A Celebration of Image Comics at ECCC 2017

by Mario Wario

When going to your local comic book shop, you will notice the usual Marvel and DC Comic releases (plus other works from different creators/publishers) every Wednesday. That is new comic book day. One comic book publisher that you will see on the shelves is Image Comics. Image is all about telling different stories and is a company where the creator can keep the rights of their works without any interference. Started in 1992 and located in Portland, Oregon, Image is the third largest comic book publisher. Seven well-known illustrators were not happy with what was going on within their industry in the early 90s. They came together to form Image Comics. Their names are Jim Lee, Erik Larsen, Rob Liefeld, Whilce Portacio, Jim Valentino, Marc Silvestri, and Todd McFarlane. To celebrate the company’s 25th anniversary, at this year’s Emerald City Comic Con (ECCC) in Seattle, Washington, fans were given the opportunity to attend the Image Founders panel, along with a signing (ticketed, allowing winners to get autographs from six of the founders for free). A chance to see all things Image Comics and the founders was a treat that no one took for granted. According to McFarlane, all of the founders rarely get together like this – every 7-8 years if they’re lucky. So I sure wasn’t going to miss this opportunity while attending ECCC 2017.

The 90-minute panel took place on Friday, March 3rd; on the main stage with Robert Kirkman (the creator of The Walking Dead and partner of Image Comics) as the moderator. Kirkman and the founders (minus Jim Lee) discussed anything they wanted about the company and any personal stories they could think of. While it was disappointing not to have all seven founders present, from what I could tell, Jim Lee just couldn’t make it. Now this actually gave the other six founders a chance to tell funny stories about Jim Lee. This panel started off lively. The first 30 minutes was all about their missing friend. The best past stories were the ones told by McFarlane about how competitive Lee can be at a batting cage and playing a trick on him. In the batting cage story, Lee wanted to test out how good McFarlane was (since he had used to play sports in his younger years) at hitting a baseball. In short, Lee wanted to win so badly that he selected the fastest speed first, took 160 swings, and was only able to hit the ball once – barely. Seeing this, McFarlane had Lee do something else that was pretty wacky. It had something to do about a set of ‘balls’ and being able to handle those… I’ll just leave it there. Moving on, McFarlane said Lee called him the very next day to check on him, knowing how many swings he took. He knew that Lee had to be very sore and he was. McFarlane said that Lee took very violent swings in trying to hit the baseball. It sure sounded like a Looney Tunes short film once this story was over.

The other story was about a time when Lee got fooled into thinking that a certain paycheck of his was going to arrive late. This was money from doing the X-Men with Marvel and he wanted it right away. To make it work, McFarlane had a couple of folks he knew over at Marvel to play along. Once things got moving, he got Lee so worked up that Lee stayed inside a bathroom for over two hours panicking about his paycheck. Once finding out the deception, upon getting the paycheck the next day, Lee was not happy, but McFarlane loved it! He still does today. McFarlane acts like a kid, regardless of his age, when remembering these stories or trying to do something else to the guys today. This is not a bad thing, but it is his personality. I should say that the six founders are very thankful that Lee joined Image Comics at the time. To me, his talent helped the company become a player in the industry.

The other parts of the panel were about the early days of the company. Image was all about the creator getting more money, rather than getting only small portions of their work; never asking for any percentages, such as 30%. The founders also mentioned how the Image logo was created: Rob Liefeld sketched the logo due to hearing the word ‘image’ being used a lot to describe the company. Once connecting with Robert Kirkman, the six were very happy with how successful he was (and joked around about how they wished they had asked for a percentage of his work, due to The Walking Dead being so successful). The guys overall see Kirkman as the son of Image Comics, due to his success. I thought that was a pretty cool moment to see.

Meanwhile, as things got back to McFarlane, he decided to tell how he got the name Soul Crusher for a villain he is currently doing for Spawn. He came up with it when Erik Larsen sent him a long email in which on purpose at the bottom, Larsen had typed “soul crusher” to describe something to McFarlane. And it just popped for him to use that as a name. He loved it!

My signed poster

Lastly, the panel had a question and answer section before it officially ended. The questions were your basic stuff: for example, one fan asked if their wives ever read their works. The guys replied no in a joking matter. Once the panel was done, being lucky enough to be able to do the signing, I headed towards the Sheraton hotel across from the convention center to attend. The process started 15 minutes late, but once it got going the line moved rather quickly. The six founders were there; all of them were super nice to meet. They were so nice that McFarlane was willing help a high school student who asked if he could assist with a research paper about being in the comic book industry. The other guys joked around that McFarlane is always working, no matter where he goes. Finally, there was a camera crew filming the whole process, but at this time I don’t know where you could find the footage to see the signing, or even if it is publicly available.

So after the panel and then the signing, the whole celebration of Image Comics for that day had come to an end. Looking back, it was a cool opportunity to experience. The panel alone was great even for those who couldn’t do the signing. Not every day do you see these founders at one comic book convention talking about their past. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I was very glad to have taken advantage of it!