The first full week of 2015 brings the first major comic book event of the year: Image Expo, Image Comics' showcase of their latest creator-owned offerings. As has become Image Expo tradition, things are slated to kick off with Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson delivering a keynote address at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, a presentation filled with guests and announcements of new projects.
Stephenson started the presentation around 10:30 a.m., telling the crowd that he tends to do a lot of writing -- conceptual writing, at least -- in the shower. "Ideas can present themselves at virtually any time," he said.
"One good idea can change everything," Stephenson continued. Speaking of the legacy of the original Image founders, Stephenson said the group created an environment where, "Anyone with the combination of right guts and talents could do the comics they wanted, exactly the way they wanted."
2014 was "one of the best years ever" for Image Comics, Stephenson said, informing the crowd that Image has won Diamond's Comic Book Publisher of the Year, as announced earlier today. From 2013 to 2014, Stephenson said, Image saw a Dollar market share growth of 33 percent, and Unit market share growth of 25 percent.
Stephenson said staff has doubled during his time as publisher, and that Image finished 2014 with a 10.41 percent Unit market share. Image ended 2014 with a 9.23 percent Dollar market share, as illustrated in the next graph.
"We've kept as many of our monthly comics as possible at $2.99 and $3.50, even as $3.99 has become the industry standard," Stephenson continued. "And we've done that without increasing the number of ads in our comics." Stephenson said the introductory price of $9.99 for the first volume of trade paperback collected editions will continue.
According to Bookscan's year-end stats presented by Stephenson, Image Comics finished with a 16.48 percent market share in the bookstore market -- second to DC Comics, and fiinishing ahead of Marvel Comics, Viz and Random House.
Moving to critical acclaim, Stephenson recapped the success of Image titles such as "Saga" and "Sex Criminals" at the 2014 Eisner Awards.
"New readers, new distribution" will propel the comics industry forward, Stephenson said. "Image Comics just had its best year ever in digital sales," the publisher stated.
Stephenson pointed out that at one point digital comics were considered a "source of fear" and "threat" to print comics, but that Image hasn't noticed a decline in print sales with the rise of digital, saying they work well in tandem as another distribution channel.
"Our entire culture is changing," Stephenson said. "Our entire culture was once geared almost entirely towards mass consumption, but more and more people want the things they bring into their homes to be more carefully curated. In comics, we're definitely transitioning away from a market that was once dominated by a Big Two."
"We don't want to be anything but the best," Stephenson continued. "The very nature of Image is that we're always changing, always evolving. The future is in our creators' hands, and you don't get more carefully curated than that."
Stephenson said Image will transform itself from the "middle ground" the company currently resides, and move from being the No. 1 creator-owned publisher to the No. 1 publisher in comics.
Moving to guests joining the panel, the first individual joining Stephenson on stage was "Spawn" creator and Image co-founder Todd McFarlane.
"I am one of the few people you are going to hear from today that has been here since day one of Image Comics," McFarlane said, recapping a bit of of the history of Image's founding. McFarlane said there was a degree of serendipity involved in Image's early days -- including Marc Silvestri and Jim Lee happening to be in New York City at the same time McFarlane, Rob Liefeld, Erik Larsen and Jim Valentino were to tell Marvel that they were leaving the company to start their own.
"The thing that struck me the most at the first Image Expo I went to -- 'Wow, I could get hit by a bus tomorrow, all my creations could disappear, and Image Comics would thrive without it,'" McFarlane said. "From a parental point of view, that's all you want."
"The deal we set out to do in 1992 has not changed," McFarlane said. "Image Comics does not own anything. We wanted to create nothing more than an option. I like Marvel and DC as much as anybody else, but when you get the itch to have an option, we just wanted to create that. We're now 22-plus years into it, and we are gaining ground on the big boys."
The upcoming "Spawn" #250 is "three issues for the price of two," McFarlane said, telling the crowd that he won't ever renumber the series with a new #1. Skottie Young, Jock and Greg Capullo are all doing covers for the issue.
