As usual, the news came fast and furious from Image Expo, the sixth since the company started the event in 2012 to unveil projects and promote its brand, Steve Jobs/Apple-style. With the privilege of attending the press conferences on behalf of Multiversity, I want to offer a day’s-end recap, with a promise for more observations and insights in upcoming days about the announced books and their creators.
The day was chock full. Brian K. Vaughan and Steve Skroce had come from LA that morning and would be at a Vancouver appearance by tomorrow, but stayed funny and generous through panels, presser, and after party despite the travel. Greg Rucka, announcing ‘Black Magick’ with Nicola Scott, admitted feeling “a little fried” at the end of the long day, which didn’t deter him from holding forth articulately and ardently about the project. And the Image staff that Publisher Eric Stephenson praised to start his keynote managed to assemble an event that, like their comics, pushed aside everything frivolous to spotlight what makes Image comics great: creators at the top of their craft, their most ambitious and personal stories, and the collaborative energy generated by a company—and community–that knows how to support and respect that creativity.
For a group whose usual platform is the page, these folks know how to light up a stage. Eric Stephenson’s keynote sounded familiar notes, but rooted Image as much in the underground comix of ‘70s San Francisco as the glories of ’90s Liefeld, Lee, and McFarlane. Then, Image’s David Brothers roll-called the lineup of anticipated guests and surprise stars to the breathless crowd of press, retailers, and fans. Presenters delivered their pitches with polish and presence (Antony Johnston, Tula Lotay, Brian Haberlin), confident exuberance (Gail Simone and Cat Staggs, Steven T. Seagle), deep personal conviction (Kaare Kyle Andrews, Ron Wimberly, Steve Orlando), or understated assurance (Joe Keatinge, Brian Lee O’Malley and Leslie Hung). All spoke well for their titles, and the palpable excitement didn’t let down for the full ninety minutes of the keynote. They repeatedly hit on the themes of the power of the creative freedom and creator ownership that Image furnishes, the richness of the collaborative process, and—this was a theme—their excitement for finally doing the project they’ve been waiting for and working with the partners they’ve sought.
And behold the fruits of those labors! Joe Keatinge described his fascination with the passion that fuels pro wrestlers (‘Ringside’), suggesting the kind of love comics creators know a thing or two about. It’s clear these are passion projects, labors of love. Jimmie Robinson presented every twist and turn of his ‘Expired’ premise with relish, Rafael Albuquerque exuded enthusiasm for the adventure movies of the ‘80s inspiring his book ‘Huck’ written by Mark Millar, and the Chynna Clugston Flores ‘Blue Monday’ visuals seemed to appear onto the screen projected directly from her heart. Novelist Caitlin Kittredge (‘Throwaways’) confessed comics have always been her first love. Si Spurrier revealed the three-storied ‘Cry Havok’ art team of Ryan Kelly and three colorists with unbridled pride. Tula Lotay savored plying her stunning art to the creepy story Warren Ellis is writing for it. And Jason Aaron’s reunion with RM Guera for the brutal and biblical ’The Goddamned?’ Like he’s been waiting his whole adult life for it. (He has.)
Hanging out in the press room and the post-Expo meet-up, what struck me was the strong sense of mutual regard, the collegial respect that permeated Image creators’ talk and interactions. It was game recognize game. They knew they were part of something, talked about it. Maybe a vanguard, but one eager to open its doors to others, searching for talents to bring into the fold. It’s an infectious ethos and allure. It pours out in the way creators introduce each other, and shows up in the striking visuals and concepts that traveled like lightning bolts throughout the audience present and at home. The flickers of acknowledgement and applause for each others’ offerings.
But did it feel like a club? Some watchers have critiqued Image’s diversity in the past, just as some have been disappointed (and others encouraged) by the kinds of diversities in Marvel and DC’s new lines and teams. Some of the elevator pitch genre tropes felt like rehash when reduced to a tweet-byte, but when the creators themselves unpacked the substance and backstories of the books, especially when arrayed one after another, I felt like there was healthy subversion of the stereotypical Image book, either by a creator with a different perspective or a story that was somehow pushing against boundaries. Shane Davis and Michelle Delecki’s ‘Axcend’ wants to say something about teenagers and violence, Steven Seagle’s ‘Camp Midnight’ yearns to tell a contemporary tale for kids, and Steve Orland and JD Faith’s ‘Virgil’ is “queersploitation” at the provocative frontiers of equality. Maybe the most typically-Image sounding book concept-wise was Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel, and Rod Reis’ ‘Hadrian’s Wall’… and it looks so good, I can’t wait to read it. This Expo’s roster of creators’ ethnic, gender, sexual, and global diversity still didn’t match that of the downtown SF streets outside, but seems to me to have taken significant steps from Expos past.
I’ll save other quotables, memorable moments, and takes from the creators for those forthcoming reports on individual books to come, but suffice it to say the day was full of gold, afforded by the event’s immediacy and accessibility. I’ll treasure stuff like admiring a Hal Foster Prince Valiant thumbnail page with a master artist like Brian Haberlin, or confirming with my own eyes Brian K. Vaughan’s tireless kindness and quippiness. Though untelevised, the revolution rolls on.