CCI: Image Gets "United"

With the pre-show announcement that writer Robert Kirkman would become the first partner at the company since its 1992 founding, Image Comics seemed to have unleashed its biggest piece of news before this year's Comic-Con International even began.

As it turns out? Not so much.

Today at the San Diego convention's "The Image Comics Show" panel, a who's who of creators involved with the company over the past 15 years announced "Image United" - a 6-issue series written by Kirkman and featuring the art and characters of Image founders Erik Larsen, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Whilce Portacio, Marc Silvestri and Jim Valentino. That's correct, each issue will feature art by all six founders and not on a page-by-page basis, but on a character-by-character basis.

To get a full rundown on the story behind the series and the logistics of actually pulling it off, CBR tapped Kirkman and Image Publisher Eric Stephenson for the full scoop.

Gentlemen, to start off why don't we just establish what exactly "Image United" is. The last time a group of Image founders anywhere near this big got together on one project was the "Image Comics #1" hardcover. Will this be a similarly formatted kind of release?

Robert Kirkman: It'll be a six-issue series. It's not going to focus on individual characters in the issues. It's going to be an all-encompassing, grand, epic crossover featuring all the characters together - intermingling and working together and fighting together. It's going to have the unprecedented art team of all the Image founders minus Jim Lee, and it's going to have every creator drawing their own characters, so it's going to be a hodge podge of different art on every page where all of the Savage Dragon figures are going to be drawn by Erik Larsen and all of the Youngblood characters are going to be drawn by Rob Liefeld. Every time Spawn appears, he'll be drawn by Todd McFarlane and so on and so on. It's going to be a unique reading experience, and we're very excited about that.

In the past when people have done jam books like that, someone like George Perez will get tapped to bring the pages together visually by being the designated layout artist. Are you having someone fill that role on "Image United"?

Robert Kirkman: Each issue is going to be laid out by a different Image founder. So one of the issues will be laid out by Erik Larsen, and another will be laid out by Todd McFarlane and so on. From there the issues will go to the other founders to draw in their characters.

Eric, this is a series that's going to be bringing a lot of eyes towards Image. Was this something that has been building for a while, or was it an initiative you've spearheaded since you stepped in as publisher to showcase the company's biggest names and characters?

Eric Stephenson: This is something that kind of grew out of the founders getting together first at the panel in San Diego last year and again on Free Comic Book Day at Mike Malve's Atomic Comics in Phoenix. They were looking for a way to do something together again, and Erik Larsen, who I think has a really good sense of comics history, got to thinking about a project he had done back in the early Image days called "Savage Dragon/Megaton Man" where he and Megaton Man's Don Simpson got together and drew their own characters in the book. And also the first time this happened was with Jack Kirby and Wally Wood on "Fantastic Four" when Daredevil crossed over into the book. Erik was thinking about those two things and about, "Hey, wouldn't it be cool if we all did something like this together?" It just made a lot of sense and grew out of that.

Going down the list of creators and characters, there are some obvious appearances such as Erik doing Savage Dragon and Todd doing Spawn, but for someone like Marc who have done a number of books during their time at Image, will you guys be focusing in on their earliest creation?

Robert Kirkman: It's not going to be one guy for every character. Most of the early Image characters will be appearing at different times in the series, and so Marc will be drawing Witchblade at times and Cyberforce at times and the Darkness at times depending on how the story is going and what character is doing what. It's not just going to be Youngblood showing up, and it's not just going to be Dragon showing up. We'll be seeing Superpatriot and a bunch of different characters. It's kind of like the Image Universe of old is coming back in a big way. It's not just a smaller group of characters.

With Whilce Portacio in the mix, his original Image creation was "Wetworks" which became part of Jim Lee's sale of Wildstorm to DC. Will he be contributing some new characters to round out this series?

Eric Stephenson: Yeah. Whilce is developing a new character specifically for this series.

