CCI XTRA: The Epilogue to Image Comics Founders Panel

by George Khoury with photographs from Greg Preston

At Comic-Con International in San Diego 2007, July 27, I had the great honor of moderating the first ever panel to feature all seven of the original founding members of Image Comics – the seven consist of Erik Larsen, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Whilce Portacio, Marc Silvestri and Jim Valentino (click here for a panel report). For this grand event, I thought it would be a novel idea to start with a written opening about the significance of their contributions and the legacy of Image Comics. Here's what I wrote:

"I've always thought of Image Comics has an interesting enigma; it seems that even though many people enjoy the comics of Image, there sure seem to be a vocal minority that do nothing but bitch about every single move that anyone even remotely associated with Image does. When that doesn't work, they'll start digging in the past to remind us, yet again, of Image's greatest missteps from the early days. The problem with all that is that it's easy to sit at home, live in the past and whine while you're doing absolutely nothing. If anything, the seven artists who set the foundation to Image were never the type of men that stood still for anyone. They've taken the criticism and the hits while continuing to keep moving forward and stay true to their vision, their art, their fans and this industry.

"Now somewhere along the line comic fans became consumed with sales figures, exclusive contracts, gossip, press releases, variants and other nonsense. And somewhere along the line, while the editors at the 'Big Two' continue to battle themselves for the affection of their superiors, we forgot to focus on the books themselves. We forgot that we got into comics because they were fun and opened our eyes to perspectives and worlds that would have been closed to us otherwise. And while our eyes blinked, Image has grown up and morphed into a company that offers readers a taste of anything their heart desires by giving a home to any creator - from the biggest names to the new kid on the block - a chance to tell the stories that are close to their hearts.

"Image is one of the greatest stories in comics. Amongst all the bickering that prevents our medium from getting to greater heights, Image is proof that when we work together we can do great things. Proof the lessons and struggles of Jack Kirby, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster and so many others were not in vain. Through Image, the seven founders have been able to realize their dreams and more. While being true to themselves, they've raised the bar not only in art and storytelling but brought the importance of creators to the forefront and have been teachers and mentors to a new generation of artists that work all over the industry. Ladies and gents - the original seven founding members of Image Comics…"

The whole time I was working on the "Image Comics: The Road to Independence" book, I thought it would be a great idea to reunite the seven founding members for a panel at San Diego Con for the 15 th Anniversary of the company. Why? The most important element to Image's important initial success was that the seven creators were good friends. Amongst themselves, they would celebrate each others successes while talking about comics day and night. Between themselves, they would argue and look for solutions to their most difficult challenges. I thought it would be interesting to hear them talk about their trials and tribulations fifteen years later together.

In late May of this year, I began by asking Erik Larsen if he would participate in such a panel; his answer was "He'll play along." For me that was more than enough to proceed forward because I'm a glutton for punishment. As I moved forward I immediately ran into a few stumbling blocks as various founders weren't sure if they could make it to a way too early 10:30 AM panel or pondered over the invitation. All of this created some problems because I couldn't even guarantee Comic-Con International's organizers which of the founders were coming to this thing; we were also so late in the game that the time and place of the panel couldn't be changed. And although Rob Liefeld didn't participate in the book, my plan was to invite him in-person at the Con.

Nothing happened for weeks. It wasn't going to be much of a panel with only two hesitant founders and a tentative third. I began to have doubts about even doing this in the first place. There was a point where I was going to skip going to San Diego and thinking of calling the entire thing off. Everything changed once Jim Lee finally committed. With Jim on-board, it was a clear message to the others that this gathering would be the real thing. It was also enough of a confidence boost to keep pursing this idea that this reunion would now happen.

As everything finally started coming together in early July, I could see that the guys were excited about this happening - excited to be reunited, even if for only one hour. I could see clearly that despite all their turmoil and struggles that they were all still friends. There were times when I was working on the Image book that I felt I was dealing with seven completely different planets in seven very remote solar systems. I understood that a lot of their prior attempts to do anything together after the founding of Image would often result in unrealized projects or shelved ideas. I wanted this to be different because they were the type of guys that have seen it all and done it all. I wanted to remind the public of the importance of Image Comics and their seven founders. And being an idealist, I was hoping that the seven founders would realize the true impact of what they started and that there will always be a large audience out there that would respect their work and contributions to our beloved comics industry.

The panel went without a hitch or any incident. No security was ever needed; no arguments ever took place. More importantly, none of the eager Image founders were late for this event. And throughout the hour, more and more Comic-Con attendees would come into the hall and fill it to capacity as they would witness these seven friends talk about their friendship and their comics. In this cynical world, this was a very uplifting conversation that was full of laughter and sincerity as the guys shared the lessons that they've learned from their journey. It was one of those things where you just had to be there to understand. But if you weren't there, don't fret – YouTube has most of the video to this historic occasion.

George Khoury has written and edited the 2002 Eisner-nominated "Kimota!, The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore," "True Brit" and "Image Comics: The Road to Independence" from TwoMorrows Books.

Greg Preston is the photographer of the lavish "The Artist Within" from Dark Horse Comics. See more of Greg's photographic work at http://sampselpreston.com/.

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