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After-Image, Part 1

Image co-founders Todd McFarlane and Jim Valentino look back at the origins of their 'upstart' comic book company

By Arnold T. Blumberg     February 06, 2002


A new version of Jim Valentino's SHADOWHAWK debuts in the 10th anniversary Image hardcover.
© Image Comics
In Part 1 of this mega-interview with Todd McFarlane and Jim Valentino, the founders discuss the birth of Image and the new 10th anniversary volume...

When six artists decided to start their own comic book company ten years ago, the event sent ripples of disbelief and even anger through the comic book industry. Seen as upstarts who clearly didn't understand the depth of the chasm into which they were gleefully leaping, these talented illustrators had banded together for a simple purpose. They wanted to establish a comic company that allowed creators to follow their dreams and do so without administration hampering their creativity. They wanted to shape a brand new image for comics, and their company would be the very symbol of that goal. Image Comics was born, and Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld, Jim Lee, Erik Larsen, Marc Silvestri, and Jim Valentino were suddenly celebrities as well as pioneers.

While the prospect of leaving the security of their previous jobs must have been daunting, the group forged ahead, depending upon little more than the hope of creative liberation and the potential for financial success.

"I think we all must have had a certain amount of faith, otherwise we wouldn't have signed on," says Valentino, Image Comics' publisher. "Admittedly, there were times in the first months that it seemed we'd truly jumped off a cliff head first."

"We've run the gamut in ten years," says McFarlane. "We've done some shining examples, and we've really skinned our knee on some of them. But it's all a learning experience, and for those who don't want to learn, it becomes Darwinian."

Valentino shares the metaphor.

"We had always asserted that the company would grow and change over time," says Valentino. "I see it as a natural, if somewhat circuitous, evolution."

McFarlane believes this evolutionary theory of comics explains the early departure of key Image founders.

Erik Larsen's SAVAGE DRAGON was one of the earliest titles to emerge from the Image Comics partnership.

"[If] you're not good at business, you fail," says McFarlane. "Somewhere along the line, [Image co-founder] Rob [Liefeld] couldn't get in line with expectations of what had to be done, and [Image co-founder] Jim Lee felt like he had to go someplace else to get what he needed."

The others remained, and today they are acknowledging their anniversary with a special hardcover volume in which they revisit the characters they debuted a decade ago.

"We wanted to do something special to mark the occasion. It occurred to me that this would be one of the best things we could do-return to the drawing board with an important new story of our original creations," says Valentino. "Philosophically, it was easy. In execution? Some of us have not done this in years. It's difficult to get back up on that horse."

McFarlane echoes Valentino's equestrian metaphor; they do seem to be in synch on that sort of thing.

"Yeah, you get off the horse a while... Right now the creative stuff I do isn't necessarily drawing, panel after panel. [It's] still a fair amount of drawing involved, but it's in different aspects. They aren't a little panel then another one next to it. A lot of the creativity comes in with making up stories too, whether it's through TV, Hollywood, or writing some of the books that I do."

"Right now, each of us are just going into our corners and putting together 15-20 pages each," says McFarlane. "There's no big story arc that ties anything together. Mine's going to be a standalone story that is stylistically in the norm of what people are used to looking at, using a lot of text, making it more of a true graphic novel feel if you will."

The Savage Dragon battles on in his own ongoing series.

For Valentino, it was "a blast" to revisit SHADOWHAWK. Things have changed, however, and not just for the creator.

"This is a different character in that he is a young, white high-school student," says Valentino. "I'm enjoying his enjoyment of the personae and the relationship between him and his father. It's very much patterned after my relationship with my own teen-aged sons."

And what of his reaction to the controversy that surrounded the original incarnation of Shadowhawk?

"The purpose of art, all art, be it dance, music, paintings or cartoons, is to communicate on one level or another, be it emotional, intellectual, spiritual, whatever. If any of my work has elicited a response, be it negative or positive, then it has served me well and I'm pleased."

The anniversary book should thrill fans, who will get to see their favorite Image creators back in that saddle again. Valentino thinks the main benefit for readers will "probably [be] seeing these characters again after so long, [and] perhaps in reading these stories that may not have otherwise been told-at least by us."

Spawn emerges from the shadows to take a bite out of the comic book market.

But when asked if the volume might introduce new readers to the so-called "Image style," Valentino is quick to dispel that...um, image.

"I do not subscribe to the notion that there is an 'Image style,'" says Valentino. "Picture in your mind's eye what you think of as the 'Image Style,' then look at the work of the four partners. None of us draw in that manner and none of us draw even remotely like one another. That said, if our work inspired a young creator, I'm sure we would all be pleased."

Of course, it was Valentino, McFarlane and the others who were the young creators back in 1991 when they played a role in reshaping the superhero genre through titles like SPAWN, Erik Larsen's SAVAGE DRAGON, and Valentino's SHADOWHAWK.

"We gave it a new coat of paint," says Valentino. "Ours were the first computer-colored comics. We brought extraordinarily high production values to the medium."

Next time, McFarlane lays out the Image Formula for Success and addresses the nay-sayers.

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