The previously hyped Eisner Award-winning writer joining "Spawn" with "Spawn Resurrection" #1 is: Paul Jenkins. Previously announced new artist Jonboy Meyers remains on the series. McFarlane said that Jenkins' instructions are basically to make "Spawn" fans wonder why McFarlane was writing the book for so long.
The new series McFarlane had teased: "Savior," from the creative team of Brian Holguin, McFarlane and Clayton Crain. The tagline on the screen is, "What if the most dangerous man on Earth was also the one trying to do the most good?"
"I have the first eight issues of this book done," McFarlane said. "It is fully painted by Clayton Crain." A slide on the screen shows 180 tiny pages from the series, several of which Image Comics has released as a preview.
"I'm looking forward to carrying on the tradition that we started, and looking with way more enthusiasm to the young people coming on stage here," McFarlane said. "As good as I thought we were 20 years ago, this generation is bigger, faster, stronger, and better looking, on top of it."
The next creator joining the presentation: James Robinson.
"We are still hard at work at 'Airboy,' but I have a couple of other things coming out," Robinson told the crowd, saying he has a new "epic science-fiction series" titled "Heaven." Showcasing a promotional piece by series artist Philip Tan, Robinson said it's about "Mankind going to war with god in the future," with a bit of religious satire in it.
"[Tan] is very fast, so you may see this book before 'Airboy,'" Robinson concluded.
Brian Wood isn't in attendance at the Expo, but Stephenson announced two new series by the writer: "Starve" by Wood, Danijel Zezelj and Dave Stewart about a future where celebrity chefs are royalty; and "Black Road," from Wood and Garry Brown. CBR has the first interview with the "Starve" creative team, now.
Brandon Graham is next up, discussing the multi-series "8house," which was announced at least year's Image Expo. "You'll get four issues of one storyline, then four issues of another storyline by a different team," Graham said. "Pretty Deadly" artist Emma Rios, who is writing an "8house" series, joined the presentation.
"It's about creative a new community with a mix of animals and humans," Rios said of "Mirror." "If you give free will to animals, how would you feel about them? These animals are creating a community, and want to get rid of the humans."
It's the first time Rios is writing a series drawn by another artist, Hwei Lim. "Hwei and I are like sisters. She is inspirational to me."
Graham and Rios are also both contributing to a new comics magazine called "Island," with the subtitle of "Comics Magazine for Comics." Graham described it as "Heavy Metal" but for less of a teenage boy audience. A mix of established and new creators will contribute, with Farel Dalrymple and Michael DeForge among those named.
"I love comics magazines," Graham said, citing "Heavy Metal" and "Raw." "I wanted to think about what would get me to buy one if it came out now. No story is going to be shorter than a single issue. They are 20, 30 page stories. It's going to be like buying two, three comics stapled together, with articles."
Rios' story is titled "I.D.," and is slated to appear in "Island" in its June 2015 debut. The story explores the concept of body transplants, with the tagline, "Why don't you like your body?" "This is mostly about how you are seen by others and how you see yourself," Rios said. A preview of "Island" can be found here.
Next up: "Pretty Deadly" and "Bitch Planet" writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, with Rios remaining on stage. "That book fights back," DeConnick said of "Pretty Deadly." "Everything about that book is problematic. My creative partner here draws every leaf on every fucking tree! It's extraordinarily beautiful, and I wouldn't change anything about it, but because of that, it's a book that can't be done in 30 days, so we have to get ahead enough so we don't fall terribly behind."
"We're moving ahead in time a little bit," DeConnick said of the second arc. "We'll be staying in the old west," but while also moving to World War I. "Cyrus is a grown man now. He is serving with the Harlem Rattlers in the trenches."
"It all dovetails very nicely," DeConnick said of the time jump. "We're going to meet some new Reapers, too." The second "Pretty Deadly" arc is currently slated for September.
