Held the day before Emerald City Comic Con, Image took their Image Expo on the road to The Showbox in Seattle for all the creator announcements of upcoming projects. The location was unique and perfect when you consider the many independent and up and coming bands that rolled through The Showbox in the past—plus how long Image has been associated with independent. The Showbox offered a sexy venue with lighting, chandeliers, and was already decorated for Image’s Spring Formal later in the evening. Image Expo would offer many highlights and it was interesting to see when the audience connected most with the presentations during the day.
Eric Stephenson walked out, quickly greeted the audience, and began his keynote. “Nothing is impossible.” This was the mantra and theme as he described himself as a reluctant reader growing up before he found comics. “Nothing is impossible.” Stephenson continued with other examples:
- One of his classmates questioning anyone can be President because he had never seen a black president
- A friend’s mom growing up who loved comics and thought she was weird because she loved comics and comics were written for boys.
- When he lived in West Germany and was told that Germany would always be divided with the countries broken spirit divided by a wall never to come down.
- Marriage equality. Marijuana legality. Segregation. Voting when only white males could.
“Nothing is impossible–as long as you do the work.”
The crowd was quiet as Stephenson spoke. Gone were the sales charts and market share results from previous Image Expos showing Image was a player with Marvel and DC. Here we had a group of comics constituents listening to a stump speech from a candidate speaking of change. And that that change could be created. Creator owned comics. What I at first mistook as sleepiness was removed when Stephenson finished to large approving applause. “Nothing is impossible.”
What followed were those impossible works by creators who were hard at work at creating that change. Creators took turns taking the stage to talk about their upcoming projects all moderated by David Brothers. The audience welcomed everyone with applause and their attention. There was a lot to get through so the energy ebbed and flowed as the day went on—yet still allowed for moments where you could feel the audience lean in and want more. Anytime presenters were able to share more about themselves, their motivations, or couldn’t contain their own excitement for the work, the audience would give back.
- Ivan Brandon and Jason Latour natural back and forth had the crowd laughing. This was especially true when describing their collaboration on Black Cloud as “Jessica Jones meets Roger Rabbit”, or explaining how when you’re forced in a small space with someone it’s like Stockholm Syndrome sets in which leads to great collaborative ideas.
- Alison Samspon had everyone laughing when she managed to make Winnebago Graveyard, a horror comic with Steve Niles, sound like National Lampoon’s Vacation with Satanism in that charming British accent of hers.
- Brandon Thomas could barely contain his energy not just about Horizon, but of working with Skybound and being part of a creative family. Juan Gideon couldn’t agree more—that and all the free Walking Dead toys they got.
- Nathan Fiarbairn with his first creator owned writing credit on Lake of Fire got laughs when describing his medieval crusaders vs. aliens comic as “low concept”. Later in the afternoon sessions there would be much love and shout outs for colorists. He shared what it was like to worry he had let Cameron Stewart down when he turned in pages, only to have Stewart think the opposite as he made his art look better than he believed. This same bit lead to a great conversation with Stewart and Brenden Fletcher about editors, like Jeanine Schaefer, and how necessary they are even with creator owned works.
- Howard Chaykin got the crowd really going. This was someone that definitely knew how to work the stage, the crowd, and the conversation. With quotes like “I grew up terrified that I would be nuked before I lost my virginity” you knew this was the guy you wanted at your next cocktail party.
- Ronald Wimberly exuded a calm, crazy cool sense of self in both his appearances. First when describing the remastered print of Prince of Cats as a Shakespeare B-side if Romeo & Juliet was a 45, and Tybalt was the lead. Later during the afternoon session, during an audience question he asked “Can we stop saying ‘When comics weren’t cool’ in stories? Comics were always cool. We might not have been cool and are now cool, but comics always were.”
- Jen Van Meter and Rick Burchett’s Prima was intriguing simply from the mashups of ballet, thieves, espionage, romance, thriller, and comedy. Also Rick Burchett was hesitant to speak but great to listen to with the crowd’s favorite line being “Have you ever tried to draw a slender woman, but with the legs of a draft horse? It’s tough.”
- When Sara Kenney and Karen Berger hit the stage I heard audible gasps and whoahs at the mention of the legendary Vertigo editor. Surgeon X definitely has a lot going on, but I’m sure people will be picking this up on the faith that Karen Berger believes in it.
- Ed Brubaker didn’t disappoint with his ongoing Kill or be Killed. “Death Wish mixed with a kind of 70s Spider-Man”. He definitely got the crowd energy up with a mix of well timed cursing and earnest belief in the work.
- Jonathan Hickman came out to large applause. The man is known for intricate plots and even his pitch for Black Monday was high concept. Hickman always wanted to write about magic and he’s doing so here through financial institutions. Even the packaging itself represents how a comic should be delivered for his work. It’s going to be deep considering the thinnest issue is 50 pages with roughly 30 pages being art and the rest world building. Even his announcements come of as intricate.
- Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl had some of the most to share with a friendship going back to grade school and a love of comics going back as far. They bonded over Elf Quest, Voltron, and other eighties pop culture which has all led to Isola. “This is the distillation of our friendship, influences, and personalities.” “This feels like what our lives have been leading towards in a lot of ways.”
It was a long full day of announcements and examples of how nothing is impossible as long as you do the work. To book end that sentiment was the announcement of Creators For Creators. Creators For Creators is an independent non-profit with a purpose to encourage original works through support, grants, education, legal advice, and mentorship. Nick Dragotta and David Brothers worked with other creators on this important endeavor because there is no roadmap for independent creators. Image was gracious enough to share the stage as Brothers pointed out that Creators For Creators is and industry wide initiative not tied to a publisher. “Being a creator is about making your own decision” said Brothers.
Jonathan Hickman might have summed the day up best as he was one of many creators brought up on stage for the Creators For Creators announcement. “Image is probably now the destination location for the best comics in the industry. We’re looking for people who are hungry and are just dying for that one small opportunity. We know there are a ton of super-talented people out there and all they need is a tiny chance.”
Nothing is impossible.
The Elite Beat Staff is a trained squad of ninja masters.