The Beat Interview: Eric Stephenson “Our industry is in the midst of some pretty amazing changes.”

images3 The Beat Interview: Eric Stephenson Our industry is in the midst of some pretty amazing changes.
[Image Expo was held a few weeks ago and revealed a stunning line-up of new books by some of comics best, and it was the latest event in what has been a huge string of successes—artistic and financial— for the publisher. After a chart-topping 2013, the publisher seems set for just as a big a 2014—and they’re doing it offering creators a deal unparalleled by any other publisher. For anyone who believes creators are the driving force of comics, the success of Image has to be seen as a triumph.

The event wasn’t without some controversy, however. When offered a chance to interview Image Publisher Eric Stephenson, I didn’t want to shy away from those issues—I know Eric isn’t prone to mincing words, and as you can see see, he isn’t shy about stating his mind. Thanks to Eric for taking the time to address those issues and explore some of Image’s publisher goals. Thanks to Kat Salazar for setting up the interview.

Illustrations are taken from the books just announced.]

the fade out The Beat Interview: Eric Stephenson Our industry is in the midst of some pretty amazing changes.

The Beat: Eric, first off, congratulations. In comparing 2012’s Diamond year-end figures with 2013’s, I see Image rose in both dollars and units. Do you have any other Image statistics for the year you’d like to share?

Stephenson: Well, you know, we debuted 50 all-new titles—not relaunches or revamps, but actual new material—over the course of 2013, and that’s a figure I’m really proud of. Our market share went up, both in terms of dollars and units, and we closed out the year with 8% in dollars and 8.49% in units. What that means for us internally, is that our dollars went up 20% over 2012’s numbers, and our units went up around 40%. It was a good year, but as always, there’s plenty more to do. There are always things to improve on, and the better things get, the more I see other things that need attention.

wytches The Beat Interview: Eric Stephenson Our industry is in the midst of some pretty amazing changes.

The Beat: It’s easy to see that Walking Dead and Saga had incredible years—was the growth mentioned above in these established properties or more across the board?

Stephenson: The Walking Dead and Saga did have a good year, but so did East of West, Jupiter’s Legacy, Fatale, The Manhattan Projects, Prophet, Chew, Sex Criminals, Pretty Deadly, Revival, and so on. Generally speaking, our comics and trades are doing better and better, and we enjoyed a very successful year with both formats. We’re launching books better than we have in some time, our line average is going up, and I think the growth we’re experiencing is just a really powerful statement about the benefits of supporting and nurturing new creativity.

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The Beat: You set the tone for Image’s 2014 with the just concluded Image Expo—I know there was some controversy which we’ll get to in a minute. But overall, I know this was the third one, and the message at each has pretty much been everyone who is anyone is at Image now. Was there anything specific about this one that you think was different, even in terms of the mood?

Stephenson: I actually don’t look at the convention we put on in 2012 as the same thing. That was more of a straight convention format, with the very specific purpose of celebrating Image’s 20th anniversary, whereas the event we launched last July is more forward-looking in tone. Likewise, I think it would be a shame if the only message people took away from Image Expo is “everyone who is anyone is at Image now.” Absolutely, we want to highlight the amazing men and women we’re working with, but even more than that, we want to make people aware of where we’re at and where we’re going over the months to come. It’s easy to label things as “new” or “now,” but I’m a big fan of showing instead of simply telling. That was the thing that appealed to me most about doing these one-day media events when Robert Kirkman first suggested the idea, the notion that we could show people what Image is at that moment in time, whilst simultaneously giving a sneak peek at where we’re going.

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The Beat: Last year’s Image Expo was just before Comic-Con—is there any chance you will do something similar this year?

Stephenson: Wow, you know… We just finished this one, and I think we’re still in the refractory period. It’s funny, though: When Robert was first trying to sell me on the whole Image Expo concept, he envisioned it as a quarterly event. I was like, “Are you out of your mind?!” and honestly, I think that probably colored a lot of my initial reaction to the idea, because as I’ve mentioned a few times, I wasn’t particularly into it at first. After putting on the anniversary convention in 2012, I gained such a huge respect for the men and women who organize all the wonderful cons we all go to every year, because it is a lot of work, a lot of hard work. Even doing something as intimate and on as limited a scale as the single day event we just wrapped up is a tremendous undertaking, and we do that ourselves. It’s the Image staff, doing everything themselves, in addition to all their other daily responsibilities, and this last time around, it was right after the holidays, so there was a lot of additional stress, due to holiday printing schedules and the like. It’s fun, and it’s tremendously satisfying to put on a successful event, but at the same time, it’s exhausting. I think it’s going to be a little bit before we reconvene on the future of Image Expo.

wicked divine The Beat Interview: Eric Stephenson Our industry is in the midst of some pretty amazing changes.

The Beat: Do you see Image Expo going on in the same format or are there ways you would like to change it?

Stephenson: I think we might add some light entertainment for the next one. Maybe bring in some jugglers or some mimes.
Or maybe we could get a house band.

Seriously, though… I think there’s always room for improvement, and there were things we did differently the second time that made it a far superior experience to the first, so I’m sure we’ll find other ways of tweaking our model for the event as we move forward.

airboy The Beat Interview: Eric Stephenson Our industry is in the midst of some pretty amazing changes.

The Beat: Now, getting to the controversy, even though it wasn’t really accurate either as far as Image staff or even Image creators go, there was a message sent via a photo that circulated that the creative line-up is mostly white men, a group that, to be fair, comics are currently over-represented in. You’ve spoken a lot about diversifying the line-up in the past…how do you respond to the current controversy?

