Image Comics 20th Anniversary Panel: Plain, Stupid, Insanity

A comics interview article by: Jason Sacks

Concluding our interviews with the founders of Image Comics, we thought you might enjoy reading this transcript of the panel that celebrated the 20th anniversary of that great company. All the founders were there except for Jim Lee, so this panel allows you the chance to read what happens when all these creators come together. Can you say... hilarity ensues?

Ron Richards: Welcome everybody to the Image founders' 20th anniversary panel. My name is Ron Richards, and I run the website . Eric Stephenson asked me to moderate this panel because he knew that ,when I was 14, Image Comics got me back into comics after I left because I didn't have any money. I went into a comic shop, I picked up Supreme #2 and I got re-hooked into comics. So personally, thank you guys for saving my comics career.

These guys probably don't need any introduction, but we'll do it anyway: we've got Rob Liefeld, Jim Valentino, Marc Silvestri, Todd McFarlane, the newest Image partner, Robert Kirkman, and Whilce Portacio. Excellent.

Todd McFarlane: Jim Beasty Lee will not be here today.

Marc Silvestri: He's got like 9 kids now.

Richards: I wanted to start with this. Everybody kind of knows the story of how you guys came together. I wanted to hear from you guys the importance, in 1991 or 1992 when you were thinking of doing this, the importance of creating something on your own and creating an independent comic company, [something] that hadn't been heard of ever before. Where did that idea come from?

Silvestri: Robert, you were there.Robert Kirkman and Todd McFarlane

Robert Kirkman: Why am I on this panel?

McFarlane: You know what? We're going to start this off with Rob, because I think that Rob really started things out. He had the most clarity here, so Rob, you start if off.

Jim Valentino: Stop drawing for a second.

Rob Liefeld: Well, here's the deal: that's all well and good, but we are a collective and the reasons it worked is because it is a collective.

How Image really started is that Erik Larsen, myself, and Jim Valentino had gone out to dinner in San Diego with the guy who was the publisher of Malibu Comics, and we were all doing to do our own thing. We loved our time at Marvel. Speaking from total honesty, I was just excited to do something else. It wasn't like, "I'm done with Marvel, Marvel's treated me wrong, I've got to go somewhere." It was: what was happening to us, to our careers. If you go back to the start of all this at Marvel Comics and look at our books, there was something happening.

Our rapport with the fans was genuine and organic, and there was a reason that Todd's Spider-Man is the best-selling comic of all time. People just loved it; there was a reason. And the most important part of this is that Todd was on sabbatical. Todd had just had his first child.

My favorite quote in comics was, and Todd knows this, I would call him so much, Todd and Jim Valentino were my mentors in the business early on, and Todd, one time, picked up the phone and said, "You call me more than my mother." And I go, "Oh, message received, oh crap."

Todd was always really generous, spent hours on the phone with me, gave me some of the best advice I ever got in comics, and so naturally I was calling him like crazy. We talked all the time. Again, I called him more than his mom. I called him all the time. But I would pick his brain, and then Todd's like, "No, this is interesting. I have this character that I created as a kid, called Spawn. I've got my options; I don't know what I'm going to do when I come back from my sabbatical, from having my first child," his daughter.

And Todd's like, "I'm in." That's right. We had an idea; I wanted to go. I had solicited a whole page ad in Comics Buyer's Guide, for people who remember that, for a book called The X-Cutioners which was a lot like X-Force, but I owned them. And Marvel called me up and said, "We will sue you into the ground if you do The Executioners. And I was like, "Oh, OK, so that's not a great idea." They woke me up at 6:30 in the morning. At 9:30, they had the lawyers on the phone. I mean I was in good standing with Marvel…

Silvestri: And you were like 22?

Liefeld: Yes.

Valentino: Boy, was he pissed off.

Liefeld: And so then I was like, "I got to do something else." And really it didn't become… my memories of how Image was coming together… Again Valentino, myself, Larsen, were in. Todd's in, and then Todd became the greatest recruiter in history of comic books.

And Marc's up here, without Todd, I sat and watched you in a bar in New York City, because Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri and I had flown out for an X-Men conference so -- this is horrible -- we did use their dime to get to New York. I'm sorry, we're terrible, but we pow-wowed and Todd went, I mean he just went at Marc, and Marc was salivating…what am I talking about, vacillated, good god, sorry, vacillated. At first, he vacillated. By the time Todd was done with him, he was salivating.

