Founded in 1992 by megastar artist Jim Lee as one of the original divisions of Image Comics, WildStorm became known both as the place for Jim Lee’s creations (initially WildC.A.T.S. and Stormwatch, from which the imprint derived its name) and for its discovery of new artistic talent. Chief among these was artist J. Scott Campbell who became immensely popular for his work on Wildstorm’s Gen13, and went on to co-found the Cliffhanger imprint for WildStorm with his creator-owned Danger Girl, along with Joe Madureira on Battle Chasers, and Humberto Ramos on Crimson.
WildStorm also spawned the writer-focused Homage Comics imprint, which published Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson’s Astro City, James Robinson and Paul Smith’s Leave It To Chance, Terry Moore’s Strangers In Paradise, and Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner’s Red (soon to be a major motion picture). Alan Moore also launched for WildStorm his America’s Best Comics line, which included such seminal series as League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Promethea, Tom Strong, and Top 10.
The studio eventually brought on top-flight writers such as Alan Moore and Warren Ellis to revamp their flagship books, and Ellis’ stint on Stormwatch with Tom Raney led to a ground-breaking new series called The Authority with artist Bryan Hitch which changed the way people look at superhero comics. Their run, along with their successors Mark Millar and Frank Quitely, greatly influenced the current comics landscape, in particular at Marvel Comics, who brought aboard many of those same creators to revamp their own properties in a similar style on such books as The Ultimates and New X-Men.
In 1998, DC Comics purchased WildStorm and made Jim Lee a vice-president within the company. Lee was elevated earlier this year to the position of co-publisher along with Dan Didio, and on Tuesday, the two released a statement announcing that DC is closing down WildStorm, citing a soft marketplace. In light of this news, we turned to some of comics’ biggest names for their personal remembrances of the imprint that broke new ground for 18 years across the industry.
Warren Ellis (Authority, Planetary, Stormwatch, Red):
I was just thinking about the day Jim Lee and Scott Dunbier took me and Bryan Hitch and a few other people out to dinner in London in order to explain to us that DC were buying Wildstorm. What they were really worried about was how Alan Moore was going to take it. I spoke to Alan a couple of days later. “I’m affecting a cane, these days,” he said, “and when I got out of the taxi I took to meet them at the train station, they saw me emerging from a black car with what looked like a cudgel in my fist and went very pale.”
I still wish I’d thought of that, as occasionally I have to walk with a cane and chose not to take it to London with me because the leg was behaving itself.
Long time ago. No-one has to worry about what Alan thinks now. And Wildstorm has gone from a pre-eminent comics-store brand to an iceberg station where 90% of its business is done invisibly to the industry. Those tie-in books sell everywhere except in comics shops, and evidently sell in large numbers. But they come under the rubric of “custom” publishing, and apparently will now be moving their production base to Burbank with all the other “not your standard comics” stuff.
I haven’t followed too much of Wildstorm’s output in the last few years, aside from EX MACHINA and THE WINTER MEN. Haven’t read an issue of THE AUTHORITY since, I think, the early part of Ed Brubaker’s run. But I hope that everyone who worked there had the experience I had, of being able to play fast and loose with everything. The imprint and its culture was a necessary counterbalance to the extremely rigid and regimented parent label. And I regret that there won’t really be a place at DC Comics now to go a bit slipstream and play some loud noisepop in the garage the way me and my friends did back then.
Darick Robertson (The Boys, Authority: The Lost Year, Authority: Prime):
It’s a bit of a shock, actually. Sort of like finding out your friend is moving away for good, and wondering who you’re going to play with now that they’re going. Thankfully, many of the people aren’t going anywhere, they’re just undergoing a name change, but there was something special about the autonomy that Wildstorm provided for projects like “The BOYS” when it was with them. Without Wildstorm, we wouldn’t have ‘Gen 13′, ‘The Authority’, or the ‘ABC’ Line that Alan Moore created.
I’ll miss them, but I’ll remain optimistic that with Jim Lee, in his guiding role at the head of DC, that it’s a necessary merge and that it means that what made Wildstorm special in the past will make DC stronger in the future.
Joe Casey (WildC.A.T.S. 3.0, Automatic Kafka):
When I’d done my time at Marvel in the late 90′s and was somewhat disillusioned with writing Work For Hire comics, Wildstorm was there like an oasis in the desert. It was a place where I could stretch my creativity and try new things. I was able to pick my artistic collaborators, a lot of my editors were great to work with, and I think the books reflected an enthusiasm that you weren’t getting from Marvel and DC at that time. Let’s face it, no one else would’ve published AUTOMATIC KAFKA or THE INTIMATES. They took those risks and I’m grateful for that. And even now… from story ideas to storytelling approaches to graphic design, I see things we were doing in the books back then popping up in current comics (at other companies), so I know the work that was done at Wildstorm early in the decade continues to have an impact. It sure as hell wasn’t about the characters or the continuity or the “Wildstorm Universe” (such as it is/was). It was about the creators and the opportunities we were given to do great work. It seems like they’d forgotten that over these past few years and perhaps that’s why they couldn’t go the distance, but the imprint has certainly earned its place in history.
