Image is everything.

The title of this post is a bit of a misnomer since I plan to touch upon comic companies directly competing with Image, but good headlines are hard to come by! I’ve been thinking a bit about my previous posts concerning the fate of Vertigo (of which there were many). I had come to the conclusion that Image would usurp Vertigo’s grip on the publication of cutting-edge titles from superstar creators and talent on the cusp of notoriety. Looking at Image’s line-up, I can certainly say that I was right. I had also assumed that Vertigo would then conquer IDW’s domain, bringing quality cult classics from other arenas to the world of comics. My belief was that IDW would simply roll over, unable to compete with DC’s monetary resources. Those predictions were wrong. IDW has in fact strengthened its position: securing work from creators Jeff Parker, Steve Niles, and Duane Swierczynski; luring away former DC editor Sarah Gaydos (who can boast of her work on Vertigo’s Django Unchained); and expanding its list of titles. Clearly realizing that there is strength in numbers, Dark Horse and Dynamite have entered into a partnership. While the partnership concerns only digital works, there are still many more months of announcements and a long stretch of convention season still ahead of us.

Where does this leave Vertigo? Stripped of its power and glory—seemingly embedded in its former executive editor, Karen Berger—it must begin once more as a fledgling imprint, laying the groundwork necessary to rebuild its talent pool and brand. At first glance, it seems to be doing a superb job, publishing work such as Prince of Cats and Django Unchained. Though the works listed are of a higher quality than the fare once found on UPN and the WB, I can’t help but recall how the struggling stations bolstered their ratings by reaching out to talent of color—and wonder if DC has attempted the same with projects from writers such as Mat Johnson and Ronald Wimberly (as well as the earlier acquisition of Milestone’s characters). That Prince of Cats does not boast an i in its upper left-hand-corner should honestly be of great embarrassment to Image. That Mat Johnson has made Vertigo his home in the four-color realm should be unsettling as well. Why is Image unable to “seal the deal” with creators such as these?

But will Vertigo possess the ability to do so much longer given the absence of Berger and her protégés?

“I wrote a scene where Juliet is smoking weed with her homegirls in the bathroom. I started thinking about NY in the late ’70s and ’80s, [so] I put that in there. Karen liked it. Karen was real supportive. It was important to me that Karen dug the characters. I broke down the whole book.

“I guess here’s where things got difficult. I got lost in the bureaucracy. They switched editors twice on ‘PoC,’ and in the end, I lost that game of musical chairs, and badly. I had to nag to get things looked at and approved. Because I wanted certain control over things like color and design, the process was held up further. The fact that I’m a bit mercurial didn’t help.”Ronald Wimberly

The empire has clearly fallen, and I think this remaining dominion of Vertigo will be conquered by organizations such as Dark Horse, Oni, Top Shelf, Drawn & Quarterly, and—of course—Kickstarter. As for Vertigo, I wonder if it will simply become an imprint for quirky off-brand works featuring existing DC properties.

I (and many others) have jokingly referred to Image as the new Vertigo, but can Image become the new DC?

“Image will increasingly shift from creator-owned to in-house properties. These ‘in-house’ properties may themselves be partially creator-owned, but the focus will be far more on developing their own brands (in the style of ‘The Walking Dead’) than launching those of independent entities. Of course, a big part of this has to do with TV/movie options, etc.”Valerie D’Orazio

A shift in Image from creator-owned to in-house properties? Sounds ludicrous, no? For those paying attention to interviews with Stephenson, it shouldn’t seem too farfetched.

“One of the things we’ve been working on this year, with our What’s Next campaign is to focus more attention on continuing series, through both ads and retail posters, because it is important for people to be aware of those books. We’re also working on a variety of retail incentives to make it as easier for retailers to support a title at literally any point in its run, whether it’s on issue one or 100.”Eric Stephenson

I don’t think Image will ever abandon its focus on creator-owned properties, but I think there will be greater emphasis placed on promoting books featuring characters owned by the Image partners. After all, charity begins at home.

Can Image become the new DC? DC is an engine that runs on the fuel of its beloved icons; Image is a young company and possesses no icons. However, with twenty years beneath its belt, Image can certainly use nostalgia to its advantage. Just as it was successfully achieved with the Extreme titles, Image can reinvigorate interest by (1) relaunching earlier works with new visions by popular creators and (2) providing longstanding Image titles with consistent material by their original creators, cosmetic revisions for struggling works, and new “jumping on” points for all.

In regards to diversity, DC simply takes a consumer’s approach, using its vast resources in an attempt to acquire what it has difficultly cultivating in house—popular characters of color and a diverse writing staff. Image appears content to be pursued by talent, which generally results in homogeneity in regards to race and gender. Earlier, I was discussing with a friend how I felt that talented black writers mainly tended to eschew the mainstream, convinced in the belief they are not welcome. Now, it seems there is even an avoidance of smaller companies, with Kickstarter reaping the benefits—leaving slim pickings for actual publishing companies.

“No one likes to say this out loud, but for the most part, the submissions publishers receive are not very good. By and large, the art is so bad that even the proudest parent in the world wouldn’t put it on the fridge if their kid brought it home from school. There are endless pitches that are either re-hashed versions of stories that have already been told, or even worse, completely incoherent. Most of the time, looking through the submissions pile is pretty depressing.”
Eric Stephenson

If a racially diverse selection of writers is a goal—and to be honest, it seemingly isn’t a goal for the industry, nor a concern outside of Black History Month—both DC and Image will have to select representatives who can act as talent scouts and impress upon the populace that diversity is a concern. Image will need to woo established writers of color (Liu, Bernardin, etc.) from other comic companies and arenas; DC—hit with a wave of bad press that has made many established writers wary—may have to settle for grooming novice writers with potential.

“Don’t know if [Milestone] would fit at Image. They’re kind of about that solo pioneer spirit. And imprints revolve around one creator’s properties.”
—Cheryl Lynn Eaton

The above quote is one from a debate I had on Twitter on whether Image could succeed with an imprint akin to Milestone where DC had clearly failed. Though Image excels at world-building across multiple titles (as most comic companies excel), those worlds clearly spring from one writer’s creative vision—generally, one lone white guy (Kirkman, Silvestri, etc.). What was so wonderful about Milestone was that men and women from a large variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds came together to create quality comics featuring a world that was equally as diverse. Image cannot provide that. DC cannot provide that. I cannot think of one company that possesses the diversity, the level of talent, and the financial stability required to recreate such an operation. All three are required for it to work.

All in all, I’m interested to see how things unfold—for Vertigo, for Image, and for the industry as a whole. Even Milestone, which celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year, may have surprises in store.