For a long time in the comic book world, there was Marvel, there was DC and then there was everybody else. A smattering of smaller companies put out excellent original works, knock-offs of the Big Two’s greatest works, autobiographical comics; you name it, someone made it.
But as the comic book landscape has shifted toward cheap self-publishing and community supported projects and away from the standard superhero fare that comic book fans have been inudated with for decades, a new power has emerged: Image Comics.
Now you’re sitting there saying ,” But haven’t Image been around for 20 years now? Aren’t they kind of a big deal. I mean they put out Savage Dragon, Spawn, The Walking Dead, Invincible…a slew of stuff. Why are you treating them like something new?” I’ll tell you.
Image has always occupied it’s own niche. It was a smaller publisher for up and comers desperate for an opportunity who had the chops to make it at the Big Two but no one would take a chance on them. But Image has changed. While they’ve maintained an “indie comics” vibe. They aren’t an indie comics publisher.
Look at the announcements from Image Expo. (Or even the fact that Image Expo exists?!) How many brand new creators do you see on that list? Instead of nobodies, there is a veritable who’s who of many of the best writers and artists that the comic book world has to offer. Grant Morrison, Kieron Gillen, Frank Quitely, Mark Millar, Brian Wood; these are hardly a bunch of guys just breaking into the industry.
But you know what? It’s a good thing.
Image is filling the void left by Vertigo. As DC shifts all their focus on their New 52 initiative, Vertigo has seemingly fallen by the wayside. What books even come out under the imprint now? Many of their “flagship titles” are ending or have been cancelled. Fables remains as the tentpole for the Vertigo and even that title has lost some of its luster. Now Image is the publisher that comics fans can look to, to find innovation and creativity. Superhero comics will always exists but as the Big Two get caught up in giant events, massive relaunches and an obsession with the bottom line, creators are losing the once limitless possibilties that the genre presented. It only makes sense that they’re branching out!
Now this isn’t to say cape books are bad. This isn’t to say that Image will save comics. But think about it, could Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol last more than 6 issues today? Will Marvel ever put out another book as weird and good as X-Statix or Nextwave? And ultimately, what’s in it for creators? Being company men works for creators who are happy to play within the confines of the Big Two’s endless super powered soap operas and some of them excel at it. But if you create a character for Marvel or DC, you immediately lose it. You have no rights to your own creations, no matter how much money it makes your employer. Meanwhile, we’ve seen a Kick-Ass movie, a Walking Dead TV show destroys in the ratings and with a Powers show on the horizon, we are seeing the tip of the iceberg in regards to the creator-owned revolution!
And so Image has done exactly what they did at their inception, they’ve provided a new outlet. Coupled with their reputation for as an indie comics publisher, they deal in a currency of cool that makes the Big Two look like senior citizens. Now is Image really challenging Marvel or DC for comic book supremacy? It depends. How do you value “cool” versus cold, hard cash? While the number’s might not be there, in savvy comic book fans’ minds (like you who reads Kabooooom and probably has every issue of Cerebus), Image is a clear contender.
Now moving forward, Image will have to establish themseves as a better avenue for publishing than self-publishing. With the increased usage of services like IndieGoGo and Kickstarter, new creators are finding ways to put their own books out no matter what. Companies have jumped on reprints of scarely printed material like Sam Humphries’ Our Love is Real, but how long will that be enough?
For now, Image has vaulted themselves into competition with Marvel and DC as the premier places to find the best stories presented in a sequential art format. We’ll see if they can hold on.