Image publisher Eric Stephenson delivered yesterday’s lunch presentation for Image Comics at the Diamond Retailer Summit. Instead of announcing any new projects, he used the time to deliver a speech about Image’s history and its present, and to urge retailers not to let readers craving something new slip away to digital by not giving Image’s ambitious new slate a chance.
Most retailers we talked to were pretty excited about Image. Some wished that Image would print more books because they sell out so fast…perhaps unaware that by ordering more in the first place the books wouldn’t sell out so quickly.
Anyway, here’s what Stephenson had to say:
I like to tell people that every day when I wake up, I’m thankful I work in comics, and it’s true: There’s seriously never been a better time to work in the comic book business.
No matter where I go or who I talk to – people are talking about comics, they’re reading comics, they’re wearing our graphics.
I know a lot of people in this business like to say they sky is falling, but it’s not true.
And it’s not just now they’re saying that.
As long as I’ve been working in comics, the sky has been falling.
It was falling before that, too: Just about anyone who has launched a career in comics at any point since the beginning of the 1970s will tell you they entered this business only to immediately learn of its imminent doom.
I personally started working in comics just over 20 years ago, and the sky has been falling pretty much the entire time. Strangely, we’re still here.
I’m sure everyone has his or her own explanation for why that is, but I tend to think it’s because the last 20 years have been among the most creative in comics history.
Something that has always puzzled me about this industry, though, is the tendency to immediately focus on the negative, but in many ways, the last 20 years have amounted to something of a golden era for comics.
I know, I know – 20 years stretches back into the ’90s, and conventional wisdom is that was a terrible time – but you know what?
It wasn’t that bad.
Forget about the speculator boom and the gimmicky covers and the flash-in-the-pan companies that seemed disappear just as quickly as they popped up.
In the big scheme of things, that stuff doesn’t matter.
What matters is the sheer creativity unleashed by this industry’s finest during that period.
Just off the top of my head, I can think of at least 20 great comics that made their debut between 1992-1999 – comics that you continue to sell to this day, either as trade paperback collections, back issues, or new monthly comics.
Once you cross the border into the 2000s – with popular acceptance of the graphic novel format and the proliferation of trade paperbacks in the mass market – the number of great comics almost doubles.
There have been some monumental new comics over the last 20 years, and I’m happy to say Image has been involved in more than a few of them.
One of them is currently our biggest and most visible success – it’s called The Walking Dead.
We launched The Walking Dead almost 10 years, in October 2003.
When we got our initial orders from Diamond – which totaled a mere 7,300 copies – The Walking Dead came in dead last out of the half dozen new titles we launched that month.
It was beaten by Cursed #1, Battle of the Planets: Manga #1, Sword of Dracula #1, Something Wicked #1, and Realm of the Claw #1.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I was actually working at Image back then and aside from the Dracula book and the Battle of the Planets book, I don’t even the vaguest recollection of what those other books were about.
And I don’t say that because they were necessarily bad, but because they’re not around anymore.
Robert Kirkman and The Walking Dead, like the best creators and the best new ideas, made it a point to stick.
The first issue may not have set the sales charts on fire, but after hitting its all time low with issue #2 – which I’ll share with you now came in at around 5,400 – orders started to climb with #3.
Issue five orders beat out issue one’s and we haven’t looked back from there.
Issue #96 will be in stores next week, and when we set the print run for the issues, it was our best selling issue of The Walking Dead to date.
Before I left to head out here, I learned The Walking Dead #97 was on track not only to break that record, but to be the first issue to sell over 40,000 copies.
Now, I know all that because the first thing I do every day when I get to the office is look at a sales report from Diamond telling me where current orders are at.
Those orders change on a daily basis, and I have to say, most of the time, I can barely contain my excitement to get into work and check them out, just to see how they’ve changed.
I’ve gotten a little carried away with that excitement since the beginning of this year, though, because every week, I’ve been getting reports telling us our latest new titles – Fatale, Prophet, Thief of Thieves, Glory, Saga, Hell Yeah, The Manhattan Projects – are selling more and more copies.
They’re selling so many copies, in fact, that we’re struggling to keep up with demand.
