The Image Revolution: A Documentary on the Publisher’s Spectacular Launch & Subsequent Changes
I’ve never been a fan of the art style popularized by the Image Comics founders, because I’m a story-first reader of comics, but I can’t deny that their actions, self-centered and egotistical as they might have been, changed the comic industry.
If you’d like to see a thorough (if congratulatory) summation of the founding of the company, what lead up to it, and what happened after, check out The Image Revolution, an hour-and-20-minute 2013 documentary with participation from all of the original founders: Todd McFarlane (Spawn), Rob Liefeld (Deadpool), Jim Lee (X-Men), Marc Silvestri (Top Cow), Erik Larsen (Savage Dragon), Whilce Portacio (X-Factor), and Jim Valentino (Guardians of the Galaxy).
Also commenting are Larry Marder (former company executive director), Eric Stephenson (current Image publisher), Heidi MacDonald, Matt Hawkins, and Tim Callahan (“comics scholar” who writes for movie co-producer Sequart). A lot of the historical videotape is in really bad shape, particularly when it comes to judder and tracking problems, but it’s still illuminating to see these young punks, interspersed with their comments now. Particularly when Liefeld does his McFarlane impersonation.
There’s a lot glossed over. The biggest piece is that I still don’t know what happened to Whilce Portacio. At the end, there’s a card for each founder saying what they’re doing, and he’s the only one left out.
The movie does talk about the conflict between the creators who wanted to do their own books and those who expanded quickly with studios and employees. A number of people who were part of Liefeld’s Extreme Studios talk about the era in glowing terms, for example, and Jim Lee’s Homage Studios is covered with him showing off the workspace back in 1993.
Writing isn’t mentioned much. It’s something that’s kind of an afterthought when hiring an editor or another artist. The publisher’s notorious lateness is also mentioned in passing, with more responsibility for the fallout attributed to too many people involved and too many books cranked out.
Ultimately, these kids were too successful too fast with no knowledge of business, either as leaders or even as participants. They made a lot of money and had Hollywood interest, so, as Marder puts it, “they kinda forgot to write their books.” McFarlane gave up drawing to run his business, including making a lot of toys. The market crashed in 1995, which reduced the huge amounts of cash they were used to, which meant having to lay people off.
I’d forgotten about 1996’s “Heroes Reborn”, when Lee and Liefeld were enticed back to Marvel to work on the big-name characters for lots of money. That caused fractures, where the studios and creators became more important than the Image brand. This shouldn’t be surprising. They did it before, so why not do it again? Expecting Image lifetime fidelity is like expecting someone who left his wife for his mistress to never cheat again. So Liefeld quits before he could be kicked out, and Jim Lee sells his company to DC.
The last 15 minutes cover the 2000s and the expansion of the company to include other creators, mostly focusing on Robert Kirkman, his juggernaut Walking Dead, and how he lied to get it published. Prior to that, the subtitle of this documentary could be “The History of Image’s Time on Top, 1992-1996”. It’s a fascinating time capsule.