Image’s Eric Stephenson Talks Image Expo, Comics Culture and Reaching New Readers at ECCC [Interview]

By and | April 3rd, 2014
Posted in Interviews | 7 Comments

At this past weekend’s Emerald City ComiCon, Multiversity didn’t put together a lot of full interviews, instead focusing on meeting creators and having fun with our Five Questions series (check out parts one and two!).

However, we love talking with Image Comics’ publisher Eric Stephenson whenever we can, and it’s rare we get the chance to talk in person, so when given the opportunity, MC EIC Matthew Meylikhov and myself met up with Stephenson at The White Horse (an incredible pub down by Pike’s Place Market) to discuss Image Expo, the industry in general, bookstores and libraries, comics culture, and a lot more. As it always is with Eric, it’s a fascinating and thought provoking read, with very real and challenging perspectives on what we know and think about comics. Take a read, and as per usual, a big thanks to Eric for taking the time to talk comics with us.

David: Given the deluge of major announcements at Image Expo every year, how does that change your approach to cons like Emerald City? Does that make the goal different for cons than it was before Image Expo first launched?

Eric Stephenson: It’s not…I think part of the reason we started doing Image Expo was to focus more specifically on the announcements without any other distractions. So now it’s more focused on sales and just kind of straight up PR. We have people doing interviews, people doing signings…it’s just kind of there to focus on the books instead of the announcements. It’s more of a good time for people to come out and hang out with the creators, as opposed to feeling like you have to go stand in line for a panel that you might not get into or you might not see or hear a little of.

I just feel like Seattle, when you look at Emerald City this is the 13th or 14th year, and it’s grown and grown and grown. I came the first year and there were like 2,000 people here. This year, they’re estimating about 75,000, and that makes it the third largest comic book convention after San Diego and New York. Conventions on a whole are doing really, really well, and attendance at conventions across the board.

David: It’s amazing how much it’s grown, as the last time I came was 2011 and I can’t even believe the growth.

ES: Well, it’s nuts because there is a second level now, and they’ve taken over the building it’s in now. Before, it was in Safeco (Field) just in a little ballroom. It was there for like five years and then it moved over here (Washington State Convention Center). It’s weird because the SkyBridge used to be where people did cosplay photos and stuff, and now it’s used for sales and exhibitors.

Wytches from Scott Snyder and Jock
David: At Image Expo, I thought one of the most fascinating things was the genre mix in the titles, with a strong emphasis on horror and fantasy, like with Scott Snyder and Jock on “Wytches” and “8HOUSE” by Brandon Graham and Marian Churchland and others. When you’re looking at titles to publish, what are the criteria? Are you looking at genre mix at all, or is it more of a case where you’re looking to get good creators to tell good stories, and you just ask them what they want to tell?

ES: Generally speaking that’s always what we look for first. We don’t hand out assignments to people. I don’t go to people and say, “Can you do books about basset hounds and kittens?” (laughter) Something like “Chew”, there’s no way I could have gone to somebody and said, “could you write a book about a guy who is a detective in a world where chicken has been outlawed and has the unique ability to get visions after eating things.” There’s no way you can ask someone to write that.

It’s always where I want to know something they’ve always wanted to do. Something that they are personally really excited about. And right now, it just feels like the sci-fi stuff and fantasy stuff and horror stuff, and that’s what people are coming to us with. By and large, I’ll tell people not to publish a zombie book. We do “’68”, we do “The Walking Dead”. I think they’re two different ends of that genre, but the other thing too, just to go over on the side of that, I think zombies is a kind of specific thing where you can only do so many different types of zombie stories, while with sci-fi and fantasy, you can do different types. And with horror outside of zombies, you have a wide variety of things you can do.

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Like, what Scott is going to do with “Wytches” is different than any horror book that is out there. But yeah, that seems to be what people are gravitating towards right now.

The only thing I ask people about is if they have any all-ages things that they think they would really enjoy doing, we’d love to hear about that. No pressure to do it. I do look at our slate of books and it’s all very adult oriented, so it would be nice to get some stuff in there that was a little more kid friendly.

David: That’s why I think Howtoons was such a great addition.

