Yesterday was an important anniversary in the comics world— Image Comics, originally comprised of eight superstar artists from both Marvel and DC who left behind the draconian contracts of the Big 2 with the dreams of starting a publishing company that would set the rights of the creator first and foremost, turned 20 years old. Within three months of its launch, Image rocketed to the tops of the comics chart with Rob Liefeld's "Youngblood #1," the first non-Big 2 comic to do so, all the while blasting the rhetoric that one didn't need to be under the thumb of "the Man" to do big, big business.
A lot of things have changed since 1992. Image, borne on the backs of popular titles such as Todd McFarlane's Spawn and Jim Lee's WildC.A.T.S, has, with similarly creator-driven publisher Dark Horse has joined DC and Marvel as parts of the comics establishment. As one of the biggest winners of both the 90's issue collector boom and the whole Diamond distribution shitstorm in '95, Image was an extremely important player in the comics consumption habits of the new generation of cartoonists just starting to make their marks on the industry today.
Nowadays, Image is on its way to being the best and most successful publisher in the industry. While Marvel and DC are relaunching all their titles in the hopes of increasing stagnant sales numbers, Image is publishing both critically acclaimed titles like Orc Stain and King City as well as commercial smash-hits like Chew and The Walking Dead.
Interesting things have been going on recently that reflect the company's anniversary. There's a new corporate ad campaign in the back of all of the new issues that promotes Image artists in "Think Different."-style black and white images. There's that out-of-nowhere announcement of an Image Expo at the end of the month in Oakland, California. The most newsworthy seems to be original founder, logo designer, controversial artist and Levi's 501 Jeans spokesman Rob Liefeld's re-launch of four old series he originally developed in his first years at Imag. One of them, Prophet (written by Canadian comics maven Brandon Graham and with art by Simon Roy and colorist Richard Ballerman) has become one of the most talked-about comics of the new year, with the entire first print run selling out to retailers and copies flying off shelves.
The new reboot totally ditches Liefeld's signature, uh, "style" and is chock-a-block full of time traveling hit-men, shady weapons deals with freakish flesh-eating aliens and general weirdness. It's hip and cool and totally not a cash-grab sequel to Watchmen. Even looking into Image's past does the company continue to move in surprising and exciting directions.
Even the art-comics movement have started chiming in with their appreciation of the seminal "Image Style." More muscles, bigger guns, humungous utility belts and a predisposition to boyish ultra-violence. Put together by Secret Prison editor Ian Harker and Yeah Dude Comics‘ Pat Aulisio, "Rub the Blood" is an amazing, humungous fanzine tribute to the insanity of those early Image works. Here's a picture of me holding it.
Like I said, huge! Debuting at the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival back in December (the Williamsburg-ia'd up version of San Diego), "Rub the Blood" is wonderful to behold in person and a knowing tribute to the excess and profanity that made Image comics the powerhouse it is today. I sat down with an Austin-based contributor to "Rub the Blood," William Cardini (http://hypercastle.com), to talk about the Kickstarter-funded publication.
Daily Texan Comics: How did you get involved in the project? With the Secret Prison dudes?
William Cardini: I've known Ian Harker (http://ianharkerzines.blogspot.com/), co-editor of Secret Prison and Rub the Blood, for a couple years. I tried to find the original message we exchanged but it's lost in the ether. We were both on Comics Comics comment threads a lot and we ended up trading zines in December 2009. I started submitting to Secret Prison with #2 and I think that's how Pat Aulisio (http://www.patmakesdrawings.com/), the other coeditor of Secret Prison and Rub the Blood, saw my work. The three of us also did a book with my buddy Josh Burggraf (http://joshburggraf.com/) called Math Fiction which was a red/blue 3D anaglyph comic. I think they asked me to be a part of Rub the Blood because they knew me and my work and saw that it's an art comics interpretation of 90s-style exuberant excess.
Daily Texan Comics: What kind of stuff were you looking at in the 90's? What drew you into the Image comics stuff?
Cardini: Like a lot of cartoonists my age I started reading comics with what was available in the grocery store. I was super into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Archie books, Ron Lim's Silver Surfer, Savage Dragon, Rob Liefeld's Cable, X-Man, and the X-Men. I was into sci-fi and Akira so I thought all the random psionic powers and glowing eyes were dope. I read a lot of issues of Wizard and got entranced by all the rhetoric around the Image revolution. Those guys were like movie stars! It made being a cartoonist seem so glamorous. But more importantly they showed a sheltered suburban kid like me that you could draw whatever you wanted and publish it yourself. Before I found out about Fantagraphics and Bone and Poison Elves, Image inspired me to do my own thing. I have a box called "Drawings from the 90s" that's full of sketchbooks of Image-style superheroes.
Daily Texan Comics: The legacy of that sort of thing seems to be going strong 20 years later, and has certainly changed a generation's view of what comic books are like. That sense of ownership has endured—unproportional figure drawing, ridiculousness and all. Does that still carry over into what you're seeing in your community today? Or at least what you're doing?
Cardini: Yeah, I think Image is definitely still relevant! Every time a cartoonist decides to publish on the web or self publish their book they owe something to the territory those guys staked out. The idea of creator's rights has definitely evolved a lot over the past twenty years and Image had a part in that. But Image also showed that comics can be unapologetically action-packed, violent, and sf. You can just follow your id and draw all these crazy lines or details without owing anything to realism. Look at Benjamin Marra (http://www.benjaminmarra.com/), his comics take this idea and run with it up the wall and into outer space.
Daily Texan Comics: Just how awesome are exploding eyeballs?
Cardini: The reason that Un Chien Andalou is so highly regarded as a masterpiece of avant garde cinema is because squirting eye ball goop is extremely titillating.
The new Prophet #21 is sold out in most comic book stores, but a new editon should make it in very soon. "Rub the Blood" was orignially concieved to be purchaceable only in person with one of the contributors at conventions, but William Cardini has some for sale online at his website http://hypercastle.com/ and you can also mail order a copy directly from editor Ian Harker at firstname.lastname@example.org.