For the past few years, Image Comics has been enjoying a quiet renaissance. While the continued success of the founding studios' array of titles has done well for the company, the profound impact of newer works like "The Walking Dead," "Invincible," "True Story Swear To God," "Fell" and "Girls" has made the Berkeley, CA publisher the premier destination for creator-owned, innovative comics. Image's star is set to shine even brighter still with the hiring of Mark Haven Britt, who this month began working as Image's new Director of Marketing. CBR News sat down with "the new guy" to talk about what his plans are to bring Image's message to the people.
For those readers perhaps unfamiliar with the job of a marketing director, it is quite simply to make sure the project in question - in this case, Image Comics - finds the largest possible audience. "For years now, I've been obsessed with the comic book industry's growth. Why is that comic great? How could it reach a wider audience? Is it because they're not getting to the right news outlets? Is that cover acting as a thoughtful advocate for the work inside? Yes, I think about geeky stuff like that," Britt told CBR News.
As Britt notes, his biggest strength as a marketing director is his love for comics. "I'm a Wednesday guy. I love comics. Most of my friends are cartoonists. I've worked in a comic book store. I know the direct market and my business over the last ten years has been to craft projects to succeed in the mass market. I am built for this job."
It was a chance meeting in San Francisco's legendary Comic Relief bookstore that connected Britt with Eric Stephenson, Image's Executive Director. "Over the [next] few months," explained Britt, "Eric Stephenson and I met up a few times to talk about my graphic novel. After talking about comics and my history, he asked if I'd be interested in taking over the Director of Marketing position at Image. He asked me if I wanted a job at a company I respect, working with creators that inspire me, promoting books that I love. I thought about it for two or three seconds, and here I am. The process was stunningly simple."
Britt, who comes to Image after art direction stints at The Andy Warhol Foundation, Guinness and ESPN, believes firmly that getting the word out is one of Image's most serious needs. Once awareness is created, the comics will speak for themselves. "I think the most serious need is being met: quality comics," Britt said. "'Madman,' 'The Walking Dead,' 'Girls,' 'The Nightly News,' 'Fell,' 'Casanova,' 'Phonogram,' 'Cryptics,' 'Rocketo' - Image has a fleet of incredible books. The hardest part of this business is done."
A key component of Britt's plans for Image include setting up new systems to strategically promote the publisher's routinely acclaimed titles. "We need to get our genres into their specific markets as well as the direct market. Yes, we need to send out mass press releases, but we also need more contact with specific media outlets. For example, people who shop at Hot Topic eat up 'Strange Girl' and we need to create new ways to get their attention.
"An area we need to continue to develop is getting Image Comics to be part of the 'national conversation' and by that I mean what people talk about at the dinner table, at the water cooler and their blog. Our books should be discussed on NPR and talk radio. They should be regularly written about in the New York Times and 'Print' magazine.
"It's a long process. You make it happen one conversation at a time, one press release at a time. It's a huge challenge, but I'm up for it."
With genres across the line that include sci-fi, horror and traditional superhero, Image Comics is celebrated by many for its widely diverse range of books. While some may believe it difficult to market such diversity, Britt sees it as a boon.
"I don't see diversity as difficult to market. Some folks do. I don't. HBO is diverse and is synonymous with cutting edge television. 'The Walking Dead' and 'Invincible' are as different as two comic books can get from a marketing stand point, but fans eat 'em up. If you tell everyone you can about it and present it clearly, good work sells. It takes a-lot of work, but the recipe isn't complicated."
As previously alluded, Image Comics has undergone a magnificent metamorphosis in recent years, releasing much of the '00s best and most exciting output in every sort of genre. A side-effect of the change is perhaps some confusion as to the true identity of the publisher, fueled by the memory of Image's meteoric rise in the 1990s as well as lingering questions about its old reputation for style over substance.
"The identity of Image Comics consists of visionary comics created by professionals. We've been told by retailers to keep the Image 'i' prominent because it helps close the sale. Folks see a cover they like, flip through the comic and think the comic looks great, but they don't know who the creator is. If they're familiar with our line of books and see that 'i,' they're getting that book. The key part of this equation is building that name recognition.
"As far as a visual identity? Over the next few months, we're going to tune up our identity a bit. Nothing aggressive. Nothing overwhelming. We want our Web site to be in harmony with our 'Previews' pages and those to be in harmony with our house ads. We want to showcase our creators talent on an elegant stage. On the books themselves? Pretty much just the 'i.' The image 'i' is here to stay, baby."
As you can see, Britt is one relentlessly enthused marketing director. In his words, he wants to handout his enthusiasm for Image Comics like free pints of beer. "I want everyone to love these books. Wednesday guys and gals. Folks who haven't picked up a comic in awhile. Folks who have never picked up a comic. I want creators to know that Image is a place where their books will be relentlessly, lovingly, obsessively promoted."
Britt is similarly dedicated to reaching out to the other side of the counter as well, pledging to make it easier for journalists to interact with Image creators. And he's proclaimed a commitment to retailers: "I want to be retailers' best friend," adding, "I am determined to keep retailers happy with our product."
Staff Writer Andy Khouri contributed to this story.