Digital Media Concepts/Image Comics

Image Comics logo

The 90's and The Big Two

Since the mid 20's, comic books have been a medium where readers can dive into worlds of unknown exploration. Where the impossible becomes possible everyday and where the hero/heroine learns to overcome villainy and corruption. Behind those panels are a team or writers, inkers, colorists, letterers, and editors. Iconic duos such as Jack Kirby and Stan Lee (Fantastic Four and X-Men), Bob Kane and Bill Finger (Batman/ Detective Comics), Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster (Superman/ Action Comics) all changed the course of entertainment as these characters and teams would become blockbuster successes as well as household names. What those teams shared, more closely than creating dynamic characters in literature, is not receiving fair earnings or rights to the characters and stories they created. Marvel and DC Comics, otherwise known as "the big two", would own any and all creative publishing in their books and the creative teams would be paid a small wage with no ownership benefits. This corporate business model would continue for decades and through the 80's where even Alan Moore could not manage to maintain ownership of his acclaimed series V for Vendetta (Now owned by Time Warner) and Watchmen (Now owned by Warner Bros.). In fact, Warner Bros. has agreed to grant Alan Moore the rights to Watchmen under the circumstances that DC Comics has not reprinted the graphic novel for no less than 6 months; New editions of the novel are released on a regular basis for that reason. Predatory business practices were plentiful in the comic book industry and the big two thought they were unmatchable, but up until then... they were. By 1990, the Marvel Comics Group owned over half of the market share with DC Comics in far second. Marvel was reporting monthly unit sales of over 100,000 copies, which even today is an extreme accomplishment. Jim Lee's X-Men 1 would break the all time record selling 8 million units and is still the record holder to this day[1]. With such talent and quality books, Marvel remained true to the standard of business that led them to such success, believing that their dominance over the market would remain unchallenged... until seven of the most talented, top selling illustrators would turn in their resignations and leave this biggest comic publisher in the world.

Changing the Game

Between 1990 and 1991, Rob Liefeld's run on New Mutants, which introduced Deadpool, boasted over 300,000 unit sales for multiple issues, and would even be topped by his X-Force 1 with 5 million units sold for that issue.[2] Todd McFarlane, well known for his illustrations with Spider-Man and the introduction of Venom, sold 2.5 million units with his first issue of Spider-Man. Finally, as stated previously, Jim Lee would break the record of most copies sold with the launch of X-Men 1.[3] Among the three were Jim Valentino, Erik Larsen, Marc Silvestri, and Whilce Portacio, all whom were giving Marvel high selling product as well and receiving nothing in return. Wherever these 7 illustrators produced, the sales followed which made clear that, to the consumer, the creative teams matter. People were not buying a book for Spider-Man, they were buying a book for Todd McFarlane's Spider-Man. Liefeld had become so popular to the public that he would star in a Levi Strauss & Co. sponsored commercial. Recognizing his success, Liefeld thought to begin working on his own creative publishing outside of Marvel, and recruited Valentino and Larsen at a convention they were attending. They were done being frustrated and copped out of the financial credit the industry had clearly shown they deserved.[4] Shortly after, Liefeld recruited Todd McFarlane, in which the two flew to Marvel Comics in New York to hold a spontaneous board meeting informing the company that the four were exiting the company to self publish. That same night, prior to the meeting, Liefeld and McFarlane knew that Jim Lee would be attending the Sotheby's Art Auction, so they went and pitched Lee the idea of leaving and joining their band of self publishers; to which Lee then agreed. Jim Lee would add on his friend and fellow Marvel illustrator, Whilce Portacio, who had joined as a unofficial partner due to his efforts being focused on a family emergency. The last founder, Marc Silvestri, who by rare chance happened to run into McFarlane in New York the night before the board meeting was given the sales pitch to join the team.[5] What began as three became seven united and what they were about to do next would change the comic industry forever.

