The Saviors: Advice for Anyone Publishing With Image
The Saviors collects the five-issue miniseries written by James Robinson and illustrated by J. Bone. It’s the story of a slacker who discovers and tries to stop an alien conspiracy to conquer the earth, or as Robinson puts it, “a pro-marijuana series, neatly wrapped in an alien invasion comic.”
Tomas works at an auto garage in a small town where his friends all got out. He lives for simple days and getting high. Then he sees the sheriff talking to an alien, and he goes on the run, particularly since his drug history means no one believes him. He finds a motley group of alien fighters and discovers that the key to defeating the monsters is to smoke pot.
It’s nothing much to write home about, frankly. Bone’s cartooning is beautiful, as expected, but much of the first two issues is taken up by a chase sequence, so I found the content — particularly since the situation is somewhat familiar — lightweight. Except for the introductory “letter from James Robinson”.
Robinson gives the perception of laying his heart out about deciding to release his project through Image. It’s rare you see this kind of public postmortem about “what we did wrong”. Anyone interested in knowing how the biggest independent comic book publisher works or more to the point, what a creator needs to know to be successful there, should read this. A key excerpt, after praising the freedom Image provides:
There is a flipside to this too, however, one that I wish I’d known when J. and I began The Saviors. Namely, that in return for creative freedom and ownership, there’s also a degree of overseeing: You’re responsible for yourself. With that understanding, many creators go nuts with extras, conceptual art and playlists, letters pages, and all the other fun things that get the readers invested in the book and follow it on a monthly basis, instead of “trade waiting” (two words that will kill a comic series out of the gate, if enough people decide your book isn’t worth the monthly purchase and they’ll pick it up later). The Saviors, the comic, on the other hand was an example of what an Image book could be in the worst way. It merely had our story, and then trade ads for other books. Bare-bones. It wasn’t enough. I see that now. At the time, having worked at DC and later Marvel, where editors and publicists and designers help you (or just outright take care of it) with every step of the process, I was completely out of my depth.
In other words, Robinson has realized that being a comic-creating business owner — who needs a marketing plan for audience outreach, among other tools — is a lot different than simply writing a comic story and handing it over for someone else to take care of.
But he also seems to buy into a pernicious fallacy about the comic market: that you have to be a success with single issues. The people buying your comic monthly (or every two months) have to be given a reason to come back every issue, but they’re not necessarily the same people who will buy your book. Your business plan needs to take the various audiences — including digital readers who don’t want a “comic collection” — into consideration. And what you’ve learned twenty years ago at a once-major comic publisher might have little or nothing to do with today’s methods of building a long-term comic business.
Robinson’s introduction also has a lot of insightful analysis of Bone’s artistic contributions, as well as where the series would have gone if it would have continued. The collection contains, in addition to the main story, a teaser for the series continuation (that might or might not ever happen), a five-page short prologue story with another character from The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Liberty Annual 2012, and many pages of concept art and designs. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)