We’re only three days into 2012, but is it too early to predict a trend already? Probably, but the fear of saying something stupid has rarely stopped me in the past. Nonetheless, with the news that Bryan Hitch has ended his decade of exclusivity with Marvel to launch a creator-owned series with Image, is it time to wonder if this is the year where big names go indie again?
After all, it’s not just Hitch; his partner in Ultimate crimes, Mark Millar, is making a big deal out of the fact that he’s quit Marvel in order to concentrate on his Millarworld books, and Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips have taken their new creator-owned series from Marvel’s Icon line (Home to both Criminal and Incognito) to Image, and Jonathan Hickman has a new ongoing series debuting from Image in March. Brian K. Vaughan is finally returning to comics, with his creator-owned Saga, and I strongly suspect that, when Brian Michael Bendis finally leaves Avengers, he’ll concentrate more on his (much-delayed) creator-owned books like Brilliant, Scarlet and Powers than take on another massive company-owned franchise. For whatever reason, the pendulum seems to be swinging back away from being part of the Big Machine and toward following your creative muse wherever it takes you.
It’s easy–and tempting –to think of potential reasons for this; between DC’s New 52 and Marvel’s simultaneous culling of its line while increasing the number of issues expected per year of each remaining series, the Big Two both seem like far less attractive places to be working these days, despite the paychecks and exposure they offer, after all. But it doesn’t have to be all negative reasons for the change, of course; maybe it’s a sign that a new wave of creativity, or creators looking at the success of something like The Walking Dead (as both comics and television) or Chew or whatever and thinking, “Hey, that looks like fun” and trying it for themselves.
It could even just be a cyclical thing; last year saw what many considered the return of the 1990s, with Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza and Scott Lobdell in ascendance at DC and Marvel offering all manner of variant covers, cover enhancements and polybagged editions at every turn, so it only stands to reason that we’re due a new wave of the independent spirit that launched Image in the first place, or some variation, at least (Preferably one that isn’t so focused on just doing what was being done before but with brighter costumes).
Whatever the reason, it’ll be interesting to see if this trend is, in fact, an actual trend, and if so, what impact it has on the comic industry. We’re in a very different environment these days than we were back when Image first launched, and with digital comics, webcomics and Kickstarter all available as ways to self-publish, it’s possible that there’s a new way to make independent and creator-owned work… well, work, in the financial sense. And if 2012 is the year when big-name creators can make creator-owned work as financially rewarding as it is creatively, where would that leave work for hire? Interesting times ahead, potentially…