ES: And that’s something Nick came to me and said, “so we did this thing a little while ago and I have the rights back and we can do it again, and we’d like to continue doing it, would you be interested?” I couldn’t have gone and said, “Can someone put this together?”

David: I talked to Nick a lot about it and it sounds like a fantastic project. I’m a big fan of all-ages, and it’s so interesting to me when someone can create a story that works for you or me or my niece or whomever, and Nick, Jordie, Fred and Tom will do an amazing job.

The upcoming Casanova Acedia
The last couple of years have seen the return of many previous Image creators, like Jonathan Hickman and Rick Remender, but the most exciting return for me was Casanova. I’m sure all of Image’s releases are special to you, but was there something a little more special about Casanova returning?

ES: That’s a huge…it’s funny because when Matt (Fraction) and I first started talking about him doing stuff at Image, he had things he wanted to do. Matt actually sent me this pretty comprehensive document of ideas he had, like over 20 ideas, that he said “I want to get this all at some point.” Sex Criminals was there, Satellite Sam was there, but when I was looking at all this, I said, “this all sounds awesome. I want to do all of this stuff, but I would also like to do more Casanova here.”

It was one of those things where I think when Matt was doing a lot of work with Marvel, it would have been difficult to bring that back over, but as he’s pared his work down there, it just made more sense for him to bring it back. And he wanted to do it, so I felt good about that.

Matt: I don’t remember when you said it, but you said when it left to go to Icon, I remember you commenting that you wished he’d done more at Image with it.

ES: Yeah, yeah, Matt was kind of full Marvel at that point, and he was like, “they’re offering me the Icon deal, so I’ll do this stuff there.” I’ve been pretty open that I was hurt by that because at the time it was my favorite book we were doing. To have this thing that was into the world, it’s out there, you’re proud to publish it, and to take it somewhere else, yeah it sucks. That was no fun when it happened, but to get it back, it feels way better.

David: Everyone focused on the titles announced at Image Expo, but to me, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ contract was the most interesting announcement from Image Expo. How did that deal come together, and is that the type of thing you could see Image doing more of in the future? Or is it a case where it’s Sean and Ed?

ES: It’s interesting you point out that everyone is focused on the books, when we were setting up the press for Image Expo, we pitched stuff to different people, and we were pitching stuff to the New York Times, and the only thing they were interested in was that deal.

But that came about because Ed and Sean came to us. Ed and Sean were like, “we’re really happy how things are working out at Image, and we don’t want to do anything anywhere else, but we want to make sure we do all the things we want to do over the next few years.” I was like, “okay, what would make you confident that you’ll be able to do that?”

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“We could have a deal where we’re exclusive and just at Image, that would do the trick.”

David: That’s not a hard deal.

ES: Yeah, I was like, “done!”

Is it something we’d do again? Yeah, definitely. It’s funny because backstage at Image Expo, another creator came up to me and said, “you know, I’m going to have to earn it, but I want that deal.” And I said we could talk about it.

I don’t think we would ever go after people and say, “hey, we want you to be exclusive,” because it’s not really our style, but if someone came to me and said, “this is how I want things to be,” then yeah, we’d be more than happy to do that.

The upcoming The Fade Out
David: I think one of the interesting things afterwards, and you know, the hubbub was “oh man, could Image be gunning for creators?” Of course, when people don’t have answers, they create the ones they want to be true.

ES: Oh yeah, obviously people created a lot of answers for themselves this year after Image Expo this year. But yeah, we don’t really gun for people.

Let’s go back to Matt Fraction for a second. With him, Matt and I continued to talk, it’s not like there was bad blood or ill will or something like that. It’s funny because he had written a pitch for something that we never wound up doing back in 2004, and I was doing something at home, digging around on my computer, and I read this old pitch, and I thought, “fuck, why didn’t we ever do that?” And I emailed Matt and said, “this was really good, why didn’t we ever do anything with that?” And Matt writes back and says, “holy shit, I was just thinking about that because I lost a bunch of stuff from my computer, and that was one of the things on there I wanted to retrieve.”

He asked how much of that stuff I had, and I said I save everything. He’s like, “can you send that stuff back to me?” and I send that his stuff that I had that he was looking for back to him. And that got us talking about him doing stuff at Image again, and I said, “that’s awesome, I love the stuff you’re working on right now.”

