Marvel, or maybe it was on the X-Men cartoon, I was like, "What is that? Did they get that from the Youngblood Yearbook?" I totally didn't see the stuff as derivative because I hadn't read any of the previous stories.
KHOURY: Wizard became like your Bible back then?
KIRKMAN: Oh, yeah. Wizard was all the bee's knees back in the day. Yeah, you got the cool cards that were in every issue. And there was no Internet back then, so anything I found out about anything was from Wizard.
KHOURY: When did you start getting serious about becoming a professional?
KIRKMAN: Well, I'd always kind of wanted to be a comic book something. I wanted to be an artist for the longest time, ever since I found out that people actually got paid to draw them, y'know? And I wasn't very good at it, which kind of sucked. But, yeah, I seemed to have some kind of writing talent, so I started focusing on that when I started self-publishing. But, yeah, I always wanted to create worlds and have my own characters.
KHOURY: When you were a kid, you didn't think, "I need to go to the next level and read some Fantagraphics books" or something?
KIRKMAN: No, well, I was in eighth grade when in the fall after the summer of '92 when all the Image books hit, when I started eighth grade, so when I was in high school I started reading Grant Morrison and Mark Waid DC books and kind of started reading that stuff, but I never stopped reading Savage Dragon, I never stopped - you know, I bought all the Awesome books that Rob Liefeld did - .
KHOURY: Yeah, that's when he got really good.
KIRKMAN: Yeah, which were awesome books. You had Alan Moore writing Supreme and Youngblood, and Coven was entertaining. Kaboom was awesome, yeah. They were always producing good books. I didn't read all of the WildStorm books, and I kind of dropped out on the Top Cow books early on. I tried to read Darkness because I was a big Preacher fan, and Garth Ennis was the initial writer on that, but I don't know, for whatever reason I just never really got into those. But I never stopped reading Savage Dragon and all the spin-offs.
KHOURY: Where'd you get the money to publish? Your parents?
KIRKMAN: No. Publishing is surprisingly easy if you have good credit. I would get loans and then pay them off when the book profit came in.
KHOURY: Were there any times you didn't make any profit? I'm sure there were.
KIRKMAN: No, no, I never overextended myself, and Battle Pope, I was lucky enough to always sell pretty well. I ended up being massively in debt by the time I stopped self-publishing, but that was only because I quit my job to focus on self-publishing, and what I would do is I would pay the printing bill with a credit card, and then I would take the money that would have covered the printing bill, and I would live off that. So the books still weren't making any money, but I was basically living off credit cards, so that's what got me in debt. If I had been responsible and not quit my job and decided to just do self-publishing on the side instead of trying to make a living at it, I would never have gotten in debt. You can balance the numbers and do self-publishing.
KHOURY: So when did everything start coming together? Did you hear when Valentino took over as publisher? The focus went away from super-hero books to more writer-driven, more creative type books.
KIRKMAN: Yeah, well, I think that happened before I even started self-publishing, though.
KHOURY: When Bendis was there, he was pretty much the guy that brought that kind of energy, when he started doing Torso, and bringing his books to Image.
KIRKMAN: Well, Jim started his Shadowline imprint, where he published Soulwind and all those books, and I think that's around the time he started publishing Torso, and he became the publisher of Image Comics shortly after that. That's when he was doing Touch of Silver. But I think he'd been the publisher for a few years by the time I came to Image in 2001. I came to Image because I was self-publishing Battle Pope and I was trying to do side projects, and I wanted to start doing books in full-color, and there was no way that I could make a profit self-publishing books in full color, so I started submitting stuff to Image. And I submitted a book called Science Dog that a friend of mine named Cory Walker was going to draw. And at the same time I had interviewed Erik Larsen for a friend of mine's Web site, called Penciljack.com, which is still to this day a message board that people that are amateur artists can go to.
KHOURY: You were telling me that one of the reasons you went to Image was because you wanted to see your stuff in color.
KIRKMAN: Yeah, yeah. I had pitched a book called Science Dog. I had actually done some ads in the back of Battle Pope for this upcoming Science Dog book that I was going to do, because if Image didn't publish it, I was going to figure out a way to do it somewhere, or self-publish it, because, I had been doing that for almost two years.
KHOURY: But didn't you say you had a lot of debt? Could you have kept going?
