IMAGE EXPO: 12 AUSPICIOUS ANNOUNCEMENTS AND THE STATE OF THE AMERICAN COMICS UNION
In the final few hours before San Diego Comic-Con opened its doors to the public for Preview Night on Wednesday, Image Comics Expo took place in an upstairs ballroom at the nearby San Diego Bayfront Hilton, where the publisher welcomed a group of press, creators, and fans to watch as the company announced, discussed and otherwise promote a great variety of upcoming Image titles.
Britpop boomed over the speakers as the attendees filed into the room, which was set up in a manner familiar those who’ve watched Apple keynote presentations, but is still somewhat untraditional for comic book conventions. A few minutes after 2pm, Image publisher Eric Stephenson bounded onstage and launched into one of his now-customary keynote addresses, bemoaning what he described as the American comics industry’s penchant for recycling as opposed to innovating, and promised that the afternoon would expose readers to fresh ideas and bold new concepts. He name checked Marvel luminaries Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and Stan Lee’s reinvention of comics in the early 1960s as an ideal to be strived for; talked of his own passions and ambitions for Image as a company; showed off some sales graphs that demonstrated Image’s growth over the last few years; and spoke powerfully about the need for diversity in content in order to appeal to the widest possible audience.
“Comics have been viewed as a boys club, but that’s changing,” Stephenson said, referencing the growing conversation in our community about the need for more representation of women and persons of color both on the page and behind the scenes.
Perhaps unintentionally, Stephenson’s earnest remarks about comics diversity became conspicuous when he screened a short film outlining Image’s history, the policies and ideals that the company hopes to embody, and showcased clips of creators speaking about the freedom they enjoy working at the famously hands-off publisher. With the notable exception of writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, the film was essentially a succession of talented men talking about their love for comics. However, the optics would become a lot better very shortly, when Image’s new announcements (topics and people not discussed in the filmed presentation) came with numerous new projects created by women and persons of color.
But before those specific announcements, Stephenson discussed his belief that “creator-owned” — where writers and artists own the copyright and other rights to their own comic books — should be the industry standard, and spoke unfavorably of the rise of the term “creator-driven,” which has been used by some publishers to describe the idiosyncratic nature of their nevertheless company-owned publications. Stephenson described “creator-driven” as the bare minimum treatment acceptable in publishing. He spoke openly about how such comments often don’t make him friends with Image competitors, and positioned himself as a figure that welcomes controversy so long as that controversy leads to “better comics.”
The Image publisher then proceeded to put his money where his mouth was, segueing into the main event: new comics that Image hopes will rise to the standard of Stephenson’s bold rhetoric.
Some interesting news from Image from SDCC. Can’t wait to read Descender!