Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson and author of Nowhere Men and They’re Not Like Us sat down with Comic Book Resources to discuss the state of Image Comics as well as talking about the state of the industry.
One of the key points Stephenson made was how successful We Stand On Guard did for each issue of its run. He noted, “We Stand on Guard #1 may be our highest entry at #124, [on the year-end Top 500 sales charts in single issues] but all six issues of that miniseries made the chart.” However, the real meat came when Stephenson criticized other comic book publishers when comparing We Stand on Guard to a number of the other Top 100 single issue books. “The practice of releasing new number one after new number one simply is not creating new readers, it’s not growing the market, it’s admitting that the books in question aren’t successful enough to continue without being constantly relaunched, and the long-term result is that it diminishes enthusiasm amongst readers and damages the medium.”
Stephenson also talked about Image’s marketing strategy specifically things they will not do in order to build single issue sales. “We’re not going to do it with retailer exclusive covers or pressuring accounts to qualify for outrageous incentives, we’re not going to do it by inflating our numbers through Loot Crate variants and we’re not going to do it by playing the relaunch/reboot/renumber game.” While Stephenson himself is true to his word on this continuing Nowhere Men with issue seven this January after nearly a two year hiatus, other creators at Image have played with renumbering, most notably Jim Zub, Edwin Huang, and Misty Coats with Skullkickers although it was done as a parody of Marvel/DC it was still a renumbering. Justin Jordan, Tradd Moore, and Felipe Sobreiro’s Luthor Strode books have also begun as new series after each arc is completed, although Jordan argues, “Strode’s three stories are very distinctly separate things, which is sort of a different animal.” This could also apply to Michael Moreci, Vic Malhotra, Kyle Charles, and Matt Battaglia’s Roche Limit books.
Stephenson specifically called out DC when referencing the relaunch/reboot/renumber game, “By all indications, DC’s going to go that route again this year, and going back to the market share for 2015, I guarantee you it’s not because they ended last year on a high note. Dropping 5 percent in units — that’s a sign there’s something wrong, and the grim reality there is that it’s going to take more than a slew of new number ones to make things better.” He continued, “What’s the point of advertising a line’s rebirth, when these superhero universes are reborn every few years? First, it was just a case of killing of (sic) characters and resurrecting them, now it’s whole universes, again and again and again, and it’s just leading everyone down a dead end road.”
However, DC wasn’t the only object of Stephenson’s critical eye. “Looking at the vast majority of comics that came out in 2015, it was just a pretty dull year…Talking about comics and analyzing the industry has, by and large, become more interesting than a lot of the work being generated.” Stephenson made a point to say there are good comics being made, “There’s too much great talent in the business for there not to be good comics, but I think the genuinely exciting new work is obscured somewhat by the sheer same-as-it-ever-was of it all. It’s like the bland leading the bland, and there’s just so much out there, it’s hard to sort the good from the bad.”
Stephenson also talked about Image’s emphasis on the Young Adult market, “It needs to be a priority for the Direct Market as a whole…Beyond that, though, it’s a growing part of not just the Direct Market, but the book market as a whole. Comics are a growing part of the book market, which is impressive given how other things are shrinking there, but even more so, there’s a growing appetite for good all-ages and YA content.” He also made a reference to Arrested Development, “there is definitely money in that banana stand” when talking about all-ages and YA content.
Finally, Stephenson concluded, “I think branching out further into all-ages material is just a natural progression for us. We like to defy people’s expectations as much as possible.”
This is a lot to take in and digest, but Stephenson breaks down some critical points within the comic book industry. Do you agree with his analysis on reboots? What about his refusal to use Loot Crate to reach a potential new audience? Let us know what you think!