ECCC12: The Image Comics 20th Anniversary Panel

Image Comics creators spent little time discussing the history of the comics firm at their Emerald City Comicon 20th anniversary panel, and a lot discussing its future. While celebrating the legacy of Image founding artists Rob Leifeld, Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri, Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, Jim Valentino, and Whilce Portacio, who fled the Big Two to form their own creator-owned publisher, the panel was largely comprised of current Image writers and artists speaking about their upcoming projects.

"King City" creator and "Prophet" relaunch scribe Brandon Graham began, though, talking about his own history with the company's products. "I was getting routinely rejected by DC, and I ended up doing 'King City' just for my own purposes," Graham said.

Once that project came to the attention of Image, publisher Eric Stephenson helped steer it to fruition - even though the manga-loving Graham had grown up thinking of Image as "pretty much the Devil." The first volumes of "King City" were published by Tokyopop, and Graham finished the run at Image, where Graham said the relationship now couldn't be better. "I'll email Leifeld and be like, 'Hey can we do this ridiculous bullshit?' And he'll email back just the word 'awesome' 400 times," Graham said.

For Joe Keatinge, writer on the reinvented Liefeld series "Glory," the youthful acquaintanceship with Image was more positive. "When I was getting into image, I was 10, and my favorite thing was books that were ultraviolent," he said. "When I was a kid, I was really, really, really inspired by the early Image stuff." Keatinge was a long-time marketing guru for Image before crossing over to the creative side.

Naturally, as fans know, it's not all big-time punching and ultraviolence at Image these days. On the same panel were writer-artists Emi Lenox and Natalie Nourigat, creators of "Emitown" and "Between Gears" respectively, who got showcases for their memoir comics through the publisher.

"I'm very happy that they wanted to publish 'Emitown,'" Lenox said. "It's very different from what I usually see from Image, so I was very happy that they're expanding in the types of comics that they publish."

"Emitown" and "Between Gears" are autobiographical, each giving a page to a day in its author's life. Nourigat's work focuses on her late college years, when she struggled with how to support herself as an artist.

"It shows me not really certain that I'm going to be able to draw for a living after I graduate," Nourigat said, "but obviously, things have gone pretty well."

Image will soon give prestige treatment to new or long-in-progress works by writer Joe Casey and writer-artist Tony Harris. Casey's "Rock Bottom," with Charlie Adlard, will see print as a 100-page hardcover story of a man who turns to stone.

"When you turn to stone, you tend to weigh a lot," Casey said. "It's not pleasant. We used to call it 'an epic of human proportions.' I will say this, it's kind of a downer book ... But I would say it's worth it alone just for Charlie's art."

Likewise, Harris described his forthcoming "Roundeye: For Love," about a man lost on an Earth that's entirely Japanese in culture, as "a love letter to my wife in the tradition of Japanese folklore and legend. It's not a happy ending, because those stories never end well."

"Roundeye: For Love" started with an $1,100 Kickstarter campaign, which financed Harris to the point he could approach Image with finished samples. The work met with an enthusiastic response. It will be published in a nonstandard, high-end graphic novel format. Harris and Image released a promotional print through the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund's booth at ECCC shortly after the panel.

"This is the most personal work that I've done in 23 years of being in comics," Harris said.

"The Walking Dead" notwithstanding, one questioner at the panel noted Image hasn't had the same footprint in multimedia that DC and Marvel have acquired over the last 20 years - movies, TV spinoffs, and so on. But Image events coordinator Sarah deLaine, who moderated the panel, said franchising has never been the publisher's concern.

"Nothing makes us happier than just comics," deLaine said. "Just comics for comics' sake."

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