PIPELINE CELEBRATES IMAGE: DAY FOUR
Welcome to the fourth of five Pipeline Daily columns this week dedicated to Image Comics. It’s a real hodge podge of columns, all centered on Image Comics, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary this month.
Monday’s column featured an interview with new Image Director of Marketing, Eric Stephenson. Tuesday’s column delved into one of the very many stories from the earliest days of Image Comics, the Huntsman.
Yesterday’s column was the first part of a look back at the early days of Image Comics. Taking apart the Image sections from PREVIEWS for the first few years of Image provided me plenty of material for this column. The following are random thoughts, threads, and nostalgia pangs that occurred to me while flipping through the first four years of Image solicitations. Of course, I’m leaving out large chunks. This isn’t meant to be comprehensive, although it might get exhaustive. (Or exhausting, depending upon your point of view. 😉
IMAGE: THE EARLY YEARS (PART TWO)
Vaporware: November 1992. OPERATION: URBAN STORM. It was scheduled as a one shot fundraiser for the Rebuild L.A. Foundation. In the wake of the Rodney King Riots, Image banded together to produce a comic to raise money for the rebuilding effort. “The city is in flames,” the solicitation copy read. “There’s a panic in the streets, and even the combined might of the Image heroes may not be enough to put an end to the senseless violence, and confusion!” The book never materialized. I’m thinking that this may have been a blessing in disguise. Erik Larsen’s contribution to it, an unsubtle tale of racial differences in the Chicago PD, would later appear in the pages of the first SAVAGE DRAGON trade paperback, complete with coloring by Larsen, himself.
Keeping it in the family: Many of the comic studios were family affairs, or pretended to be. Marc Silvestri had his brother, Eric, to help write CYBERFORCE. Todd McFarlane and Erik Larsen enlisted their wives as editors, mostly as figureheads. (Larsen’s wife didn’t hang around for long once she saw the contents of the book…)
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Remember when GEN 13 was first announced for October 1993? It was titled GEN X, until Marvel grumbled about the name being too similar to its upcoming series, GENERATION X. WildStorm didn’t have the lawyer power it has today, so it changed titles.
An amazing number of the CrossGen creative staff has worked for Image through the years. Chuck Dixon wrote a TEAM 7 mini-series for WildStorm and a PROPHET series for Extreme (with art by Stephen Platt). Ron Marz was the regular STORMWATCH writer for a time. Barbara Kesel wrote another of my favorite series to fly under the radar, SAVANT GARDE. (Ryan Odagawa was the artist.) As mentioned yesterday, Scot Eaton and Andy Smith have worked on Erik Larsen’s VANGUARD, and Bart Sears did an early Alan Moore-penned VIOLATOR mini-series for Todd McFarlane. Brandon Peterson drew the Steve Gerber-penned CODENAME: STRYKE FORCE at Top Cow, as well as his own series, ARCANUM. And half their coloring staff worked for WildStorm at one point or another.
Chuck Jones, acclaimed Warner Bros. animation director, passed away at the end of last week. Chuck Jones, Extreme Studios artist, still lives. To the best of my knowledge, at least.
February 1993 saw the debut of the second series from Jim Lee’s studios, STORMWATCH. (Combine it with the first series, WILDC.A.T.s, and you can see where “WildStorm” came from.) Brandon Choi, Scott Clark, and Karl Alstaetter were the original creative team on the series. Years later, several mutations would lead to the creative team of Warren Ellis and Tom Raney.
Jim Valentino took out a full page ad in October 1993 to explain the lack of a solicitation for IMAGES OF SHADOWHAWK #4. Keith Giffen had drawn the first three-issue story arc in his TRENCHER style. Mark Texeira was due to draw the next storyline. The ad read, “Shadowline did not receive the art in time for solicitation. We will not solicit a late book. We intend to stay on schedule. Thank you for understanding.” It was signed by Jim Valentino.
That same month, Marc Silvestri took out a full page ad to explain that CODENAME: STRYKE FORCE #1 would not have a gimmick cover on it, “In response to your [the readers] dissatisfaction with overpriced foil and gimmick covers flooding the market place.” (Valentino combated the dissatisfaction with cheap cover gimmicks by brewing up some of the most spectacular and complicated cover enhancements that he could think of in one SHADOWHAWK mini-series.)
In February 1994, Todd McFarlane took out a full-page ad to inform retailers that there was no solicitation for SPAWN that month on purpose. SPAWN lost a month in its first year, so he skipped a month to play catch up. In October 1994, Image took out a full-page ad to apologize for inadvertently omitting the solicitation for the previous month’s issue of THE SAVAGE DRAGON.
Those are just some examples of the pages of PREVIEWS catalogs that were taken up with notes to retailers.
I was going to remark about how many full-page ads were taken by Image in those days. Then I realized that things haven’t changed all that much. Back then, the ads were full pages, but the solicitation copy was a paragraph and a dozen books fit on a page. Nowadays, every book gets a full page for solicitation copy that also functions in a way as its own ad. Still, the multi-page previews of new series are long gone, as are the lengthy interviews with creators.
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Humor comics were always an iffy proposition for Image Comics. May of 1993 saw the debut of STUPID, a title that never saw a second issue.
STUPID was a humor comic created by Hilary Barta and Doug Rice. The first issue took swipes at Spawn, including a memorable centerfold in which Spawn’s cape gets caught on the comic’s staple. Sadly, that’s the only issue that ever made the light of day. The solicited second issue would have been a 3-D Dragon comic. (Don’t worry; you had your choice of the plain full color version and the 3-D full color version. It wouldn’t be until a few years later that WildStorm would go back to the 3-D well and offer up a number of reprints and new specials in 3-D, such as Art Adams’ GENERATION X/GEN13 special.)
