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FOG! Goes To IMAGE EXPO!

Written by Steven Scott

I attended Image Expo for the first time last Thursday. It was unlike any other show I’d ever been to. Like any other comic convention, there were announcements, press interviews, panels, signings, merchandise, etc., but overall, it felt like a celebration of creativity and originality.

Even though Image is in the name, the expo was almost more about the creators than the publisher itself. At other publishers the characters are often the stars, overshadowing the creative team themselves. After all, a kid who walks out of the latest Marvel movie doesn’t care who the current writer of the latest issue of The Avengers is; they just want to read about the characters they saw up on screen.

It was clear from the keynote speech on that at image, the creators are the stars.

Sure, Eric Stephenson kicks off the event by broadcasting Image’s growth in the marketplace, touting the company’s Eisner love from last year, as well as their dominance on the New York Times’ best sellers list and just generally tooting the company’s horn, but he knows just as well as anybody that it’s the creators who got them there, not the other way around.

“The nature of Image is that we are always changing, always evolving,” Stephenson said. “The beauty of our business model is that our future is in our creator’s hands, not the other way around. You don’t get much more creator curated than that.”

As an aspiring writer myself, I found his words, and the event as a whole, to be truly inspiring. You get a sense from the writers and artists on stage that they’re truly happy to be there fulfilling their dreams and working on exactly the kinds of books they want to be working on.

Upon my arrival at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, I fully expected to be hit with announcement after announcement of Image’s slate for 2015, which is not to downplay those announcements, as there are a ton of great titles that I’m now eagerly anticipating.

What I wasn’t prepared for what is the amount of sheer inspiration that I walked away with and haven’t experienced from any other convention I’ve ever attended.

It was clear that these creators loved the books that they were talking about and it wasn’t just another comic they were hired to write for.

It was their book.

Todd McFarlane took to the stage to stress the point about how Image’s deal has remained the same from day one – they don’t own anything; this really puts the creators in the driver’s seat of their own destinies and as a result, the content is that much stronger for it.

McFarlane also spoke about the upcoming Spawn #250 and how proud he was of the book he created reaching that milestone number and how it’s taken over 20 years for it to get there. He said when he’s asked if he would ever consider renumbering the book at #1, the answer is “hell no.”

Sounds like the guy is more interested in legacy than a cheap promotional sales bump, which is more than you can say for the majority of other publishers.

McFarlane ended with the announcement of a new series he was doing art for called Savior, which he then showed off eight issue’s worth of pages for (all shrunk down and crammed onto one slide) to prove that it’s ready to launch with issues being churned out like clockwork.

After he exited the stage, many more creators had their chance to get up and discuss their latest projects, but by now that’s been well covered by various other sites, so let’s move on to the panels.

First up was a panel about Construction where creators like Brandon Graham and Emma Rios shared their insights and experiences. The panel also featured Sex Criminals artist Chip Zdarsky, who was there to announce a new series he was writing, Kaptara.

To summarize this panel, Zdarsky stole the show, just as he did during that morning’s keynote. Did I not mention that Zdarsky crashed the keynote speech? Because he totally did.

During Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s announcement of a new Phonogram mini-series, Zdarsky came crashing on stage from behind the curtain with his stand up banner proclaiming him as the creator of Bat-Man, while also chewing out Stephenson for not inviting him.

Zdarsky, the creator of Bat-Man crashes the panel

He took the opportunity to not only plug his upcoming writing gig on Marvel’s Howard the Duck, but to also debut his newest creation for Image, Gary the Duck (who, as the art pointed out, was legally well within his rights). If it wasn’t obvious that Zdarsky was the funniest man on the planet in that moment, it was cemented during the Construction panel where he went on a tangent about “mommy” when asked who were some of his greatest influences as an artist were.

A one-on-one panel with McFarlane followed where he reminisced about his career and the impact his company has had on the industry. I had previously found his social media posts to be very inspirational, but what I also discovered is the guy has a sharp sense of humor.

Here’s a bit of trivia I also found interesting. After exiting Marvel to form Image, McFarlane, in his own words, “cut the apron strings” and unlike the other six artists that he formed Image with, he’s never gone back to do work for the Big Two like his fellow Image co-founders have. He’s that committed and you get a real sense from him that he’s a proud parent. He said something to the effect that no parent wants to attend their child’s funeral, and his proudest achievement is that the legacy of Image has endured over two decades later, and that it will outlive him.