Stephenson: We publish the best books submitted to us regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, whatever. I think if you look at our output, that’s fairly obvious, even though I’d also add that it would be good to have even more diversity within our line-up. That’s not something you can force, though, and especially since our publishing slate is largely determined by material pitched to us, it’s something we have to be very careful about. I don’t think anyone wants to see some kind of quota system applied to comics, or for writers and artists to be hired solely based on their gender or race—that is not a workable solution on any level.

Also, I think people kind of take for granted how much comics have changed over the last 15, even 13 years ago. Comics fandom didn’t look as it does now when I was growing up, or even when I first started working in comics some 20 years back. You’ve been around even longer than I have, so I think you know what I’m talking about – comics has been very “dude heavy” for years upon years upon years, and to a large degree, I think that’s because we’ve had an industry dominated by two publishers who do a very specific type of comic book that has traditionally been geared toward a male audience. When content is less diverse, you have fewer opportunities to reach as broad a readership as possible, and I think the talent pool suffers under those circumstances.

The good news, though, is that our industry is in the midst of some pretty amazing changes. The audience is changing, the types of comics that can be successful are changing, the possibilities are changing. It’s not a fast process, but it’s very cool to be in the middle of it. Looking at the work Brian and Fiona are doing on Saga and how enthusiastic our female readership is about that book, or about what Matt and Chip are doing on Sex Criminals, or Kelly Sue and Emma on Pretty Deadly—there is not a doubt in my mind those books are more successful because they appeal to women. I think we’re cultivating a better readership for comics, and I think that’s absolutely essential to the long-term health of this business.

And the more varied our readership, the more varied the talent pool. Kieron Gillen made a great observation backstage at Image Expo, that the crowd at the Yerba Buena Center that day was very, very diverse, and I think that is the most important thing, really, because the more diverse readership we have, the more diverse the people breaking into comics will be in the long run.

bitch planet The Beat Interview: Eric Stephenson Our industry is in the midst of some pretty amazing changes.

The Beat: Image’s submission department at present is just you. Which is a big job for any one person, let alone running everything else at Image. Would you consider broadening it at all? I know you have David Brothers and Jennifer DeGuzman on staff, for instance. Do you need to be more proactive about who you bring in?

Stephenson: Well, first off, and I want to say this in as nice a way as possible, it’s really not a big job. It’s a high volume job, to be sure, but by and large, we’re not talking about material that requires a lot of attention. The overwhelming majority of the submissions we receive just aren’t professional quality work, and it doesn’t take a particularly long amount of time to figure that out. If something stands out, that’s the stuff I spend time on, and generally speaking, I don’t spend time on it alone. I show it to other people in the office and get their feedback. Just yesterday, I was talking to our PR & Marketing Coordinator Kat Salazar about a pitch for an all-ages book we received recently, and her input on that was what prompted me to give the book the green light.

Beyond that, though, I have to say, I’m a little offended by what you’re actually implying with your question, because it really seems like you’re casting aspersions on not just my character, but David’s and Jennifer’s as well. I mean, again, we’re looking for good material, and things like gender and race are not the criteria. It’s the quality of the work. On top of that, the submissions we receive don’t come with photos of the writers and artists, and while it’s easy enough to tell if someone is male or female by looking at his or her name on a cover letter, more often than not, names aren’t a solid indicator of someone’s ethnicity.

And really, it shouldn’t matter. I don’t judge people on their gender or their race or anything like that, and I don’t think people want to be judged on that basis. Everyone wants to be judged on who he or she is, and what he or she is capable of. I mean, we hired both David and Jennifer to work at Image specifically because I was impressed by their work—they were industry professionals we pursued for their respective jobs, not because of their race or their gender, but because of what we felt they would bring to the job.

The same goes for creators, and one of the unfortunate by-products of this whole conversation is that it makes some creators question why they’re being approached about work, which is, if I’m being completely frank, complete bullshit. It’s pretty fucked up that I could ask someone whose work I admire to pitch me something and be told in response, “Are you asking because I’m an Asian woman?” Similarly, someone made a joke recently that I was only asking her to pitch a book because Image needed to meet its gender quota. Both parties feel like shit in that scenario, and it’s really kind of inexcusable. No one should be made to feel that way. Everyone should be confident that they’ll be judged on their experience, their body of work, what they’re doing for comics, and I think forcing the issue with questions like yours trivializes not just the overall conversation about diversity in comics, but the contributions of the people involved.

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The Beat: I was talking to Bob Fingerman earlier today for a podcast, and he’s very happy to be at Image, but he was joking about how 20 years ago if you told me that would happen he would have thought it was unlikely. Image has really broadened its scope in terms of what it publishes—and it’s wonderful to see great 90s comics like Stray Bullets and Minimum Wage comics back—but many of the books are thrillers, or SF or other genres, just by virtue of who you publish. Do you think Image will make any moves towards the “tumblr” culture of comics? I know you are publishing James Harvey, for instance.

Stephenson: Yeah, and I doubt James would view being lumped in with “tumblr culture” as a compliment, but who knows—maybe he’ll feel differently after we publish the first issue of Dope-Ass Animated GIFS.

I think this is a funny question, though, because there are two publishers that dominate this industry by doing nothing but superheroes, and yet you’re dismissing what Image does into “thrillers, SF or other genres,” to avoid recognizing the fact we actually do lots of different things. I mean, if you want to say we should be doing more non-genre material, fine, we can have that conversation, but we’re the ones actively trying to broaden our horizons here. Where are your questions about why all the other guys do are superheroes? Where are the questions about why so many publishers rely on funneling increasingly tired nostalgia comics into the market instead of generating new creativity? We’re the ones doing things like One-Trick Rip-Off and Age of Bronze and Minimum Wage and Multiple Warheads and Not My Bag and Krishna. We just did a fantastic art book with designer and illustrator Rian Hughes, Soho Dives, Soho Divas, and you know, we’re constantly on the lookout for things that are different. There’s a young woman we’re working with on a book that will be pretty different from everything we’ve ever published, equal parts travelogue and autobiography, and we’ll do more things like that as they come along.

