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review by Clay N Ferno

‏Twenty years ago, the comic book industry’s top guns took their pen nibs, pouches, flowy capes and big eyes away from the Big Two and started Image Comics. Creator ownership and the comic book industry fundamentally changed that day when McFarlane, Larsen, Liefeld, Silvestri, Lee, Valentino, and Portacio took control of the business of comic books and the rights to their own characters.

‏Written and directed by Patrick Meany and produced by Seqart in association with Respect! Films, The Image Revolution interviews the guys, plus Sean Howe (Marvel Comics: The Untold Story), Image publisher Eric Stephenson, Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead), Nick Spencer (Morning Glories) and many more to tell the tale of the early ‘rock star’ days of Image Comics and takes us through today. With the success of The Walking Dead and Image Comics dominating the creator owned market and business model, the impossible dream became real.

We get another great inside the bullpen look from Respect! Films here, highly recommended for fans of these superstar creators but mostly for people of my comic book reading generation. The early ‘90s were an amazing time to be reading the books coming out from Marvel.

‏The split happened right before our eyes, and like many things no one was sure if it would work.

Watching Todd McFarlane go from Amazing Spider-Man to his own Adjective-less Spider-Man was formative for me. I thought, “Wow how is this guy going to write and draw the book?” I stayed with ASM of course, with look-a-like artist Erik Larsen telling the tale of The Sinister Six. And of course there was little Rob Liefeld, selling The New Mutants which became X-Force and introduced his ideas in the form of Domino and a less mouthy Deadpool than we know today. Jim Lee, now the co-publisher at DC Comics was cranking out Uncanny X-Men with Claremont, soon to become top selling comic X-Men.

‏I was a kid and I bought them all. I believe 10 copies of X-Force #1 and at least 6 of X-Men.

‏What I had no idea about was the money involved on the creator’s end. With Marvel making backend on merchandise and repurposing artwork, along with other discrepancies, they weren’t sharing that pie with anyone. And one person wasn’t going to take it, and that was Todd McFarlane.

‏Todd convinced everyone to take a weekend off, head to Marvel and tell the company that they had enough and were moving on. In an equally bold and crazy move, they went ‘across the street’ to DC to tell them the same news. That must have been insane. Todd did most of the talking. A meeting of the founders and groundwork for the creator-driven Image Comics was devised shortly thereafter.

‏At his peak, the polarizing Robert Liefeld was dropping characters out of his head and into the pages of X-Force. It wasn’t until the formation of Image that he got to retain the rights and control basically the same types of characters under his own imprint Extreme Studios. Youngblood, Supreme, Glory were all the types of stories and characters that might have ended up being owned by Marvel now Disney. Over at Image the money flowed his way, along with all of the speculative television and movie rights.

‏A cursory history delved into this great documentary, with some great Liefeld / McFarlane moments (they are friends!) brings McFarlane’s Spider-Replacement book, Spawn, to Image. Spawn was a character Todd worked on in high-school. This horror comic wasn’t the angsty Peter Parker behind the mask, but an ex-soldier brought back to life as a tool of the devil. The only remaining property from the Spider-Man look was perhaps the large eyes and the doodled webbing was replaced by chains. Many chains.

‏Erik Larsen continues on his finned cop Savage Dragon as writer artist to this day, approaching the 100 page issue #200 soon. Dragon’s son Malcolm is the hero of the book now, one that takes the passage of time literally, something rarely done in comics.

‏Jim Lee brought an X-Men equivalent book WildC.A.T.S. to Image with writer Brendon Choi. The team even got a cartoon in 1994.

‏Boasting even more record sales at the new company did cause some problems to be worked out as well. By separating imprints and studios between Top Cow (Silvestri), Todd McFarlane Productions, Wildstorm Productions (Jim Lee), Shadowline (Valentino), Highbrow (Larsen), and Extreme Studios (Liefeld), each studio head was in charge of the books and money in their control. When Liefeld was buying talent and cars, Todd was shipping his book on time. When Wildstorm was affected by the speculation bubble, Lee sold the studio to DC.

‏The miraculous thing about this was the resilience of the original model to being able to sustain itself. Liefeld and McFarlane had a falling out, but were brought back together by current Image partner Robert Kirkman.

‏This is the story of rock star comic book creators taking control of what they own, revolutionizing payment systems for artists and young guys taking risks and starting a business.

‏While equally as exciting to watch for someone following Savage Dragon from #1 as it is for someone interested in taking risks and starting a new business there is something for everyone. Artists and writers can now take their work to Image – or some of the other publishers in the market -instead of relying on the corporate Big Two.

‏The proof is in twenty years of adapting to the market, and the current roster of Image titles and creators proves that this is where the top talent goes, not as a workshop for ideas but as a destination for controlling your own destiny.

For more details, visit the Sequart site HERE

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