SDCC’13: Genre in Comics: Can Image Do Anything?

If today’s “Image Comics and the Genre Fiction Renaissance” panel at Comic-Con can be any guide, there are only two genres in the comic book industry: superheroes and everything else. Image are putting out a lot of ‘everything else’ these days, and genres are crossing like crazy. A panel including Tim Seeley, Mike Norton, Ed Brubaker, Ron Marz and Frank Barbiere gathered to talk genre under the watchful eye of Ron Richards.

ig2 SDCC13: Genre in Comics: Can Image Do Anything?

Frank Barbiere describes his book “Five Ghosts” as “a literary pulp adventure comic.”

Ron Marz says that he works in a number of different genres. “Witchblade” is a “super-natural/noir/crime procedural,” and that “Dragon Prince”  is “epic fantasy.”

“The dragons are a dead giveaway,” he adds, drawing laughs from the crowd in conference room 7AB.

Tim Seeley and Mike Norton can’t even agree which category their Image series, “Revival,” falls into. Seeley says the it’s “rural noir,” while Norton classifies it as horror. Of course, back in the 1950s with EC Comics, there wasn’t always a lot of difference between what went into “Crime SuspenStories” and “Tales from the Crypt” except that the poor saps who met with foul play in their horror comics had a habit of rising from their graves. In the crime comics, they usually stayed dead.

“Fatale” scribe Ed Brubaker, showing up late after being interviewed by MTV, quickly joined in the sub-genre smack down by calling “Fatale” a “crime/noir/alternative comic,” and then labeling his new Image series, “Velvet,” as “a Cold War espionage thing” and “feminist.”

“I’m terrible at pitching things to people,” Brubaker continues. “I even used the word ‘meta-textual’ once, but I finally got the pitch for ‘Velvet’ down, which is ‘If you like ‘Casino Royale’ and you like ‘Barbarella, then you’ll like this.”

While everyone on the panel can’t quite put their finger on which category their work falls into, they all agree that it’s way different from the 800-lb. Gorilla Grodd in the room: the long underwear books–superhero comics.

“As superhero comics become more corporate, more editorially-controlled, we want to do different things,” Marz explains. “When you work for Marvel or DC, you’re playing with their toys.”

“I’m happy DC and Mavel are doing mostly super heroes because it leaves everything open for me,” Brubaker adds.

ig1 SDCC13: Genre in Comics: Can Image Do Anything?

Image Comics’ director of business development and panel moderator, Ron Richards, says that “the one comic that is severely lagging in comics these days is romance.”

“Why does science-fiction or horror take off while romance lags,” Richards asks, throwing the question to the panel.

“I’d love to do a romance comic,” Brubaker says. “I did an issue of ‘Daredevil’ that was a tribute to a John Romita romance comic from the 50s. One can argue that ‘Fatale’ is romance comic, but everyone who falls in love with her dies.”

“You can’t expect the direct-market comic stores to suddenly be a place where romance comics are going to sell because nobody’s going in there who wants that,” Brubaker continues.

“Five years ago doing a rural crime drama like we’re doing  with ‘Revival’ wasn’t a great idea,” Seeley says, noting how quickly things can change in the comics industry. “Somebody’s going to come along and kick the crap out of romance comics.”

“It’s Image,” Brubaker says, “anything is possible.”

Bob Calhoun is the author of “Shattering Conventions: Commerce, Cosplay and Conflict on the Expo Floor,” available from Obscuria Press on June 18th. You can follow him on Twitter at @bob_calhoun.

Comments

  1. jacob lyon goddard says:

    I’d love to see them take a dip into other formats and genres that they aren’t know for yet. Something more along the lines of Highwater or Beaunaventura.
    Though it’s a ways off from what it used to be, Image still has a recognizable product type. Scifi/crime/horror, with identical production values as the superhero comics.
    If Image is serious about bringing new kinds of work to market, I think they should include new creators who aren’t either on their way from or on their way to the Big Two.

    All of that being said, they’re certainly doing good work and I am happy they are around.

  2. Ed Brubaker says:

    You should actually look at what they’ve published over the last year. They’re published plenty of new creators doing all kinds of work.

  3. Charles says:

    I think Image is a great publisher, but their books do tend to mostly be science fiction, crime, horror, action or some mixture of the former. Would be cool and interesting to see them publish something like a romantic drama with no fantastic elements.

  4. Charles: Check out “Li’l Depressed Boy” or “True Story, Swear To God.”

  5. jacob lyon goddard says:

    The world is certainly a better place because Image publishes True Story, but I’m dying to see what the next step in comics is.

    I want to see what comes next in the Zap/Raw/Kramers Ergot sequence, and if a publisher with the infrastructure and business sense of Image wants to do it, that would be awesome.
    If the panel was suggesting that Image can do anything (i wasn’t there, but that’s how I’m reading it), I’d really like to see them rise to this challenge and find new ways to stretch the boundaries of what comics are and can be.