This wasn’t a case where I thought, “we have to go after Matt.” It was way more organic than that. It happens.

In other cases, you get people like Ed (Brubaker) or (Jonathan) Hickman and Matt who talk to other people who they’re friends with or work with at other publishers, and they talk to them and say, “hey, I’m having a good time, you should talk to these guys.” Then we’ll meet up, have some drinks, we’ll talk, and it’s not like there is a hit list of guys we are going to after.

We’ve talked before where I say, “oh man, I’d love if this guy would do stuff with us,” but it’s not like I’m stalking them or trying to lure them in. It’s weird that people look at it from this perspective.

David: We obviously interview a lot of Image creators. It’s amazing how many creators say things like, “Ed told me I should work with them” like with the team at Lazarus. That was a big impetus for them It’s like the hubbub amongst creators is it’s a positive experience. I think that whenever I ask you what you’re looking to do to grow, to take Image to the next level, you always say keep making good comics.

The interesting thing with Image is that you’re not necessarily looking for good comics; you’re looking for good creators to embrace the ideas they really care about.

ES: It’s a good point. I don’t think everybody really grabs the opportunity the same. Some guys who really realize what they have once they start doing creator-owned comics. Robert Kirkman is by and far the best example of that, he was just like, “I can do this and this is going to be it.” There are some guys who I don’t want to say they’re half hearted about it, but I just think they don’t take it seriously enough, and as a result things don’t work out the same way. And that’s not a value judgment; I just think some people have different priorities. There’s definitely a certain type of creator that you want to be in business with.

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By and large they know each other. It’s a small world. And if they don’t, they do…like Justin Jordan, we got him out of the mail pile, and he’s very motivated, and it’s trial and error, but you want to work with good people.

Layman and Guillory's Chew
David: I remember you talked about John Layman before, and said “Chew” was a book he was compelled to tell.

ES: John’s whole thing when he first pitched “Chew” was “no one’s going to buy this, but I have to get it out of my system. I can do this as an ongoing series, but if I can just do these five issues and get it out of my system, I’ll be happy.”

David: I bet he was surprised by those Eisners. (laughter)

ES: He’s still surprised every time when he gets his royalties on the book.

David: He’s the nicest guy.

ES: He is. You know, he’s really into Legos. The best thing is one time, I was like, “hey, we just got the royalty statement together and I wanted to give you a heads up,” and he’s like, “oh man, there’s this Lego set I’ve been looking at and…fuck, I’m not even going to wait, I’m going to buy it tonight.” (laughter) To me it’s just funny the amount of money we’re talking about in terms of royalties and he’s saying, “now I can get this Lego set” and I was like, “pretty sure you can get a bunch more of those Lego sets. You can probably get all of the Legos.” (laughter)

David: The Lego thing is a common thing in comics. I interviewed Charlie Adlard, and afterwards he sent me shots of his studio and pictures of his cases for his Legos, and I was blown away. We were just talking to Nick Pitarra, and he created custom Manhattan Projects Legos. He was talking about all of the work he did on that.

ES: That’s the funny thing. I haven’t seen that stuff, but they should put that in the book. I’ll have to talk to him about that. They should do a whole thing with his Manhattan Projects custom Legos.

David: I hate to keep bringing up fan response, but after Image Expo, there was a sentiment that found readers lamenting – sort of facetiously – the number of titles that were announced if only because of the cost that it would take to buy them all. When it comes to Image’s total line, do you look to keep it set at so many titles every month, or is it a situation where you just look to publish the best books, regardless of how many titles that means?

ES: We don’t want to get over a certain number. We do a certain number of mini-series and then ongoing series and some ongoing series last for a long time, some run their course more quickly, but it all sort of works.

I don’t even want to be…you look at Marvel and DC and they are publishing over 100 books a month, and when people talk about how much is too much, I think that’s too much.

David: And double shipping.

ES: Not even counting double shipping. To me, that’s cannibalizing their own audience. I think that would happen to us if we were getting up to 75 or 100 books

David: After Image Expo, people started referring to Image as part of the “Big 3”. What’s your reaction to that?

