Free Comic Book Day is one of the only days in the year that a comic book fan can randomly select an issue from his or her local shop and feel absolutely zero guilt over investigating a title with little to no previous knowledge, but the folks at Image Comics are doing their part to ensure that a few other days in the year are met with a similarly guilt-free attitude. At the end of March, Image is launching Image Firsts, a campaign that sees the reprinting of the first issues from ten popular Image titles over the course of five weeks, all for the meager price of $1.00 a pop.
"Ideally, Image Firsts will introduce a whole group of new readers to a handful of titles they've never read before," Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson told CBR News of the initiative's goals. "If memory serves me correctly, the idea came up during con season last year. Robert Kirkman, [Image Comics PR & Marketing Coordinator] Joe Keatinge and I were talking about things we could do to better support Free Comic Book Day and use the potential influx of new readers on that weekend to create more awareness of some of our best books. Giving away a single title is a great idea, and I think that practice has served publishers and retailers well since Free Comic Book Day launched, but we all agreed we could be doing more."
"I'm not expecting [Image Firsts] to turn the industry or company around - I think in its simplest form, it's an easy [way] for the people who missed out on issue number one years and years ago to actually see it in a comic book form, and not in a trade paperback," said Todd McFarlane, whose very own "Spawn" is getting the Image Firsts rerelease treatment. "I believe other than when issue number one [of 'Spawn'] came out in 1992, the only time we've reprinted number one has been in a trade paperback form. This is a singular issue to get back to the origin. I know I used to like those issues when I was a kid collecting [comics]. When someone would say this issue had the origin of character X, I would actually go pick it up to get some behind the scenes [information], even if I knew everything about the character and knew what the origin was. I still thought it was cool to see something that came out ten to fifteen years before I started collecting."
Certainly, many years have elapsed since "Spawn" #1, which is joined by fellow old school titles "Youngblood" and "Savage Dragon" as part of Image Firsts. But Image's upcoming initiative also includes newer books like John Layman and Rob Guillory's "Chew" and Alex Grecian and Riley Rossmo's "Proof."
"It's a huge honor to have 'Proof' grouped with such great titles. There aren't many titles included that weren't created by Image partners, so we feel like 'Proof' must be pretty special," Grecian said of his book's place on the list. "Image Firsts is a great way to make some bedrock Image titles - books that may be hard to find now - available to a whole new readership. And we're not talking about an ashcan preview or an eight-page teaser; we're talking about a whole comic for a buck. Even if fans are just a little bit curious about a title, the price point makes this wave of books irresistible."
The Image Firsts reprinting is particularly helpful for Grecian, as "Proof" is about to undergo a hiatus followed by a renumbered second volume. "The timing couldn't be better," he admitted. "With 'Proof' relaunching later this year, the Image Firsts campaign gives curious fans an opportunity to own both 'Proof' #1s without having to pony up big money on eBay."
While many of the Image Firsts selections continue to put out new issues, others have already concluded. Jonathan and Joshua Luna's "Girls," for instance, concluded its run a few years ago. In fact, the sibling collaborators are actually on their way towards completing another series, "The Sword," which finishes in May.
"We actually went with 'Girls' over 'The Sword' precisely because it had already concluded. It's a great introduction to the Luna Brothers' work and if someone wants to read the rest of the series, its immediately available," said Stephenson. "We also wanted to provide new readers with the perfect introduction to the Lunas' existing body of work, and I think we all agreed that 'Girls' was a great entry-level book."
The Lunas are certainly proud of having "Girls" included in the lineup, but the possibility of Image Firsts propelling the company and its catalogue of work forward is an even more exciting prospect for the brothers. "I'm mostly excited for the progress of Image as a whole," said Joshua Luna. "I really like the idea of presenting audiences with variety - grabbing readers with titles they already know and love, and then exposing them to something new. It's really cool how each Image book will help one another in that way."
Image Firsts isn't relegated only to titles from Image Central, as Top Cow's flagship series "Witchblade" also made the cut. For their own part, the decision-makers at Top Cow have done their best to get books into as many hands as possible with initiatives like the "Let Us Win You Over" campaign. "Whether it's introductory priced trades at $4.99 or $9.99, free comic giveaway programs, or reprinting entire issues of up-and-coming titles in established titles like 'The Walking Dead,' we've taken major steps to capture new readership," said Top Cow Publisher Filip Sablik. "The Image Firsts program is another great way for new readers to check out long-running titles and for existing readers to get the experience of what it was like to pick a book like 'Witchblade' #1 off the stands over a decade ago."
More important than the crossover between Image's imprints is the multitude of genres presented in Image Firsts. From legendary epics like "Age of Bronze" to the superhero antics of "Invincible," there are few genres that Image hasn't tackled in the past. "We actually made it a point to mix things up [with the Image Firsts selections], because you're right, we do have a fairly diverse line of books and we want to highlight that," said Stephenson. "At the same time, superheroes remain a big part of the key market and they're still part of what we do, not to mention a key part of our company history. Not only that, but if you look at the superhero titles we've included, they're not at all alike. Their creators all have such different sensibilities that it kind of underscores the myriad differences between creator-owned superhero comics and what you get from other publishers. Just as you're not going to confuse 'Age of Bronze' with 'The Walking Dead,' you're not going to confuse 'Spawn' with 'Savage Dragon.' All our books are incredibly different, and I think Image Firsts really reinforces that notion."
Ultimately, one of the many intended results of the Image Firsts campaign is to remind readers that Image Comics offers something different from what other publishers are doing with their titles. "Image's vested interest is to celebrate our history of being around - we're getting close to twenty years now, in a marketplace that's controlled by the big two giants," concluded McFarlane. "That's why we're doing this for the most part. This is to say we're still here, we're still alive, and we're still swimming with the big sharks. We have some titles that compete with the big guys. We're not here to necessarily worry about squeezing every nickel out of you because we have a hot property to the left or a hot property to the right. That's the big deal and the philosophy we'll continue with Image Comics until we close the doors on it."
The Image Firsts campaign begins on March 31st, 2010 with reprintings of "Youngblood" #1 and "The Walking Dead" #1. It concludes on April 28, 2010 with "Invincible" #1 and "Proof" #1.