ECCC12: Silvestri Looks Back at 20 Years of Image Comics

Before Marc Silvestri's spotlight panel at Emerald City Comicon officially began, Top Cow Publisher and panel moderator, Filip Sablik, gave a word of warning.

"Do we have any young children in the audience?" he asked the intimate crowd gathered Friday afternoon. "Because Marc and I have really filthy minds, and even filthier mouths. If that sort of thing offends you -- we're up here drinking, so I can't do anything for you," he said referring to the bottle of Jack Daniels that made an appearance at the panel minutes earlier, as the (of-age) crowd laughed.

That officially kicked off a candid and in-depth conversation that featured lots of banter, and a little profanity, as Silvestri and Sablik looked back at the prolific Image Comics partner and Top Cow Productions founder's career, including his decision to leave Marvel in the '90s, infighting between the Image studios in the early days, and what Image means 20 years after its birth.

The informal question-and-answer session began with Silvestri asking the crowd how Seattle got saddled with the nickname "The Emerald City," riffing with the crowd about evergreen trees, tulips in Vancouver, aquariums -- and ending with Sablik telling a story about how Baltmore tried to be known as "the city that reads," but instead became "the city that bleeds."

Things then shifted gears to comics. The first question Silvestri was asked was what he would have done differently in his 20-year plus career that's taken him from Marvel Comics to Image, where he formed Top Cow.

"Remember the Titanic, when everybody was running for the lifeboats? And that one guy famously dressed up as a woman to get on there? That's what I would have done," dead-panned Silvestri.
He later explained what he would have told his younger self, knowing what he knows now about the comic industry. "The way I describe it is, if we had known -- like all of us collectively, Image Comics, had known -- yesterday, back then, what we know today, Image Comics would not exist," Silvestri said. "That sounds stupid, and it is, but the reason is, Image's function is the fact that it's completely dysfunctional. Or at least it was when we first started out. None of us knew what the hell we were doing.

"But I know better. Now we run a business as a business. But the caveat there is that we are still heavily [into] creative ownership and creative freedom," Silvestri continued. "That's always going to be our business model. But all of Image as a whole has figured out, because of our dysfunction early on, that we can actually have a business model where the creator owns and controls their own work."

Other tales of early-Image lore included when Todd McFarlane first told Silvestri the plans for what would become Image. Even though McFarlane was a master salesman, Silvestri admits he didn't need much of a pitch. "I never let Todd know this, but he sold me like 90 seconds into the spiel of what they were going to do," he said, adding he already felt like he hit the ceiling of the '80s-and-early-'90s American mainstream comics industry.

"There was DC, which was the stepping stone to Marvel. And at Marvel your main goal as a professional was to work on the X-Men if you wanted the most success. Not only to work on the X-Men, but with Chris Claremont. And I had done that."

Silvestri then explained how he came dangerously close to pitching "Cyberforce," his first Top Cow title, as an X-Men spin-off before he was officially in the Image fold. "There was nowhere else to go and I couldn't imagine drawing the X-Men for another 30 years."

The conversation turned back to Image and its earliest days. "By the way, 90 per cent of the stories that circulated about those early Image meetings are true. They really were," Silvestri said. He added with a laugh that many of the Image meetings started out in battle, but ended in hugs.

When Sablik mentioned he had recently come up with the name of his own '90s-themed Image character, Blood Tear, it reminded of Silvestri of another anecdote.

"There was a time, when Image became its own worst enemy. Because we had no one to compete against, we competed against each other. And there was a period where everyone became very possessive of their branch, of their company."

He told of how each of the creators would fax each other huge lists with potential character name on it, with everyone clearly scouring through dictionaries and thesauruses

"Rob [Liefeld] was even using street names to name his characters. It got to the point where Jim Valentino claimed Klone, with a K."

"I'm really glad you grabbed Warbuck and Splitskrieg,"Sablik shot back.

"It got ridiculous. You'd get these lists with names that we'd never, ever use, and you could tell the other guy just went through a laundry list of stupid-ass names. That's where a thing like Blood Tears would come from," Silvestri said.

Silvestri next talked about what makes Image Comics special all these years later.

"The fact that is has been 20 years, and the fact that it hasn't been like 5 years, 10 years -- we're celebrating 20 years -- that's a benchmark that cannot be erased," he said, noting that if Image had lasted 10 years, he felt they could have been written-off as a '90s gimmick.

"Twenty years later, Image Comics cannot be denied. Image Comics and what it stands for even today cannot be denied, and it's not going to go away."

Asked about his favorite moments during his time in the comic book industry, Silvestri looked at the earliest days of Image when they began publishing their own titles. Back then they had to cancel books that were selling under 500,000 copies, while in today's market any comic that sells over 50,000 is considered a hit.

He also said he was proud of the "Witchblade" television series, "The Darkness" video games, and publishing "Wanted," as well as when he found out that Angelina Jolie was going to star in the movie adaptation.

He added a final highlight of his career.

"Every time you guys come up and ask me to sign something, that's it," Silvestri said. "That's the highlight. That's as high as I get."

"Now you guys are totally going to sleep with him, right?" asked Sablik.

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