“Image – like the whole creative experience – thrives on people.”
In his keynote address, Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson stressed the company’s foundation on the relationships between people, not cost centers. The Image Comic Expo in Oakland CA proved that after 20 years, that philosophy continues to be true.
The convention itself was rather unusual: a comic book show created and run by a single publisher. Although there were a few smaller houses such as IDW, Archaia, and Top Cow, this was Image’s celebration.
The heart of the event, though, was directly in line with Stephenson’s comments: attendees were put in contact with the people behind the comics they read. Every comics convention puts artists in touch with their readers, but on a much larger (and sometimes more impersonal) scale.
In his speech, Stephenson drew a comparison between Marvel and DC — owned by parent corporations with interests beyond comics — and Image, which is still run by the folks who started it. Image Comic Expo had that “let’s put on a show” feel, where the people in charge were right there, pulling the ropes and running the lights.
The Image founders were all available to fans, both in a special 20th anniversary panel and a rare group signing. Even more than that, some had set up shop down on the floor.
Rob Liefeld, one of the biggest names of the 90s and still popular today, had a single table in Artists’ Alley, no bigger than Ryan Ottley’s to his right. Liefeld put himself on no pedestal, and when he was there he was more than happy to talk to his fans.
Portlander and Image co-founder Jim Valentino had a booth for the books under his Shadowline imprint, and was excited to talk about the new projects he had on the way, including a “treasury-sized” Enormous, and Debris from the Green Wake team of Kurtis Weibe and Riley Rossmo.
“There’s Harvest,” he continued, “by AJ Lieberman and Colin Lorimer. Basically it’s about an illegal organ trade, and the men whose job it is to repossess those illegal organs.”
“Rebel Blood is a different kind of zombie story, where both people and animals can be zombies. It’s got an O. Henry twist at the end!”
“And there’s Grim Leaper,” he said, smiling, “which I describe as Quantum Leap for dead people.”
Valentino was very proud to note that Peter Panzerfaust, from Kurtis Weibe and Tyler Jenkins, had sold out its first printing.
“Sometimes stores under-order,” he mused, “especially if it’s a new title. Knowing that, we always overprint by 20% over orders, but it’s all gone!”
Attendance was respectable for a first-time show, especially one devoted to a single, non-top-two publisher. Despite that, access to some big-name creators was surprisingly easy for fans.
Favorites such as Brian K. Vaughn (Y: The Last Man, Saga), Jonathan Hickman (The Red Wing, Manhattan Projects), and the Chew team of John Layman and Rob Guillory were always busy, but rarely had more than a handful of people waiting at any one time. As a result, readers could get autographs and chat without the hassle of long lines.
Vaughn was spending a lot of his time talking with fans about his upcoming “space opera/fantasy” book Saga. Expected on March 14, the book has some hidden subtext, thanks to recent events.
“I have kids now,” said the author, “so there’s a lot about fatherhood hidden in there.”
Next door, Jonathan Hickman was excited about Manhattan Projects, which reunites him with Red Wing artist Nick Pitarra.
“I love working with Nick,” he confirmed, while also expressing admiration for Marvel artist Esad Ribic.
The next aisle over was the place to find the largest Portland contingent. Sharing a table were Joe Keatinge, Brandon Seifert, and Josh Williamson.
Seifert, who was excited about Image’s new installment of Phonogram, arrived in the Bay Area a week early to spend some time in San Francisco.
The Witch Doctor writer has a usual routine when he visits the City by the Bay.
“After I check into my hotel, I walk through Chinatown, through North Beach, up Telegraph Hill, and down to the piers.”
He did, however, admit to a new experience this time around.
“This was the first time I rode the cable cars,” he confessed.
Seifert recently returned from New Orleans Comic Con, where he experienced another first.
“A girl came up to the booth wearing a hooded sweatshirt,” he remembered, “and it didn’t register for a second, but then I realized it was Penny Dreadful [from Witch Doctor]!”
Josh Williamson, the author of the alien abduction adventure-comedy Xenoholics, provided some information about the future of the book.
“It’ll stop at issue 5 until Fall,” he said. “Then we’ll pick it up again, either as #6 or as #1 of a new arc.”
The Dear Dracula writer cited pushed schedules and other hazards as the reason for the regrouping.
Joe Keatinge (Hell Yeah, PopGun) was all smiles as he sold copies of his limited-run Hell Yeah ashcan and exclusive variant-cover copies of Glory #23. It would be hard not to smile after being singled out by Stephenson in his keynote:
“When I started looking for writers and artists to put that line together – former Image PR coordinator Joe Keatinge was one of my first calls.”
“Yeah, I teared up,” Keatinge admitted. “But that’s why I’m at Image: the relationships.”
Now that he has two books coming out from Image, the author finds himself in good company.
“It’s just amazing that I’m co-workers with Brian K. Vaughn and Mark Millar and Rob Liefeld.”
Keating had nothing but praise for Liefeld, one of Image’s founders.
“Rob has been the most encouraging person, my biggest cheerleader,” he said. “He’s really a genuine person.”
Keatinge has taken on Liefeld’s superheroine Gloriana Demeter in Glory, which contrary to popular tactics is numbered 23, following Leifeld’s last issue in 1997. Why didn’t Keatinge go for the #1 issue, which would appeal more to speculators?
“It’s not about creating collectors’ items,” he replied. “It’s about creating stories.”
It remains to be seen whether the Image Comic Expo will return, whether on an annual basis or to mark future anniversaries. If last weekend’s celebration was the only one of its kind, however, it was certainly something to be proud of.