It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since superstar artists Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Marc Silvestri, Erik Larsen, Jum Valentino and Whilce Portacio, along side “Uncanny X-men” writer Chris Claremont got fed up with the way Marvel Comics treated them, and demanded better treatment and payment for their work. Marvel said no.
So Image Comics was formed, and comic books have never been the same since.
Image was something completely different. Instead of creating characters and stories that would end up being owned by a publisher like Marvel or DC, comics published by Image would remain the intellectual property of their creators, along with all the profits to be made from them through development into TV, film and other merchandizing opportunities. Six of the creators that challenged Marvel would go on to form their own studios (Portacio had family issues preventing him from being involved, even though early ads included him, while Claremont opted to not to be part of the partnership)
Image original six studio were:
- Extreme Studios, owned by Rob Liefeld
- Highbrow Entertainment, owned by Erik Larsen
- ShadowLine, owned by Jim Valentino
- Todd McFarlane Productions, owned by Todd McFarlane
- Top Cow Productions, owned by Marc Silvestri
- Wildstorm Productions, owned by Jim Lee
Those early days of Image caused a lot of excitement at local comics shops around the country as that first Image Comic, Youngblood, by Liefeld, hit the stands. It was soon followed by the likes of Cyberforce (Silvestri), Shadowhawk (Valentino) WildC.A.T.s (Lee) Savage Dragon (Larsen), and Spawn (McFarlane). Of those original series, Savage Dragon and Spawn are still running.
Since those early days, there have been many changes at Image. The original 6 would all have problems with keeping books on schedule (especially Liefeld) and there were concerns and problems dealing with finances. Mark Silvestri and Top Cow would leave Image for a time (but they would return) and Jim Lee would go on to sell Wildstorm to DC Comics, to allow himself to stop being a publisher and get back to being artist (oddly enough, Jim Lee has since gone on to become to be the co-publisher at DC.) But through all this, Image has carried on.
Most of the early series put out by the Image studios were superhero comics, but as time would go on, many other creators would call Image home, and with them, a diversification. With Superheros sharing shelf space with Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, War and Crime comics. Series like Witchblade, a fantasy/crime series by Image founder Mark Silvestri, Danger Girl and action/spy comic by J. Scott Cambell, joined fresh takes on superheros like Astro City by Kurt Busiek and, later, Invincible by Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker. Kirkman and Terry Moore’s The Walking Dead, an homage to the Romero zombie films, has gone on to become a hit television series on the AMC cable network.
The 20th anniversary of Image is being celebrated this year at Image Expo, a comic convention “celebrating the creative spirit of independence”. The three day event, taking place in Oakland, CA at the Oakland Convention Center will happen this February 24th thru the 26th.