Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Image Comics And Its Creators 20 Years On - Part Two

Image Comics is one of the last great major publishing success stories of the recent era, going from boutique publishing house where a group of disenfranchised creators found an outlet to put their creativity out to becoming the number one independent publisher in the comic book world. Sure there have been many bumps along the way but over the last twenty years, and particularly the last decade, Image have become the place to be for an independent creator to get his or her voice heard by a larger amount of people than was ever available before. But what of the founders? And the new partners that have steered the ship into newer, uncharted territory? Last week, we talked about Image Comics and some of its founders and what they are doing now, this week we will be discussing the remaining, and arguably more controversial, founders. Who are they? Find out after the jump.

The remaining three Image founders were (apart from Todd McFarlane,) the superstars that really hit Marvel in the bread basket when they departed to form a new company and it's no surprise that they are the three, (with one in particular,) that have the most column inches written about them even to this day. Mentioning their names alone and every comic book fan will have something, either good or ill, to say about them and their art. 

Marc Silvestri

When the Image founders jumped from the Marvel ship, Marc Silvestri was the artist who had the largest body of work with the company, performing pencil duties on Uncanny X-Men for almost three years and then Wolverine for a further two. Silvestri had a knack for piling the energy into his work and had a particular affinity for drawing the female form. His ladies looked like a cross between supermodels and Frank Frazetta paintings and as such he garnered a large fan base amongst the young X-Men readership. Every bit as good looking as the characters he drew, it's hard work to find a picture of Silvestri where he is not smiling and if reports are to be believed, is incredibly gracious to fans at conventions and signings. Upon leaving Marvel, Silvestri formed Top Cow Productions launching his first creator owned title, Cyberforce, through the imprint. Top Cow was like Silvestri himself, renowned and chastised in equal measure for the strong cheesecake elements that their titles and characters had, even the supposed monstrous characters were good looking. Briefly leaving Image due to a dispute with some of the other founders only to return a few years later Top Cow have in recent years been making headway into forming a cohesive universe with largely successful results, particularly in regards to the Silvestri creations The Darkness and Witchblade, and have through the years stepped away from the superhero styled roots to go into more fantasy themed story lines. On top of this, Top Cow have to their credit one of the few actually enjoyable computer game adaptations outside of the big two with the amazing The Darkness game franchise. Top Cow's, and as such Silvestri's, largest imprint on the comic book industry is the amount of artists churned out of their studio that are some of the biggest names working for the big two today. David Finch, Tyler Kirkham, Billy Tan, Joe Benitez, Mike Choi, Kenneth Rocafort, and the late great Michael Turner all came through the Top Cow studio, and all owe a debt to the line work of Silvestri. As for the man himself, Silvestri still draws the odd comic book, although oddly not for Top Cow but for Marvel, the company he left twenty years ago, with a peppering of titles including a return to the X-Men line and a short run on The Incredible Hulk.