Kurt Busiek (Astro City, Arrowsmith, Witchlands):
Working with Wildstorm all these years has been a rare privilege — not without its tense moments here and there, but overall it’s been great to be published by an imprint so supportive of creators. From Jim Lee to Scott Dunbier to Ben Abernathy to all the editors we’ve had on Astro City, with Kristy Quinn possibly the longest-lasting presence, it’s been a very, very good time. And between ARROWSMITH, THE WIZARD’S TALE, ASTRO CITY and the upcoming WITCHLANDS, I’m proud of everything we’ve produced together.
I’m very sorry to see Wildstorm go, but I think they’ve got a terrific record — the number of books they’ve produced that stand out from the crowd is huge, and the talent they’ve found, published and supported has gone on to do amazing things. The group there at Wildstorm now may go on to Burbank, or New York or somewhere else, but I think they’re going to be fine. Look at what the previous generations of Wildstorm staff have done — Dunbier, John Layman, Jeff Mariotte and more.
Nothing lasts forever. But look at what Wildstorm did while they were here. There’s an awful lot of be proud of.
Brian Wood (DV8: Gods and Monsters):
On one hand I find it really sad, first and foremost for the people working at Wildstorm who are now waiting to hear their personal fates. And sad for the work they do and have done and have to stop doing. Doesn’t matter if its a sound business decision, its still gotta be really rough on everyone involved. In my own minor way I had a lot of work I wanted to do in the near future on Wildstorm books.
But I was considering their past body of work, from the early Image work that caught my eye in college, to the deeper, more mature books from the last decade that helped shape my (and others’, I’m sure) career… true, industry-altering gems like Authority, Planetary, Winter Men, the ABC stuff, Casey’s Wildcats, Ex Machina, and so on… Wildstorm left their mark and despite the snark you see online, they’ve earned their respect and then some. We should be thankful for, and celebrating, what they contributed.
Cully Hamner (Red):
Wildstorm has always been a place I could hang my hat, and that’s because of the people. I’ve always felt secure that I had friends there. The implications of DC’s decision haven’t settled yet, but I’ve got my fingers crossed that those great folks there either continue to do what they do under the new arrangement, or are able to move on to even better things. And I’m assured that the characters will return, so that’s some comfort, too. Not really an ending for anything but the name, I hope.
Chris Eliopoulos (WildC.A.T.S.):
My freelance career began shortly before Image’s launch. There was a big deal made about these artists leaving Marvel and probably the most interesting was Jim Lee coming off the largest selling book in comics history–X-Men #1. Jim, as anyone who’s met him can tell you, is the nicest guy in comics. He’s generous, kind and makes everyone feel important.
I had been working with Erik Larsen on his books when I was asked to pitch in on some Wildstorm books. I did that, eventually lettering WildC.A.T.S. for Jim. Beyond the usual problems of deadlines being crazy, I don’t remember anything being difficult with anyone working there. John Nee was always helpful and kind and treated everyone with respect. It was a place that I would have loved to work at.
Did I mention how generous Jim is? At the time comics were booming and people were making lots of money and Jim was one of the first who shared that money with everyone. He always paid better than anyone and even, for a brief time, paid royalties…even to the letterer. In fact, it was those royalties that helped me buy my first home when I got married.
As time moved on, I worked less and less with Wildstorm, not for any other reason than I had an awful lot of work and time was short. I believe the last job I did for them was, appropriately, WildC.A.T.S. An Alan Moore script, I believe.
Soon after, Jim took Wildstorm to DC.
So, really, if I had only one word to describe Wildstorm from Jim on down, it would be “classy.”
It will be missed.
Adam Beechen (WildC.A.T.S.):
I’ve had nothing but tremendous experiences working with Wildstorm, whether on creator-owned properties like KILLAPALOOZA or established properties like WILDCATS and GEN 13. The editorial staff has always been extremely supportive and encouraging, and they’ve paired me with some outstanding collaborators. It’s a fascinating universe of characters with incredibly devoted and passionate fans. It’s been an honor to be part of the line. I totally understand the reasoning behind the decision to halt the books, but I’ll miss the characters a ton, and look forward to their return.
Kieron Gillen (Thor, Phonogram):
My relationship with Wildstorm has only ever been as a reader. However, they were the people who were instrumental in making me a reader. Randomly picking up Authority led to Planetary led to Transmet led to the Warren Ellis Forum led to going to comic shops regularly led to going to a con led to me writing a script which led to everything. I owe Wildstorm a lot. And – as other people have noted – Wildstorm fundamentally gave birth to ’00s superhero comics.
Matt Adler wishes the best for all of WildStorm’s staff and creators.