The Image Comics founders reunited for the first time in many years at Comic-Con International in San Diego Friday morning. “Image Comics: The Road to Independence” author George Khoury moderated the panel, beginning with a speech admonishing what he characterized as a vocal minority in total opposition to anything related to Image. George Khoury then introduced the panelists one by one: Erik Larsen, Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld, Jim Valentino, Whilce Portacio and Marc Silvestri.
“Right now, Satan’s freezing his ass off,” Khoury remarked, while Rob Liefeld explained how Image creator Robert Kirkman convinced him to return to the company he founded.
“Absolutely, 100%, Robert Kirkman was a facilitator and these guys agreed,” said Liefeld.
“The first time I met Jim was when I got fired from ‘X-Men,'” Marc Silvestri joked.
“So that’s how it’s going to be this morning!” laughed Jim Lee.
Todd McFarlane detailed some of the early Image retreats, which consisted less of business discussions and more of hiking, batting cages, and “babes.” “I don’t even have the time to tell you about the time I gave Jim Lee diarrhea from a distance.”
Jim Valentino said that Image got its name from an Andre Agasi commercial. “It said ‘Image is Everything,’ and Rob said, ‘that’s a great name!'”
Many jokes were made of McFarlane’s ability to jump in and speak at virtually every opportunity, although McFarlane insisted that each time he interrupted, there was a “pregnant pause.”
Of Khoury’s book, McFarlane remarked that it was “very enlightening, because for every question you ask, you’re going to get seven completely different answers from this group.” He went on to recount the infamous meeting the Image founders had with Marvel Comics. In attendance were Terry Stewart, Tom DeFalco, Jim Lee, McFarlane, and Rob Liefeld — who cut out because he had a “thing with a hot chick.”
“That’s true,” Liefeld said.
“The reality was that at moment, I don’t think Marvel cared about us. The big point was that Jim Lee was the new reigning king, and that carried more weight that moment. ‘Yeah a bunch of freaks are going, we don’t care.’ But no, their loyal servant was leaving too, and they had to take it seriously. It might be bigger than a couple of knuckle heads they didn’t get along with.”
Jim Lee said they had the same meeting at DC Comics the next day. “‘We’re never going to work for you again!'” Lee recalled, noting, humorously, that at that point he’d never worked for DC before.
McFarlane said that DC felt at the time that they were better for the creative community, which is why the Image founders had the same meeting with them. “When you drafted these new privilages to make us happy, did you consult with any creators?” McFarlane asked DC. “And when I got the pregnant pause, that’s all I needed to know. Thank you very little for telling me how my life is going to be without asking any of us. Without asking any of the thousands of us.”
Whilce Portacio returned from his yearly trip to the Philippines to discover the Image machine already in motion, and Jim Lee asked him to join. Portacio detailed how using computers were integral to the early Image inspiration, and was indicitive of the progressive artistic philosophy of the company.
“After X-Force came out and did so well, they told me there would be a line of X-Force toys coming out, and then I thought maybe the next thing I did I should own,” said Rob Liefeld, explaining that his father told him not to leave his Marvel money, but that the possibility of owning and controlling even 10% of that success would be worth it to him.
The rest of the panel echoed Liefeld’s sentiments, saying that control over the direction and marketing of characters they created was too attractive to pass up. “And you didn’t even get a pat on the back,” Silvestri said of Marvel. “I was at the point of what’s next, what else is there? I was really close to leaving the industry. We weren’t encouraged to do something special. Todd pulled me aside in New York and he kind of started telling me very loosely who was involved with something that was going to happen. I think within ten words I said, ‘yeah I’m in. I’ve never looked back, I’ve never regretted it. I think history will say that Image Comics was ultimately a very positive thing for comics.”
Having already worked in alternative comics, Jim Valentino was more used to doing “different stuff,” and while he was excited about the notion of Image, he was “also terrified by it.” When Jim Lee signed on, Valentino was sold.
Larsen was at the time concerned with having a place to come back to if Image failed, “but we were jumping in with enough guys. It was one of those ideas that had been batted around for years. ‘What if Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko left and started their own company?’ This was the first time that a bunch of guys at the top of their game would leave at once, and it worked.”
“I was arguably the most militant of the group,” McFarlane said. “What drove me creatively was that I’d been doing plenty of years of drawing other people’s stories. I never said at any point that I was a better writer than any of them, but having the freedom of drawing what I wanted to draw, not being beholden to another writer’s story” was ideal for McFarlane.
“We didn’t quit to become businessmen, we quit to have artistic freedom,” McFarlane added, referring to many of the logistics problem that continue to haunt Image Comics to this day.
“The allure of doing something new and exciting was really appealing to me,” Jim Lee said. “Doing it with your peers was the biggest thing. When we started out, we were all very competetive. What’s the worst that can happen? I think a lot of us had a lot of overconfidence in our ability as artists, and every day was a new adventure. Every day was something different. That kind of life is not something you get to experience much. I don’t regret it at all.
“I mean, I still left,” Lee joked, which cracked the panel up.
McFarlane then recalled the confusion in the market about what Image was. “We were seven separate companies,” Silvestri said.
“Todd would say something crazy and we’d all be blamed for it,” Valentino said.
“Whatever which of the other guys did didn’t affect the rest of us as a whole,” Silvestri said. “Having our own companies was part of the design from the start.”
“The following generations, we haven’t really seen that. We don’t have hot young turks standing up and starting shit,” Jim Lee said.
“The market doesn’t support that anymore,” Silvestri responded. Lee indicated that there was no market research that informed the creation of Image.
“I think what we’re trying to say is that [the new generation] are all pussies!” said one panelist.
McFarlane then explained that even today, regarldess of which studio had more sales, when the company votes on policy, each founder had a equal power.
“These were vicious meetings, though,” Jim Lee said. “But we hugged it out!”
“Even when we weren’t in agreement, when we walked out that door, everything was back to normal,” McFarlane concurred.
“Every time we had our meetings and we butted heads — which we did, every meeting — we really had the feeling that something had been accomplished,” Silvestri said, going on to explain that when they heard about the first Marvel Comics “super contracts” that had made a freelancer rich, they knew their exit from the Big Two had something to do with it.
“We killed Superman,” Liefeld said, explaining that DC had to kill their biggest character to help sales after Image had surprassed them on the charts. He later remarked, “That hurt the heads of all the guys on the east coast, when they heard we were coloring comics on computers.”
“We sit here 15+ years past it,” McFarlane said. “From my perspective, we showed that there are options. We’re not saying come work for Image or don’t work for Marvel, but if you’re in the creative pool and not satisfied with where you’re at, you have options.
“Don’t sit in a spot that you’re not satisfied with,” McFarlane said.
“I hate that Image is held somehow responsible for anything bad that happened to comics in the 90s,” Liefeld said, banging his hand on the table. “Some of the most popular talents in the industry are our ‘children.’ These guys talk about Image like the way we talked about the guys we loved 15 years before that.”
Marc Silvestri continued, “I think when Image happened, you had a lot of writers coming into comics who weren’t just editors writing comics, and I don’t think the environment for that existed before Image.”
McFarlane concluded by saying,” It’s 15 years on and Image Comics still exists, and even if I’m the only one left one day, I’m still going to be publishing ‘Spawn’ with the Image logo on the cover.”
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