LOTS OF NEWS FROM IMAGE COMICS: Including DRM-Free Digital Comics!!

image comics logoIn addition to Vertigo making several announcements last week, which I reported about in my regular news of the week column, Image Comics held its annual expo and gave us a ton of info.

The biggest story has to be that it is releasing its own comics in a DRM-free format.  My biggest issue with comiXology is that books bought through them can only be read on their platform, so if they go away, so does my collection.  Comics may be moving away from paper to digital, but comic readers are still collectors at heart.  We want to be able to brag about how big our collection is, or to thumb through it, or organize it how we want.  We want actual things, even if they’re just digital files.  Image will begin with a digital-only Peter Panzerfaust motion comic, a new series by Kurtis Wiebe titled Rat Queens, and will offer their 2014 graphic novel “Noah,” by Darren Arronofsky who created the movie The Black Swan but is better known for going to High School with me.

What shocked me was Eric Stephenson’s interview for Wired Magazine where he justified the ability to illegally distribute DRM-free books as something that would generate sales GROWTH:

“There’s a pretty strong correlation with things that suck not being greatly pirated, while things that are successful have a higher piracy rate. If you put out a good comic book, even if somebody does download it illegally, if they enjoy it then the likelihood of them purchasing the book is pretty high. Obviously we don’t want everybody giving a copy to a hundred friends, but this argument has been around since home taping was supposedly killing music back in the ’70s, and that didn’t happen. And I don’t think it’s happening now.”

I’ve been making that argument for years: The top-distributed records on, for example, Napster, were also always the best-selling titles.  So how can piracy kill sales?

Image’s DRM-free offerings will expand over the next few months, but right now you can get a digital collection of the Warren Ellis/Jason Howard comic “Scatterlands” for a buck.

Image has enjoyed rapid growth, seeing increases of 40% overall in sales since 2011, and it currently publishes the two best-selling graphic novels in the U.S. (Saga volumes one and two), as well as the perennial best-selling volumes of The Walking Dead.  Yeah, Walking Dead is a huge part of its success, but it also wins big by taking risks.  Historical “period pieces” like “The Manhattan Projects” could easily have tanked (even with a big name like Jonathan Hickman).  Lately, they’ve been able to attract A-list talent—pulling folks like JMS, Mark Millar, and Matt Fraction away from the big two imprint lines (Vertigo and Icon), but I’m hoping they’ll also continue to foster folks you’ve never heard of—like they did for Robert Kirkman ten years ago.

Other exciting news about Image comics old and new:

  • The next 12 issues of The Walking Dead will publish bi-weekly.  Coincidentally (not), the TV series is starting back up again, too, in a few months.  To support the faster schedule, they’re adding a new inker so Charlie Adelard can focus just on pencils.  The quality of this book has definitely dipped this year—this may be the point at which it jumped the shark.
  • Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting will team up again for “Velvet,” about an executive assistant for a CIA-type organization who gives up desk work to go out in the field.  Brubaker described the work as similar in tone to this team’s previous collaboration in Captain America.
  • Kurtis Wiebe’s “Peter Panzerfaust” has a TV development deal with BBC.
  • Mark Millar will attempt to create his own version of The Marvel Universe through an unspecified number of comic books that he, in his characteristically “Stan Lee” hype-voice, called “huge.”
  • J. Michael Straczynski is bringing back two books he previously published under Marvel’s Icon banner: The Book of Lost Souls and Dream Police.  I wasn’t a “Lost Souls” fan, and I never read the Marvel Icon Dream Police one-shot, but the concept is cool: Cops who keep you safe while you dream.  But even better than any of that, JMS will be producing a 6-issue miniseries with Bill Sienkiewicz.  Bill!!!!!
  • Matt Fraction will produce a comic/space take on The Odyssey with artist Christian Ward, in which Homer’s male characters are female and vice-versa.  Sounds a little like Saga, frankly.
  • Rick Remender has two Image projects coming: Black Science with artist Matteo Scalera will be kind of like Remender’s revered Fear Agent comic; and Deadly Class is aobut a high school for assassins.  If you’re not reading the 5 Weapons series (also an Image comic), you’re missing out on a great book with a similar premise.  I can’t imagine how Remender’s will be better.  Remender indicated that it will take place during the hardcore scene of the 1980s.  So it’s like “Class of 1984” meets “Morning Glories.”
  • Jasons Aaron and Latour will produce a book called Southern Bastards, which is pretty much summed up by the title.

Lots of reasons to buy Image Comics, eh?

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