CCI: Image Founders Remember 20 Years in San Diego

On the final day of Comic-Con International in San Diego five of the Image Comics founders wanted to prove that last certainly doesn't mean least. FoundersMarc Silvestri, Rob Liefeld, Jim Valentino, Whilce Portacio, Erik Larsen, and partner Robert Kirkman were led in a question and answer session by Image Comics Executive Director Eric Stephenson. The company's founders discussed the formation of Image and related their experiences from two decades of doing comic books their way.

The panel began with a presentation of the coveted Ink Pot Award to four of the panelists. Liefeld, Larsen, Silvestri and Portacio were all presented with statues for their contributions to pop culture. The other panelists were not being ignored, however -- Stephenson pointed out that the empty handed panelists had previously received the same award. After the presentation of the awards, a quick rundown of Image's current publishing slate was given and then the floor was opened up to questions from the audience.

The first fan at the microphone asked the group what it was that keeps them "running" while working on the more technical aspects of their projects. "Caffeine," Liefeld responded jokingly.

"We simply love what we do," Silvestri responded. The Top Cow founder continued to discuss the many reasons Image has worked so well, boiling down to the fact that it's the only comic book publisher "completely run by creatives."

Invincible, or at least a fan dressed like the Image Comics super hero, stepped up to the microphone to ask creator Robert Kirkman if his character's alter ego Mark Grayson would ever put the yellow and blue suit back on. Kirkman declined to answer the question as it could give away important plot points for upcoming issues. However, the writer did make this fan's wish come true by signing the front of the homemade Invincible costume.

The panelists were next asked about what the most difficult aspect of starting Image was. "We started Image to be free," Liefeld said. He pointed out that there was "a lot of hand-holding" but that "it was the most exciting time in my comic book experience."

Stephenson chimed in by using the old adage about buying the cow when you can get the milk for free. "You go to the store and buy milk, but these guys own the cow," Stephenson said of the drawbacks of doing work for hire.

Valention called Liefeld "the spirit of Image Comics," but Liefeld wanted to clarify that Image's creation was a big team effort. "Todd was the premier recruiter," said Liefeld of "Spawn" creator Todd McFarlane who was unable to attend the panel. "Todd reached Marc and Marc was key."

A very young fan was met with cheers when he stepped up to the microphone to ask creator Robert Kirkman what "Super Dinosaur" #2 would be like. Kirkman told the fan, "It is going to be awesome," and briefly described the issue which contains a fight in a volcano." After Kirkman spoke the boy said, "I think I already have those issues." The crowed erupted in laughter.

Another fan asked about the problem of creative differences and if that ever affected the work being done at the company. "There isn't much to fight about when everyone has their own toys," said Larsen. Each project at the company is creator-owned and run, which all of the creators attribute Image's success and longevity to. "I think most of us thought [Image] would be here in some form."

Silvestri's first Image Comics title, "Cyber Force" will be relaunched in October with Silvestri co-writing with Top Cow president Matt Hawkins and Khoi Pham on art. Top Cow will launch a Kickstarter campaign for the new series. Why? They're planning to make the first five issues of the reboot available free, in both print and digital editions. Silvestri also announced that director Len Weisman ("Underworld") would be bringing his long running comic book "The Darkness" to the big screen.

One slightly confused Image fan mistakenly asked "Savage Dragon" creator Larsen what it was like to finally kill Al Simmons AKA Spawn. After a bit of confusion, Larsen took the opportunity to answer as Spawn creator Todd McFarlane. "It was something I wanted to do for a long time," said Larsen in a put on Canadian accent. "Al had run his course."

The panel discussion ended with some brief thoughts on the future of comics, in particular where comics are going with the advent of digital publishing. Stephenson said, "It is affecting it awesome [sic]. Digital and print go hand in hand." He then told the audience the last year has been Image Comics' best ever financially.

Stay tuned to CBR News for more on Image Comics and its upcoming titles.

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