Image Comics does comics how everyone should do books
Image Comics is something of a outside-of-the-box player in the publishing game, without even considering their format and genres. So with the announcement that they have been awarded Publisher of the Year in the Diamond Gem Awards (an award given by comic retailers), let’s take a look at what they are doing right in the publishing world.
Image Comics was founded in 1992, by a group of freelance illustrators who became frustrated while working for Marvel Comics, mainly because they were not allowed to own any of the artwork they produced, and were only awarded modest royalties on what were extremely popular issues in the mainstream comic book market. Upon forming Image Comics, they decided that the company would not own any of the images that they would publish, but the creator would. Image doesn’t own anything intellectual, excepting the logo and company name. This leaves the creators of comic books working under the Image Comics logo enormous creative freedom, which is obviously an attractive prospect for any writer or comic book artist. The only way in which Image is actually involved is in a host capacity, providing feedback and suggestions for future direction and collecting fees.
The studios that work under the Image banner are in no way restricted in terms of genre, either. Marvel and DC Comics (the only comic book houses that outsell Image Comics, by the way, although they have been around a lot longer), tend to stick to a house style of ‘superheroes, aliens and villains’, and hey – that is what works for them. But recently Image have tuned into human-centric storylines and more experimental authors, like Robert Kirkman (author of one of my favourite comics ever and one of Image’s most popular publications, The Walking Dead) and Ken Kristensen, who publishes a title by the name of Todd the Ugliest Kid on Earth. I haven’t read that one, but it sure sounds interesting and edgy.
In the early days of Image, there was even a uniting comic by Kirkman called Image United, which featured all the major characters of comics by the founders of Image Comics. This was one of the few attempts by Image to be mainstream – everyone who’s seen The Avengers adaptation knows that the big comic houses like to bring together every single popular character of the last century. But Image Comics is now so popular because it doesn’t try too hard to be like DC or Marvel – it publishes to the beat of it’s own drum, and people like that. Comic book readers who don’t want traditional superheroes most likely own a few Image-branded comic books. Additionally, they recently announced at their Image Expo that they would be releasing DRM-free ecomics from their own website sometime soon. I’m all for that!
Having said that, they aren’t the most organised bunch. Because of the autonomy Image Comics affords the studios working with them, many of these artists aren’t used to setting up their own deadlines. Part of the criticism that Image Comics receives seems to come from the fact that they are terrible at scheduling (or rather, sticking to schedules). Many of these artists and writers aren’t used to essentially being their own bosses and managers. Messed up schedules aren’t good for comic book readers, who will simply go elsewhere if they have to wait too long (like 4 years, in the case of Image United – new issues in the six-part series are expected sometime this year).
Overall though, Image Comics has a good reputation within the comic industry, and it’s unique business model is definitely setting it apart from the herd. Giving artistic freedom is a sure-fire way to get your name out there. It’s modern material and forward thinking is certainly contributing to it’s growing reputation as the future of publishing.