KIRKMAN: Oh, yeah, yeah, I had tons of debt. But fortune favors the bold. So I was putting together Science Dog, and I had pitched it to Image, and I hadn't heard back yet. I actually pitched it to Dark Horse at the same time, but they never even bothered to tell me they didn't want it. But at the same time, the artist who was going to work on Science Dog, Cory Walker, did SuperPatriot for fun. And since I interviewed Erik Larsen for Penciljack.com, I had gotten to a point where I would talk to him from time to time online, and we had spoken on the phone a few times, so he knew who I was, and I had given him copies of Battle Pope, and I had bought original art from him, and so we were starting to get to know each other. So Cory did this drawing of SuperPatriot, and so I showed Erik Larsen. And Erik liked it and decided to print it in Savage Dragon #93. So when Savage Dragon #93 came out, Jim Valentino and Eric Stephenson, who were the publisher and the marketing director at the time, they saw the pin-up in the back of Savage Dragon and they contacted Erik and they said, "Who is this guy? He's pretty good." And he said, "Oh, there's this guy name Robert Kirkman who does this book called Battle Pope, who's putting together a book called Science Dog that he pitched to you guys." And they were, like, "Science Dog? That sounds retarded. Why don't you get them to do a SuperPatriot mini-series?" And so that's why Cory Walker and I did a SuperPatriot mini-series called SuperPatriot: America's Fighting Force.
KHOURY: Once the initial Image boom was over, Erik didn't do anything with his characters outside of Dragon.
KIRKMAN: No, when he did the first mini-series, he was paying everybody top rates. And so when the books stopped selling as much as they were, he started losing oodles of money, because Erik was a really good guy and he was paying the absolute highest he could possibly pay to a lot of people. With the new SuperPatriot mini-series, it was a different thing, because I came from the self-publishing world. He basically gave me SuperPatriot for four issues. And he had approval, and he looked over everything, from the lettering to the stories to the art. And he basically was the editor, but he didn't pay us anything, and so he didn't lose any money. And so we basically did SuperPatriot: America's Fighting Force as if it were a creator-owned book at Image.
KHOURY: So he didn't get a cut, basically?
KIRKMAN: No, Erik didn't take a cut, any of the profits. And there weren't all that much.
KHOURY: That was a nice gesture. You don't get too many guys doing something like that.
KIRKMAN: Yeah, definitely! It got our foot in the door, and it got me seen by a lot more people.
KHOURY: Was that a learning experience for you? Working closely with Erik?
KIRKMAN: I actually learned a lot from Erik Larsen. Yeah, Erik Larsen's been kind of a hero of mine since I was a kid. I think I mentioned before, Savage Dragon quickly became my absolute favorite comic book, ever, and still is to this day. One of the first comics I ever remember buying was Amazing Spider-Man #344, with Rhino on the cover, and "If Kodiak Doesn't Kill You, Rhino's Going To!" And I just loved that cover.
KHOURY: So you missed the Sinister Six thing when he did it the first time, right?
KIRKMAN: Yeah, I had to get it in back issues.
KHOURY: That was, like, the best. And his Spidey was so different from Todd's. I wasn't sure what it was, but it was cool to see.
KIRKMAN: I was, like, the only guy that was like, "Oh, Erik Larsen's taking over for Todd on Spider-Man? Sweet!" Y'know, because everybody else was like, "Todd's leaving?" And I was like, "Oh, Larsen's coming on? Awesome!" But I learned so much just from reading Dragon about how to pace comic books, and how to surprise your reader and lead up to big moments.
KHOURY: Also, you saw him learning, in his work.
KIRKMAN: Yeah, he's learning while he's writing the book. But I think the "Revenge of the Sinister Six" thing that he did at Marvel, which I believe was the first big writing project he did, I thought that was pretty solid. But I learned so much just by being a fan that when I started working on SuperPatriot, it's kind of cool that he was actually saying things like, "Don't tell the artist to put a tall panel here if it's... " Y'know, there are a lot of really mechanical, weird things that I was doing, that's not necessarily wrong, that I still see people doing on Marvel and DC books, but that Erik would kind of like go, "Yeah, don't do that." And I would go, "Oh, yeah, you're right! I see why you shouldn't do that kind of thing, and that's totally cool." And just stuff about, like, balloon placement and panel layout, which is, for the most part, up to the artist, but I dictate a loose panel layout in my scripts. I learned a great deal from him, especially how to pace stories to an even [greater] degree. It was a good learning experience doing those four issues of SuperPatriot. He had a lot of advice that was just kind of out of the blue. I wish I could remember at least one example, but...
KHOURY: Did Invincible take off right away? It took a while to get the rhythm, to show people what you wanted to do?
KIRKMAN: Well, Invincible struggled. It debuted with four other books, and there were five books total that debuted in the Image super-hero line that January, and Invincible debuted as the middle book as far as sales rankings were. There were two that sold worse, and two that sold better. And by the time Invincible reached issue six, the other four books were gone. And Firebreather was a mini-series.
KHOURY: What kept your book alive?