ES: One of the things I was trying to get across with my ComicsPro speech is you shouldn’t look at things like that in those terms. If I expanded on it there it’d have been a bit clearer, but having a Big Two is not a sign of a healthy industry. Any industry that is dominated by like two businesses – whether you’re talking about comics or anything – that means if one of those businesses goes down, you’re fucked.

So we shouldn’t be proud of a Big Two or Big Three or anything like that. The best possible scenario is you have market share spread more equally across everybody. Obviously there are a lot of people who aren’t comfortable discussing that type of thing.

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But I don’t think of it in those terms. Marvel and DC are totally different business models than Image. I don’t get up in the morning and have the same concerns that a Dan Didio and Dan Buckley would have. We’re not set up that way.

But it is what it is. We sell more books than Dark Horse and IDW, so I guess that makes us number three. But it’s not like that’s…

David: It’s not something that defines you.

ES: It doesn’t define us and it shouldn’t…I think for the industry as a whole, we should look past who is three or four or two or one and work on how everybody is doing.

The upcoming 8HOUSE
David: I was going to save this for later, but it fits now. We’re talking about how everyone focuses on things like that, to a certain degree the internet comic culture is the dominant form of comic culture, at least that’s where the conversation takes place. I know your stance on social media, but do you think that today’s comic culture is good for comics as a medium?

ES: I have a weird position just on the internet in general. On one hand I love it, and I’ve been using it as long as I’ve been able to. The minute I could go online I did, I was very much an early adopter. I had an iPod the day they came out, I had an iPhone the minute I could, I love technology, I love all of that.

I like the immediacy of it, that you can read a comic book and talk to someone about it immediately. There’s such a variety of opinions out there and so much information at everyone’s disposal.

But the thing that frustrates me about is then you get so many people who are just negative for the sake of being negative. And it’s not…you’re kind of defining it by comic book culture, but it’s really just culture. It’s everywhere. You can go to music forums and movie/TV…if you read the comments on news articles, the ridiculous things that people say. It’s just like, “why did you feel you needed to share that with the world?” It’s just stupid.

So why should comics be any different? It’s the same type of people all over everywhere online. That’s the frustrating thing. You get people who instead of using this in a constructive way, you get on there and talk shit about something. I guess they enjoy that on a certain level. If people have a valid complaint about something, that’s one thing. I have nothing against someone who makes a good argument about why they don’t like something or why something has been…

David: At least they’re reasoning it out.

ES: Yeah. But you just get a lot of snark. Their whole purpose in posting is to get a jab in.

David: It’s weird how…quite often when we run longform pieces, we try to have, even if it’s an overall gloomy subject, we try to have a positive bent to it, it’s weird how positivity is passé these days.

ES: No, no. There are a lot of people who don’t. Again, it’s not specific to comics, but there are a lot of people who are part of the outrage brigade, and just want to be outraged and upset by everything.

But there are people who are writing to be upset about everything that happens, no matter what it is. To me, I don’t understand how you can live that way because that’s gotta be exhausting to be upset all the time. I’m not saying there aren’t things to be upset about, but have some perspective.

It’s very easy for people to fly off the handle about things that probably will be forgotten in a couple weeks time.

Matt: It’s also interesting that the comics internet is a lot more small and centered than other things. Like if you’re into movies, there are ten or twenty different great websites that you could go to, but with comics, and I don’t mean to diminish anything, but a lot of people go to the big five or six websites, but not many others.

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ES: Ron (Richards) joked at one point that I think it’s the same 50 people posting on every website. Every now and then, I have a real problem…I’ll read comments if it’s something I did or an article I’m interested in reading, and everyone always tells me to stop reading them. Warren Ellis is constantly telling me I need to stop reading comments, because I’ll want to discuss them afterwards. Because some times people do make a good point. It’s like, “you know, I read this here” and people tell me to not read it.

The one thing I will say is there are a lot of people who will say that the internet has ruined comics culture and that it’s made everyone more negative, but back when there were letters pages in comic books, it was kind of the same.

David: It gives people a soapbox where they can go and complain.

