The five best announcements from Image Expo

In three short years, Image Comics has turned Image Expo into the first big comics event of the year. Interest in the publisher's announcements has reached the point where I wish there were live-streaming video of the presentation. Maybe next year. For now, we have to settle with live coverage, which was still pretty fun. Image Expo didn't disappoint: It seemed as if every title announced caught my interest. There are a few that stand out, however, so here are my Top 5 picks of the announcements that went above and beyond.

1. Image signs Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips to a five-year exclusive contract

The acclaimed collaborators have a perpetual green light at Image to do whatever they want for the next five years. That's a big vote of confidence, and a real commitment to support Brubaker and Phillips. It must be quite a relief for them to not have to worry about crafting the perfect pitch and convincing someone to believe in their story. They just get to create. It's an exciting arrangement, and one I hope will serve as a pilot program for others equally worthy.

The next five years should produce some memorable stories, judging from Fatale, their current Image series, or any of their previous collaborations. Their first project under this contract will be The Fade Out, a perfect title for a crime noir story set in 1940s Hollywood.

Brubaker and Phillips two Icon titles, Criminal and Incognito, will also move from the Marvel imprint to Image. Whether that simply means new editions of the collected reprints or new stories remains to be seen.

2. Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro tackle women prison movies with Bitch Planet

This will be fascinating: a self-labeled feminist with a love of exploitation films doing her take on campy women-in-prison movies with a comic about five prisoners trying to escape an all-female penal planet. DeConnick has acknowledged the challenge involved, and seems all too aware that such a disparity and conflict is extremely fertile ground for creativity. I'm not sure how she'll pull this off, and she may not succeed all of the time, but watching the execution will be entertaining. It's daring and bold, and I'm impressed she has the guts to try it.

What perhaps makes this even more notable is that the book is coming out at an interesting time in comics. Set within the context of the current dialogue regarding women in comics, I'm interested to see what, if any, kind of commentary will be included. It may not happen specifically or directly, but it seems like by its mere existence, one can't help but apply it to how women creators are treated by their peers and how they are represented in comics. Maybe that's an unfair association to make and an unfair subtext to attach to something sight unseen, but it's almost unavoidable, and may even make the reading experience all the richer.

3. Nick Dragotta recruits Fred Van Lente, Tom Fowler and Jordie Bellaire for new Howtoons

On the other end of the spectrum, Image is beefing up one of its most-neglected genres, comics intended for younger readers. About six years ago, Dragotta teamed up with inventor and entrepreneur Saul Griffith to produce entertaining comics that also taught younger kids to experiment, build, discover and explore. Howtoons earned a good deal of attention, sold out of two books and other merchandise, and then remained somewhat quiet. Now Howtoons is coming back, with Dragotta bringing in Fred Van Lente, who has experience with writing fun and digestible comics that also teach; his Action Philosophers and The Comic Book History of Comics are smart and funny. Fowler and Bellaire look like they're going to perfectly nail the really wonderful visuals Dragotta established for the first wave of Howtoons. The team will produce Howtoons: [re]ignition, which will bring a sci-fi/survivalist spin to the series. I'm hoping many will follow.

All-ages comics have excelled in the years since the first two Howtoons books were released. If these are distributed and marketed right, it should not only increase their profile, but also encourage Image and the creators that submit to it to embrace these kinds of comics more enthusiastically. Some valiant efforts have been made, but this is something they should be able to really run with.

4. Nick Spencer is doing a lot!

Outside of Robert Kirkman, I don't know whether anyone else was attached to more projects, as Spencer announced a trio of books that really drive the point home: If you didn't know already, he's a creator to watch.

Recruiting a high-caliber artist like Butch Guice to a rare turn at creator-owned comics is a major coup for both Spencer and Image. Their series Paradigms already looks stunning and will mix magic fantasy with a spy thriller feel to explore hidden sorcerer clans at war with each other for their gods.

Of course, Frazer Irving is no slouch, either. He and Spencer previously collaborated on Bedlam, where Irving has been a cover artist. Now we'll get to see his lush interior art on the sci-fi thriller Cerulean, where the last survivors of a destroyed Earth try to start over on a mysterious planet. Intrigue in space? Yes, please!

The final book is called Great Beyond and features relative newcomer Morgan Jeske, who worked on Ales Kot's debut miniseries Change. Spencer and Jeske will explore a sci-fi look at the afterlife, which should be weird and full of social commentary.

All this while presumably still doing the addictive Morning Glories with Joe Eisma. This is the kind of creative blitz I love to see, and I'm really looking forward to watching Spencer's career continue.

5. Brandon Graham creates a new universe with 8House

Speaking of interesting career trajectories, here's Brandon Graham being wonderfully unique. He's doing a series of three sci-fi miniseries, all set in a new universe of his own design. Each miniseries focuses on a different aspect of the world ruled by eight different houses. As this is the mind that gave us King City and the way-better-than-it-had-any-right-to-be Prophet relaunch, I can only imagine this will be an awesome ride.

Even better than that, he's teaming up with Emma Rios, Marian Churchland and some creators I've never heard of but assume, based on Graham's past recruits, will be excellent. Rios will take a rare turn at writing with 8House: Mirror, drawn by Hwei Lim. It seems a shame to not have Rios both draw and write it, but based on the work posted on Lim's blog and this really graceful and perceptive short story, I think I'll survive somehow. Marian Churchland will handle art for 8House: Arclight, which should also look fantastic. And I'm looking forward to getting to know Xurxo Penalta's artwork better. He'll handle the art for 8House: Kiem. Discovering new talents and new worlds are some of my favorite things to do with comics, so this set looks to be ideal.

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