The Savage Publisher: Larsen New Image Boss

A new chapter officially began in the story of Image Comics today.

Founded 12 years ago by Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri, Rob Liefeld and Jim Valentino, Image Comics launched as a major player in the comics industry, selling millions of comics monthly. Since then, the company has changed dramatically as Jim Lee sold his WildStorm Studios to DC Comics and Rob Liefeld was voted out of the company. Today was another major shake-up for the company: CBR News learned Thursday afternoon that Erik Larsen has replaced Jim Valentino as Publisher of Image Comics.

"Well, jeepers, I just got a new job!" Larsen said when CBR News spoke with him from his home in Northern California Thursday. "I'm really, really pleased to be doing it and I hope I can make it work. I'm taking over as the publisher of Image Comics. Jim Valentino is stepping aside and we're going to try and make some cool comic books. That's about it."

Of course, the story doesn't end with "that's about it." Larsen said the change came about because people inside the company felt Image should be exploring new directions.

"The general consensus has been that it seems like we should be trying to steer this ship in a little bit different direction here," said Larsen. "I'm hoping that Jim [Valentino] can do some more creative stuff instead of being the guy sitting behind the desk. I hope we'll see some good stuff out of him. He's still an Image partner. He will still be a part of the Image masthead, as it were, but I'm going to be steering some of that ship.

"Over the years, there've been different relationships with people that he's helped nurture and I'm hoping to keep those going and to add to it. Jim came from very much the alternative camp of the world of comics and I'm much more from the mainstream, funny book, end of things. The thought was that if I was in charge and running the ship that perhaps some of those avenues can be opened up a bit more. That's kind of what I'm looking at, to be able to say that we've got different types of creators coming in and kind of rebuild some of the luster that Image has had in the past and more of the kind of books that excite me as a reader. In the meantime, we're still going to be publishing a number of books that would have been considered alternative comics back in the day. That's not going to change. The idea here is that we'll do more of the good books, less of the bad books and trim the fat where it needs to be trimmed."

Larsen pointed out that there was no specific event that precipitated these events. No one did anything particularly bad or out of line, just that there was a feeling a "fresh young face," as Larsen put it, was needed.

"So, we're going from the oldest Image founder to the youngest Image founder. And if it fails with me, God dang it, we're gonna have to get Rob [Liefeld] back!"

Larsen noted he had not yet had a chance to talk with Valentino about the change as things happened very quickly, all of this taking place this week. Discussions were handled mostly by Image partner Marc Silvestri, who talked things over with Valentino, discussing the details of how the transition was to work.

One thing that won't change with Larsen's new position as publisher is where he lives: Larsen won't be moving from his home in Northern California down to Orange County in Southern California, the home of Image. Serving as Larsen's right hand man at Image will be current Marketing Director, Eric Stephenson.

"Eric Stephenson is basically going to be taking over some of the responsibilities that Jim had. Mostly it's going to be in dealing with stuff at Diamond and stuff like that. He's going to be really my right hand man in Image because I'm not moving! I'm not going down there. I'm going to be doing this from where I'm at. That's fine, because, I draw comic books all day. I've got a headset, and I can sit here and do that till the cows come home."

Specific changes he might institute have not been discussed yet, but he has some early ideas and goals. Issues regarding co-branding with studio names on covers of published comics or advertisements from toy companies that aren't McFarlane Toys, which have been a deciding factor in some studios leaving Image, have not been addressed yet.

"We'll get there when we come to it. I know that in terms of the way there's that big yellow thing on the side of our trades, there's a number of creators who are not real happy about that and don't really like the way that looks. I say, 'Well, then you don't have to do it.' There are a number of people who like that, like how it stands out and how you can see them from a mile away on the shelf. It was an attempt at branding. It worked for some people, and not for others. All the Marvel books don't say Marvel in the same way, all the DC books don't say DC in the same way, so let's not be so hard ass about this."

And Larsen is interested in trying to reform relationships with studios and creators who've left Image.

"I would like to, yes. I'm not opposed to that at all. The problem with some of the people who have done numerous books for us in the past, who've come to us and said they'd like to do a line, is that there'll be three books in that line that'll be terrific and then two books in that line that nobody should be publishing. I really don't want to be in a position where I'm forced to take on books that embarrass everybody just in order to keep people happy. It's like, look guys, you've gotta come in here with some common sense and some understanding of what we're trying to do here. What we're trying to do is build a better Image Comics and if you're getting in the way of that, that's not going to work for me.