ES: And is the person who is happy and content more likely to reach out and talk to everybody, or is it the person who is upset about every. It’s like when you’re not happy about something, you raise your voice. If you’re fine with the way things are, you don’t.

I think that’s always been like that, whether it’s letters pages or panels on conventions or on the internet. I don’t think that will ever change. The internet, I think it’s made it easier for people to discover a lot of cool stuff.

The upcoming Nameless
David: One thing I think is interesting is Jennifer de Guzman now that she’s back, her role at Image changed to make her the Director of Trade Sales, in which she helps get Image titles more prominent placement in both bookstores and in libraries. Why is that such an important target for Image, and what do you think the opportunities are for reaching out to a larger, untapped audience through those avenues?

ES: We have what I feel to be a good presence now. The main thing we’re focusing on now is we have a lot of books that are easy sells to the book market, but we want everything to get out there. I always feel the direct market is the main place people should buy comic books because I don’t think you’ll find anyone more passionate or enthusiastic about comics than you’ll meet at a comic book store.

It’s important to be in book stores because there are a lot of places comic book stores don’t exist. Everyone talks about 7-11’s and how you could buy comics off the spinner racks and newsstands, but people aren’t necessarily going into those places to buy something to read. The whole way I got into comics was through a 7-11. We happened to stop at a place, my dad happened to buy a comic to pass it onto me, and I happened to like it. A lot of things have to happen for someone to buy a comic or a paperback book in a Target or a convenience store or an airport book store, but with a Barnes and Noble or an independent bookstore, people go there because they like to read. Not only do they like to read, but they like to read enough that they don’t just order it off Amazon. They want to go there and flip through books and be around books.

I think that’s valuable as a way to pull people into the medium. You get a lot of people who are like, “I heard about this graphic novel in Time magazine or USA Today or whatever, I want to check this out.” So yeah, I think it’s helpful in bringing people into comic book stores eventually.

Same with libraries. There are some people, whatever their circumstances may be, can’t afford to drop a couple hundred bucks on books, so they are going to check stuff out at the library. If that’s their source of getting into comics, that’s great. A lot of kids go into libraries.

From all the feedback we’ve received from librarians and bookstores, the biggest growing category is graphic novels. So that means that somebody who is going to the library to check stuff out because they can’t afford it, when they can afford it, they might buy it. People who go into a bookstore because they don’t know where a comic book store is, when they do see a comic book store, they’ll go in there and buy stuff. It all builds the readership.

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David: I regularly go to Anchorage’s public library, as it has an awesome selection. When I went recently, there were two kids reading there, and the librarian asked me if I needed help, and I told her no, and she said that she started reading comics because she was putting books in the racks and kept seeing ones that looked interesting. And now she’s a comic reader. It’s amazing.

ES: That is amazing, and it’s funny because before I worked at Image, I worked in the public library system in Riverside, California. I was constantly trying to get our librarian to carry comics and graphic novels. And she thought it was the most ridiculous thing she had ever heard. This was about 1990, 1991, and I remember taking her a Marvel Masterworks, and saying, “look, it’s a hardcover, it’d be great with the other books.” And she’d be like, “no, no.” I’d talk about, “there’s this book Watchmen, it’s a literary achievement, it’s an amazing work that should be here with everything else.”

She was really against it. The thing that really blew my mind was the Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett book “Good Omens” that came out, and I had it there, and I said, “Neil Gaiman is a comic book writer. He does this book ‘Sandman’. We should have that in here.” And she said no, but she’d heartily recommend “Good Omens.” It was a weird double standard.

Since then, it’s been really encouraging to go to things like the ALA and talk to librarians who are just super enthusiastic about comics as a way to get kids to read. And then the librarians themselves have totally embraced it.

David: On the flip side for getting new readers, Image has done a hell of a lot to expand its digital presence, completely redoing its website and making it a portal for users to purchase comics through completely DRM-free. Now that you’re a little ways into it, have you seen any changes in digital consumer behavior, or any significant uptick in digital sales?

ES: It’s alright. It’s not as significant a part of our income as ComiXology. The one thing I’ve noticed over the last year is when digital sales have been kind of even, for a few years there was a real surge, but over 2013, it was just kind of the same as the year before. But that’s something we’re trying to dig into and figure out what’s going on there.