Jim Lee 

There are few artists who attract a rabid fan base like Jim Lee. Regardless of what you think of the man's art, sales of his original works prove him to be one of the most valuable artists ever seen in the comic book world, with his pages selling in the Frank Miller and Jack Kirby bracket. Lee was also the artist on the biggest selling comic book of all time in X-Men issue one, and although the numbers it sold can partly be attributed to both the speculator boom and how massively popular the characters were at the time, there can be no doubt that Lee was a large contributing factor to that. Like Silvestri, Lee was accomplished at drawing beautiful women and good looking men but that is not to understate his abilities for sequential art and his storytelling capabilities, which were clear and concise in a time when it was fashionable to go over the top with almost indecipherable layouts. Upon leaving Marvel, Lee formed Wildstorm, launching the imprint with WildC.A.T.S, one of the more successful properties from the publisher. Lee and the other staff at Wildstorm had an eye for talent, quickly recruiting now industry mainstays such as Brett Booth and J Scott Campbell, and bringing through the ranks a young artist named Travis Charest, who is now arguably one of the best comic book artists (hardly) working today. Not content with just recruiting artists, Lee employed writers such as James Robinson and Warren Ellis to write some of the properties and also launched creator owned imprints such as Homage Comics, showcasing varied work such as Kurt Busiek's Astro City and Terry Moore's Strangers in Paradise, and the artist focused Cliffhanger Comics with books such as the then white hot Joe Madureira's Battle Chasers and J Scott Campbell's Danger Girl. Wildstorm's, and as such Lee's, true masterstroke was the hiring of Alan Moore to not only write some of the Wildstorm properties but also allowing him to have his own imprint in America's Best Comics, home of titles such as Tom Strong, Promethea, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. In a weird turn of events, all these things attracted DC Comics to the imprint, with Lee eventually selling Wildstorm to the company in 1999. Allowing Wildstorm to run separate of DC, the company produced not only the best titles of it's short life span but quite possibly the best comics produced by anyone at the time. The early two thousands were truly a creative zenith for the imprint, with not only Moore's ABC imprint going full steam ahead but taking respected writers and artists and launching them into industry superstars. The titles and the creators read like a murderers row of great comics books that are still revered to this day. Titles such as The Authority by first Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch and then by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely, Planetary by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday, WildCATS 3.0 by Joe Casey and Dustin Nguyen, and Sleeper by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips raised the bar for how superhero comics were made and perceived by their audiences. Unfortunately, it was not to last, as DC slowly but surely took the wind out of the imprint's sails and eventually shut Wildstorm down as an imprint in 2011. By this time, it was no true loss as most of the forward thinking creators were long gone and apart from the fantastic DV8 relaunch by Brian Wood and Rebekah Isaacs, was slowly wheezing to its final breath publishing below par licensed titles. In some shape or form, Wildstorm does partly live on as an artist's studio providing character and location designs for the popular Batman: Arkham computer game franchises. As for Lee himself, throughout the 2000's he worked on some of the biggest, and sometimes controversial, stories of the period including Batman: Hush with Jeph Loeb, Superman: For Tomorrow with Brian Azzarello, and the much maligned All Star Batman and Robin with Frank Miller. In 2011, Jim Lee was named co-publisher of DC Comics and also performed pencil duties on the relaunched Justice League. He is just as much in demand now as he was twenty years ago, proving that the mans talent is undeniable. The less said about Heroes Reborn, the better.

Rob Liefeld

Rob Liefeld. Is there a name that provokes the ire of the comics fan more than his? Tiny ankles, angry expressions, similarity in his characters faces, massive liberties taken with anatomy, pouches! All these things are regularly wheeled out when Liefeld's name is mentioned but there is no doubt that he was one of the most successful artists of the nineties. X-Force issue one sold stratospheric amounts sending Liefeld's stock soaring and looking back at the admittedly biased letter columns in the title, fans absolutely adored his work. Part of the reason for this is Liefeld's line appeals directly to the id part of the brain, it's completely over the top and most of the time pretty ludicrous but it conveys an energy that few artists can muster, regardless of the aforementioned pitfalls of that style. It also fit perfectly in with pop culture at the time. Liefeld is MTV, Predator, Van Halen, and NWA all rolled into one and as such it is understandable that he was asked to appear in a Levis ad at the time, (the boyish good looks helped too.) Also, Liefeld created what are quite possibly the last great creations, (definitely the last to continue to have their own titles,) seen at Marvel in the form of Cable and the wildly popular Deadpool, not to mention Domino, Shatterstar and all the X-Force cast that he created or modified. Upon leaving Marvel and co-founding Image, Liefeld created Extreme Studios, with characters and teams such as Youngblood, Brigade, Prophet, Supreme and more. The problem was, these characters were too derivative of what came before, and they weren't Cable or Deadpool, the creations that Rob left behind. Adding to this was the seeming tardiness in getting the books out on time and the creative debacle that was Heroes Reborn and Liefeld's reputation plummeted, all before he was thirty. After a messy split with Image Comics due to legal wranglings and supposed questionable ethics, Liefeld created comic studios such as Awesome Comics and Maximum Press only to see them fall into obscurity, aided by the Marvel Comics baiting characters Fighting American, (a Captain America analogue created by Simon and Kirby and sold to Liefeld,) and Smash, a character that was basically a purple Hulk. Weathering the storm of the late nineties, Liefeld came back to Marvel in the early two thousands to work on characters he created such as an X-Force relaunch, and the Cable and Deadpool comic to varying degrees of success and has more recently been seen working on some of the relaunched DC characters such as Hawk and Dove, Hawkman, and Grifter. Liefeld's biggest gift to the comic book industry in recent years was the relaunch of Extreme Studios, now back at Image and home to the fantastic Glory by Joe Keatinge and Ross Campbell and one of the most critically acclaimed comics of the last year in Prophet by Brandon Graham and artists Simon Roy, Farel Dalymple and Giannis Milogiannis. Regardless of peoples opinions of the man, Rob Liefeld still has enough star power, talent, and enthusiasm to be relevant in an industry that has turned their back on him more times than even he can possibly count. So whether you love or hate him that has got to stand for something

Next Week: The new partner and the man responsible for the company in 2013, the current crop of titles and could there be another Image style revolution?

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