The recent argument over Image, reprints and retailers, it’s clear that conscientious retailers and creators are trying to figure this out together….it’s not a fiscal cliff type dead end. But it also underscores one of the biggest stories of the year: The ascent of Image as a very real competitor to the “Big Two” in terms of content and audience. And SAGA—an extraordinarily entertaining hit by any standard—has been the poster child for this. While the contributions of Fiona Staples can’t be ignored, it also shows up the staying power of Brian K. Vaughan as a writer who can command attention. Indeed, the other day I was kibitzing with someone starting a new project and joked “All the industry needs is 20 more books written by Brian K. Vaughan.”
Image publisher Eric Stephenson saw my quip posted on a private message board and responded with this mini-essay on the flow of talent and supporting new and future stars:
I would add, Heidi, that when I started working on staff at Image in December of 2001, Brian K. Vaughan wasn’t particularly well-known, let alone a phenomenon. I personally associated him – rather unfavorably, in fact – with what at the time was DC’s most recent Swamp Thing relaunch. Within a couple years, he was writing one of my all-time favorite series – and that was just one of his many triumphs.
Around the same time, I regarded Robert Kirkman as “that guy who does Battle Pope,” or “the Funk-O-Tron” guy. Robert had a couple false starts at Image, but Invincible launched pretty strong out of the gate, so we decided to take a shot on what would become eventually one of not just Image’s, but the industry’s, most successful series ever.
John Layman was an editor at WildStorm, and he shepherded through some great material, but he wasn’t a “big name.” We did a cool little series with him called Puffed, he did some work at other publishers, then he approached us with Chew. We’ve sold over 100,000 copies of the first Chew trade at this point.
Looking beyond Image: Before Powers, Daredevil, Ultimate Spider-Man and Avengers, Brian Michael Bendis was the quietly celebrated creator of some great crime noir books – Jinx, Goldfish, Torso – and Ed Brubaker started out in comics with Low Life, before establishing a slightly more mainstream reputation at WildStorm with Sleeper, then doing Catwoman at DC, and so on. Before Captain America, Uncanny Avengers and Uncanny X-Force, Rick Remender did some great writing on Black Heart Billy, Doll & Creature, Strange Girl and XXXombies.
I could go on for hours listing examples, but my point is this:
Yes, Brian K. Vaughan is a phenomenon.
Yes, more books by BKV would be great for all of us. Same with more books by Robert Kirkman, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Rick Remender, Scott Snyder, Jonathan Hickman, Matt Fraction, Warren Ellis, Jason Aaron, John Layman, Mike Mignola, Brian Azzarello, Darwyn Cooke, Kurt Busiek, Neil Gaiman, Mark Millar, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Alex Ross, Garth Ennis, Jeff Smith, Craig Thompson, Greg Rucka, Grant Morrison, Alan Moore and whatever other favorite writer, artist or writer/artist you personally would add to the list.
But something else that’s beneficial to everyone is solid and continued support for new creativity.
There isn’t a single name on that list that didn’t start out on another list – because all of them were new talent at one point. Once upon a time, they were all unknowns that someone decided to take a chance on.
So as cool as it would be to have 20 more books by Brian K. Vaughan, I think it would be even cooler if we had 20 books by the next Brian K. Vaughan, the next Robert Kirkman, the next Brian Michael Bendis, and so on. Because even thought more work from our best writers and artists is always a good thing, the only way this industry is going to stay vital and fresh is with a constant influx of new.
Not new number ones or new takes on old concepts, but new talent talent and new ideas.
All you’ve got to do is take a look at the works that have lasted over time, things that sell and sell and sell, and I think you’ll see that over the long haul, new creativity wins out every time.
Stores will still be selling books like Saga and Parker and The Walking Dead and Scott Pilgrim long after the latest creative team changes on the New 52 or Marvel NOW. The way to grow this business is to have more books like that, and the way that happens is by finding, developing and supporting the new voices who can provide us all with that kind of work.
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.