And Marc right there, because Todd, when he goes to work on you, is the best salesman you're ever going to meet. There's a reason I spent so much time on the phone with Todd. He closed the deal with Marc right then. And so then it was like, "We got everybody." From there on, the news media just ran with it.

McFarlane: So if you guys look at it, Rob was going to do his thing, and Erik was going to do his thing, and Jim too, and all of a sudden it was like, "Why are we thinking about doing all these things independently? Why have four things? Why don't we glue them together and try and have some strength in numbers? And once we went, "Wow, instead of doing four independents, in four different times, why don't we do four at the same time. And oh, by the way is there any way we can find anybody else?"

We were going to do Image Comic Books anyway, just so everybody knows. We were going to do our own comic book at that time. We flew to New York. There happened to also be an auction that same weekend, I don't know if you guys remember. This is where I cornered Jim Lee. I knew if we could get Jim Lee, he was going to be the linchpin, and here's why, ladies and gentlemen:

At this point in our careers, Rob, Erik and I, but more Rob and I, we were sort of the bad boys, at Marvel Comics. They knew that we had sort of immature bad attitude, but if we could get the golden boy -- it's true, I'm not saying it in a bad way, I'm saying it in a positive way -- Jim Lee was the prototypical face of the company. If we could get him, it would send a message that, "Wow!" They understood that Rob and Todd were maniacs, but if Jim Lee left, "Wow!"

Todd McFarlane and Marc SilvestriSilvestri: That was his best sale.

McFarlane: If we got Jim Lee, they would go, "Wow, you know what? Anybody can leave because Jim's gone." So we talked to Jim. Jim was pals with Whilce, so bam! we got two more in there.

And then the serendipitous moment, he's [pointing to Marc Silvestri] staying in the same hotel as us. I meet Marc in the lobby, and he and I are going to go have a conversation with the Marvel head, telling them we're quitting -- we're going to start Image but that wasn't their detail, that was ours -- we're going to quit and he's at the same hotel. I see him that night, I give him the sales pitch and I go, "Oh, by the way, we need an answer by the morning because we're going to go talk to Marvel. Are you in or are you out?

He phones me and I remember him going, "I'm in." And all of a sudden, bam! we had the seven of us, and we went and made the announcement to both Marvel and DC that same day. Let me give you something funny; after we went into Marvel, everybody sort of heard about that one, then we went about an hour later directly across the street to go to DC.

Silvestri: This is the best part.

McFarlane: DC, Marc had never worked for DC.

Silvestri: I did; I started my career there.

McFarlane: No? Who was it, Jim? Oh, it was Jim. Jim Lee, who was the golden boy, had never done a page for DC. Back then, there were only two options: if you quit Marvel, you went to DC. If you quit DC, you went to Marvel.

So we walked into DC with Jim Lee and all the editors just went, "Oh, my god! The golden boy is here. He'd never walked into our office, ever, ever" They sit down, they get all the editors, and they say, "What can we do for you?" And we say, "He's not going to work for you either, we just quit Marvel. We just told Marvel we're not going to work for them, and we just thought we'd give the same courtesy to you, that we're not working for you either.

For 20 minutes, they thought, literally, they hit the mother lode. They'd hit the mother lode. But let me tell you one thing and I'll let the other guys talk, I remember the side that was already going, I remember that meeting with DC Comic Books. I already knew why we were going to leave, that DC said, "Well, why don't you come work for us because we're doing things that are better for the creative community. We've just actually created this new document that will make it better for the creative community and that your life will be better.

And in that moment with the seven of us sitting there, I asked the question that I'll never forget. I go, "I've just got to ask you one question: while you were putting together the document to basically tell us why our lives will now be better as creative people, how many creative people did you talk to that had input into that document?"

And when I got the pregnant pause, it was all I needed to cement the view that we were making the right move. They were going to tell us what our life was going to be about without asking any of us how we actually thought our lives should be. And very shortly, we went to his [Marc Silvestri's] house for the very first meeting, and Image Comic Books was born. Here we are here twenty years later.

Audience: [Cheering].

Richards: When that started, a lot of you were with Marvel and DC and Jim, you've done some independent publishing; did you have an idea of what this undertaking would take, to make a publishing company?

Valentino: What do you mean?

Richards: Like the printing costs, the shipping, all that stuff; I mean it's more than just writing and drawing the comics, the business side of things. How did that come together?