In July 1994, Todd McFarlane attempted to broaden the market just a tad by putting out two comics: BOOF and BOOF AND THE BRUISE CREW. Both were meant to be lighter titles starring the same characters. Beau Smith, a.k.a. The Manliest Man In Comics, wrote both books. The former title was drawn by John Cleary and was clearly aimed at the teenaged audience, with more gross out humor. The second title was drawn in a much cartoonier style by Tim Harkins and was aimed at a slightly younger demographic. If I remember correctly, Susan Daigle-Leach was coloring this title, if not both. She was best known at the time for her color work across the various Disney Comics licensee titles. (If ever someone got snubbed year after year for an Eisner, it was her. Don’t know where she is today, though.)
On the other end of the spectrum, Jae Lee’s first attempt at HELLSHOCK #1 was solicited that same month. When it finally arrived it was incredibly light on story and heavy on ads and pin-ups.
In December of that year, GROO made the jump from Epic Comics to Image, where it would last for a couple of years. (Image would be the first publishing house to survive GROO.) BONE also had a short stint at Image, but at that point in the series, the humor was draining fast, and Jeff Smith was only using Image for cover until the distribution wars passed him by. (Terry Moore did virtually the same thing with STRANGERS IN PARADISE.)
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Two of my favorite comic series of all time are mostly forgotten these days. The first is FREAK FORCE, which in part I mention just so I have an excuse to show this ad in one of these columns. Keith Giffen plotted it, Erik Larsen dialogued it, and Vic Bridges did the pencil work. Bridges would leave comics after completing FF’s 18 issue run, pretty much vowing never to return due to religious conflict between his art and his beliefs. It’s a loss, if you ask me. Yes, he was heavily Byrne-influenced, but his line had a deceptive easiness about it, and everything came off looking solid, but not stylish or flashy. I liked it a lot.
NEW MEN is the other series. It lasted a little bit longer, but not by much. The first series went to issue #20, followed by a four issue NEW FORCE mini-series, and then three issues of a NEW MEN revival. Eric Stephenson (see Monday’s column) wrote it all. Jeff Matsuda lasted the first few issues before handing it off to speedy new kid, Todd Nauck, who took it through till the revival. That’s when Chris Sprouse joined the book. Sadly, that storyline was never finished and is now lost to the mists of time. Still, those were good issues.
Both series had the feel of early Image Comics. I don’t mean the late issues and the sloppy creators and the flashy art. If anything, the two series rebelled against that, having a better track record in all departments. It’s just that you never knew what was coming next with them. There was an excitement that anything could happen at any time. They were just far enough under the radar that they were free to do what they want. NEW MEN often increased its page count from month to month to fit the dictates of the story, for example. If the story needed 28 pages, Todd Nauck could draw them and Rob Liefeld would foot the bill. I’m sure if I went back and read them both straight through today I’d cringe in spots and ask myself how I ever liked the stuff. But thinking not with a critic’s eye, but with a fan’s eye in the heat of the moment, those were fun comics.
Everyone has to start somewhere. With Jeff Matsuda, it was those embarrassing early issues of NEW MEN. With Pat Lee, it was the embarrassing art on BLOODPOOL, a Youngblood spin-off book dedicated to those in the Youngblood farm system.
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I have a friend who attended the Joe Kubert School of Art. For a class assignment, he had to bring into school a poorly designed and horribly executed cover. As ugly as he could find. I tipped him off to an early NEWMEN cover by Jeff Matsuda. He passed that assignment with flying colors. I only hope this cover scan can do it justice.
Those were both books from Extreme Studios, which doesn’t get the credit it deserves for being a worthy talent-farming operation. Take a look at some of the names who came up through Extreme to gain regular work in comics to this day: Eric Stephenson, Richard and Tonya Horie, Todd Nauck, Lary Stucker, Jeff Matsuda, Pat Lee, Kurt Hathaway, Dan Fraga, Marlo Alquiza, and Norm Rapmund. I’m sure there were probably more I’m not thinking of at this moment.
That’s something that often isn’t considered in the discussion of Extreme Studios. As much as anything else, Rob Liefeld was offering new artists the chance to hone their skills in front of a large audience. As he had just worked his way through the system really quickly at an early age, he was rolling out the red carpet for others like him. Yes, that studio produced some real crap. It also had its hidden gems, and overlooked favorites.
There was definitely a problem with crossovers, though. NEW MEN had its origins in one event, “New Order.” (Or was that “Extreme Prejudice”? They all blend together, after a while.) Then, “Extreme Sacrifice” showed up near the end of the title’s first year. The first series finally ended at “Extreme Destroyer.”
In October 1993, Image solicited THE ART OF HOMAGE STUDIOS. Did that ever come out? It would have been a 48 page full color special. This is not to be confused the THE ART OF ERIK LARSEN (February 1995) that was cancelled and never resolicited. Larsen used much of the art for that book in the backs of DRAGON trades. The first example of this trend, though, came with EXTREME: THE ARTWORK OF ROB LIEFELD. It was re-solicited for August 1992 from an earlier month. (If I remember correctly, it was due out around the same time as YOUNGBLOOD #1, and would have featured art from both YOUNGBLOOD and his Marvel work. Why do I get the feeling that lawyers put the kibosh on that? A YOUNGBLOOD/X-FORCE crossover happened years later, so we know the lawyers eventually saw eye to eye. Unfortunately, Liefeld didn’t draw that crossover.)
Come back here tomorrow as I finish up Image week at Pipeline Daily. Shortly thereafter, I plan on collapsing in front of my monitor and producing an important mathematical formula with the random keys my forehead hits on the keyboard on its way down.
More than 350 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They’re sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML.