Image Expo: Publisher Eric Stephenson’s Keynote Speech

Today in Oakland, California, the Image Comic Expo opened to the public and to kick things off, Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson delivered a keynote address to attendees. This keynote address was delivered in a dramatic manner, as Stephenson presented his vision for Image Comics, as seen in the recent Experience Creativity ads, as well as made several major announcements about future projects from Image Comics coming in 2012 (many of which were reported on here at iFanboy).

As with Stephenson’s speech at the annual ComicsPRO meeting, Image Comics was kind enough to share with us the text of Stephenson’s speech, so that those of you who couldn’t attend the Image Comic Expo could hear what Stephenson had to say as well absorb all the announcements of new projects from superstar creators such as Grant Morrison, Steve Niles, Tony Harris, Scott Morse, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Nick Spencer and more…

I’m Eric Stephenson, and as the publisher of Image Comics, I have the tremendous good fortune to work for and with some of the most creative people in comics.

Every so often, someone asks me what the best part of my job is, and almost always, I tell them it’s being able hear or see a new idea before anyone else.

But with so many of our creators in one place this weekend, it occurs to me that what really makes my job so fulfilling is all wonderful people who come up with those new ideas.

Want to know what a new idea sounds like?

Way back in the 20th century, I got a phone call from Jim Valentino.

I’d met Jim a few months earlier at a comic book convention in Southern California, and I’d interviewed him for what would later become Wizard magazine.

As luck would have it, my tape recorder broke, so we wound up meeting up a couple more times to re-do the interview, and we kept in touch after that.

So Jim called one day and asked: “What would you say if I told you Rob Liefeld, Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, Marc Silvestri, Whilce Portacio and myself were starting our own comic book company?”

All I could think to say back was, “Are you serious?”

Then Jim told me about their idea for Image Comics, and how everyone involved would own the characters they created.

He told me how they wanted to build a company that did things totally different from Marvel and DC.

Because back then, the comic book industry was Marvel, DC, and a handful of ambitious outsiders.

And I very vividly remember sitting on the floor in my living room, back in 1991, talking to Jim on the phone, and thinking Image Comics was just about the best idea I’d ever heard.

I was just beginning to establish a foothold in comics – but Image sounded a whole lot like the future.

And if not for my relationship with Jim Valentino, I may never have been part of all that.

Image thrives on relationships, though.

Image – like the whole creative experience – thrives on people.

One of the things I’ve always found so great about the whole Image story is that the founders themselves weren’t assembled by flipping through a rolodex and picking out the best bets for starting a new company.

Their relationships brought them together.

All of Image’s founders knew one another.

Some were better friends than others, but they all had a connection.

They were all on the same side.

It was a totally different dynamic from the other companies.

DC was – and is – owned by Warner Bros.

Marvel hadn’t been sold to Disney yet, but their stock had just gone public.

Image was completely – and is – independent.

Image isn’t just associated with independence – it’s associated with the men who started it.

Rob. Todd. Jim. Erik. Marc. Whilce. Valentino.

Image is associated with people.

This year, perhaps, more than ever.

In the same spirit the company was founded in, relationships have continued to bind the creative men and women of Image together, making us all stronger.

Robert Kirkman’s friendship with Ed Brubaker made it possible for Image to publish Fatale.

Similarly, Robert’s desire to collaborate with other writers he admired, led him to do Thief of Thieves with Nick Spencer and Shawn Martinbrough.

It was the relationship Rob Liefeld and I built working together over six years at Extreme Studios back in the ’90s that got us talking about bringing those characters back this year.

And when I started looking for writers and artists to put that line together – former Image PR coordinator Joe Keatinge was one of my first calls.

I knew Joe wanted to write comics, and I knew I liked his sensibilities.

He seemed perfect for Glory, and when he brought along the amazingly talented Ross Campbell.

Joe had introduced me to Brandon Graham a few years earlier and helped facilitate the publication of King City at Image. He also helped get Brandon on board to do Prophet with Simon Roy.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Hickman got his start at Image Comics when he pitched The Nightly News to us through the mail.

Jonathan went on to do some fine work elsewhere over the last few years, but we stayed in touch and continued to talk over that time.

