Berkeley company’s comic book expo packs a punch

imageexpo
cometstarmoon/Creative Commons

The prevailing feeling of excitement at Image Expo, a one-day showcase of the titles and announcements the Berkeley-based company Image Comics is releasing in 2014, was for comics that aren’t just superhero stories. Instead, the exposition celebrated the different kinds of stories that writers and artists can tell: science fiction, romance, horror-drama and on and on.

Many of the fans, retailers and journalists that attended the expo regarded the creators of the featured comics as rock stars — which they are, in a sense — but it was also refreshing to see that these people are driven by the same thing as their fans: a love of comics.

2013 was “the best year in a string of best years” for Image, or at least that is the news according to the company’s publisher, Eric Stephenson, during his keynote address at the event Thursday, Jan. 7 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. His remark reflected sales of Image’s numerous series increasing dramatically in the past year with no sign of stopping. “2013’s bestselling comic was ‘The Walking Dead #115’,” Stephenson proudly announced, which came as little surprise to the audience, given the zombie comic’s widespread appeal in print and TV form.

Stephenson went on to announce new titles that fans could get excited for in the coming months, such as the sure-to-be-terrifying “Wytches” from current “Batman” writer Scott Snyder and artist Jock; “Hawkeye” writer Matt Fraction’s psychedelic, gender-bending retelling of the Odyssey, “ODY-C;” “Captain Marvel” writer Kelly Sue Deconnick’s critical homage to ’70s exploitation films “Bitch Planet;” surprise guests Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s new teenagers-with-special-abilities series “The Wicked and The Divine,” in which various gods is reincarnated every 90 years on Earth and many more series that left attendees blown away.

Also announced during the keynote was that Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips — acclaimed writer/artist team of numerous “Captain America” titles for Marvel Comics, as well as several crime comics like “Sleeper” and “Fatale”—would be signing a five-year contract with Image, allowing them complete creative freedom over future comics projects. This is one of the first deals of its kind in comic book history, though it was reminiscent of Image Comics’ history of commitment to creator-controlled work.

Image was founded in the early 1990s by former writers and artists at Marvel who wanted to have complete control over the characters they wrote and created, because strict contracts with Marvel didn’t allow for that. Since then, Image’s main goals have been to “give the creators of a comic complete rights to their creations, no matter the format,” and the company has aimed for “an increased diversity in the industry by providing comics for a diverse audience,” which Stephenson echoed during his keynote.

The rest of the day’s events consisted of panels led by writers and artists, each titled “I is for ______” — for example, the panel with various writers was named “I is for Interrogation”— as well as signings and a chance to talk to creators about their works.

One notable moment from the writers’ panel was Kelly Sue Deconnick’s response to a question from a fan about writing female characters: the sexy lamp test, in which if a female character could be swapped out by a sexy lamp without changing the story, “then fuck you,” she proclaimed. Of course, it was in good faith, but that kind of mentality, in which there is no definite method of writing — or even drawing — characters, is something that makes Image somewhere creators want to work and is what makes comic book fans excited for what is to come.

Youssef Shokry covers literature. Contact him at [email protected].