There’s always more that can be done, obviously, but you know, it doesn’t happen overnight. Bob’s right: Image was pretty different 20 years ago. Times change. People change. I think one of Image’s greatest strengths has always been that we’re never the same thing. Year-to-year, month-to-month, we’re always moving forward, and that’s something we’re all very proud of, because yeah—on one hand, you’re going to get The Walking Dead or Saga, but on the other, yes—we’re doing comics with Bob Fingerman. And we’re doing comics with David Lapham. And we’re going to be doing comics with James Harvey. Some of my favorite stuff—Scott Pilgrim, Optic Nerve, Hate, Strangers In Paradise—I’d love to be putting books like that out. Or stuff that I can’t even imagine. There are types of comics no one has even come up with yet, and it would be amazing to get pitched something like that. I’m up for anything. Image is up for anything. Image can be anything.

cowl The Beat Interview: Eric Stephenson Our industry is in the midst of some pretty amazing changes.

The Beat: Image Comics ruled the graphic novel charts like a boss in 2013, thanks to Walking Dead and Saga, but the market itself is a little dicey with B&N the biggest chain left and lots of questions about it. Do you have any specific goals for the book channel in 2014?

Stephenson: I think we could be doing more to elevate our presence in smaller bookstores, and one of my goals for 2014 is figuring out how to build more support there. Jennifer De Guzman is back from maternity leave here in a bit, and she’s shifting from PR & Marketing over to trade book sales, and I think that’s going to make a big difference. Jen has a lot of experience in that area, and I think making that her primary focus will help us broaden our reach outside of Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Comics are virtually the only growing category in print publishing right now, and even after all the success we’ve had getting our titles into bookstores over the last decade or so, I think there’s a lot more we could be doing.

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The Beat: Are there other channels that you are having success in? Marvel kind of surprised some people by revealing that they hadn’t been in mass market for years and no one had noticed. I”m not really familiar with Image’s representation at mass market — is this an ongoing outlet for your books?

Stephenson: By mass market, you mean the newsstand market? Selling comic books on newsstands and in bookstores, things like that? No—that hasn’t been a priority for years, something we started backing away from when Jim Valentino was still Publisher. And honestly, as far as the Marvel announcement goes, I’m surprised you’re surprised, or that anyone was surprised. That market has been dead for years. The general public seems happy to buy trades and graphic novels in bookstores, but generally speaking, all available evidence indicates they couldn’t care less about buying individual comics.

The other channel we’re having success in, though, is digital comics, and if you want to talk about mass markets—that’s your mass market. Regardless what happens to print or to comic book stores, digital represents the future of the mass market, and it seems almost silly to pretend otherwise.

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The Beat: Similarly in the comics shop channel, what do you see as the biggest challenges there moving forward?

Stephenson: Well, I think the Direct Market needs more progressive shops. I suspect comic book shops, like indie bookstores and vinyl record stores, will be around for a good long while, but not if they’re run by guys who only fucking care about Aquaman and Silver Surfer.

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The Beat: When I do my end of year 2014 survey, what do you hope people are saying about Image Comics?

Stephenson: I just hope they’re talking about the books, because at the end of the day, that’s all that matters. We’re not trying to shove everything we do down every single reader’s throat—we want people to find the material that appeals to them, and we want them to love it. I want people to be talking about how the new Minimum Wage series is Bob Fingerman’s best work ever, or how excited they are to have Stray Bullets back in their lives again. I mean—can you believe it? Stray Bullets is back! I just got to read issue 41! I’m fucking pinching myself over here! But you know, we’re doing so much good stuff, and that’s all thanks to the creators, so that’s what I want people to be talking about.

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Comments

  1. God damn I love this guy, Comics would be going in a whole different direction without this man.

  2. Charles says:

    Kudos on The Beat for asking harder and more direct questions that a lot of sites would. Kudos on Eric Stephenson for giving more honest and direct answers than a lot of publishers would.

  3. Mikael says:

    Ahhhh, nothing like a little buck passing, throwing the blame at the Big Two. You know, because 20 years ago it was ONLY the Big Two making comics. Oh wait.

    And he skirts the real issue bringing up how the audience has changed over the last few decades. If he really thinks it’s been mostly men and mostly white, he’s delusional.

    Sorry. Can’t give kudos here. Another interviewer with less stake in the game would’ve followed up more. This is clearly a “here are a bunch of questions for you to answer” type interview. Get him on a podcast with someone who doesn’t care about his spin or about any backlash and get him to answer real questions. In fact, get him under the microscope of the Tumblr crowd that he puts down. They’ll learn him a thing or two about what it really means to be honest and direct.

  4. Torsten Adair says:

    I hope they actively court the library market. (Both public and school!)

    I don’t know how well they are covered by mainstream reviewers, like Kirkus or the New York Times, or School Library Journal.

    Their DRM-free editions would be EXTREMELY attractive for libraries, who are fighting with publishers over e-books which expire/disappear after a set number of check-outs.

    They also have a small presence in the hardcover market (which is also appreciated by libraries due to the sturdiness). As a collector, I’d like to see more of those, possibly collecting two trades into a hardcover edition, similar to what Marvel does. Or just a single edition, like DC.

