By Bruce Lidl
As has become a tradition at Image Comic’s semi-annual event, the announcements of upcoming titles came fast and furious today at ImageExpo. After a suitably rousing “state of the company” presentation by Image publisher Eric Stephenson, the stage at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center saw a procession of comic luminaries hyping new titles they promise will appear in 2015. On the evidence, Image will likely continue to rise in sales and market share, although the central roles of The Walking Dead and Saga in propelling those gaudy numbers remained an unspoken undercurrent to the show.
Stephenson trumpeted Image’s 2014 performance, which included “double digit year over year growth from 2013” (33% improvement in revenue, 25% in units), a 10.41% market share in the comics direct market and 16.48% market share for graphic novels in the book market. One area of somewhat smaller growth was digital, which Stephenson mentioned in passing and with a graphic that lacked scale or numbers. Despite its vagueness, the digital sales chart seemed to indicate roughly 10-15% growth from 2013. Surprisingly, however, the graph showed a slight dip in digital sales from 2012 to 2013, that was not commented on in the keynote, but Image’s Ron Richards told me outside the talk that it was merely a reflection of “The Walking Dead on TV” phenomenon, and not the natural growth of the category. To keep the digital sales momentum going into 2015, the second Image Humble Bundle was released prior to the opening of the ImageExpo, with a ton of Image backlist titles available digitally in the “pay what you want model.” In fact, Humble Bundle co-sponsored the ImageExpo this year, and has very high hopes for the bundle, particularly after it generated almost $90,000 in the first eight hours of the offer.
The new book announcements included original Image founder Todd MacFarlane’s Spawn books #250 and #251, with Spawn Resurrection #1 sandwiched in between. Declaring himself a “proud papa” of what Image had grown into over the last 23 years, MacFarlane refused to cede all the creative acclaim to his younger Image colleagues. He teased Savior, a a new title depicting the arrival of a Christ-like figure in today’s world. Recognizing a reputation for erratic release schedules, MacFarlane flashed an slide with eight issues worth of pages already completed.
James Robinson made a cameo appearance to announce his title Heaven and to reassure that Airboy is still on the way. Brandon Graham and Emma Rios told the audience about a couple of their collaborations, including 8house and Island, the later a large format “heavy metal” anthology that will include a number of rotating contributors. Emma Rios also brought out Kelly Sue DeConnick to update their plans for Pretty Deadly’s second arc which takes the title’s setting from the American West to the battlefields of World War I, and is expected to arrive in September.
Unlike last year’s event, ImageExpo 2015 highlighted a number of female creators, with Emi Lenox following Rios and DeConnick on stage to announce her autobiographical project, Tadaima, about her visit to her mother’s Japan. Lenox also talked about her collaboration with Jeff Lemire, Plutona, a Stand By Me influenced book about children discovering the corpse of a super-hero, . Other female creators announcing new books at ImageExpo included Marjorie Liu with Monstress and Alex De Campi with No Mercy, the latter scheduled for April.
Jeff Lemire returned to discuss his new book with Scott Snyder, AD: After Death which takes a deep, conceptual look at what the world would be like when “death is cured” and people can live forever. Brian Buccellato intrigued with his Kickstarter-originated Son of the Devil, an exploration of deadly cults and their legacies, and Eric Canete and Jonathan Tsuei discussed Run Love Kill, a project that started over a decade ago, but will now arrive with “robots, dinosaurs and ass-kicking.” The dynamic British duo of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie will be continuing their successful Wicked+Divine series into a third arc with a number of guest artists, and they promised Phonogram 3 for August 2015. Gillen will also be writing The Ludocrats, with art by David LaFuente for Image this year. Chip Zdarsky “crashed” the proceedings in an unannounced surprise appearance to hype his Howard the Duck title (for Marvel), but really to announce Katara, a sci-fi comedy title done with Kagan McLeod, and just to generally lighten up the festivities in his inimitable Zdarsky-style.
Another surprise appearance proved impossible for Darwyn Cooke to arrange, but he announced via audio message his first wholly creator owned title, Revengeance, a crime thriller with Mickey Spillane influences set in the 1980s. Following the Cooke audio portion, Skottie Young spoke of his new title, I Hate Fairyland, about a girl trapped in a fantasy wonderland for thirty years. The tone of the title is probably best expressed by its original working title, Fuck Fairyland.
While last year’s ImageExpo felt somewhat like the Robert Kirkman show, the explosive success of Saga in 2014 made Brian K. Vaughn’s appearance a natural highlight of this year’s event. In addition to that book, Vaughn will be producing two more books in 2015 for Image, the first entitled We Stand on Guard, a limited series positing a US invasion of Canada with giant robots, drawn by Steve Skroce, and Paper Girls, an on-going series with young newspaper deliverers as the protagonists, drawn by Cliff Chiang, and referred to by Vaughn as “his most personal and weird writing.”