If you’re not reading Saga and/or Wicked + Divine, you’re not truly living. Sorrynotsorry.
The ECCC weekend kicked off with Image Expo, a separately ticketed event in conjunction with Comic Con, held at Showbox. About 200 guests turned up to meet-and-greet with Image Comics creators, artists, and writers.
Eric Stephenson, CEO, gave a keynote address to start it all, saying, “Nothing is impossible.” The audience heard that comics helped him learn to read; he soon became addicted to reading. The mother of a friend of his had a large collection of comic books, and she mostly kept her love of them quiet, because “comics were written for boys” at the time. “Just think about how obnoxious that sounds,” he said, “…Everything should be for everyone.” Stephenson went on to motivate everyone listening: “It’s not enough to believe in change; you have to participate in change. You have to do the work.” In sum, nothing is impossible, but you have to roll up your sleeves and dig in.
After the speech, announcements were presented regarding upcoming titles from Image. Without listing everything, I can tell you that a ton of great stories are coming our way. Many releases post-June will feature WOC protagonists, diverse large casts, excellent art, and fantastical settings. At the press conference later on, there was a chance to speak one-on-one with the creators of the all-new comics.
“Black Cloud,” by Jason Latour and Ivan Brandon, features a story of a “Stockholm-syndrome Jessica Jones meets Roger Rabbit,” who is an alien, but portrayed as a woman of color. I asked what it’s like, or if it feels weird, to write someone opposite of who you are. Brandon agreed that it’s an important topic. Latour, as a Southern white dude, said that although he can’t speak to experiences of being born or growing up any other way, he can focus on the character, what she means, and how the story unfolds. He may not know how an African-American woman might live or act, but he can challenge himself to write for the character and the narrative, and continue to learn as much as he can.
“Glitterbomb,” by Jim Zub, features a single mother at Hollywood’s “invisible” age, where women are too old to be the hot eye candy and too young to play a wizened grandma. Farrah explores the literal truth of eating/exacting revenge on those who put her on a pedestal as an actress, then watched her fall when she couldn’t live up to their standards of beauty/art. Zub said the artist, Morrissette, is all of 21 years old and uses his skills like a seasoned veteran who didn’t grow up with digital art. I asked him, “What made you go with a middle-aged female in Hollywood as opposed to any other under-represented group?” He replied:
I see all of these incredible actresses in their prime…[“prime” in air quotes]…That’s such a derogatory thing to even say…There’s this thing that when they’re young and they’re in all these films, and they’re amazing actors, and they’re incredibly skilled, and all of a sudden they hit an age when they’re no longer able to get work until they can become the grandmother. And it’s like ‘oh nice to see them get a cameo before they die in a horror movie’ or something. I always found that really crass and awful…But this idea that you’re past your prime…I’ve seen articles about how male leads are getting older and older and their co-stars are getting younger and younger. And this isn’t something against him specifically, but like Harrison Ford with like a 25-year-old, and he’s in his 70s…and I just thought that was so insane. That they have this weird ‘best by’ date on these female actors…That’s interesting to me. I’d love to dig into that. And it’s real fertile ground for frustration that I felt was really easy to understand: This thing that it’s nothing that you’ve done specifically as a person. Someone just decided there’s this invisible line that they said, ‘Uhp! You’re too old. Doesn’t matter how skilled you are, how good you are, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past, you’ve reached this invisible barrier and we’ve decided you’re out of the club.’ And it seemed like a very powerful impotus for someone’s frustration to grow.
He went on to say that as a male writer, he knows he can’t speak to all of the character experiences he’d like to explore, so he does as much research as he can to write with as much reference as possible. Heavy research went into his currently popular series Wayward, which is set in Japan. “Glitterbomb” is slated for the last week in August.
Alison Sampson, an amazing artist, was also there to preview her work for “Winnebago Graveyard,” a story about a family on vacation in the Southwest whose RV gets stolen. The family’s misfortune continues by falling into a cult of Satanists. Moral ambiguity ensues a la True Blood. Intended audience is young adults, and Sampson mentioned she frequently uses her 13-year-old nephew as a resource.