    But in the direct market, they are crushing the competition. Each volume of The Walking Dead sells 25K+ to comics shops the first month each volume is published. Saga is close behind, with about 20K the first month. And then the following months, reorders are a thousand plus.

    If Image can bring more attention to their other titles (like Manhattan Projects or Chew), then they will easily hit 10-15% of the monthly Diamond pie. The audience has been reading this stuff since 1989 (Doom Patrol, Sandman), so the audience is ready for this.

    Suggestions for marketing:
    * Attend the various “alphabet soup” educational conferences as exhibitors. ALA (already there!) and their associated groups like PLA; NCTE; TLA and regional library associations;
    * Visit World Con and other SF cons (and campaign for the Hugo! And Nebula! And every other genre award out there!)
    * Book festivals, like the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books
    * Train the authors and illustrators on the fine (and nerve wracking) art of public speaking. Library and school visits! Plus how to contact the local media.

  5. Chris says:

    The thing about diversity, is that there is no switch that can be flipped. The a-list talent making comics today, first became fans 10, 20 , 30 yrs ago. Well see the faces get more diverse as new people come to comics, but it might not be for a little while.

  6. Eric is totally right. This is comic’s puberty right now. And DC is a bad teenage mustache.

  7. “And he skirts the real issue bringing up how the audience has changed over the last few decades. If he really thinks it’s been mostly men and mostly white, he’s delusional.”

    Okay, I’ll bite. Hasn’t it? It seems obvious that’s the case, though less so now than in the past. Maybe it depends on the definition of “mostly”?

  8. Ryan Watkins says:

    Wasn’t his comments regarding diversity pretty similar to comments that Gary Groth made about the lack of women in TCJ?

  9. Mikael says:

    Wow. That was only from November 2013. Good catch, Ryan. Here’s a link:

    http://comicsbeat.com/so-what-does-a-gal-have-to-do-to-get-into-the-comics-journal-anyway/

    Interesting comparison.

  10. chris says:

    what is the “tumblr culture” of comics? Abstract and esoteric webcomics and small press zines? Serious question there.

    I use tumblr everyday, and i see lots of stuff. Lots of indie comic books vintage and current, and then a subculture of small press and webcomics. You don’t expect Image to start publishing that stuff do you? I don’t even think Fantagraphics or Drawn and Quarterly would be interested.

  11. Sid Hoffman says:

    I can’t wait for Image to start publishing more gender/race diverse comics so that everyone can start accusing them of pandering.

  12. Hufnagel says:

    @Sid – Exactly. And I think he made some great points about that in the article. Bottom line: Image works of submissions; Image selects what they consider the most professional and marketable material to be published.

    @Mikael – I think TCJ has the luxury of determining what they talk about. Likewise, the big two have talent scouts who ACTIVELY seek out new creators. They have enough resources to find talent that could diversify their content, but they don’t. Image, however, works only off of submissions. They don’t have the money to scout folks.

    They also can’t force anybody to make submissions. And they shouldn’t be expected to greenlight things to meet some kind of token quota.

  13. Joey Gruszecki says:

    Some very good answers to what are largely poor questions. Don’t pretend to be a serious journalist not shying away from the tough questions one second and use the phrase “like a boss” in a question the next. You’re supposed to be a professional. Act like it.

  14. >> Wasn’t his comments regarding diversity pretty similar to comments that Gary Groth made about the lack of women in TCJ? >>

    If you actually count up the number of women and minorities working at or getting published by Image, they look a lot better than TCJ does.

    There’s certainly a long way to go, for every publisher, but Image is doing better than most, and considering the wide range and appeal of what they publish, will probably be a place where representation increases faster than most others.

    kdb

  15. Ryan Watkins says:

    @Hufnagel I believe the distinction being made between the TCJ and Image is not as clear cut. From the comments made by Kristi Valenti at the time, the TCJ is also largley submission based. If I remember correctly, the argument made by Ms. MacDonald was waiting on submissions is part of the problem, and that editors need to actively seek out more diverse creators and content. The idea being that since the industry has been so straight white male dominated, that it is necessary for publishers to be more proactive in reaching talent and audiences that have been largely ignored . If I have misunderstood or misconstrued Ms. MacDonald’s argument, I apologize.

  16. Hufnagel0 says:

    @Ryan Watkins – No, I’d agree both with you assessment of her argument, but I feel like submissions to the two are completely different. TCJ has moved to the big collection that are done about annually, right? So they have plenty of time to compile their editions. They also have time to wax poetic about their own profession and spare 24 words about women in their field instead of engaging them to add to the commentary.

    I just don’t think Eric’s in the same position. He doesn’t really know who he can have pitch to him depending on where they are on whatever project their working on. But TCJ knows that comic reviewers are reviewing comics, right? And the big two actually do have the resources to do what you’re looking for Image to do. Not to mention, Eric’s also agreeing that Image, along with the industry as a whole, can do better.

  17. james says:

    “…one of the unfortunate by-products of this whole conversation is that it makes some creators question why they’re being approached about work, which is, if I’m being completely frank, complete bullshit…”

    I don’t know if Eric Stephenson has anything to be ashamed of regarding Image’s handling of race and gender, but this kind of response is embarrassing. Discussing the problem is not the fucking problem.

  18. Ryan Watkins says:

    @Hufnagel0 I understand your point, but I have say I see differently. I would argue that Image’s higher profile (in “mainstream” genre comics) and larger output should afford them to give more oppurtunties to diversify their output. Without question, the big two should be doing better and have deeper pockets, I wouldn’t put Image’s resources in the same league as a small press publisher. After all,this same company that just put on a huge Expo, and per a recent interview, Mr Stephenson has designs on being the #1 publisher in comics. Certainly, it has more resources than the TCJ given the fact that their publisher recently had to do a Kickstarter just to ensure their spring lineup.