  6. Synsidar says:

    A problem with doing romance or other genre stories in comics is that they should be standalone, close-ended stories to satisfy genre fiction fans who want complete stories. Those readers won’t necessarily be disgusted by stories with familiar characters, plots, and settings, but there’s no reason for a reader to pick up a comics-format story over several issues if she knows what’s going to happen. They already have all the prose stories they could ever read.

    Who’s going to write the genre stories? Comics writers who think they can write a story in any genre if the artwork carries a lot of the weight, or experienced genre authors who are interested in doing comics?

    Then, the genre fiction comics would have to be marketed to reach people outside the direct market. Running ads in, say, Romantic Times or Soap Opera Digest wouldn’t take a lot of money, but it would take more than people not used to spending money on advertising might be comfortable with.

    And, of course, LOVE AND ROCKETS stories feature plenty of romance.

    SRS

  7. Ed Brubaker says:

    The panel was about genre comics.

    And again, you should actually look at the wide variety of books Image actually published, even just last year, before you make assumptions about what they are or aren’t willing to do.

  8. Ed Brubaker says:

    The genre comics are probably their best sellers, but they publish all kinds of books.

  9. Charles says:

    No need to get so defensive.

  10. Majorjoe23 says:

    I don’t know that Ed seems defensive, he’s merely pointing out that people are starting from a faulty premise.

  11. Image is by far the best publisher, I have read tons of comics from creators that are brand new to the industry, and those books are from Image. Also I currently pick up Image Comics in these genres: Crime, Supernatual, Sci-Fi, Hard Sci-Fi, Action, Horror, Noir, Erotic, Comedy, Western, War, Modern War, Superheros, and I’m sure a few others. No one else does this as well as Image. And if they has some Romance books I would buy them too.

  12. Image isn’t as narrowly-cut, genre-wise, as Marvel/DC but let’s not get crazy here.

  13. Ed Brubaker says:

    I wasn’t trying to be defensive, I just feel like people say things with no idea what they’re talking about a lot of the time. Image started as a superhero publisher, and now they publish a lot of different kinds of books. An article about a panel on genre comics is obviously going to focus on what genre books they publish, not Emitown or Between Gears or other stuff they’ve published the past year or so.

  14. Torsten Adair says:

    Hey, you do know that superhero comics are soap operas for guys, right?

    And soap operas… those are just romances with continuing stories, right?

    That Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter is turning into a soap opera, with all sorts of interesting were-critters?

    That “paranormal romance” is a growing subgenre, the new “gothic romance”?

    And that Harlequin, which has perfected romance fiction to such a science that they have detailed descriptions of each line, that they have the Golden Eagle series for men?

    http://www.harlequin.com/articlepage.html?articleId=538&chapter=0

    And that manga is full of examples of romances with continuing stories?

    I’m not well versed in romance fiction to know of any recurring characters, like one sees in Mystery novels.

    That might be a market to exploit. Either by Harlequin, or by a comics publisher. Romance fans are just as passionate as comics fans. If you offer a decent story, with good art, they’ll find it, they’ll tell their friends, and soon, you’ll find hordes of swooning romance fans at San Diego that make the “Twihards” look like comics fans.

    Oh, by the way, I have heard the Image sales staff describe Saga as “Romeo and Juliet meets Star Wars”. How’s THAT for romance?

    If you want superhero romance, try Julie Kenner’s “Aphrodite” series!
    Every romance has a protagonist with a secret which he/she can’t share with the lover! What’s bigger than a secret identity?! Oh, and the cast is continuing, although each story has a different main character. Seriously, Image or IDW, give her a contract. She also does a “Demon Hunting Soccer Mom” series. DUDE! There’s the elevator pitch right there!

    Hmmm… Is Supurbia a romance?

  15. Torsten Adair says:

    Kindle Store › Kindle eBooks › Comics & Graphic Novels › Graphic Novels › Romance › Image Comics

    Long Hot Summer [Kindle Edition]
    Jamie McKelvie (Author), Eric Stephenson (Author)

  16. Synsidar says:

    Hey, you do know that superhero comics are soap operas for guys, right?

    And soap operas… those are just romances with continuing stories, right?

    If they’re badly written stories that deliberately aim for the illusion of change, they might qualify as soap operas. And a close-ended romance focuses on the relationship between the characters. Once the status of the romance is determined, for better or worse, the characters’ story is ended. Whatever happens to them in the years to come, in case anyone thinks about that, doesn’t matter.

    That’s the difference between formula fiction romances and soap opera. Unless someone has a particular fascination with a character, or several, in a soap opera, there’s no reason to watch it. If someone enjoys a particular formula, he or she doesn’t need to be ashamed about it, as the formulaic romances are enjoyed; just don’t let the preference for a formula become a fetish. Stories which present new situations and new characters should be read along with stories which present familiar situations and familiar characters.

    SRS

  17. SRS, everything you just typed is wrong and has nothing to do with “romance” or “soap opera.”

    Where do you get this stuff.

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