McFarlane and Stephenson

There was an empty chair next to McFarlane and during the Q&A portion, he invited audience members up on stage to ask their question so for that moment, they could be a “big shot.” That really speaks to the intimate atmosphere that the Image Expo fostered and made it feel like you were part of a community of like-minded people, and not the Image folks up on a pedestal talking down to their fans. The line between “the other side of the table” was increasingly blurred almost to the point of being non-existent.

He talked about how many rejection letters he would receive, even after he got his first gig at Marvel, the rejection letters from other editors at Marvel continued to pour in telling him he wasn’t good enough to draw for Marvel. “I guess they forgot to tell them,” he quipped. The point of his story is that it didn’t matter. As long as you can find one person that likes you’re stuff and who will hire you, you’re in. He equated it to getting drafted into the NFL, that even if every other team rejects you, once you get signed onto a team, you’re in the NFL, even if those other guys said no. He emphasized that no matter what business you wanted to go into, you better develop a thick skin and learn how to hear the word “no” in order to succeed.

I did my best to live tweet the panels I attended and the amount of inspirational quotes that flowed from the lips of the panelists was never ending. If the talented individuals on stage weren’t successful writers and artists and teachers, I’d say they missed their calling as motivational speakers. That’s another thing that struck me when attending the storytelling panel was that in addition to being writers each person on stage was also a teacher, referring to their students and what lessons they have imparted on them. I was aware that Scott Snyder taught but didn’t realize Kelley Sue DeConnick (Pretty Deadly) and Marjorie Liu (there to announce her Image debut, Monstress) were fellow academics. So for that brief moment the audience was their students, and the lessons learned were priceless.

DeConnick, Liu, Snyder

While each panelist had plenty of words of wisdom to dispense, DeConnick wins the award for most impassioned speaker, proclaiming that she would rather put out a bad book than have a great idea and that you don’t die a writer with great ideas. Snyder echoed this sentiment expressing sometimes you just have to write, even when you know it’s bad, just to be able to say that you wrote something that day. Not to be left out, Liu reassured the audience that sometimes it’s ok to suck with your first draft and you need to “embrace the suckage.”

The takeaway for me was that as great as these writers on the stage were, even they have their off days and aren’t perfect. It doesn’t matter, as long as you’re writing, then you’ve already cleared a hurdle that many have yet to attempt. They also spoke about distractions and what they do to overcome “feeding the machine” and getting caught in a cycle of non-productive activity. I loved the fact that I could relate to these accomplished writers. What a relief I felt upon hearing this.

One of the most poignant moments came from Marjorie Liu who spoke about Truth in writing.

I capitalize Truth because it was eloquently put that there are some Truths with a capital “T” that aren’t always pleasant to talk about but can’t be avoided in life such as racism, sexism, bigotry, xenophobia, (the list goes on) and need to be tackled by writers head on and not shied away from because that’s the world we live in and we can’t change those things but we can try to call attention to their existence. I am paraphrasing, as I was not recording and so I can’t put it as eloquently as she did without the risk of butchering her words, but trust me, it was perfect.

I knew Snyder was an Elvis fan from having read Severed and listening to some of his interviews, but I didn’t realize just how much so until this panel. When asked what the numbers in his twitter handle, 1835, stood for, Snyder revealed that it was Elvis’ birthday, January 8, 1935, which was fitting since that very day marked what would have been Elvis’ 80th birthday. He explained how when he was growing up, his parents put him in a prep school and so he always has a rebellious streak in him. One of the ways he rebelled was by listening to music that no one else at school had an interest in like rockabilly and Elvis but then after a while really came to love that sound and as a result now has two Elvis tattoos on his back to show for it.

A little off topic but if you get a chance, I highly recommend checking out Snyder’s interview on Kevin Smith’s Fatman on Batman podcast where he further delves into his rebellious actions after school which included working as a janitor at Disney World and graduating to the rank of costumed character just to thumb his nose at his privileged upbringing.

Sure there was a lot of praise heaped on Image from the panelists who took turns extolling the benefits of working for such a publisher that encouraged creative freedom, but none of it felt phony. You genuinely got a sense that everyone wanted to be there and was proud of the work they were doing under the Image banner (literally, there were huge banners with the “i” logo floating about their heads). When asked why he chose to bring Wytches to them as opposed to Vertigo, Snyder said of working with Image that “this is the place to go where you want to do the project you’re passionate about whether it makes any logical sense of not.”