    I also find it hard to believe that Mr. Stephenson is just waiting on submissions. Given the amount of Big Two talent that has been trotted out for upcoming Image releases, I would have to imagine that he has spent time cultivating relationships prior to submissions to let these creators know that their work could have a place at Image. I just think he could also expand the horizons, and actively look for underrepresented talent. I am glad to hear that he is of aware of this issue, but next step is perhaps more crucial is what actions Image will take.

  19. Hufnagel0 says:

    @james – I don’t think he was saying that discussing the problem is the problem, but rather the discussion has caused some creators to feel like they’re only being asked to pitch so they can fill some gap in the Image lineup, which is ridiculous, no? I would say “unfortunate by-product” is the perfect phrase to use for that conundrum.

  20. johnrobiethecat says:

    >> We publish the best books submitted to us regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, whatever. I think if you look at our output, that’s fairly obvious, even though I’d also add that it would be good to have even more diversity within our line-up. That’s not something you can force, though, and especially since our publishing slate is largely determined by material pitched to us, it’s something we have to be very careful about. I don’t think anyone wants to see some kind of quota system applied to comics, or for writers and artists to be hired solely based on their gender or race—that is not a workable solution on any level.>>

    Hmm, a memo just came in from the League of Extraordinary White Men…

    Reading it now…”What’s the problem? Some white guys get 3 books each because they are the best Marvelkind has to offer and the rest of you aren’t even up to snuff for even 3 books at Image put together. If other folks want to get to the top, take the stairs. If you keep climbing another 20 yrs , maybe it’ll get better. That would be nice. Until then, if you see their shining lights passing you by on the express elevator from Marvel or DC, give them a wave! (along with your $3.50 and trade paperback purchases)”

  21. Tony Dennison says:

    I think Eric is in a “damned if you do- damned if you don’t” position as it relates to diversity at Image. Let’s say Eric goes out and courts project pitches from more women, asians, blacks etc. Well, at what point does Eric determine if the work is actually up to a professional standard?

    Image has to put out good books and that has to be the first and last priority/consideration. As a consumer of comics who happens to be Black, I don’t care who is creating books as long as their good, if that mean that all the Image books are coming from White men– then so be it.

  22. @johnrobiethecat I don’t even know what *that* means

  23. Lots of butthurt in the comments section. Sheesh, I thought he gave some fair answers.

  24. Hufnagel0 says:

    @johnrobiethecat – I’m still trying to figure out if your comment was sarcastic or not. Are you privy to the submissions Image receives? Are you at liberty to share which projects from female or minority creators were rejected so Grand Poobah Stephenson could clear way for his white brethren? (Now THAT’S sarcasm)

  25. johnrobiethecat says:

    I actually like him but not enough to be spoon-fed this warped perspective without argument. Think he’s been a great publisher for Image, even think we agree on most things non-Image(but I’m not that cranky and like superheros-done well). Not as into his taste but everything looks good visually. But the line he uses for not spreading the wealth even just a bit is what everybody at the top in most fields do to make others feel inadequate or for him not to look (& therefore they shouldn’t complain),They “good taste” out the rest. the go-to move of white guys (being one who sees how they work ) Its more of a cultural thing . Considering Image’s history, it’s a bit insincere.

    Most people are mined from Marvel/DC or started at Image in early/mid 2000’s. And often have 2 books at the companies he complains about, That’s all there is really? Maybe be a bit more curious as mentioned- Tumblr, webcomics everything out there? Not to cut out the people on the roster now and I hope they do well. But just saying. It’s worth discussing. If everybody accepts he’s right and its all just inferior material (for 20 yrs?), then it becomes the The LOEWG knows best. And comics could use a few more independent voices with a real shot of exposure, and income with a good Image deal.

  26. Lilith fair, by women for women. Stop waiting for men to give you permission to be successful.

  27. GIMarky says:

    Interesting read, but it is pretty clear that Stephenson needs to take some PR advice. Somewhere along the line the challenger brand persona of a plucky underdog has transitioned into that of someone with a chip on his shoulder. Image’s commercial and creative success merits a more statesmanlike approach these days.

    For instance Marvel and DC are playing a very different game to Image, so there is no need for Stephenson to go out of his way to insult them (particularly as many of Image’s recent success stories benefit enormously from the talent management and promotion done by the big two.) Also, his response to some of the questions here come across as pretty defensive and indignant. This is needless.

    On a wider point, it would be great to see Image give as much promotion to books well into their run as they do to new launches by superstar creators. I haven’t got the numbers to hand but my guess is that outside of a few exceptions, few Image books sustain their success beyond the first issue. A cynic might say that Image is building market and dollar share by regularly pumping out first issues – a model not dissimilar to Marvel and DC. An even greater cynic might suggest that there is at least one eye on pandering to the speculator market, in light of the crazy money people get for early issue of The Walking Dead.

  28. Hufnagel says:

    @GIMarky – Generally, when a publisher becomes bigger, they make more titles. Simply having new books launch at a publisher doesn’t mean they’re pandering to speculators. Once Invincible or Walking Dead reboots (maybe with a with a lenticular cover,) you can talk about Image pandering to speculators. Until then, I think they get the benefit of a doubt that they’re just releasing new titles that they think will find an audience. More to the point, I think he has a right to air grievances about publishers who do use these gimmicks for quick sales spikes that end up hurting the industry as a whole.

