Since its founding in 1992, Image Comics has become a bastion for creator-owned comics -- printed creator-owned comics, that is. Its 20th anniversary is a banner year for Image, with a multitude of prominent new series as well as stalwarts like Spawn and The Walking Dead reaching some milestones. However, the publisher has stayed completely out of the webcomics game. Yes, Image releases some of its books digitally the same day as print, and Top Cow is partnering with digital portal Thrillbent for the new Pilot Season titles -- but in terms of Image Central titles debuting original material first and building a creator-owned frontier online, nada.
In the more than 25 years since the advent of online comics, the medium has steadily built up steam and has become a major part of the broader comics industry -- but its largely been separate from "comic books" the way comic strips and political cartoons are. But that division is breaking down every day, with DC and Marvel experimenting with digital-first comic books, and print heavyweights like Mark Waid, Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen creating comics for the web with any print considerations held off until later. In print comic books the majority of the titles are company-owned, but in the free range of webcomics that is practically flipped in favor of creator-owned comics.
Although some creators associated with Image, and even some of its splinter studios like Shadowline, have experimented with releasing original material to the web first, Image as a whole has so far completely avoided the issue. The closest the company has come to it is printed editions of popular webcomics like The Li'l Depressed Boy, Valentine and PVP. In 2007 ,Image published a non-fiction How to Make Webcomics book, but as far as Image organizing and distributing webcomics on its own ... nothing, yet.
I'm not saying Image doing webcomics is a no-brainer. Practically speaking, it would take some investment of time, people and most importantly, money, and Image has largely been a small, tight-knit outfit with most creators working on their own books for free in hopes of at least breaking even a few months down the road. But with Avatar successfully funding Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield's FreakAngels, First Second releasing a majority of its titles online first, and former Image Publisher Jim Valentino experimenting with it through Shadowline, I think a well-planned, slow-growth webcomics line at Image could reap major rewards for the company and for its creators.
What do you think?