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The Year in Image with Eric Stephenson


Image Publisher Eric Stephenson gives another one of his candid, informed reviews — one of the bonuses from Image’s solidified spot as the #3 publisher is Stephenson’s increased profile. And even though Image is riding the Walking Dead Wave to increased performance all around, there is always room for improvement, he says, with a new issue of CHEW unavailable from Diamond a week after release and limited support for all-ages material:

I’m skeptical something like Bone would make it today. Nobody would support it. Bone is a success because it came out during a period when retailers and readers were more receptive to that sort of thing. I’m just as skeptical something like Fantastic Four or Spider-Man would be a success today. Those books were targeted at a general audience, and right now, the thing that’s missing from the equation – for Reed Gunther, for Super Dinosaur, for something great like Chris Giarrusso’s G-Man, even for award winning material like Marvel’s Oz books – is that nobody wants to support material aimed at a general, all-ages audience. Everyone likes to talk about getting more kids to read comics, but when work is published that might facilitate that – it’s more or less ignored.

Well worth reading the whole thing.

  1. That’s an interesting viewpoint. There are some comics retailers who market effectively to children and parents. But certainly, most comics shops don’t have a decent kids section. It’s even more galling because Image promoted those awesome titles via Free Comic Book Day.

    (That’s the first criteria for a great comics shop: a kids section, usually at the front of the store. Second criteria, chairs for parents to sit and read comics. If they read kids comics to their kids in the store, then you should nominate your store for an Eisner.)

    Then there’s the other “Direct Market”, the other market which does not return books for credit, just like comics shops. They are called “libraries”. They are almost all computerized and can access circulation figures to see how popular a title is. Plus they network like crazy, with state, regional, and national conferences, many aimed at specific specialties. They read reviews, they recommend, and they promote literacy. Librarians are also crafty, using comics to lure in “reluctant readers” who don’t like prose books, but don’t think of a comic as “reading”. [Insert Jim Shooter’s “bouillabaisse” anecdote here.]

    They also actively program events at the library, like reading groups, advisory groups, game nights, and even show movies!

    I don’t about kids today, but when I was in grade school (back when Rubik’s Cube was popular), there were “hot titles” that everyone had to read. Judy Blume (even the icky girls stories), Beverly Cleary, Choose Your Own Adventure. Viral marketing spreads fastest by word of mouth.

    I know Image gets libraries, I’ve seen them at library conferences, along with the other smaller comics publishers (but never DC or Marvel…) Their booths are popular, there were hundreds of libraries vying to win a $20,000 comics library at the recent conference in New Orleans.

    As for comics shops not stocking enough issues, or not stocking titles at all…
    “I get emails from people telling me their store doesn’t order enough copies or doesn’t order it at all, and the fact that it’s one of our fastest growing digital titles seems to bear that out.”

    So customers go online, get hooked, and continue to get their issues digitally. Which is one fewer customer in the store browsing and susceptible to recommendations.

  2. Stephenson should run for public office. This is how I wish politicians would talk.

    @ Torsten – Yeah I hear what you’re saying. Image has gone the extra mile several times. Jim Valentino’s division of Image (Shadowline) had a special kid’s line, which I contributed two books (Evil & Malice and T-Runt!, with Derek McCulloch). Two extremes of reading material for kids. The former was more of a classic comic book and the latter an actual children’s book. BOTH had a hard time in the direct market.

    I’m not dropping this at the retailers, it’s just the market, in general. Granted there are some stores with a solid and dedicated kid’s section in their stores… but they are the exception, not the rule. In fact, I’d even wager that players on all sides of the industry have less vigor for the all-ages market (for whatever reason). And trust me… I have a book I’d LOVE to do right now! But… well, you know… I fear for its life in this market.

  3. Great interesting interview. I was a little baffled when I saw all those old Awesome books come back. Image’s image has changed so much from the 90’s. For lots of people,it represented what was wrong in the 90’s but now it represent what is right in comics.
    So seeing those old book come back seemed a little schizophrenic compared to what Image is publishing those days. But seeing the creators involved, it probably is worth the pick.

    Concerning all ages book, the Marvel Adventure line produced comics who were way better than the “official” titles! I don’t know if you noticed it (nobody seemed to) but the whole line is cancelled in March 2012! :(

    I gave Super dinosaur a try but dropped it with issue 5, not because this is an all age book (I’m reading the Marvel adventure line with pleasure) but mostly because Ikept searching for this Kirkman astonishment and surprise I feel everytime I’m reading Invincible or Walking Dead and did not find it. Perhaps I would have tried it for a little longer if I did not know Robert name was attached to it. (my expectations on Robert’s creator owned books are now quite high) .
    Same thing with Brian Vaughan: it better be worth the wait! :)

  4. There is a market for material created for children. Look at the success of the Wimpy Kid books! Not all comic stores are “kid friendly”. Our area comic store does a fantastic job. There is a large area of kids comics when you first walk in the door. Parents know where to find it and you don’t have to steer your kids around all kinds of strange stuff.

    If you are in the Elmira NY area, check out “Heroes Your Mom Threw Out” Comic shop.

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