Image publisher Eric Stephenson on recognizing and growing new talent

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201212141646 Image publisher Eric Stephenson on recognizing and growing  new talent
The recent argument over Image, reprints and retailers, it’s clear that conscientious retailers and creators are trying to figure this out together….it’s not a fiscal cliff type dead end. But it also underscores one of the biggest stories of the year: The ascent of Image as a very real competitor to the “Big Two” in terms of content and audience. And SAGA—an extraordinarily entertaining hit by any standard—has been the poster child for this. While the contributions of Fiona Staples can’t be ignored, it also shows up the staying power of Brian K. Vaughan as a writer who can command attention. Indeed, the other day I was kibitzing with someone starting a new project and joked “All the industry needs is 20 more books written by Brian K. Vaughan.”

Image publisher Eric Stephenson saw my quip posted on a private message board and responded with this mini-essay on the flow of talent and supporting new and future stars:

I would add, Heidi, that when I started working on staff at Image in December of 2001, Brian K. Vaughan wasn’t particularly well-known, let alone a phenomenon. I personally associated him – rather unfavorably, in fact – with what at the time was DC’s most recent Swamp Thing relaunch. Within a couple years, he was writing one of my all-time favorite series – and that was just one of his many triumphs.

Around the same time, I regarded Robert Kirkman as “that guy who does Battle Pope,” or “the Funk-O-Tron” guy. Robert had a couple false starts at Image, but Invincible launched pretty strong out of the gate, so we decided to take a shot on what would become eventually one of not just Image’s, but the industry’s, most successful series ever.

John Layman was an editor at WildStorm, and he shepherded through some great material, but he wasn’t a “big name.” We did a cool little series with him called Puffed, he did some work at other publishers, then he approached us with Chew. We’ve sold over 100,000 copies of the first Chew trade at this point.

Looking beyond Image: Before Powers, Daredevil, Ultimate Spider-Man and Avengers, Brian Michael Bendis was the quietly celebrated creator of some great crime noir books – Jinx, Goldfish, Torso – and Ed Brubaker started out in comics with Low Life, before establishing a slightly more mainstream reputation at WildStorm with Sleeper, then doing Catwoman at DC, and so on. Before Captain America, Uncanny Avengers and Uncanny X-Force, Rick Remender did some great writing on Black Heart Billy, Doll & Creature, Strange Girl and XXXombies.

I could go on for hours listing examples, but my point is this:

Yes, Brian K. Vaughan is a phenomenon.

Yes, more books by BKV would be great for all of us. Same with more books by Robert Kirkman, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Rick Remender, Scott Snyder, Jonathan Hickman, Matt Fraction, Warren Ellis, Jason Aaron, John Layman, Mike Mignola, Brian Azzarello, Darwyn Cooke, Kurt Busiek, Neil Gaiman, Mark Millar, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Alex Ross, Garth Ennis, Jeff Smith, Craig Thompson, Greg Rucka, Grant Morrison, Alan Moore and whatever other favorite writer, artist or writer/artist you personally would add to the list.

But something else that’s beneficial to everyone is solid and continued support for new creativity. 

There isn’t a single name on that list that didn’t start out on another list – because all of them were new talent at one point. Once upon a time, they were all unknowns that someone decided to take a chance on. 

So as cool as it would be to have 20 more books by Brian K. Vaughan, I think it would be even cooler if we had 20 books by the next Brian K. Vaughan, the next Robert Kirkman, the next Brian Michael Bendis, and so on. Because even thought more work from our best writers and artists is always a good thing, the only way this industry is going to stay vital and fresh is with a constant influx of new.

Not new number ones or new takes on old concepts, but new talent talent and new ideas.

All you’ve got to do is take a look at the works that have lasted over time, things that sell and sell and sell, and I think you’ll see that over the long haul, new creativity wins out every time.

Stores will still be selling books like Saga and Parker and The Walking Dead and Scott Pilgrim long after the latest creative team changes on the New 52 or Marvel NOW. The way to grow this business is to have more books like that, and the way that happens is by finding, developing and supporting the new voices who can provide us all with that kind of work.


 

Comments

  1. Randy Z. Ochoa says:

    This gives me hope that one day, I could have my stories published by Image.

  2. I remember the Funk-O-Tron guy. And that guy who did Jinx. And Remender doing something called Captain Dingleberry. It’s part of why I do what I’m doing.

  3. Ken Kristensen says:

    Bravo, Eric. Smartest guy in comics.