  29. GIMarky says:

    @Hufnagel – fair point on regular first issues being a feature of publisher growth. That said, it would be good to see more promotional energy used to help books sustain audiences over the long term. And whether deliberate or not, post Walking Dead (and to a lesser extent Saga) there is a sizable market of people wanting to snap up the next big Image money maker or sold out title to quickly flip. The high order numbers for Image debuts undoubtedly reflect this, and are playing a part in the total number of units shifted over the course of a year. I think that a far more measured account of Image’s success might be gained by some trends analysis on the sales of titles over time.

    Not sure I agree with you on airing grievances about other publishers,. He absolutely has the right to, but I don’t think it makes good business sense to cultivate a spiteful persona. This industry suffers from far too much dirty laundry being aired in public.

  30. A very interesting article: yes, some softball questions, but there’s lots of food for discussion here (as we’re already proving). One question: who distributes Image graphic novels to the book trade—the “non-direct market” of B&N, indie bookstores, Amazon, etc.? Am I right in guessing it’s Diamond?

    If it IS Diamond, Image really needs to seek out and sign up a distribution agreement with a major trade book publisher in order to get the exposure to the non-comic-book-store market. Such a publisher would able to help, guide and advise on many of the factors Torsten mentions above, such as industry trade shows (Image really should have a major presence at BookExpo America), academic conferences such as ALA, and the all-important library market. I say this not because I used to work for such a publisher but because I have seen it actively aid comics publishers in their quests to expand the market more fully: DC being distributed by Random House, Fantagraphics by Norton, D+Q by FSG. Sure, it’s not without its risks: in the trade book world the books are returnable to the publisher (thus making sell-thru an uncertain business) and of course the publisher must negotiate a fee or percentage of the income to arrange for sales, warehousing and distribution of their books. But in this era where you need to get every possible sale you can to stay afloat, that market certainly can’t be overlooked and there are solid publishing partners who can make it happen. Image has proven they have a vast assortment of great books in many genres over the past few years—now they need to get books other than just “The Walking Dead” into the non-direct market’s public consciousness.

  31. Okay, there’s a few things in this that I feel are worthy of further discussion, as has been proved by the excellent comments made so far.

    First of all, this is the first Stephenson interview I’ve seen which that, rather than leaving me punching the air, has left me cringing and a little depressed. I’ve been utterly heartwarmed by the continued success and growth of Image, and they are doing great work in facillitating the continued existence of what Tom Spurgeon has called ‘the middle class’ of comics creators (although given the calculable paydays being received by their top creatives, maybe ‘upper-class’ is more appropriate). However I feel like the fact they are doing good work in some areas means that people within and without the company are acting like (if not directly saying) that this means Image should be beyond criticism at all. The defensiveness on display here, and offered up by Image staffers and insiders (Keatinge dismissing Alison Baker’s column on diversity as a ‘marketing stunt’ was particularly gross), has really made the company go down in my estimation. I loved seeing Brandon Graham respond on Twitter a few months ago to criticisms of the homogeneity of Image creators with engagement and assurances that the company knew it was a problem and wanted to fix it, but the communication coming from the actual staffers recently doesn’t demonstrate this at all. Given that so much of Image’s identity is based on a conscious superiority to Marvel and DC (no bad thing at all), it’s sad to hear them deploying the same defensive platitudes that come from the Big Two (to the extent that both Stephenson and DiDio dismiss calls for diversity with the same ‘all we care about is quality’ line).

    As far as Stephenson’s pretty horrible attempt to involve Image critics in a devaluing and tokenising of diverse creators, I don’t give that much thrift. If Stephenson doesn’t want people to worry about his motivations for asking them to pitch, then he’s the one that has the power to change things, by increasing diversity. It’s simple. I know he feels under attack, but trying to dodge the issue AND try and guilt people out of discussing it is ugly. It strikes me a bit as ‘You’re the real racist for talking about race!’.

    I’m not as down on the actual interview questions as some other people in comments seem to be, but the one thing that stood out to me was the question that said “even though it wasn’t really accurate either as far as Image staff or even Image creators go”. First of all I don’t think any interviewer has the responsibility to go on the offensive unless they so wish, but giving a get out clause in the question itself is just a bit too softball for me to respect. The second thing, which is something I’ve seen a few people do, is use the diversity of the Image staff as an response to the lack of diversity among the creators. Now don’t get me wrong, I think it is admirable and positive that Image has such a diverse staff, but no one was criticising them for that. The two are separate issues. Third, I don’t know what the interviewer (I don’t know if it was Heidi, or Steve maybe, both of whom I like a lot) thinks of as diversity, but we obviously have different ideas. Even with the people who weren’t on the stage, that doesn’t strike me as a diverse line-up, but that’s a matter of opinion I suppose.

    And here’s the main thing I want to get at. Stephenson talks about the fact that since Image’s books are more appealing to women than a lot of other books, then that will organically/magically start a process that will lead to a more diverse roster in 5, 10, 20 years. Now I feel like that’s a reasonable thing to say, and of course comics that appeal to a wide audience are great. But it’s naive and ignoring other aspects of the problem. If that was the case, then comics right now would be filled with female creators who were reading Sandman 20 years ago. If anything, Sandman seems to have inspired lots of female prose writers, so there are obviously other things in the comics infrastructure that are alienating to women, maybe, for example, the attitudes espoused by people such as Stephenson, in interviews such as this.

