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Friday, October 21, 2016 

A sugarcoated look at Image's origins

Vice's Creators Project gives a pretty superficial view of how Image was founded in the early 1990s, most tellingly in their notes on Rob Liefeld:
The company first came about after artists and writers Todd McFarlane (creator of Spawn), Jim Lee, and Rob Liefeld left Marvel after huge successes. They (and the other like-minded comic creators who joined them) felt they weren’t being justly compensated for their meteoric work, so they split and Image was born. “These weren’t just hot headed kids rebelling against the system,” kaptainkristian explains in the video. “These were the driving forces of the entire industry. Comics were picking up steam, and the creators wanted equal compensation.” This desire drives the central ethos behind Image: all comics are 100% owned by the people who create them.

As soon as they formed the new company, readership followed. “For just a short time,” says kaptainkristian, “what was popular were the books and the creators, not just the characters. Image was a gateway for millions of new fans to get into comics, and it also served as a jumping-on point for people too intimidated by the four or five decades of history and continuity of Marvel and DC comics.”
Was it the creators? I suppose you could say that, but what's certainly lacking here is any note on the quality of the writing, and in Liefeld's case, the artwork. What drove Image in at least some instances was, most unfortunately, the speculator bubble, variant and silver foil-style covers that were little more than cheap gimmicks. Liefeld himself all but left after fallouts with the rest of staff over Youngblood, which had a very troubled publication history as it is.

Did the above artists have big successes? Yes, but in Liefeld's case, it was for all the wrong reasons, as his artwork did not a good book make, and the quality of New Mutants plummeted due to his incompetent style (so what did Marvel do? Replaced it with X-Force, which didn't come at a great time for superherodom). McFarlane and Lee are far more talented artists, though Spawn is really nothing to write home about. And did the medium really pick up steam? Not for long, and it sank down again after the speculator bubble burst pretty quickly.

As for people worried about decades of continuity in the mainstream superhero worlds, here's something to consider: it was only by the mid-90s that things really started to deteriorate, and bad storytelling is the real reason why anybody should find a lot of continuity troubling. There's also the fact that by that decade, it seems like that's all most writers could think of doing; harkening back to whatever they thought was great for alluding to, even if their newer story pales terribly next to the older one. I'd also suggest too much reliance on costumed supervillains and such as adversaries hurt superhero tales. Even too many time travel stories must've taken a toll. How come those aren't considered as a potential factor in the decline and fall of superherodom? But surely the biggest fault is failure to judge each separate story on its own terms, not to mention the Big Two making it exceedingly difficult with their crossovers, something Image is guilty of taking up at times too.

At least they admit the above artists were only popular for a short time. And that's because - certainly in Liefeld's case - most people realized his work didn't have high value, and the Image books were only being bought by speculators, which hasn't changed much since. The approach to marketing is another serious fault. If comicdom had changed its approach and gone with a more paperback-style format where an ongoing series came out just 2-3 times a year, the industry could've weathered the storms much better, and I don't get why most people don't bring that up.

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