  4. I agree. My newest comic adds have been for Image books while the new 52 are being dropped. I am hoping Duffy Boudreau, David Schulner etc. will wow me. Books like Black Acre, Clone, Great Pacific, Guarding the Globe, Prophet, Saga and Nowhere Men are replacing books like Aquaman and JLA. They are different and the stories actually moves forward each issue. JLA could take some lessons from Guarding the Globe on story telling. In the first three issues I have read more has happened in my opinion than the first 12 issues of JLA.

  5. I sure do agree, that in our choices,
    it’s important to nurture new voices.

  6. jonboy says:

    Um. Okay. Image is now developing new talent. So does Marvel and DC.
    Image changes creative teams. So does Marvel and DC.
    Granted, Image has recently re-invented itself as something more of an creator haven taking bigger creative risks and publishing non super-hero genres (emulating Dark Horse’s MO), but that wasn’t always the case. They started off (and for the most of their existence) with blase superhero smash em all splashy art, bad writing, titles.
    It’s with the Walking Dead money that they’ve been willing to expand beyond that.
    To that I say bravo. But let’s not pretend that they’ve always been that or that they’re the only ones doing it. (Vertigo, Icon, Dark Horse, etc did it first, and in many aspects better.)

    But, I’m sure I’m just going to see a lot of responses bashing DC and Marvel and saying how great Indy books are…

  7. thunderfinn says:

    As someone who grew up on Marvel Comics and later grew to love DC comics ( I actually learned english from reading Marvel comics), it is now sad to say that the majority of comics from Marvel and DC are horrible, even the few good comics from Marvel and DC are not worth buying in some ways because the stories are “meaningless” as in six months time the comics will go in a new direction or new revamp making the stories of the past inconsequential, if the stories are eventually proven to be meaningless than what is the point of buying them?, the future of comics is creator owned comics and Image is currently leading the industry in good, new, exciting and meaningful comics, other companies like Dark Horse, IDW, Dynamite etc. are also helping in growing the industry with quality creator owned comics, in my opinion anyways

  8. jonboy: “Granted, Image has recently re-invented itself as something more of an creator haven taking bigger creative risks and publishing non super-hero genres (emulating Dark Horse’s MO), but that wasn’t always the case. [snip] To that I say bravo. But let’s not pretend that they’ve always been that”

    Uh…what? This hasn’t been a recent trend at all. Here’s just a small list of non superhero creator-owned titles published by Image in the 1990s (i.e. at least 13 years ago, i.e. not all that recently):

    Age of Bronze (1998)
    Bone (1995)
    A Distant Soil (1996)
    Tug & Buster (1999)
    Hellshock (1994)
    Kabuki (1997)
    Tellos (1999)
    Strangers in Paradise (1996)
    Mage: The Hero Defined/Discovered (1997)

    Some pretty heavy hitters in that list.

  9. I’ve been reading a lot more Image comics of late and not on purpose. I just read Clone and Change, two new books from them. And while they aren’t great, you can see that one or two of the contributors has real talent and I’m thankful that Image is taking a chance on them. Even Stephenson’s own Nowhere Men title, one of my favorite first issues in a long time has an amazing new talent on art. I recommend Nowhere Men immensely.

    I once regarded Jim Valentino as Image’s best Publisher/President, but I am starting to think Eric Stephenson is even better. This is a smart comics man.

  10. I am not bashing DC or Marvel. Both have some great books. Swamp Thing, Animal Man and Batman have all been great DC books. I have been a non Marvel reader for sometime until I tried the non X-Men number ones. Overall most have been blah to me. But I found myself enjoying to Iron Man, Indestructible Hulk and Avengers. Captain America is still on the fence after the first issue. I think Image is just doing a better job of standing out to me right now.

  11. @jonboy: Must we revisit those old arguments every time Image’s name comes up? It’s cool that you are loyal to the Big Two, but they don’t really need you to stand up for them. They are big, tough companies that have withstood decades of tough competition, they have many of the most iconic characters under their names, and they each have a major multinational corporation to back them up. Can we, just for once, cheer on Image’s resurgence without worrying about the egos of the poor, little Big Two?

    This post wasn’t even about comparing the Big Two to Image, it was about contrasting the need for established creators on big-name books and the need for supporting up-and-coming creators on the little books in the hopes that we find the next Kirkman/Bendis/Snyder. Nobody said anything remotely insulting to Marvel or DC in any way.

  12. The Gibbler says:

    For a school project I made a pitch package for Image addressed to Eric Stephenson. The project was me trying to figure out how to tell a story, I came away from the experience emboldened to pitch something I really believed in. Reading this only reaffirms me in this quest to contribute something new that right now nobody knows they will enjoy.

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