The DRM-free thing, I received a lot of mail from people who were so supportive about it and enthusiastic about it, but sales-wise, it’s a fraction of what we do with ComiXology, so I don’t know if that’s necessarily something that is a selling point to the Image reader.

Matt: Along the lines of digital comics, Marvel released Marvel Unlimited, giving a huge library of comics for people to read. Is that something Image has considered trying?

ES: We’ve talked about it. There have been specific creators who have said, “hey, can I just put all of my stuff on and say ‘I want you to look at everything I’ve ever done’ for one price.” It’s an interesting idea, but based on our model, we’d have to go to every creator and ask if they were cool with us making it all available and they’ll get a prorated amount. It makes it kind of hard for us to do something like that. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s something we’d have to consult with a lot of people.

Marvel owns all their stuff. They can make whatever decision they want.

David: Well especially with trade sales being so important for creator-owned and books at Image. I always imagined back issues would be more important for Image creators than Marvel because they own the rights. They are just trying to hit a different audience.

ES: I think some people look at older issues as a way to get people interested in, “hey, I bought a couple issues of this digitally, so I’ll buy the trade now.” So it’s different for everyone.

Matt: It’s interesting to talk to Jim Zub, because he put all his Skull Kickers up as a webcomic, and that opened up a brand new audience of people who read books online, but it also increases sales for print.

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David: I was talking to Rick Burchett earlier because I was one of the backers for the Lady Sabre Kickstarter, and he was talking about how doing it as a webcomic first opened it up to a huge audience of webcomic people and steampunk people, and it hit so many people they wouldn’t have hit otherwise. It’s interesting.

Obviously things are going very well for Image. It’s been a banner last few years. What do you think the one thing is that people aren’t paying that much attention to is that they should be looking at more?

ES: Well a few things. See, I hate questions like this because then I have to talk about something I’m exciting about without alienating all these people.

The thing is there’s a bunch of things. Just in terms of certain books, it’s funny because everyone talks about “Prophet” a lot and how great that is, but it’s only moderately successful. It’s a book that’s not selling like “Walking Dead”/”Saga” levels. I think the work that Brandon (Graham) and Simon (Roy) and Giannis (Milonogiannis) and the guys are doing on that is unique and very special, and that’s something I think, “this should be selling better than it is.”

Fraction and Chaykin's Satellite Sam
Same goes for “Satellite Sam”, which is this awesome, kind of Mad Men-esque level of story, that Matt and Howard Chaykin are doing, but that doesn’t do as well as “Sex Criminals”. “Sex Criminals” is very unique, it’s like “Chew”, you can’t ask someone to pitch that to you.

But at the same time, I think that what Matt and Howard are doing is just as unique. And it’s totally…I feel like if you are someone who enjoys Mad Men, you could pick up “Satellite Sam” and think, “this is right up my alley.” And maybe that’s a failure of ours that we couldn’t get it to the world at large. Things like that frustrate me because I wonder why they aren’t doing better than it does.

“Five Ghosts” by Frank Barbiere and Chris Mooneyham is another book that I’m just like, “that should be doing better than it is. It’s an amazing book.” I could just sit here and list off a ton of them, but I think, there’s a lot of stuff I get an issue in and love it, and wonder why it isn’t doing better.

David: The strange thing is…so we’re doing a big Hellboy Month thing for his 20th Anniversary and…

ES: Hellboy’s another book that should be doing better.

David: Yeah! We’ve had hundreds and hundreds of entries into our art contest and people around the world going to these Hellboy Day events, and it sells 8,000 copies an issue.

ES: It’s bizarre. To me it’s depressing, as I remember when Hellboy was first announced. This would have been 1993 and Dark Horse rolled out their Legend line, and it was Hellboy and Monkeyman and O’Brien by Art Adams and Danger Unlimited by John Byrne, Sin City, Next Men, and I remember being so excited as a comics reader because it was all so cool. Hellboy, they gave away a sampler that had four pages of Hellboy and four pages of Monkeyman and O’Brien, and I could not stop looking at the Hellboy stuff.

