In a year that’s been filled with “events” and “number ones” and other industry trends that essentially much of what we’ve already seen, when I think about the one publisher who is truly innovating, it’s Image Comics. The sheer number of unique series that span across a wide range of genres is staggering. From superheroes, to horror, to crime, to all ages, to thrillers, to comedy, to drama, Image Comics is delivering constantly. While they could sit back and benefit on their stable of hits like The Walking Dead, Invincible, Chew, and Morning Glories, they’ve chosen to keep putting new material out there. Just this year alone we’ve gotten new series like Butcher Baker, Who Is Jake Ellis, Reed Gunther, Mud Man, Heart, Super Dinosaur and tons more, all the while their legacy titles like Savage Dragon (175th issue came out in 2011), Spawn (shipped 15 issues in 2011), Witchblade (Ron Marz wrapped his epic 70+ issue run with issue #150) and other skeep rolling on, as strong as ever. As everyone is making a big deal about their digital plans, Image was one of the first publishers to truly embrace digital, releasing titles same day as print long before other publishers announced their plans. I could sit here and rattle off more titles and examples but if you’re looking for simple proof, when Brian K. Vaughan came back to comics with Fiona Staples and Saga, it was with Image Comics. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips next creator owned project, Fatale? Being published at Image. Jonathan Hickman’s creator owned work? Not at Icon/Marvel as you’d suspect, but rather at Image Comics. There’s something brewing here at the I and people should take notice. 2012 is Image’s 20th anniversary, and by all rights it looks like it’s going to be even bigger than 2011, which was a monster year for the best publisher for creativity, innovation and creator owned comics.
The turn around was so fast, I almost got whiplash. Earlier this year, DC Comics was floundering. Consistently number two to Marvel in the market, and for a while, consistently number two to Marvel in the storytelling department, things looked rough for DC Comics as 2011 was nearing the mid-point. And then, with a simple press release, DC changed… well, just about everything. Not only did they announce a line-wide shake-up (call it a reboot if you want, call it a relaunch if you want; they are both accurate to a degree) that restarted every DC Universe book back at number one and de-aged and restarted most of their characters, but they pretty much dragged the whole industry (some kicking and screaming) into the digital age when they announced that they were going to offer their single issues digitally on the same day that comic book stores got them. And this was all in the same press release! The comic book industry and the fans, as you might imagine, went bananas. Those who predicted doom and gloom have thus far been proven wrong as, since the New 52 began, DC Comics has not only dominated the sales charts, but published some of the best and most buzzworthy books on the market. Its hard to believe that all of this has happened in so little time–the press release that changed everything only hit seven months ago.
While so many other publishers are claiming to do new things, but really just doing slight variations on old things, Archaia is actually taking a different tack. They’re positioned between art house publishers and typical mainstream comics, but taking a note from both. They hardly bother with issues at all, and therefore, they don’t seem to deal with the direct market all that much. Instead, they produce quality books that appeal to a mainstream audience. By mainstream, I don’t mean a lifelong reader of Batman. No, these beautifully packaged books go into bookstores, and places where they actually have a chance of growing the market. At the same time, the content isn’t super academic intellectual musings. They’re stories. They’re stories for people who like stories. Yes, that simple. This year, Archaia made one of the most prescient moves imaginable, by releasing several books sure to appeal to the masses of new and renewed Muppets fans. They put out Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand, a comic book adaptation of an unproduced screenplay by the Muppets auteur, as well as Jim Henson’s Storyteller, based on a forgotten television series. They also managed to release material from creators as diverse as Marjane Satrapi and TV’s Chad Michael Murray. Finally, regardless of the fact that their books are consistently some of the best designed and best looking in the entire industry, Archaia have always been ahead of the ball in terms of digital, available widely, and on every platform they can put themselves. As a small company, hungry and light, they have adapted their direction in order to take advantage of their best strengths, and looking at their offerings over the past year, they’re in the best position they’ve been in yet.
The iFanboy 2011 Publisher of the Year:
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, but there’s no denying the facts and the fact is this: no single comic book company was more important to the comic book industry in the year 2011 than DC Comics. The landscape of comics looks different now than it did before the New 52 were released. Try to name the last time that a single comic book company made such a seismic impact on the industry with a single publishing move. You might have to go back to the formation of Image Comics in 1992. From the audacity of the relaunch that many thought no major comic book company had the guts to attempt in the modern age, to legitimizing digital comics with its line-wide day and date strategy, DC Comics set the tone in 2011. And it’s been fun! As reporters and reviewers and pundits and fans, we cannot remember a more fun year in comics. From the initial frenzy around their bug announcement in May, to the anticipation of the release of the New 52, to actually reading the books themselves, you’d be hard pressed to name a more fun year to be talking comic books in the almost 11 year span of iFanboy and it was all because of DC Comics, the iFanboy 2011 Publisher of the Year.