The Emerald City Comicon has always been a place of celebration, but this year, a special panel was held to mark a significant milestone in the comic industry: Image Comics’ 25th Anniversary.
In honor of the occassion, the founders of Image gathered to talk about the history of Image and share anecdotes with fans. Image partner Robert Kirkman moderated the rowdy group of creators and introduced each as they came out on stage: Rob Liefeld, Jim Valentino, Erik Larsen, Todd McFarlane, Marc Silvestri, Whilce Portacio “and Jim Lee…didn’t come.”
This was only the beginning of ribbing the absentee founder would receive from the group. Kirkman decided that since Lee didn’t make it to ECCC (“and he was invited”), it would be good to hold an impromptu “Jim Lee Roast.” The various Image founders present then shared amusing anecdotes featuring their friend. The winner with the best tale was definitely Todd McFarlane, who told a story that took place in 1992, when the Image crew came to visit Todd at his home. Apparently, Lee is highly competitive in all things. Upon learning that McFarlane was a good baseball player (in truth, McFarlane played PAC 10 baseball), he suggested the group should go to some batting cages nearby.
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Lee went first, but couldn’t hit a single ball. One of the founders followed him and managed to hit a couple. This frustrated Lee, so he immediately tried again. Once more, he didn’t hit any balls. Another creator went and had some hits, and Lee jumped into the cage again. This process repeated until they went through everyone present. Lee only hit a single ball the whole time, and it was a foul.
After returning to McFarlane’s home from the ball cages, Lee slumped down on a couch. Todd walked up to Lee, took his hand, and placed them on his crotch. Lee immediately recoiled. McFarlane then said, “What’s the matter? That’s the first time you touched two balls all day.” The audience laughed loudly as McFarlane recreated the scene with Portacio.
Silvestri then shared his story, and came in a close second in the roasting competition. “I’ve known Jim ever since he got me fired from the X-Men,” Silvestri opened.
It seems that the artist had been working on the X-Men title for a little while when he was moved to “Wolverine” by an editor. Silvestri didn’t think anything of this until he was at an event with Lee. Apparently, Lee ran up to him and began apologizing, saying that he didn’t mean to get Silvestri pulled off the X-Men (Lee ended up taking his place). Despite this, the two became friends which led to the eventual launch of Image.
McFarlane made it clear that the roasting of Lee was all in fun, declaring that when Jim Lee agreed to come in as a founding member of the then-upstart pubisher, “that was the moment Image solidified for me.”
He explained that while he, Liefeld, Larsen and Valentino were important to Marvel, the company considered Lee one of their “happy team players.” Therefore, when he left, it was truly a shock to the company. Silvestri was also a surprise exit, especially since he wasn’t initially planned to be one of the founding members.
McFarlane said the day before the Image founders were planning to drop their “bomb” on Marvel, they all stayed at a hotel where Silvestri happened to be. Ironically, Silvestri was there for an X-Men group retreat that was taking place. McFarlane saw him, told him what they were planning, and offered him a spot with Image; however, there was a caveat: Todd told Silvestri they needed his answer by 7 a.m. the next morning, because the group was going to Marvel at 8 a.m. to make their announcement. The next morning, the artist contacted McFarlane promptly at seven, joined them for the meeting at Marvel, and the rest is Image history.
At this point, Kirkman thanked all the founders present and emphasized the importance of their formation. “I wouldn’t have had the opportunities I’ve had without these guys,” he said. “Thanks to them, I was the guy on the couch on ‘Talking Dead.’ If [‘Walking Dead’] had been at Dark Horse, Mike Richardson would’ve been on the couch. If the book had been at BOOM! [Studios], Ross Richie would’ve been on the couch. If the book had been at Valiant, no one would’ve heard of ‘The Walking Dead.'”
As this was a celebration of Image, Kirkman felt it appropriate for the audience to learn how the company’s name and logo came to be. Liefeld explained that he had always felt Image was a good name, because “that’s what we do – we make images.” Liefeld eventually came up with the logo design for the “I” on a napkin at lunch, and the rest was history.
McFarlane expanded on this idea about the importance of images, saying that a company like Image could only have been started by artists. He explained that illustrators can only do one book per month, whereas writers can do one book a week. If writers had tried to create Image, they likely would have kept writing other books at the “big two” (aka DC and Marvel).
This would have been problematic because fans would then keep buying the “known” product, and would have ignored Image. With the group of founders that they put together, if fans wanted to see their favorite artists, the only place they could do it was at Image. McFarlane believes this was the reason that the founders books all sold as well as they did.
While the panel mostly focused on the joyous periods at Image, a fan did ask the group about what their most challenging time was. McFarlane knew which moment this was, right away: “When Jim Lee left.”
In addition to losing a friend, McFarlane explained, Lee took his entire studio with him when he left. As a publisher, Image has to hit certain numbers with their distributor, and they struggled after he left. At this same time, Valentino took over as lead for the publisher and began searching for new talent and new types of books. Fortunately, he found an eager writer named Robert Kirkman, who helped to usher in a new era at the publisher, and eventually became a partner (obviously). Thus, things come full circle to this panel celebrating Image, where all the creators present eagerly expressed their enthusiasm in seeing what the next 25 years will hold for the publisher.
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