Behind the Ads: Image Comics “Experience Creativity” with Eric Stephenson + Contest Announcement

If you’re a reader of Image Comics, since 2012 began you may have noticed the creator focused advertisements Image has been running (which they’ve also posted on their website). We posted Image Comics publisher Eric Stephenson’s speech to retailers at the ComicsPRO meeting in Dallas, TX, in which he shared his manifesto for Image Comics, tying it to their recent ad campaign of “Experience Creativity.”  The ad campaign begin in January 2012 and is scheduled to run for the entire year, featuring 52 of Image Comics roster of comic book creators. Building on these ads and Stephenson’s call for embracing independent comics and new, creative concepts in comics, I caught up with Stephenson to chat a bit about the ad campaign, how it was conceived and what the future of it is.

In addition to the interview below, we’re excited to announce that we’re teaming up with Image Comics for an exciting contest related to the “Experience Creativity” ads.  You could win an iPad , fully loaded with the first issues of Image Comics’ 2012 new titles. Scroll down to the end of the interview to read the full details and how to enter.

iFanboy: When/where did the idea for the ads originate? What was the inspiration?

Eric Stephenson: The overall idea came out of some conversations between myself and Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Charles Brownstein last year. We were kind of talking about a few different things – our mutual love for Mad Men, good branding and how dull house ads tend to be in comics. As we were talking, something Charles kept bringing up what a great story Image has behind it, and that while we do a wide variety of material, it’s all unified by one thing: the unbridled creativity of everyone involved.

We were also talking about Image’s upcoming 20th anniversary, and Charles made the suggestion of pulling some photos out of Image’s archive and using those in advertising. Things like all the guys together at their first meeting, or Rob Liefeld, Jim Lee and Erik Larsen meeting Jack Kirby, stuff like that. I’d been thinking about photo ads, too, but more in relation to my fascination with the marketing behind Impulse! Records, a jazz label from the ’60s. I’d written about them recently on my blog and I posted some of my favorites there. They featured these great photos of guys like McCoy Tyner, John Coltrane and Archie Shepp, usually performance shots or the artists doing something in the studio, and they were very evocative. Even if they were posed photos, there was almost always something cool about them.

As I was showing them to Charles, we both got really excited, because it instantly became apparent to both of us that this was a good direction to go in. There was this one album cover – Archie Shepp’s ATTIC BLUES – and it’s him in a cluttered room, at the piano, stuff on top of the piano, smoking a cigarette – at work – and for whatever reason, that made me recall a photo I’d seen in some magazine, of Wally Wood at his drawing board, smoking drifting up into the light as he sat hunched over his work. I shared that with Charles, and he came back with the suggestion that we come up with a slogan that kind of said encapsulated what Image is all about in as few words as possible and pair that with some of the images.

iF: Some people have been surprised to see the creators and their quotes as the subject of the ads, but not the books themselves, what was the motivation with this approach?

ES: Creators are the backbone of our business. And by “our,” I mean the entire comics industry, not just Image. Just doing more house ads that focuses on the individual books isn’t going to draw any attention or create any excitement – why not celebrate the people who actually make this stuff happen, especially since it’s our 20th anniversary of providing a place for them to do the comics they want to do, on their own terms?

iF: What was was the process of coming up with the design direction for the ads?

ES: Well, that part was actually simple. A member of our production staff, Jonathan Chan, put together a few different treatments based on the source material I’d been referencing. He got it right away. I think he suggested a version with kind of a black area that showcased the text at first, but I really wanted something that was more like those album coves, with the text floating on the images. An originally, we were just going to do them in raw black and white, but after playing around with a light color wash on one of the early photos, we decided that was better. It was kind of subconscious inspiration from another set of album covers – those great Smiths sleeves from the ’80s (another blog post on The Smiths record covers). Once we settled on that, it all fell together very quickly.

iF: So far, we’ve seen a mix of well known creators such as Ed Brubaker and Jonathan Luna, along with relative newcomers like Ross Campbell and Brandon Graham. How has the selection process been of picking which creators get featured?