    Also people keep saying that no-one is suggesting quotas. Okay, so I’m going to do it now: Bring In Quotas. They are the only way things change; the only way to account for structural unfairnesses that people aren’t even aware of. It would be great to live in a world where they weren’t necessary, but unfortunately we live in a world where the publisher of the most ‘progressive’ comics company does all he can to dismiss complaints about diversity and give crappy reasons why he shouldn’t do anything more than he’s doing, regardless of the evident results of that attitude.

  32. Joe S. Walker says:

    As usual, the diversity argument makes it sound as if the Ministry of Comics was abusing taxpayers’ money.

  33. Image is NOT the only place an independent creator can publish their work. It simply isn’t. It’s a good company. It’s nowhere near the only one, just like Marvel/DC are not the only places where stories unfold.

  34. BC Rice says:

    What he’s saying sounds nice, but it’s not actually true. Image Comics has only published 10 blind submissions in its entire history. The cast majority of what image publishes is based on networking circles and previous track record (at Marvel/DC). So these people don’t just *happen* to be white guys. If your friends and network are made up largely of white people and what you’re hiring is from that pool…voila! No diversity.

    The simplest way for image to break out of their lack of diversification is to simply reach outside of their established network. Go search for talent instead of waiting for talent to come to you. That’s what happens all day and night at the best business schools. They should be chasing after uber popular web comics (a lot of which are written and drawn by women). Send some people out to universities that have largely minorities. It’s not that difficult to break out of your network.

    But as far as image choosing the “best”, it’s not really true. They’re choosing the best that their network has to offer. There’s a difference.

  35. As a creator that pitched Stephenson an original comic idea (SWEETS) and was accepted, Eric had no way of knowing my skin color because we had never met, and he certainly never asked. I’m willing to bet he’s never met the majority of creators that pitch him books. His reply was specific to the material I submitted. My studio mate, Rob Guillory, also had a book accepted (CHEW) and I’m certain that book was picked up on its merits alone, not Rob’s skin color. The “race” critique of the pitch process is bogus, it has ZERO impact on content, nor should it.

    For those that think Image books should represent certain groups proportionately, is your proposed solution for Eric to ASK creators about their skin color, gender, and/or ethnicity before accepting their pitch? Nonsense.

  36. “Image Comics has only published 10 blind submissions in its entire history.” -BC Rice, King of All Erroneous Internet Knowledge.

    BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Best Internet “fact” EVER.

  37. Sid Hoffman says:

    @Jack: If Allison Baker’s piece on CBR wasn’t a crass marketing stunt for Monkey Brain, then why haven’t there been more columns?’

  38. @BCRice: When I pitched Impaler to Image, I had five finished, lettered pages. I showed them to Erik Larsen, he looked at them for a couple of minutes, and then said yeah, we’ll publish this. At the time I had never worked for Marvel or DC and as far I know, he had no idea who I was.

    I don’t why these rumors persist that Image is some weird cabal that is impossible to enter. If you want to be published by them, follow their guidelines and send in your stuff. It’s really as simple as that.

  39. B. Clay Moore says:

    William, it’s because people need an excuse not to submit, or a justification for failure when they do.

    -BCM

  40. johnrobiethecat says:

    >>“Image Comics has only published 10 blind submissions in its entire history.” -BC Rice, King of All Erroneous Internet Knowledge.

    BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Best Internet “fact” EVER.>>

    http://robot6.comicbookresources.com/2012/01/moving-forward-and-creating-new-things-eric-stephenson-on-images-2011-and-2012-plans/

    —–
    Parkin: Speaking of pitches, how many do you receive via email in a given week? And how many of the blind ones go on to become comics?

    Stephenson: Dozens. I get dozens of proposals every week, but very few are accepted. In the 10 years I’ve been on staff at Image, I think we’ve accepted fewer than 10.
    —–

    :-)

  41. So “10 blind submissions in its entire history” has turned into “In the 10 years I’ve been on staff at Image, I think we’ve accepted fewer than 10.”

    Even if Eric’s guess is right, there were ten years of Image before he was on staff and two years since he said that.

    kdb

  42. Nodoby says:

    “They should be chasing after uber popular web comics”
    Most webcomics look awful. Like super bad. The only really legit good one I can think of is Boulet and he’s french, so that’s cheating .

  43. Johnny Memeonic says:

    I suspect what he means by “blind pitch” is someone proposing an idea or outline with no sample pages.

  44. Eric,
    You might be interested in knowing that I’ve been talking up Dead Body Road, Velvet, and manifest destiny to anyone who will listen. I’ve been having this unique feeling every week where i find myself looking forward to the IMAGE election of books as the source for new IDEAS, new CONCEPTS, and new ENTERTAINMENT.

    Your team is energizing my weekly reading experience, and it’s pushing out the old mainstays from my reading habits. I don’t ant to name what I’ve dropped reading, but frankly the Corporate Two have bored the crap out of me for over a decade. There was A New Hope with the New 52, that just died on the vine recently. Those new ideas and the purchasing power that was dedicated to that are finding the IMAGE line as a breath of fresh air.

    Thank you.
    And if you would say hello to your staff for me.
    —mark mazz

  45. Sid Hoffman says:

    Did they get Brandon Graham from Marvel/DC? John Layman & Rob Guillory? Wasn’t Hickman an Image discovery? The Luna Brothers? Looking at solicits for next months and recent books… there are new guys like Nathan Edmondson, Ales Kot, Joe Keatinge, Frank Barbiere, Kel Symons, Ken Kristiensen, Kurtis Wiebe, Riley Rossmo, Jim Zub, Sina Grace, Justin Jordan & Tradd Moore, Ed Brisson, Josh Williamson, Steve Orlando, Larime Taylor, Johnnie Christmas, Tyler Jenkins? Are these guys all part of some secret network of Image best friends? Didn’t Nick Spencer start at Image? Isn’t Antony Johnston more of an Oni/Dark Horse guy? Are Bob Fingerman and David Lapham somehow Marvel/DC guys now?