Now we’re doing not one, but two new series with Jonathan – The Manhattan Projects with Nick Pitarra and Secret with Ryan Bodenheim.

Both of those artists have developed long-standing creative partnerships with Jonathan.

And so it goes.

Creativity is the fuel that powers the engine of comics, but it is through relationships that we mine that fuel.

Ideas are important, but people even more so.

I would have never met Jonathan Ross if not for Mark Millar.

If I hadn’t met Jonathan Ross, we wouldn’t have done Turf with Jonathan and Tommy Lee Edwards.

We wouldn’t be launching America’s Got Powers with Jonathan and Bryan Hitch this April.

And I don’t want to make Mark’s head swell too much, but I think it’s pretty obvious we wouldn’t all be looking forward to the insanely awesome work of Frank Quitely on Jupiter’s Children if not for Mark.

Here’s another one: Back when I first took over as PR & Marketing Director for Image in 2001, I had a crazy idea of my own.

I wanted to put together an anthology called Four-Letter Worlds.

One of my earliest ideas for the book came from something writer Jay Faerber had told me.

He was friends with Brian K. Vaughan, Geoff Johns, and Devin Grayson.

Each chapter of Four-Letter Worlds focused on a different four-letter word: LOVE. HATE. FEAR. FATE.

I thought it would be cool for Jay, Brian, Geoff and Devin to kind of curate one of those chapters – four friends working together.

It didn’t work out, for various reasons, but it did put me in touch with Brian.

I was a huge fan of Brian’s work on Y: The Last Man and emailed him now and then to say him how much I loved various issues.

Jay, meanwhile, frequently extolled the virtues of working at Image to Brian.

And just to add another layer to it all, Robert Kirkman established a friendship with Brian while they were working at Marvel.

Over the course of what seemed like forever, meals were had, emails were sent back and forth, and plans were hatched.

The result of all that, this year, is Brian’s amazing collaboration with Fiona Staples, Saga.

From the very beginning, Brian and Fiona have had such an easy rapport.

When we were all on a panel together in San Diego last year for the Saga announcement, I was surprised to learn it was the first time they’d actually met.

Good people just go together, don’t they?

I don’t want to bore you with a bunch of old war stories, though.

Like I said – the best part of my job is hearing about new ideas first, and tonight, I want to share some of that excitement with you.

Howard Chaykin created one of comics’ seminal works, American! Flagg! back in the ’80s, but he’s also well-known for the erotically-charged thriller Black Kiss.

We teased this last year in San Diego, but since then Howard has been working on the follow-up, and I wanted to show you the first art for Black Kiss II.

I’ve known Howard for years now – and I’ve always loved that he pretty much says and does whatever he wants, no matter what anyone else thinks.

I also love that he’s willing to challenge his audience.

Black Kiss II goes to some pretty uncomfortable places, but that’s exactly what makes me so excited to publish it.

This next book was teased online a couple days ago, and it’s a bit of a sequel as well.

It’s a book I’m very proud of, not just because it’s good, but because the insanely gifted artist who draws it is someone I’ve known for close to a decade.

We even worked together a couple times, which makes charting his progress that much more special.

The writer he’s working with now is one of my current favorites in all of comics, even if we don’t always see eye-to-eye when discussing our favorite Britpop bands from the ’90s.

But who wouldn’t be proud to publish Jamie McKelvie and Kieron Gillen?

And who wouldn’t be thrilled to announce that after far too long a wait, Phonogram returns with a third volume this year:

Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl.

My friend Ron Richards from iFanboy is here tonight, and I guarantee you he’s grinning from ear-to-ear at that news.

He’s friends with Jamie and Kieron, too.

And he owns a lot of Jamie’s Phonogram art.

Ron was also the catalyst behind this next new book.

See, Ron also works for digital provider Graphicly.

A short while ago, he asked if I’d read a new comic they were doing as a digital only release.

He said the creator was looking for someone to do the print version, and I said I was curious – let’s see it.

Within a matter of moments, I was admiring the work of a wonderful new talent named Ken Garing.

Moments after that, Ron had connected Ken and myself and we were talking about bringing Planetoid to Image.

And that’s exactly what is happening, beginning this June.