KIRKMAN: Determination. Stability, I think. Our sales spiked with #4, and then #5 was running a little late, and so sales started going back down, but that spike on issue four made me think, "Well, y'know, I think people might be liking this." And then our shipping schedule started to become really erratic. I believe there were four or five months in between #5 and #6, to the point where, in 2002, we only shipped six issues, even though it was a monthly book. And that was really frustrating at the time, and Cory and I were really butting heads. But looking at it now, I think that actually helped the book, because it gave it time to gain awareness without us overextending ourselves by doing 12 issues that year, and then having done 12 issues without making much money would have been a lot worse than doing six issues without making a lot of money.
KHOURY: Did you have the story mapped out from the beginning, or was it just something that comes naturally?
KIRKMAN: I had always planned on the big reveal of Nolan being evil and Mark having to fight him. That was planned to be #25 if the book lasted that long, and I was going to keep building and building and building to it until I finally did it. It's in the actual proposal, which I printed in the back of the first Invincible Ultimate collection.
KHOURY: With this book, I always thought that it was something like the way the British guys write, something that you're trying to impress people with, but it's more like you're coming back to a Claremont-type of storytelling, with it's more about the characters naturally progressing, and they're more melodramatic?
KIRKMAN: No, no. I wanted to do a very accessible, happy-go-lucky kind of super-hero book.
KHOURY: You wanted to bring super-heroes back to their roots, basically, not going just for the shock value.
KIRKMAN: I can probably attribute it to Jim Valentino because one of his mandates for the Image super-hero line was that he didn't want gun-toting maniacs, and he didn't want 1986 gritty super-hero comics. He wanted very straightforward, bright... I don't think he used the word "fun," but he wanted classic, "iconic" was the word he used, he wanted classic, iconic super-heroes, and so that kind of set the direction to a certain extent. And so that's what we were going for. There's definitely a bit of graphic violence in Invincible.
KHOURY: I haven't read a super-hero team title where you actually become concerned about these characters in some time. The X-Men had that thing in its heyday, when Claremont really had it together. Is this book a tribute to all the comics that you liked before, like the best elements of every super-hero team that you liked?
KIRKMAN: Yeah, definitely. Invincible is my love letter to super-hero comics. It's everything I want to read in a super-hero comic, and it's everything that I've ever enjoyed in a super-hero comic. It's Erik Larsen's Savage Dragon, it's David Michelinie's Spider-Man, it's X-Men... I don't think it's derivative in any way, but I want it to have an iconic feel to it that hearkens back to all the super-heroes that we've all loved growing up and still continue to love to this day.
KHOURY: Do you have an end to this, or do you want this to be an engine that years from now, when you're 50 or something, is still going?
KIRKMAN: I would be ecstatic to see the book reach #300 and continue. I would also be ecstatic to see the book survive me. I have no plans to quit writing it. I could see myself writing it at #300, but at the same time, if I end up stopping, if I end up being not able to write it, or if I end up running out of ideas, which I don't see happening any time soon, rather than just end the book, I think it is a book that I would like to pass on and see done without my input, just to see where it goes.
For the rest of the Robert Kirkman interview, plus more on the history of Image Comics, be sure to pick up IMAGE COMICS: THE ROAD TO INDEPENDENCE when it ships June 20! And mark your calendars for the IMAGE FOUNDERS PANEL at COMICON INTERNATIONAL: SAN DIEGO on FRIDAY, JULY 27, from 10:30-11:30am in ROOM 5AB, hosted by author GEORGE KHOURY.
Order at your local comics shop, or online at: www.twomorrows.com
Be sure to check out these other excerpts from IMAGE COMICS: THE ROAD TO INDEPENDENCE; Todd McFarlane at ComicBookResources, Mark Silvestri at Newsarama, and Dale Keown at The Pulse.
In 1992, seven artists shook the comic book industry when they left their top-selling Marvel Comic titles to jointly form a new company named Image Comics. With no certainty of success, they formed a home that would allow themselves and other artists the opportunity to tell stories without any censorship or editorial restraints. Even more importantly, Image would finally give creators full ownership of their properties. Out of the gate, millions of readers flocked to the energetic adventures by these creators, as together they ushered in the Image Age, where comics would sell in the millions, and a comic book artist could become a mass media celebrity.
Image Comics: The Road to Independence is an unprecedented look at the history of this important comic book company, featuring interviews and art from popular Image founders Erik Larsen, Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Whilce Portacio, Marc Silvestri and Jim Valentino. Also featured are many of finest creators who over the last fifteen years have been a part of the Image family, offering behind-the-scenes details of the company's successes and failures. There's plenty of rare and unseen art, helping make this the most honest exploration ever taken of the controversial company whose success, influence and high production values changed the landscape of comics forever.
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