Establishing Image

Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Jim Valentino, Erick Larsen, Marc Silvestri, and Whilce Portacio all left Marvel Comics and DC Comics in 1992 and formed Image Comics. A team of the seven most popular high selling artists whose idea was to begin a new, fair era of publications within the comic book industry. The founding members set the legal terms of the company to where Image Comics would own no rights to the creative intellectual properties published within [[[:w:Image Comics]] Image Comics] except for the Image Comics logo. They would receive a percentage of profits based on the sales and all right would be retained by the respective teams that worked on the books. Second, the founding partners could not intervene with the other partners works, cementing the idea that their works are not of the corporation but the independent creators themselves.[6] Such a model had never been practiced to this scale, which gave writers and illustrators a sense of legal protection in an industry that was so accustomed to parasitism at the cost of the creators. Image started off with a boom, with Todd McFarlane Productions releasing the first issue of Spawn, along with Liefeld's Extreme Productions, Lee's Wildstorm, Silvestri's Top Cow Productions, Larsen's Highbrow Entertainment, and Jim Valentino's Shadow Line all created under the banner of Image Comics. Image started off by selling a shared 6 million copies from the six various teams within just their first year averaging 500,000 copies with each new title. Spawn became the highest selling indie comic with 2 million units sold.[7]

Lasting Effects

Although most of the founding titles of Image, with respect to Spawn and it's own impact to the community, are not as popular today, Image Comics gave creators the freedom of expression in their works. Books did not have to be out of this world or about capes and crime, they could be more grounded or obscure. They did not have a censorship that was bound the the corporation is produced for. With Image, the The Walking Dead, by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore, was given a chance at the stands and became a pop culture phenomenon that hit Hollywood by surprise. Zombies, guts, and gore with the underlying theme of a father and son doing whatever it takes to keep each other alive. More so, it was the stepping stone which demonstrated to the founders that Image should be a place where keeping an open mind to different ideas should be embraced. That form of practice would effect every other medium of entertainment with Mark Millars Kingsman: The Secret Service having produced to high budget films, Todd McFarlane Productions branching out to McFarlane Toys manufacturing and designing high end collectibles, and Jim Lee becoming Chief Creative Officer at DC Comics. For a single month in 1993, Image Comics surpassed DC Comics in control over the market share, which has never been done before. Currently they now hold 8% against DC's 37% and Marvel's 46%.[8] Granted the number may look small, but it is a large chunk in the shares for a company that is constantly becoming more popular amongst the general public.

Notable Achievements

San Diego Comic Con 2020 Eisner Awards
Category Winning Titles under Image
Best Continuing Series Bitter Root, by David Walker, Chuck Brown, and Sanford Greene
Best Limited Series Little Bird by Darcy Van Poelgeest and Ian Bertram
Best Cover Artist Emma Rios, Pretty Deadly
Best Coloring Dave Stewart, Gideon Falls
San Diego Comic Con 2019 Eisner Awards
Category Winning Titles under Image
Best New Series Gideon Falls, by Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino
Best Painter/ Multimedia Artist (Interior Art) Descender by Dustin Nguyen
Best Cover Artist Jen Bartel, Blackbird
Best Coloring Matt Wilson, Black Cloud, The Wicked + The Divine, Paper Girls


Image Comics Founders
Image Comics founders, (left to right) Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, Jim Valentino, Mark Silvestri, Rob Liefeld, and Whilce Portacio, attending a panel for San Diego Comic Con, 2007.
  1. Norris, Floyd (1991-07-15). "Market Place; Boom in Comic Books Lifts New Marvel Stock Offering (Published 1991)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-10-12.
  2. "The Mouth Behind the Merc". Complex. Retrieved 2020-10-12.
  4. "Image Comics Story – Profile, History, Founder, CEO | Publishing Companies | SuccessStory". Retrieved 2020-10-13.
  5. "Whilce Portacio". Image Comics Database. Retrieved 2020-10-13.
  6. "Image Comics Story – Profile, History, Founder, CEO | Publishing Companies | SuccessStory". Retrieved 2020-10-13.
  8. "Comic publisher: store market share 2020". Statista. Retrieved 2020-10-13.