I was a fan of Mike Mignola’s work before that, but there was just a quality to that work that caught my imagination, and I just couldn’t get it out of my head. It was the big thing that made an impression on me out of that. I followed the book ever since. That and B.P.R.D.. Mike and John Arcudi and Christopher Golden have created this amazing world, and it’s really one of the greatest achievements in comics over the last 25 years.

And it’s weird, because like you say it only sells at a certain level, but it’s so freaking good. Why would you go buy…I’m trying to think of a random garden variety DC comic…

David: You could say most anything.

ES: I’m trying not to insult anybody because I apparently do that too often, but yeah, why would you buy any of that shit and not Hellboy.

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David: It’s astonishing to me. Going back to libraries, I first started reading Mignola books because of the library. I thought I was really far behind, but I picked up Seed of Destruction at my library and was hooked. And now B.P.R.D. is my favorite monthly book.

Matt: It’s very smartly designed too. You can pick up anywhere. It’s this big ongoing series. You and I had this conversation David, but I used to only read Hellboy and not B.P.R.D., and I don’t know why.

ES: If you read them all together, it’s a much richer story.

Matt: Right. And then they started Hell on Earth, and I said I’m going to read B.P.R.D., and I never read any of the War on Frogs stuff, and it felt just as accessible.

David: I came in at Garden of Souls, like the seventh arc, and I jumped in and was immediately hooked.

ES: And then you have these…take Mike Mignola out of the equation, and you have these guys like Guy Davis and James Harren who are these extraordinary talents.

David: Oh man. James Harren.

ES: James Harren is freaking amazing. All of those guys. It’s like, why would you take these lesser substitutes for this great thing?

David: We talked to Mike and John and Scott (Allie) about this, but it really is the finest assemblage of artists you can find in comics.

But we were talking about this too. You see all these cosplayers at ECCC, and they’re embracing comics culture, but how does that not translate into sales? They dress as Black Canary or Marko from Saga, but does that mean that Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples are getting a sale out of that? I don’t know.

ES: It’s tough to say. We started off talking about conventions, and you know, the convention business is doing very, very well, and you look at the people who go to San Diego or New York or a show like this, but how many of those people are actually buying comics? The conclusion you come to at the end of the day is it has to be a limited number of people.

So how do you get these people who are invested in dressing up as characters or buying t-shirts or toys or whatever, how do we get them to spend money on the comics? I guess that’s the bigger question.

David: People always say comic journalists want to be creators. I want to be a retailer. The interesting thing…the tough thing is, you mentioned this when talking about all-ages when we talked before is that retail stores are just below sex shops in the minds of parents. It is kind of tough to overcome that stigma, even if you are Challengers Comics + Conversation in Chicago or Floating World in Portland, things like that. There are great shops everywhere, but overcoming that stigma is difficult.

ES: I don’t know. I remember when I was a young kid I lived in Tacoma, Washington. We had a couple places that sold comics. My parents never wanted to take me to those places. That wasn’t high on their list of priorities. But again, that’s why it’s important to have stuff in bookstores because I think parents are a lot more likely to say a kid can look in a graphic novel section in a bookstore rather than a comic store.

But the problem with that is you won’t get the widest range of things we have. I think retailers are important to the growth of the business and I think we will eventually get to the point that there are a lot more shops like Challengers or Floating World or Laughing Ogre. Down in L.A., there’s Meltdown Comics. I don’t know if you’ve been there, but they have toys, comics, kids stuff. I think the fewer dark man caves we have, the better off we’ll be.

David Harper

David Harper mainly focuses on original content, interviews, co-hosting our 4 Color News and Brews video podcast, and being half of the Mignolaversity and Valiant (Re)visions team. He runs Multiversity's Twitter and Facebook pages, and personally tweets (rarely) @slicedfriedgold. By day, he works in an ad agency in Anchorage, Alaska, and he loves his wife, traveling and biscuits & gravy (ordered most to least, which is still a lot).


Matthew Meylikhov

Once upon a time, Matthew Meylikhov became the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Multiversity Comics, where he was known for his beard and fondness for cats. Then he became only one of those things. Now, if you listen really carefully at night, you may still hear from whispers on the wind a faint voice saying, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine is not as bad as everyone says it issss."