And that’s not the sky falling – that’s you, me, our entire industry – rising up.
We’re reaching new readers each and every week – people who come to us because they read about comics on entertainment blogs, or because they want to get the scoop on the source material behind their favorite TV shows and films – and right now, Image Comics is reaching those new readers better than almost anyone else.
If you’re sharing in the tremendous success of The Walking Dead, you already know this.
If you’re not – well, we should talk, because you’re leaving a lot of money on the table for someone else to grab.
That’s a conversation we can have about the rest of our titles, too, because right now, we’re publishing the most innovative, the most interesting and the most exciting material, by the most creative minds in comics.
And if you’re seeing a growing interest in Image, it’s because our 2012 books are like a bright, shining beacon to readers, both new and old, who desperately crave something new.
I could come in here in and pitch you on specific titles, but I’ll be honest with you – I suck at that.
I’m not a pitch man.
More to the point, I don’t want to tell any of you how to do your jobs. You know your customers better than I ever could. What I would like to ask you, though, is to help Image connect with the thousands of readers who want the kind of comics we’re publishing.
And I would also like to ask – make that implore – you not to leave money on the table for those readers to go online with, because I know the best possible experience for these new readers – for your new customers – is for you to engage with them on a one-on-one basis and put the great comics we’re publishing directly into their hands.
You can’t get that at Amazon. You can’t get that from a digital download that may or may not be wiped out from a future service change.
You can only get that experience from people.
People love interacting with one another, and they value the experience of anyone who is passionate about what they like.
Nobody exudes that passion like you – because like me, you get up every day, and you’re thankful you work in comics.
Like everyone at Image – from the founders, to our staff to the brilliant men and women who write and draw the comics we put out – you do what you do because you genuinely love comics.
There are thousands of people coming to comics right now and more than anything – they want something genuine.
We’re doing our part: Week after week, we’re bringing you comics that feature stories the creators truly care about.
You can do your part by helping us celebrate their unbridled creativity in your own stores, by partnering with us to share that creativity with your customers.
The numbers don’t lie: More people are reading Image comics every single week, and those numbers are going to increase, whether they get them from your stores or from someplace else, because no offense to everyone who made the last 20 years so vital and creative, but right now, we’re blasting headlong into the future and creating some of the best comics in history.
See – in the past, when everyone claimed the sky was falling, it was because we were losing readers in droves – and worse, we were losing stores – because our numbers had been inflated by speculation.
But the reason the sky isn’t falling now – the reason we’re actually skyrocketing – is because there are readers – real readers, the kind of customers we all want – in abundance.
It’s our job – yours, mine, and the creators we publish – to capture their attention and give them the kind of experience they’ll come back for again and again.
Over the course of this year, we’re showcasing our creators in an ad campaign built around the slogan “experience creativity.”The beauty of what we all do – you, me, our creators – is that we all bring our own creativity, our own hard work, our own passion to this business we love so much, and your stores are the place our customers can join us to experience the power of that creativity.
That’s something we can all be proud of.
I know that right now, I personally couldn’t be prouder of the pure, undiluted creativity Image delivers to readers every single week.
If they’re your customers – then my pride extends to your vision and foresight, because you’re sharing in our success, and you’re helping make creativity an even more vital part of our industry.
If they’re not – then I’m asking you to join us.
I’m asking you to learn why after 20 years, Image is the fastest growing and most talked about publisher in this field.
Not because we have the backing of the Walt Disney Corporation or Warner Bros.
And not because we are rehashing some rehashed old stories while simultaneously trying to convince shareholders that flogging the same horse over and over and over again will somehow help us reach new readers.
Image Comics is successful because we’re committed to giving you and your customers more.
More of the best new creator-owned comics, in every format you can sell, whether it’s week-to-week, month-to-month, or year-in and year-out.
Like I said at the beginning: There’s never been a better time to work in comics.
We’re exploring new heights while we lay the foundation for better, more sustainable market, and I’m dead serious when I say I believe it can only get better.
So here’s to the future of comics – to experiencing creativity together and growing the successful partnership we’ve developed over the last 20 years – and most of all, here’s to you – the backbone of this wonderful business – because no matter what changes we encounter, we wouldn’t be here without you.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.