INSIDE IMAGE COMICS
PART ONE: JAY FAERBER
Thus far in this column, we've supplied aspiring creators information on how to pitch their creator-owned ideas to Oni Press, NBM Publishing, and even the much talked about Epic line. Although, now it seems that Marvel is no longer accepting pitches for creator-owned material. Well, there are other options besides Epic, including one that's been around for several years now, and if your stuff doesn't fit in with the aforementioned "indy" publishers…
Image Comics has what many call the best creator-owned deal in the industry. Based on my own experiences publishing a couple of books with the company, I tend to agree. My first full-color comic was published by Image. My first ever royalty check came from Image. My first foreign reprint deal as well. I also learned some very important lessons about comic production, promotion and publishing, while working with the people at the Image Central offices. So, yeah, it's a good deal if you can get it.
But you don't have to take my word for it. This is the first of three interviews with Image Comics creators giving us an insider's look on how to pitch a book to the company, how to put that book together, and how to survive the whole experience.
Up first is a writer whose credits include "Generation X", "New Warriors," "Titans," "Venture" and "Robotech: Love and War" among many others. A writer who pretty much put a successful freelance writing career on hold to take a chance on publishing a creator-owned project at Image Comics. So, what the hell was Jay Faerber thinking?
TORRES: Let's begin where it all began for you at Image. Tell us about "Noble Causes."
FAERBER: "Noble Causes" is the story of Liz Donnelly, an ordinary young woman who married Race Noble, who comes from a family of world-famous super-heroes. Race is tragically murdered on the couple's wedding night, leaving Liz tangled up with this crazy super-hero family. The book is played like a nighttime soap opera - the Noble family is rich and famous beyond belief, but also rather petty and self-absorbed when behind closed doors. So rather than focus on them saving the world, the thrust of the book is about their various personal conflicts and melodramas, with Liz very often acting like the only sane person in the room. It's also my first creator-owned project.
TORRES: How's it doing for you?
FAERBER: It's doing pretty well. We can always use more readers, of course, but numbers on the last two issues of the most recent miniseries actually increased - and that's almost unheard of. Numbers usually decrease after issue #1. And I hear that our first trade paperback was the third highest selling Image TPB this past month.
TORRES: So, how did the project end up at Image?
FAERBER: I created "Noble Causes" specifically for Image. It all started at Wizard World 2000, when I met Image's then-Marketing Director, Anthony Bozzi. At the time, Image wasn't really doing any super-hero books. They'd done almost nothing but super-hero books for so long, I think they'd made a conscious move away from them, and by 2000, the pendulum had swung a little too far. But anyway, Anthony and I got to talking, and he encouraged me to pitch them a book - even a super-hero book. Before the convention was even over, I had my concept - a family of super-heroes, played like a soap opera - and was starting to flesh things out. I'd met C.B. Cebulski at the same convention. This was long before he became an editor at Marvel, and he was publishing a great new book called "Sidekicks." C.B. and I were both living in New York, so we got together so I could pick his brain about making comics. Within no time, C.B. had agreed to collaborate on "Noble Causes" with me, acting as a Managing Editor, to help traffic the book, and make up for my own inexperience. I figured Image would help me out, but I didn't want to be seen as high maintenance in their eyes. So, after assembling a creative team, I sent in my pitch, and heard back from Image a few days later. This was just days before Christmas - what a great present, eh?
TORRES: How's it been working with Image on this book, or "Venture" your second creator-owned title with the company?
FAERBER: It's been great. I've never had a company show such faith in me before. If I want to do something, they'll help me make it happen. I recently pitched them a new book, and when Jim Valentino called me to say they'd publish it, he casually mentioned that he hadn't actually read the whole pitch - but he trusted me. That was one of the nicest things anyone's ever said to me.The only downside to working at Image is the fact that they don't have the financial backing of DC, or even Marvel. So their advertising budget is significantly less. That means you're going to find more of an accent on guerrilla marketing - websites, message boards, that kind of thing.
TORRES: A lot of people may not realize that publishing a book through Image means that creators have to wear different hats. Could you elaborate on this a little, talk about the process of getting the book from your hard drive to the printers?
FAERBER: Yeah, the creators are responsible for pretty much everything involved with creating a comic, when you work with Image. To some people, that can be a turn-off. I know some writers who just want to write. They don't want to have to worry about making sure the coloring looks right, and keeping everyone on schedule. For me, I love it. I'm a control freak, and I love being involved in the process as much as possible.
Everyone works differently, but the way my books work is that after the black and white artwork has been scanned in, it's sent to the colorist and the letterer simultaneously. They each do their thing, and then the colorist sends his finished files over to my letterer. I work with a variety of colorists, but my letterer is always Ray Dillon, of Golden Goat Studios. So Ray gets the colored files, and then he composites them along with his lettering files, creating the finished file - colored, lettered artwork.
Ray then sends these files on CD to the folks at Image. They look over the finished files - just to make sure everything's in order, and we're not using Spider-Man without permission, or whatever. At the same time Ray sends the files to Image, I send over a printed mock copy of the book, printed off of my inkjet printer. This shows what goes on every page - ads and everything.