ES: We wanted to focus on a mix of new and established talent, but ultimately, it comes down to who gets usable photos in. In terms of scheduling them, though, the goal is to match them up with the months they have new material out. Like, we just did Natalie Nourigat’s ad, because her book is out soon. We’ll have Kirkman’s ad out this month, to go along with the debut of Thief of Thieves. We only have about 10 more to go before we’ve got the entire year locked, so at some point, it will simply come down to a process of elimination…

iF: How has the reaction been to the ads from both fans as well as the industry?

ES: We’ve received a lot of flattering comments, from fans and pros alike. People like that it’s different, so mission accomplished.

I think the nicest compliment I’ve received so far, though, was actually from my father, who has actually worked in public relations and with advertising for most of his career. I sent him the first couple of ads and he said, “These are really nice. Which agency are you using?”

iF: What’s the future of the campaign? How long will it run for and are there any plans to have the ads appear in other media and not just Image books?

ES: We’re doing the comic book ads at a rate of one a week over the course of 2012. There are also going to be some video components, which we’re working on now, and we’re doing some posters, some digital branding that will begin in March the Image Comics app, and there will be some print ads outside the comics. We’re also incorporating the photos into the program for Image Expo, and the tickets for that as well. We’ll be taking a lot of this into con season with us, too.

The Image Comics/iFanboy “Experience Creativity” Contest

To help celebrate their 20th Anniversary, we’ve teamed up with Image Comics to help you “Experience Creativity”  and in the process, enter for a chance to win an iPad, fully loaded with digital copies of Image Comics’ 2012 new series first issues!

All you need to do, is head to the entry form, enter your name and info, and then list the 52 comic creators you think will be featured in Image Comics “Experience Creativity” ads this year! I know what you’re thinking, 52 is a lot! But hey, we just gave you 8 to start with in the image above alone. Add into the fact that 7 ads of creators have already run since January, and you’ve got nearly 20% of the answers already!

The winner will be selected from the group of people who guessed the most amount of creators from the full list.  You can only enter once, so make sure you’ve got your list locked in place.  The deadline for entries is March 31st, 2012.  The winner will be announced in April.

Enter the  Image Comics/iFanboy “Experience Creativity” Contest >


  1. that contest sounds like too much of a time suck for me

  2. Okay, after 30 it got really hard to name creators. Love the Image ads though.

  3. I just wanted to say: “DC and Marvel. This is how you should appreciate talent. Not filing lawsuits againts those who’ve helped create/shape your characters.” Sorry but that news about the Ghost Rider lawsuit with Marvel just got me really disgusted with the company.

  4. I wanted to say that i think this is a very interesting campaign and totally fits for comics. Its nice to see a publisher doing something as comprehensive as this. The wall between the creators and fans is almost non existent and they are constantly engaging each other, so this kinda thing really resonates. Its nice to be reminded that its not just a job, but a passion. Also seeing them “at work” in their studios is also really interesting. Solid campaign. =)

  5. I do believe I’ve won this.

  6. Just look at how Image is handling promoting talent with this campaign VS marvel trying to do something similar with “The Architects” campaign. One promotes ideas and creativity and works at getting me excited me excited for upcoming project, while the other was exclusionary, raising the profile of already top-tier creators, leaving a bitter taste in my mouth

  7. Ehhh, not an interesting contest as far as the objective or rules. Would’ve been really cool if they had fans create a full comic issue, 52 finalists get rated,reviewed and picked by the 52 Image creators ultimately landing the winner his/her they’re own series, mini at 1st, if its that good and sells, an ongoing.

  8. The frustrating thing about this is that there may be creators coming to Image that haven’t been announced yet. I wouldn’t have guessed Ed Brubaker and Brian K. Vaughan would be working at Image a year ago, or Bryan Hitch. It’s only February, so I’m thinking there may be more on the way…