From Sara Kenney and Karen Berger (acclaimed founding editor of Vertigo), we’ll be seeing “SurgeonX,” a slightly futuristic thriller about the real danger of antibiotics becoming useless. Kenney’s background in biology and natural disaster documentaries, along with her constant contact with the scientific and medical communities, pour into a narrative centered on a female surgeon whose heart is in the right place, but fosters a godlike hero complex the more she treats the sick with coveted, rare medicine. Her personal journey resonates with the increasingly desperate world in which she operates.
Ron Wimberly’s Prince of Cats will be re-released this year in a “bigger, better” format—a 148-page graphic novel. The story centers on Tybalt of “Romeo and Juliet” fame. This time, Tybalt is in mid-80s New York City, and is a black youth with a troubled life. Themes of youth, violence, ego, and pride are told through broken Elizabethan poetry. Rosalind even gets a bit part.
Amid the rest of the announced titles, we’ll also see a girl in Dublin combating Sluagh Sidhe (“The Hunt”), a mid-20s male grad student compelled to kill (“Kill or Be Killed”), aliens landing among French Crusaders (“Lake of Fire”), a female alien warrior sent to stop Earth (“Horizon”), a ballerina troupe used as a front during WWII (“Prima”), a league of female assassins (“Romulus”), a family-man knight dying of cancer (“Seven to Eternity”), a tiger queen and her female captain of the guard on a quest (“Isola”), girls kicking ass while riding motorcycles (“Motor Crush”), and an astral-projecting sister in search of her brother (“Afar”).
There wasn’t any special word on whether or not any of these characters would be queer, but it’s certainly a possibility. Most of the new releases will have plenty of diversity across a broad spectrum of people, and it was wonderful to see creators and artists of many ethnicities, from many corners of the world, working to tell such fascinating stories. As previously mentioned, even the dudes writing outside their experiences are trying. They’re not even trying based out of some placation to the masses or a publisher telling them to stick in a token character. They’re just out there to have fun, create new narratives, challenge themselves, and turn out great work.
Image Comics was founded in 1992 by seven people who wanted to change the then-current mold of the comics industry and superhero formula, according to Stephenson. At the Spring Formal later that night, I spoke with Zub and another writer, Jen Van Meter (“Prima”). I asked them if it was true that many creators seemed ecstatic to be at Image Expo, and they replied, “Absolutely! Some have been waiting twenty years or so to get here! And it’s a good feeling, knowing we made it.” Among the enthusiasm, there was an overall sense of gratitude to Image, citing their abilities to have creative control, pick their editors, and have the support of people who believe in their work. I also inquired if Image seems to be resting on its laurels with the collective successes of The Walking Dead, Saga, and Wicked+Divine. They replied that Image was transparent and told them that the money made from those ventures was being used to pay all of their creators, writers, and artists. Good to know they’re not just another company with CEOs hoarding the top cash.
On top of a forward-thinking comics publisher with incredibly far-reaching and inclusive teams, one of the greatest announcements was the formation of Creatorsforcreators.org. Founded by some of the top names in Image, the goal of the nonprofit is to offer a bit of help to an aspiring creator who needs the little nudge and assistance most industry professionals today didn’t get when they started out. It’s a $30,000 grant with potential mentorship and legal advice to anyone with a great idea who may or may not contract with Image. The hope is to expand the grant industry-wide, no matter the publisher. Applications will be accepted starting May 1.
As a DC Comics girl, learning about Image and the work they’re doing is a big deal. Too often fans are focused on DC vs. Marvel, and it’s easy to lose sight of the excellent, progressive work from other awesome publishers. Oni Press is great for independent goths, Boom! Studios is looking good for feminism (Lumberjanes), and Dark Horse’s niche is media tie-ins with film and TV.
It’s a newly hot topic in the industry in recent years, but I can attest that your voices are being heard. Representation has been proven to be important to our collective psyche, and the most vocal among us are ensuring positive change. As Image Comics celebrates its 25th Anniversary next year, we can rest assured they’ll be among the forerunners of producing media we’d like to see.