    What a weird talking point.

    Just proves people will complain about anything, really.

  46. johnrobiethecat says:

    >>Sid Hoffman says: What a weird talking point.
    Just proves people will complain about anything, really.>>

    You forgot NailBiter

  47. Torsten Adair says:

    To be clear on Image and bookstores:

    Yes, Diamond Book Distributors is their book trade distributor.
    As of next June, Image will be their biggest client, as Dark Horse switches to Random House.

    Image, and Diamond, are at ALA, at BookExpo America. Diamond rents out a large booth (usually 8 bays), then has publishers fill up bays with their own displays, author signings, giveaways, etc. Diamond keeps two bays for other publishers, as well as for meeting space.

    At ALA, Image has done a good job of interacting with librarians, handing out lots of free #1 issues, promoting titles appropriate for specific readers, and hosting signings.

  48. Mikael says:

    “What a weird talking point.”

    You do realize that you’re just proving the point that Stephenson’s “it’s DC/Marvel’s fault” comment is bunk? Is it really a product of the Big Two churning out “white male” creators for the potential pool when you yourself are proving that most of the guys started at Image in the first place? It’s not a Big Two problem – passing the buck is avoiding the situation.

    To your “new” list, the following have already had work through Image in the past years, some as far as 4-5 years ago: Edmondson, Keatinge, Wiebe, Rossmo, Zub, Grace and probably others that I’m not recognizing. Not really “new” at all to Image. Just more of the same.

  49. Sid Hoffman says:

    @Mikael – I should probably explain that I wasn’t addressing your point, but the fact that someone else stated that Image sources creators almost solely from Marvel/DC. Likewise, I didn’t say they were all “new,” just that they’re not people who started at Marvel or DC. Doesn’t matter when they started doing work for Image, the point is they started there and not at Marvel and DC, as suggested earlier in the thread.

    I don’t see where Stephenson said it was a “Big Two problem,” or that “it’s DC/Marvel’s fault,” he said the situation is the by-product of how comics were prior to the ’90s. Is it not a fact that Marvel and DC were virtually the only game in town up until the ’90s when companies like Image and Dark Horse became actually strong forces in the market? And is it not a fact that Marvel and DC primarily put out superhero comics that were mainly aimed at young men? If women or non-white men weren’t reading comics, why would they have wanted to write or draw them? The point (as I read it, and if others disagree, would be interested to hear why) was that things have changed for the better over the last 20 years, because there are different types of comics bringing in new readers. He doesn’t say it, but DC obviously played a role in that with Vertigo. And going back to your very first post, how many conventions have you been to over the years? I think I am probably not the only person posting here who can attest to the fact that cons used to be very largely made up of guys until fairly recently. Women were there for sure but a definite minority, nothing like now. It’s too bad there’s not some demographic reporting on San Diego or something, because I’d bet that there’s been a drastic change (for the better) over the last decade.

  50. Johnny Memeonic says:

    Is it not a fact that Marvel and DC were virtually the only game in town up until the ’90s when companies like Image and Dark Horse became actually strong forces in the market?

    No, this isn’t a fact. Prior to the 90s you had publishers like Eclipse, First, and Dark Horse itself that published independent and non super-hero comics.

    And, much like Image, a lot of pros that got famous at Marvel and DC started at those companies rather than the Big Two.

  51. Sid Hoffman says:

    @Johnny Memeonic: First and Eclipse never threatened Marvel and DC’s market superiority in the way Dark Horse and Image did in the ’90s. And yes, Dark Horse did exist pre-’90s, but not as the force they were in the ’90s. Dark Horse was really awesome in the ’90s, before that they were a curiosity with a lot of potential.

  52. Rich Harvey says:

    Johnny Memonic says:
    “First and Eclipse never threatened Marvel and DC’s market superiority in the way Dark Horse and Image did in the ’90s. ”

    But that wasn’t really the point. Sid Hoffman pointed out that these publishers existed before Image. And, yes, they certainly did threaten Marvel and DC to a point. A pal of mine who worked at Marvel during that time period asked Carol Kalish (who was then in charge of something or other) why Marvel was putting out so much product, including a number of reprint books. She told him it was basically to glut the market so that there wouldn’t be enough money to go around for publishers like Eclipse and First. And those guys had pretty good runs.

  53. >> But that wasn’t really the point.>>

    It sorta was, really.

    Sid said that Marvel and DC were “virtually” the only game in town until the 90s, when a couple of publishers “actually became strong forces in the market.” Johnny responded as if Sid had said that Marvel and DC were the only publishers that existed before 1990, which isn’t what he’d said — he was talking about alternatives that were credible competition.

    It’s a point you can argue — Marvel formed their Epic imprint largely because of Eclipse, and various creators had some success outside Marvel and DC. But speaking as someone who worked for Marvel, DC and Eclipse at the time, and who worked in Marvel’s sales department, this was a point when Marvel books got canceled if they dropped below 100,000 copies, and at one of the indy publishers, if you did half that you were considered a major hit. And Marvel and DC were financially such a better deal that they could basically scoop up anyone at the smaller publishers they wanted. They still do that to some degree today, but it’s a much, much more even playing field. So, whether there were publishers that were strong forces in the market, challenging Marvel and DC, that’s something that can be argued.

    But it’s the point Sid was making. He wasn’t claiming that Eclipse, First, WaRP Graphics, Fantagraphics and others didn’t exist.

    kdb

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