Image Comics, Capitalism or
Independent Heroes!

Image Comics got off to a roaring start. The first of their comic books to hit the stands and stores were Youngblood, WildC.A.T.s and Spawn. Due to all of the artists’ popularity and the eagerness of comic book collectors to get in on the next great thing, sales were fantastic. These comics sold in numbers that were topped only by Marvel and DC since the market’s drastic decline in the 1970s. Image-Comics experienced to a lesser degree, success with sales of The Savage Dragon, Cyberforce, Shadowhawk and Wetworks.

As the original founders had set up their own individual studios under the Image umbrella, some of these studios came to resemble independent publishers. Each studio had several ongoing series, which were set in a shared Image Comics universe. But with the use of freelance writers and illustrators working on Image-owned material, some criticized the founders were reproducing a system not unlike what they rebelled against. A few of the founders kept with the requirement though, that none had a say in what others did.

Along this note, some of the Image partners used their studios to publish the works of other independent creators, offering them the chance to do so while owning the copyrights and maintaining editorial control over their own series. While not typical in the industry, there were a few other publishers who would offer similar deals to independent creators.

Image Comics soon came to rival Marvel and DC in terms of fan popularity and sales. However, the Image partners had little experience as writers and editors, and critics focused on this and other shortcomings they saw. Critics charged that the artwork was excessively flashy, and often showed weaknesses in anatomy and storytelling fundamentals.

The characters, they claimed, were derided as simple variations on generic archetypes, and poorly developed. The level of violence and the sexual presentation of female characters drew further criticism. Only a few Image-published properties were critically acclaimed (such as Astro City). Some met with neutral or mixed responses from critics (The Savage Dragon, Spawn) and many were outright despised by critics and older comic book fans (WildC.A.T.s, Cyberforce, and especially Youngblood).

As time went on at Image Comics, the partners’ inexperience at common business practices started to take its toll. They found themselves overwhelmed with management responsibilities and were becoming notorious for missing publishing deadlines. So in 1993 the Image collective decided to hire Larry Marder as Executive Director. His responsibility was to direct the executives as it were. To a degree, Larry was able to put Image Comics back on track.

By the mid-1990s Image series such as Spawn and The Savage Dragon had proven themselves as lasting successes. While several of their other series were somewhat less successful, Image had established itself as a strong comic book competitor. They still often met with critical reactions though, which were often less than complementary. And partnership disagreements were still putting a negative spin on the company.

After Marder left the company in 1999, then partner, Valentino became publisher and manager of "Image Central", which was the business unit independent of any of the studios. He continued in this position until February of 2004 when Larsen replaced him.

As of 2005, the majority of books Image Comics published in a given month (in terms of titles, not necessarily sales) were non-studio productions. McFarlane's Spawn and related titles and his McFarlane Toys line; along with Silvestri's Top Cow imprint remain a substantial segment of Image's total sales. Since 2004, Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead has emerged as one of the most successful black and white comics of the past twenty-five years. It routinely surpasses the sales of many of Image's (and other publishers) color books.

Larsen's Savage Dragon continues as the longest-running owner-created title by an Image partner. Valentino has returned to creating comics, including a new incarnation of Shadowhawk. The company retains its position as the third or fourth largest publisher in the North American direct market (after Marvel, DC, and sometimes Dark Horse Comics), but has lost significant sales momentum compared to its first several years. Will Image continue to be a force in the comic book industry? I guess it depends on what you and I as consumers do. Will Image continue to hold our interest? Only time will tell.

More for Image Comics Fans

Image Comics

To see what Image is up to today, you can visit their official site at Image Comics .

There also looks to be interesting tidbits about Omage Comics over at Amazon that may tickle your taste buds. Just click the image to the left. Don’t stay too long though, and come back here.

If you want to keep up on the varied and interesting activities going on in the world of comic books, then feel free to sign up for my newsletter “Comics Galore” in the form below. And by all means, I would love to hear your comments and opinions on Image Comics. You can sure leave them for me at my contact page in the menu at the left. I may even be able to include them in my newsletter. I thank you ahead of time.

Dave Gieber

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