If I can skip back to Jim Valentino for a second – we all have him and his Shadowline imprint to thank for introducing us to the work of another sharp new talent: Nick Spencer.

Nick has done a number of books with Jim at Shadowline over the last couple years – Existence 2.0. Forgetless. Shuddertown. Morning Glories.

Robert Kirkman got to know Nick’s work through those books, and as I mentioned earlier, he liked it enough to get him involved with his Thief of Thieves concept.

Nick, meanwhile, liked the whole Image experience enough to come to us with yet another new series.

He’s doing this one with fellow Image alum, Riley Rossmo.

Nick lives in England these days, and I think this one project alone is probably driving his phone bill through the roof.

When he first told me about it, I couldn’t stop asking questions.

It’s such a simple idea – but the way Nick’s handling it gives it just the right amount of complexity.

It’s called Bedlam, and you’ll be able to read it this fall.

We also have not one, but two new books coming up from the creator of 30 Days of Night.

One of them is with Scott Morse.

Scott has done a few things at Image over the years, and interestingly enough, he moved up to the Bay Area right around the same time Image did, back in 2004.

We see each off and on – probably more off, because he moved up here to work for Pixar, and as you can imagine, they keep him pretty busy – but we’ve been talking with him and Steve Niles about Crime & Terror for a while now.

Separately, Steve and I have been talking about a way for him to really let loose on something of his own for a while now.

Sometimes books projects have a long gestation period.

This one came together quickly, though, once Steve got together with an artist who shared his sensibilities and his excitement for new creativity.

That artist is the always amazing Tony Harris.

The book is called Chin Music.

It’s going to be in fine company alongside the likes of Fatale, Thief of Thieves and Near Death.

And finally, a writer whose work I’ve admired – pretty much since he started out at Image 15 years ago – is making his return this year.

That writer is Brian Wood, and he’s bringing an amazing young artist with him, the extremely talented Ming Doyle.

Together, they’re doing an all-new miniseries called Mara.


Actually, there’s one other thing I wanted to mention.

Late last year, Joe Casey asked Robert Kirkman and myself if we were interested in going to dinner with some friends of his.

They were curious about Image, and wanted to meet up – ask a few questions, get to know us a little bit.

So, one day last October, just before the New York Comicon, I made a trip down to Los Angeles.

And dinner went okay, I think, because tonight, I am incredibly proud to announce that we will be working with one of the true supergods of comics…

Grant Morrison.

I don’t want to ruin all the fun by giving you every last detail about this, but I can tell you that it’s called HAPPY! and that Grant is being joined on this project by another comics superstar, whom you may know from Transmetropolitan and from The Boys – Darick Robertson.

And that really is it for now.

There are going to be other announcements over the course of the weekend, so make sure you come back for our panels tomorrow and Sunday.

More than anything, though – have fun.

I’m going to tell you right now – putting this whole thing on wound up being even more of an undertaking than I think any of us imagined going in – and we’ve been going crazy these last few days getting ready for this.

But we’re glad to be here – and we’re glad you’re here.

And just like I wouldn’t be here if not for an exciting phone call from Jim Valentino back in 1991 – none of us would be here without your enthusiasm and support.

This is your celebration just as much as it is ours – so seriously, have fun – and thank you for being here to experience our creativity.


  1. Damn, what a great speech. It’s so refreshing to hear someone talk about the people behind the comics, and all of the connections made and ideas formed through them. This is such an uplifting speech for comics.

  2. wow what else can be said except 2012 is Image’s year and the year of Creator owned books

  3. I got tingles multiple times reading this keynote. It’s going to be a huge year for Image. I hope the sales reflect the ambition and excitement that is so readily apparent in an announcement like this. Even if they don’t, we’ll all have some fantastic comics to read.

  4. Yay! Shout out to Ron! All of us at Graphicly are huge supporters of Image and the work they do. In many ways we are aligned philosophically around the importance of creator owned work and how technology can be supportive. (Congrats Ken!)

    Image is going to become even more of a powerhouse this year, and we are excited to have a front row seat.


  5. My aspirations for creating comics are vague, formless, and undisciplined, but that speech makes Image sound like THE place I’d like to be whenever I finally get my act together.

    2012 is shaping up to be a great year to be into comics!