Emi Lenox is next on stage. Her next project is a travelogue named "Tadaima," which translates to "I'm home" and is a watercolor graphic novel about her trip to Japan with her mother. It's scheduled for release in the summer.
Jeff Lemire, who worked with Lenox on "Sweet Tooth," joins Lenox on stage. They're collaborating new project that Lenox is drawing, titled "Plutona." It's a five-issue series colored by Jordie Bellaire, about a group of kids who find the body of the most famous superhero, dead in the woods.
"It's about the loss of innocence, and children confronting something so terrible, they don't know how to deal with it," Lemire said, comparing it to "Stand By Me" or "River's Edge." "For her to have a monthly comic to showcase her stuff is pretty exciting," Lemire said of Lenox's work. Lemire said it's an opportunity to take a different approach to superheroes than his work at DC. The series will likely debut in the fall, Lemire said.
Lemire remains on stage, joined by his friend Scott Snyder. They're working together on a graphic novel titled "A.D.," which stands for "After Death." The book, written by Snyder and illustrated by Lemire, is about a man able to live multiple lives.
"I'm so used to writing serialized comics, and being, 'How is Batman going to get out of this one?' I've been dying to write something that is more expansive, and robust, and tell a story and let it wander."
"When I told [Lemire] the idea about a year ago, it was just, 'We have to do this together,'" Snyder said. Speaking of the opportunities granted by Image Comics, Snyder said that Lemire had never drawn a full story that he didn't write before, and "I've never had a chance to do an expansive story this way." "A.D." is expected in fall 2015.
Next up on stage: "Saga" writer and co-creator Brian K. Vaughan. He's got a new series at Image, titled, "We Stand on Guard," illustrated by Steve Skroce. The series takes place 100 years in the future, and is about, "a heroic band of Canadian civilians turned badass freedom fighters, who have to fight off an invasion of their country from another country -- the United States of America. Unfortunately, a hundred years from now, the United States has a lot of giant fucking robots."
Writer Marjorie Liu joins Stephenson on stage. She's working with artist Sana Takeda on a book titled "Monstress," slated for summer 2015.
"Imagine, if you will, an alternate, 1920s Earth in which immense, other-worldly creatures roam the world," Liu told the crowd. "Some of them are made of flesh, some of them are made of spirit, some of them are a mix of both. Then imagine there is this young girl who is a refugee from a war. She lives in the margins of society. She wakes up one day and has a psychic connection to the most dangerous, most mysterious, of these creatures."
Current "Detective Comics" co-writer Brian Buccellato is next up, talking "Sons of the Devil," which started life as a Kickstarter-funded project last year, and is coming to Image.
The series is illustrated by Toni Infante, an artist Buccellato discovered online. Buccellato produced a short film to accompany the announcement, which will be released today. Check out CBR's interview with Buccellato on "Sons of the Devil" here.
Next two creators joining the presentation: Eric Canete and Jonathan Tsuei. The book is titled "RunLoveKill," and a preview can be seen on CBR. "We're being super-literal. There's a lot of running, a lot of loving, and a lot of killing," Canete said.
Stephenson asked Tsuei if he had anything to add: "Um... dinosaurs?"
Writer Alex de Campi arrives on stage. She's doing a series at Image with Carla Speed McNeil. Titled "No Mercy," it's about a group of teenagers on a service trip whose bus falls out of a mountain -- and things get worse from there. "There's no cell phones. There's no mercy."
"No Mercy" will start in April 2015. "Teenagers are wonderful to write," de Campi said. "I hope you enjoy it, because we sure as hell loved making it." Check out a preview of "No Mercy" here.
Kieron Gillen is next up, taking over the podium from Stephenson. "I give you: The Ludocrats." "It's a strange world, let's make it increasingly ever more so," Gillen said of the ethos behind the series. "The Ludocrats" will be illustrated by David Lafuente.
