After-Image, Part 2 -

Comic Book Interview

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After-Image, Part 2

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

By Arnold T. Blumberg     February 09, 2002

Spawn's nemesis, the Violator, proves what we knew all along: clowns are pure evil.
© Image Comics
In Part 2 of this mega-interview with Todd McFarlane and Jim Valentino, McFarlane lays out the Image Formula for Success and addresses the nay-sayers.

According to McFarlane, Image's larger contribution was its willingness to open up the playing field for creators in an industry that frequently strangled innovation.

"Image is an option, and when you get right down to it, the more options creative people have, the better it is for their life," says McFarlane. "We wanted to be an alternative to the way the system was built at Marvel and DC. We tried to find out way in the first year or two years, and ten years later, our system still exists. In terms of giving a haven to creators, other than doing it completely on your own, Image by far offers the best deal."

"We don't want to own anything, we don't want a piece of anything," explains McFarlane. "All we want is a flat fee for doing administrative work and letting you borrow the logo, and that fee doesn't alter whether you sell one copy or you sell a million and one copies. All the rest of the money is yours, so if you happen to sell a lot of books, God bless you, and if you don't, it shouldn't be our problem."

Interestingly, many creators actually demand a bit more involvement than Image is willing to consider.

"It's been a point of conversation where people actually want us to do more. We don't rep you in Hollywood. That's your baby, you do everything. We're just here to facilitate."

Todd McFarlane's SPAWN

Facilitating seems to have been a key ingredient in the success of Image, and McFarlane points to the decade mark as an indicator of stability in a constantly changing marketplace.

"I don't know that any other company that isn't tied to a big company that helps support creative rights has actually existed non-stop for ten years," says McFarlane. "There have been attempts and there's been little imprints that other groups, especially writers, have tried. Don't get me off on how...I don't believe writers will ever be able to band together and succeed. It's true, you may laugh at it, [but] give me an example. It doesn't exist, and the reason the writers will never work out the way that artists will is because that in spite of ourselves, I'm not saying we're any better so let's be very clear, artists can usually only do one book."

McFarlane explains that the goal of the artist in this situation is to force the readers to come to them, providing the kind of entertainment their fans have come to expect from their other work. It's another ingredient in the Image Formula for Success.

"When you actually decide to go and do your own independent work, you force people to come to you," says McFarlane. "I'm not doing SPIDER-MAN and SPAWN, I'm doing SPAWN. If you like Todd, you have to go see SPAWN. So when the writers go, 'I'm going to do my own book, but I'm also going to continue writing batman and superman and that book for dark horse and maybe that...they give options to the consumer. 'Do I want Writer A doing X-MEN or some book with a character I don't give a s**t about?'"

Jim Valentino's SHADOWHAWK was another of the early founding series from the Image stable.

McFarlane believes that leaving SPIDER-MAN for his own title was therefore crucial to the success of SPAWN.

"The writers don't have the gumption or the confidence or the courage to cut themselves off cold turkey from the mother's teat," says McFarlane. "I don't have a problem with that, but if you think you're going to do your book and then still do two high profile books for Marvel or DC, then wonder why your fifth book of an obscure character that nobody knows anything about doesn't succeed, it's quite obvious. We didn't give you an option."

Unfortunately, some of the partners didn't share McFarlane's philosophy.

"I know that Rob and Jim and Mark still, in the beginning, thought they could continue doing their gigs, and I knew that wasn't going to be true, because they never could prove they could necessarily do a monthly book all that consistent, let alone two. Besides, why do you want to give work to your competitor? In almost every other business, it's not just a conflict of interest, it's pure illegal. You can't be on the board of directors at Canon and at the same time be doing work for IBM. In comic books we don't have quite that same business ethic."

Even a guy with green skin and a fin on his head can find a babe.

And what about that juicy behind-the-scenes story? Many fans are as familiar with the soap opera aspects of the Image saga as they are with the Image line itself. For McFarlane, there's a simple reason why so much press attention was focused on the internal Image shenanigans in those early years.

"From my perspective, 80% of the negativity was jealousy," adds McFarlane. "It wasn't necessarily the other fans, it was the other artists or writers who weren't getting as good a deal as we were giving ourselves. They were saying, 'I can draw as good as Todd' and 'I can write a hundred times better than Todd, but he's selling more books and making more money and that's just not fair.' I think there are plenty nay-sayers out there even today. They just won't let it go."

In the final part of this mega-interview, McFarlane continues to explain the circumstances of Image's birth and the mistakes it made, and he and Valentino reflect on the company's bright future.


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