Robert Kirkman: I also want to say that Whilce's character is shaping up to be the lynchpin of the storyline, so his character is going to be featured prominently and do a lot of cool stuff. And the character he's created is awesome. I'll just leave it at that.

Eric, once this project went from the "wouldn't it be cool" phase to the "let's do it" phase, who was it that brought Robert in as writer? Was it part and parcel with his newfound Image partnership?

Eric Stephenson: That came from everybody. I don't think anyone else was even considered. The great thing about Robert is that he grew up reading this stuff and then wound up working at Image. He's just the ideal choice for a project like this. I don't think there's anybody else who could have pulled this together the way he has.

Robert Kirkman: I agree! [Laughs]

Well, Robert...what has this been like for you to get involved in this? You've certainly been at Image and involved with many of these guys creatively for a long time, but was there a level of stage fright taking on a project with so many big names?

Robert Kirkman: Yeah, I mean, there was definitely a bit of that. I've gotten to know these guys pretty well over the course of working at Image for the past few years. I don't know Marc and Whilce all that well, but we're getting to chatting now. So I'm buddies with all these guys, and a little bit of the star struck aweness of the whole thing has died down a little. It's a great honor to be considered for this kind of stuff, and I was pretty stoked. It didn't take me long to decide that I wanted to accept the job, I'll tell you that much. I think I accepted it before they offered it to me.

Eric Stephenson: What does that even mean?!? [Laughs]

Robert Kirkman: It means that...I don't know! Don't interrupt me! Come on! It means that they already knew that I'd accept it before they offered it to me? Or I was so quick to accept it that I accepted it before they offered it to me?

Eric Stephenson: I think what you're trying to say is that it's a dream come true.

Robert Kirkman: Good lord, I'm not going to use that phrase. I've used that too much. And at the same time, it's going to be a lot of work, so I'm not ignoring that fact. I'm excited, but I've got my sleeves pulled up, and I'm ready to dive in and make it happen.

It took since last year at San Diego until now for this idea to gestate and become a real project. Do you have any kind of idea for when you'll want to schedule the book, or is it a general "Sometime in 2009" kind of thing?

Eric Stephenson: I think we have something that we're hoping for, but we don't want to make any kind of definitive announcement with that because it would make more sense to see how things take shape rather than making a bunch of promises that we can't keep.

Robert Kirkman: And we might be able to beat that date we have in mind, so that's a part of it too. Work is already under way on the project. We know there are already some detractors out there saying, "Oh, this is never going to come together" or "It won't happen," but we're already working hard on this, and we're going to be working non-stop over the next year. There are a lot of different pieces of the puzzle to put in place to get this thing to happen, but I don't think anybody is fooling themselves about how much work this is going to be. We're all 100% committed and striving to make this happen. And there's already a good bit of work done on it, so that's made us a bit more confident. It's going to be great.

How is the story process going? Have you been shooting e-mails back and fourth with the six artists and building something together, or did you pitch them on an idea for how to work it, and they've responded with their notes?

Robert Kirkman: That's exactly it. True to the spirit of Image Comics, I didn't come in and go, "Hey guys, this is the story." These characters are all the creations of the different artists, and it was a pitching process. "I'd like to do this with your guy, and I'd like to do that with your guy, and I'd like to bring this story aspect to it." There was a lot of back and forth, and we're still going back and forth nailing a lot of things down on the series. Everyone is involved in the plotting and making sure that everything jives. I'm of the mind that there are so many moving parts to these big, giant thousand character crossovers that usually the story ends up being kind of lackluster. I think the big crossovers end up being a let down story wise, so I'm looking forward to the challenge of doing one that holds up as a cool story and a fairly impressive one when all is said an done.

Is there anything you want to say about the story at this point?

Robert Kirkman: I think we're going to keep things pretty close to the vest at this point. I will say that the characters unite. Whether they're uniting to stop something or cause something has yet to be revealed, but they will get together for some kind of big reason.

Now discuss this story in CBR's Image Comics forum.

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