"I promise you today, in all seriousness, 'The Ludocrats' will be the greatest comic of all time," Gillen said in humorously theatrical speech.
Gillen's frequent collaborator Jamie McKelvie joins him on stage. "We're heading towards the third volume, which is going to be called 'Commercial Suicide,'" Gillen said. That volume will contain individual issues centered on each of the gods, with a different guest artist on each issue, including: Stephanie Hans, Tula Lotay and Kate Brown.
The guest artists will allow Gillen and McKelvie to focus on the long-awaited "Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl," which now has a start month: August 2015. Gillen described it as "our final statement to those characters."
"Sex Criminals" artist Chip Zdarsky interrupted Gillen and McKelvie during their presentation to set up a Chip Zdarsky-themed banner. "It's weird, because you didn't invite me," Zdarsky said to Stephenson. "You think just by not inviting me, you're not going to get a white, male, bearded Canadian on your stage?"
A slide of the Zdarsky-written Marvel series "Howard the Duck" appeared on the screen, leading to a mock cover of "Gary the Duck" from Image Comics, titled "Gary the Duck," with the caption, "I'm legally within my rights!" "We're never going to publish 'Gary the Duck,'" Stephenson said.
Zdarsky's actual announcement is an Image Comics book with artist Kagan McLeod, titled "Kaptara." "It's going to be a science-fiction comedy series, where we can go crazy and do whatever we want," Zdarsky said. "Essentially, it's a book that takes place on a planet," describing it as the Island of Dr. Moreau meets the action figures you played with as a child.
The series will include a gay male protagonist. "I'm pitching it to everyone as 'gay Saga,' hoping that will help," Zdarsky said. "Check out 'gay Saga'!"
Darwyn Cooke is not in attendance, but he's slated to make his Image Comics debut in spring 2015 with "Revengeance" a three-part miniseries. "Revengeance is kind of a weird thing that came out of a couple of different sources," Cooke said in a recorded audio message. "Its roots are in a few things: One of them would be Mickey Spillane's first Mike Hammer story."
Cooke calls Image Comics "the most dynamic company in the mainstream," and cites Ed Brubaker as the guy who sold him on bringing this project to Image.
Writer/artist Skottie Young joins Stephenson on stage, announcing "I Hate Fairyland," which has been in development for many years. Speaking of the inspiration, Young told a story of reading "Green Eggs and Ham" to his kids, realizing as an adult, "I would want to kill this character." It's about an Alice in Wonderland-type character that has been stuck in "Fairyland" for 30 years, though still looks like she's 8.
Pages from "I Hate Fairyland" are shown on screen -- and can be seen here -- with Young's signature style juxtaposed with over-the-top violence. The original working title, Young said, was "Fuck Fairyland." Naming "Mad," Looney Tunes and "Ren and Stimpy as inspirations, "Young said, "It's my chance to kind of do that stuff."
Stephenson wraps the presentation by thanking the Image Comics staff, and bringing them out on stage. But in an Apple-esque move, there's one more thing: Vaughan returns to the stage, along with Cliff Chiang.
"Cliff and I last worked together 15 years ago, for a story from my ill-fated run on 'Swamp Thing,'" Vaughan said. "I'm very excited to announce that we're going to be working together again, on a new book called 'Paper Girls.' This is a story of four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls, on the night something very strange happens. It's obviously about a lot more than this, but Cliff and I like to keep surprises."
Chiang adds that it takes place the day after Halloween, and jokes that he's likely on a government watch list now for Googling "12-year-old girls" every day. While "We Stand on Guard" is a miniseries, "Paper Girls" is an ongoing series.
Vaughan described "Paper Girls" as at once the weirdest and most personal comic he's written. Following that, Stephenson closed the presentation for real -- but keep reading CBR for more live coverage from Image Expo all day long.
Check out covers and promo images for all titles discussed below, and click here to read previews of even more new Image Comics series from Image Expo.