The guys at Image send this stuff - along with the cover that they compose in-house, using artwork we've sent them - to Robert Chong, of Quantum Color FX, our film outputter and printer. Robert runs print-ready film from the files Ray sent him, and Fed-Ex's me a mock copy of the finished comic. I check it over, and if there are any errors, I tell Robert. He'll either fix them himself, or he and Ray will talk it over, and figure out the best way to proceed. I'm pretty illiterate when it comes down to the technical stuff, so I always tell Robert to just contact Ray directly, since I usually don't understand what he's talking about. But they figure it out, and once they do, Robert prints the book. He sends me a few advance copies, sends some to Image, and then ships the rest off to Diamond, so they can distribute the book. That's pretty much it.
TORRES: How much of a say do you have in the selection of film outputting? Paper stock? Where it gets printed? What about release dates? Or even before that, the format of the book? And who makes the call as to when the book was launched?
FAERBER: Basically, all of those decisions were made in conjunction with Image. I didn't know anything about creating comics - other than writing them - when I pitched "Noble Causes," so I relied on Image and C.B. Cebulski, who was around to advise me during the early days of the series, to help me make those decisions.
C.B. suggested we use Robert Chong to handle our film outputting, and he's now our printer, as well. Image had to OK our choice of printer, but Robert handles other books for them, so there wasn't a problem there.
The release date for the book was mutually agreed upon by all of us, based on when I could have the book ready, and when Image had room in their schedule to launch a new series.
TORRES: What can creators expect from the Image "deal?" Who is responsible for what costs? How is the pie cut up if a book turns a profit? And what about creative control and ownership?
FAERBER: Well, the finer points of the Image deal are best left discussed between Image and their creators. But the important stuff is that the creator retains full creative control and ownership. The only place Image has any real authority is on the covers of your book. They reserve the right to oversee cover illustrations and approve logo designs, but it's never been a problem on any of my books. They'll always work with you on stuff.
Another important part of the Image deal is that there are no up-front costs. I keep hearing nonsense online about how Image makes you pay them up front to publish your book. That's completely untrue. They do take a set fee - as opposed to a percentage of sales - off the back-end, but that's only after your book makes money. They front the money to the printer as well, so there's no out-of-pocket expense to the creator.
The last big important part is that Image is a back-end deal - you don't get a page rate like at Marvel or DC. You get paid after the book goes on sale, and your take depends on the book's profits. You get whatever's left after Image and the printer have been paid.
TORRES: So, what was in your pitch for "Noble Causes" that sold them on the idea?
FAERBER: My pitch included 8 pages of drawn, lettered sequential art, a color promotional shot, a one-page written "mission statement" describing the series, an outline for the first 6 issues, and character bios for all the major players (basically, one paragraph of text along with a sketch of the character).
TORRES: The first thing a writer needs to do if they're considering Image as a publisher is...
FAERBER: Get comfortable with the idea that you're not going to make quick cash. Image is set up as a back-end deal, so you don't see a dime until after your book comes out. And, if your book doesn't sell well enough, you may not see any money at all. But, if you can hang in there, you stand to make money on reorders and trade paperback collections.
TORRES: Okay, after I've resigned myself to not making very much money, if at all, what else should I prepare for?
FAERBER: Well, that's not exactly what I said. I said you wouldn't make "quick cash." When you're working for Marvel or DC - or any work-for-hire gig - you turn in your script along with a voucher, and get paid about three weeks later. And this is all months before the issue hits the stands. At Image, you don't get paid until 60 days after your book comes out. So there's a much longer wait time between when you do the actual work, and when you see any money.
But as for what else you should prepare for... prepare for delays. Something always comes up. The latest "Noble Causes" mini-series is experiencing one such delay right now, in fact. My artist was in the hospital for a week, which threw the book out of whack. Now I have to decide if I should wait for him to finish the first issue, making it even later, or give the remaining pages to someone else. It's a real tough call. So work as far ahead as you can, and build a buffer into your schedule. For instance, if your book is due at Image on July 15th, tell the guys on your book it's due July 1st. Give yourself some wiggle room, in case something happens.
TORRES: Have you learned any lessons or made any mistakes during the process of working on "Noble Causes" or "Venture" that you'd like to share with aspiring creators, to help them avoid going down that same road?
FAERBER: I remember early on, Jim Valentino telling me that I have to be "the boss" on my book. I can't be everyone's friend. And he's right. If you're in charge of your book, you gotta be in charge. Sometimes that means being a hard ass if guys are falling behind, or worse - firing someone who's not living up to his end of the deal. I personally like all the guys I work with, but to me, the book comes first. You have to do what's best for the book, even if that means making decisions that aren't going to make your guys happy.
With "Venture", we really were too optimistic that the book - along with the other Image super-hero books that launched with it - would be a success, and, well, it wasn't. Jamal was drawing the third issue when we got our orders in on the first, and he had to stop after #3 in order to pick up some freelance work to pay the bills. Our mistake was in not setting up our finances to accommodate a slower start to the book. In retrospect, we should've had more issues in the can up front, so we could allow the book to exist for awhile longer, and find its audience.
TORRES: Has it been worth all the sacrifices, Jay?
FAERBER: Yeah, I quit "Titans" - my only monthly book at the time - because it was too creatively stifling after having such freedom on "Noble Causes." Financially, that probably wasn't the smartest move. But I don't regret it. "Noble Causes" is the work I'm most proud of, by far, in my comics career, and it's worth all the sacrifices I've had to make in order to see it realized.
Next week: "Nowheresville" and "Whiskey Dickel" creator Mark Ricketts is the second of our "Inside Image" interviewees.
Meanwhile, drop by the Open Your Mouth message boards to discuss your noble causes and comic book ventures.
Thank you for your attention.