Comic Book Resources had the opportunity to interview Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson about the state of the industry and Image Comics in general. The interview was broken up into two parts and we have decided to bring you the top points from the interview. Be sure to read our top take-aways from the first part of the interview.
Stephenson started off the second half of the interview with the same edge he brought to the first half when he was asked about the types of audiences he would like to see Image reach that it may not be hitting.
Stephenson answered, “We all — everyone in comics — should want every type of reader we can get. And by reader, I mean READER. Put that in caps, and bold. Collecting comics is nice, and I did it myself for years, but that is not the road to the future. Our business is only as strong as its reader base, but honestly, I think we’ve all gotten a bit too cozy with the notion that we have this dependable group of comics fans that keep us all in the black. That kind of thinking isn’t doing any of us any favors, really, and it’s something that bothers me about things like variants, or when people complain about digital comics. The digital comics thing, especially, because those aren’t collectors — they’re readers, they’re people interested in the stories, the work. They’re looking to be entertained, not for the most perfect copy to flip on eBay.”
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Stephenson also offered some advice to the entire industry that he received after the death of David Bowie, “If you feel safe in the area that you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in; go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.” He added on to the advice as well as critiquing the industry saying, “We need to stretch more, in terms of format, in terms of the types of stories we’re telling, in terms of the readership we appeal to — we should never, ever be comfortable with what we’ve got. That’s when the rot sets in, and I think 2015 stands as a testament to that, to be perfectly frank.”
Stephenson wasn’t afraid to point out Image’s own problems regarding late comics. He detailed how “late books will drain every last bit of momentum from any title, no matter how good it is. The notion that if you build it, they will come, no matter when the job is finished, is just plain wrong. Especially if you’re doing a long, involved story — drip-feeding that to readers over the course of years is not going to work. There is too much competition for people’s attention — and not just from comics. They will move on.” He did note that Image has implemented new policies that were largely rolled out at the beginning of this year in an attempt to correct the problems with late issues.
Stephenson also acknowledged his own role as Publisher at Image Comics and how he views not only his role but the rest of the Image staff’s role as well, “I don’t look at the Image staff as people who work for me — we all work for the creators we publish, we all have different responsibilities, and we all support each other in different ways. It’s a delicate balance, and when it’s off, it slows everyone down. It shows. Right now, though, we’re in a very good place, and anyone here would tell you that. We get together for each other’s birthdays and things like that, and sometimes I kind of look at everyone and I’m just, I don’t know… humbled. Being part of a team, a good team, for me, it’s a humbling experience. There’s just something really special about working with the caliber of people we have here. I love the lot of ’em.”
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He also touched on Image’s relationship with their partner studios such as Skybound, Top Cow, Shadowline, Todd McFarlane Productions, and Man of Action, “We all want what’s best for Image. That said, they all operate their own studios in their own ways. That’s how they set things up. If they want feedback, I’m happy to give it, and if they don’t, that’s fine, too. They’ve been doing this long enough that they seem to have things sorted.”
Stephenson also pointed out books that he feels are top-notch, but aren’t getting the attention they deserved. Those books included Limbo by Dan Watters and Caspar Wijngaard, Alex de Campi and Carla Speed McNeil’s No Mercy, David Lapham’s Stray Bullets, Brian Wood and Danijel Zezelj’s Starve Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey’s Injection, and Joe Kelly and Max Fiumara’s Four Eyes.
Finally, Stephenson concluded by reaffirming his long-term goal to make Image the #1 in the comics marketplace, but he also laid out how he sees them achieving that goal, “For Image, I think that means branching out a bit more and continuing to try new things, not just in terms of content, but in terms of how we reach new audiences. There’s no point where anybody here sits back and says, “Well, we’ve done all we can do — everything is perfect,” and I think that’s one of our strengths, really. When we were talking about market share earlier, I said we’d more than doubled our yearly totals since I took over, and that didn’t happen because I’m satisfied with how things are. We’re in a unique position as a comics publisher, because we really can do anything…We don’t have to do what everybody else does — we can do things our own way, make our own rules.”
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Stephenson emphasized “embracing change and looking forward to what’s down the road, to what’s next. I don’t want Image to ever be number one by capitalizing on the mistakes of others or because someone else imploded. I want us to be the best.”
Once again this is quite a bit to digest and take in. What do you think about his analysis regarding “the dependable group of comics fans?” Do you believe this group exists? How about his advice for the industry about stretching to reach new and different audiences? Do you agree with his assertion that rot set into the comic book industry last year? Finally, what books from Image do you think don’t get enough attention, but are well worth the read? Tell us in the comments below!