Image publisher Eric Stephenson doesn’t get quoted too much, but maybe he should. Rich Johnston has a very in-depth interview with Stephenson up and its about time. Image is consistently the #3 or 4 comics publishers and in recent months Image has absolutely stolen the mantle of “buzz book” publisher, starting with Chew, but continuing on with Turf, Skullkickers, Morning Glorys and so on. And of course, with the Walking Dead TV show debuting in a few days, they are set to sell even MORE copies of a book that already has 3 million copies in print. As Stephenson mentions, he doesn’t often go around tooting his horn, so the inetrview touches on a lot of point seldom publicly spoken of. Kudos to Johnston and Stephenson for putting something substantive up on the internet for a change. Anyone interested in the state of comics publishing and creators rights should read the whole thing, but a few selected tidbits:
On Image’s market share:

There was lots of publicity about Image being at number six; there was zero about the fact that we went back to number three the next month. We’ve had a great year, and I think that’s down to the strength of the material we’re putting out. And yeah, a lot of people are going to roll their eyes and say, “Well, that’s just because you do The Walking Dead and that’s going to be a TV series,” but the truth of the matter is The Walking Dead was increasing in sales long before there was any discussion of a TV series on AMC or anywhere else. The book’s been climbing in sales since it launched in 2003. The first issue launched at under 10,000, which I think people tend to forget or ignore, and looking at current orders, we’re getting ready to ship out #78 at over 30,000 units. And you know, I saw that Oni did this press release about the six Scott Pilgrim books selling over a million copies all told: The Walking Dead collections are closing in on three million.

On developing creators:

Image really isn’t about limiting creators’ options. That’s why we don’t have exclusives. We’re not trying to tie anyone down so they can’t get off the plantation, and make no mistake, the shackles may be solid gold, but there’s only so much freedom in that kind of arrangement. What we’ve got here… Obviously, there are pros and cons to the kind of creative freedom we offer, and as you just said, not every book is a guaranteed success. And yeah, Marvel and DC — let’s not forget DC, because virtually every artist to ever work with Jay Faerber on Noble Causes or Dynamo 5 has been scooped up by DC and every member of Richard Starkings’ ELEPHANTMEN team were snatched up to produce THE SPIRIT — are constantly sniffing around here looking for new talent. Dark Horse does the same thing — they even tried to lure Kirkman away back when The Walking Dead first took off. He and Tony Moore had pitched a book there and it was turned down, but the minute The Walking Dead was a hit, Dark Horse was on the phone telling Robert how much better he could have it at Dark Horse. How much work by Nick Spencer did you see from Marvel and DC before Morning Glories took off? Now he’s one of Marvel’s up-and-comers. I’m not sure if Nick should be flattered or insulted.

On whether digital publishing will kill print:

Virtually every comic is available digitally on the same day it’s released to comic book shops — for free — and that has been the case for several years at this point. Publishers have slowly begun to establish a foothold in digital publishing, but I would be willing to bet more people downloaded The Walking Dead #77 for free than paid for it through our app. In fact, I’ll even go one better and speculate that more people downloaded The Walking Dead #77 illegally than bought the print comic. And you know what? The book’s sold out — we have more reorders than we can fill and we both know those reorders wouldn’t be coming in if retailers weren’t selling out of the books.

Like we said, much much more in the piece and some lively dialog in the comments as well.