When asked about how they write their scripts and what their process is, DeConnick stressed the importance of keeping the artist in mind who you’re writing for, which seemed to be a common theme throughout the event whenever this came up. “If you’re not tailoring your writing to your artist, you’re doing it wrong. That’s not collaborative comics.”

See what I mean? Great advice.

Brian K Vaughan was listed as a guest on this panel but the line for his signing was so long that he never did make it. “Brian K Vaughan? Who’s that?” joked Snyder.

Luckily Vaughan did make the Freedom panel where he sat down with Jeff Lemire, Alex De Campi, Brian Buccellato, and James Robinson.

On the subject of freedom, Vaughan stated that he has more creative freedom at Image than anywhere else he’s ever written. One example he gave was when he was asked by publisher Eric Stephenson if he might reconsider the Saga cover of the baby breastfeeding as it could impact sales, but at the end of the day, Stephenson reminded Vaughan that he’s not his boss and he can put anything he wants on the cover.

Robinson, Lemire, Vaughan, De Campi, Buccellato

On that note, De Campi chimed in that while they are given a lot of leeway with the content of their comics at Image, that it’s not a privilege that one should abuse for the sake of graphic sex or violence in order to tell the story. “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should,” she said. “Sometimes it’s best to leave stuff between the panels.”

When asked by an audience member if the creators felt competitive with each other, Vaughan said it’s quite the opposite, that when he reads what other writers are putting out, it inspires him. He analogized that at Marvel and DC, there’s a lot of rats fighting over a little amount of cheese but at Image, it comes from you, so it eliminates that competitive nature where everyone is telling their own stories. Soon afterwards, BKV had to exit the stage on a “secret assignment.” After the day’s one two punch of two new Vaughan series, he was a popular guy that day.

I was on a high after exiting the venue. I was already an Image convert prior to the day’s start but by day’s end that feeling had been overwhelmingly magnified. I think it’s time to start cutting some titles from my pull list to make way for more Image titles as there’s so much out there I want to get my hands on and so many new creators who I’ve know the name for years but have yet to delve into their work.

When I ask myself if I could have had a better, more inspiring experience had it been an expo by any other publisher in the industry, I honestly think not. And this is coming from a guy who grew up on Marvel and claims Batman as his favorite all-time character.

Hey maybe if they ever put on a Batman Expo, then we’ll see, but until then, time to crack open some exclusive Image Expo variant issues and immerse myself in the limitless possibilities of what comics can be.


*****

So what were my favorite announcements of Image Expo?

There were a ton of cool and exciting new projects in the works but here’s the ones that I’m most looking forward to in 2015.

5. Pretty Deadly Vol. 2 Announced

Full disclosure: I haven’t read a single issue of Pretty Deadly, but after hearing DeConnick talk about it and becoming a fan of hers simply from hearing her dish out one piece of solid writing advice after another on the storytelling panel, there’s no way I won’t be checking it out after I get caught up.

4. Chip Zdarsky’s Kaptara

I honestly didn’t know what to make of this. Zdarsky’s announcement of Kaptara was so joke-filled and the material so absurd, that for the majority of it I couldn’t tell if he was being serious or not. It all seemed like something he conjured up after a bad acid trip. But it was at the very least intriguing, based on his hilarious pitch alone, and if anyone can pull off a character named Dartor who runs around with a blow dart in a furry loincloth and boots, it’s him.

3. Darwyn Cooke’s Image Debut, Revengeance 

Unfortunately Cooke couldn’t make it there to speak in person but they did play a recorded statement from him on the project and from what I got, it’s exactly the kind of noir story that you’d want to see from a guy like Cooke. I will be snatching this up without a doubt.

2. Scott Snyder & Jeff Lemire Collaborate On A.D. After Death 

I am always up for some Scott Snyder and while I’m only familiar with Jeff Lemire’s work through his stellar run on Animal Man (where he previously worked with Snyder on the Swamp Thing crossover) I’m excited to see what these two are cooking up together outside of the DC Universe.

1. BKV Announcements x2: We Stand On Guard & Paper Girls

An announcement of a new comic from Brian K. Vaughan is not something that happens too often and not only were we blessed with news of an upcoming mini-series from Vaughan, We Stand On Guard, about a robot invasion of Canada from the US, but Image saved the best for last when they dropped this bombshell of a new ongoing series, Paper Girls, as well. Cliff Chiang will provide art so you can bet the art is going to look amazing as well.

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