"Our priority right now is letting people know that there has been a change, that things have shifted, and mostly to get the word out to creators what the deal is [with Image Comics]. I really get this impression sometimes that people don't understand what Image Comics is all about. When they hear about it they say, 'Well, why wouldn't I not want to do that?' I don't think enough people understand that Image takes nothing. Image doesn't own anybody's rights at all. We're not going to sit there and tie up your movie rights. People can come to Image and go from Image as they please. That is a very novel thing in this industry.

"This kind of fell in my lap. It really came together rather quickly and I'm rolling with the punches. Today has mostly been spent calling up various freelancers and assuring them the sky's not falling. Interesting times at this point. There are a lot of things Jim had in the pipeline and I want to make sure that guys we had promised stuff to, that those promises are kept, and I want to make sure that the good books stay, the bad books go and everything kind of works itself out.

"I want to get the trains running on time. That's an important thing for me, to try and sweet talk some of these guys into helping me help them. I would like to see all of our stuff do better. I'd like to see more people come into Image doing the kinds of books they'd like to do."

According to Diamond's Market Share break down for January of 2004, Image saw one of its lowest months ever as a publisher, scoring just 4.20 percent of the market dollar share and 3.84 percent of the unit share, coming in fourth after Marvel, DC and Dark Horse. Larsen sees that changing.

"We're going to turn that around. I don't see any reason why not. Come on, we're the friendliest damn bunch of guys you'd ever want to meet anyway. Who's not on board with that?"

What about that oft discussed 10th anniversary book that's been just as oft-delayed? Now that he's in charge, what's Larsen going to do about it?

"Get it done! Marc's working on his. Todd's is at this point penciled, inked, colored and just needs to be scripted and lettered. Todd's really right there. He's almost ready to go. I think it's kind of been this staring contest between him and Marc. Marc's at the point now where he says, 'I'm gonna get mine done so it's not me holding up the show.'"

Fans of Larsen's work on "Savage Dragon," currently the only original Image book being written and drawn by its creator, need not worry as he believes his new position as publisher won't get in the way. He's been publishing about 10 issues a year and plans on keeping to that schedule.

"I'm working on issue #115 right now and it's a 100 page issue. That takes work! It's going to be a cool comic, but to say this is going to come out exactly one month after #114, well, I don't think it's quite going to make that! And then we switched printers between #112 and #113 so there got to be this humongous gap between those two. At this point we'll be on a fairly regular schedule."

One of Larsen's big plans for the title is to have its star run for President of the United States. That's right, Candidate Dragon will soon be gracing the pages of "Savage Dragon."

"It's kind of something that I've hemmed and hawed about a little bit," admitted Larsen. "If I'm getting better, or cooler stories out of the deal, then yeah, let's do it. If I'm sitting here thinking now it's going to be 'The West Wing' on paper and just people talking to one another, well, good God, who wants to read that? Nobody! Who wants to read page after page of Dragon bringing up bills in front of people or signing stuff? That's not exciting at all. But, if it's a situation where Dragon's going to China and dealing with that and there's a big funky Chinese Dragon attacking the place, well, somebody's gotta kick his ass! If it can lead to some cool world hopping stuff, different locales and different situations, then that's cool.

"Right now what I've got going on is a 'Vicious Circle' story which concludes with issue #115. #116 starts this 'Powerless' storyline where Jennifer loses her super powers and she becomes a regular human being. During that is when the question of whether or not Dragon is going to run or not begins. Ultimately he decides to run and by November we find out where things are. It will coincide with the [U.S.] general election."

While Larsen admits he's not a political nut, he does follow politics with some regularity. But don't expect Dragon's run for the Presidency to just be a comment on current political practices of either of the major two U.S. parties.

"Will there be asides to things people are familiar with? Yes. Are there going to be familiar characters showing up? Yes. Is Dragon going to be the Democratic candidate? No. He'll be part of a third party that at this point is unnamed. To say I'm going to substitute him for either the Democratic or Republican candidate seemed too far removed from reality."

Larsen had these final thoughts to share about Image and what he hopes to bring back to the company.

"I know there's always been a contingent of people who say, 'I hate Image Comics.' In my tenure I want to make it so that nobody can say that. I want them to say, 'I hate Image Comics, but I gotta buy this book!'

"I've been with Image for 12 years and I want to ensure it'll be around for another 12."

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