Marc Silvestri and Jim ValentinoValentino: Yeah, sure. Yeah, I knew all about that stuff, what we had done, one of the things we had done, which was very smart because we hadn't built an internal structure yet. So we hired Malibu Comics as our internal structure, figuring it would take us a year to pull all that together.

Silvestri: With which we were very straightforward.

Valentino: We were very straightforward, yeah. Image was never an imprint of Malibu. Malibu worked for us right from the start, from day one. And the way that worked was, they had color houses; they had the entire infrastructure in place. It took us a year. After that first year, we were like, "We're out of here; we are on our own, totally on our own." We had built up the relationships that we needed with printers, with distributors, with everything like that, because like Todd said, we had the power of seven; we had that buying ability. The Image umbrella gave us all individual autonomy and buying power of a co-op basically. So that's how we worked it.

Richards: So now when you set out to start everything, you mentioned you guys had characters, and these are characters that you --I know Erik you created Savage Dragon when you were a kid. Were these characters that were just waiting to come out, and you really saw this as the only avenue to make this happen?

Silvestri: It's nice that we've grown as a creator, too.

Larsen: Yeah, isn't it?

Silvestri: You created Savage Dragon when you were twelve?

Larsen: I know. I had this one idea and I just keep working it.

Silvestri: That's his one idea.

Larsen: I was like eight. I was pretty good. But I know Todd created Spawn when he was pretty young.

McFarlane: 16. I created Spawn when I was 16.

Larsen: And Rob had the Youngblood guys in the Megaton days, so that went pretty far back. I think a lot of us had this stuff that we created, and we were sitting there working with Marvel and DC, kind of going, "You know, if I use this here it's gone, forever," and I, at least, have some regrets in terms of characters that I did give them.

Silvestri: You made a good point about this. I think really what makes Image worthy in pop culture, and not just in the world of comics, Marvel Comics never in a million years would have published Savage Dragon. They wouldn't. Even if you would have given it to them, they never would have published it. Because it's a singular vision that only you could have pulled off. And they're never going to give someone, especially back then, that kind of power. They're not going to put anything behind that. And Todd, they might have let you do Spawn, because you're Todd, maybe, I don't know. Did you ever pitch it to them?

McFarlane: No.

Valentino: Not the way he wanted to do it.

Silvestri: No, it would have been editorialized, and it would have been watered down to a point where Spawn would have been walking around with webs all over his costume, instead of shooting out the goopy fucking stuff that you were famous for.

Larsen: And the thing with art… just talking to other creators, other people who have done stuff, people who created characters and stuff like that. I remember talking to Keith Giffen, talking about Lobo, and he had editors saying to him, "Yeah, I don't think Lobo would do that." And he was like, "I created the guy, I'm pretty sure I know what my guy would do." It's just that editorial attitude where they go, "Yeah we know a little bit better than you do." Better than the guy who created the character.

Silvestri: The creators in that culture, in the Big Two culture, despite what the fans might have thought, we didn't have a whole lot of juice. We didn't have a whole lot of say. To a certain degree, they might have listened to you [Todd McFarlane] or Jim, or something like that, to a certain degree, but then they would put the brakes on it and then it would become an editorial conversation. And at that point they would be, "Now, this is what we'd like you to do."

Valentino: More than that though, creating the characters for Marvel or DC means that we would lose those characters at some point or another. Todd, you're too difficult to work with, we're going to get Joe Banana to do your character now.

Silvestri: Aggh, that Joe Banana.

McFarlane: Let me see if I can do a nice transition here to see if I can get Robert Kirkman involved. I don't know if you guys remember that there was an attempt where other people tried this. Dark Horse tried to put a group together. There was another one, Bravura or whatever it was called.

Liefeld: OK, wait; I haven't heard Todd say Bravura in 20 years! My whole life just flashed in front of me. Todd used to go, "What kind of name is 'Bravura'?"

Jim Valentino and Rob LiefeldMcFarlane: And you could tell it was writers, instead of coming around like cool and clever, they chose Bravura, because they just want to be smart enough.

But here's what's happening; Image Comics comes out. We come out of the gate big. All the books were doing good, right? A lot of animosity because us dumb artists were now writing our books, selling gobs of books, and making gobs of money. That was really getting into the craw of a lot of writers.

So they tried their attempt at it, and it failed. And they tried another one, and it failed; and it continued to fail. I said the same thing to them every time: it will fail every single time. Not for a lack of talent, but because what you guys haven't figured out is that artists can only do one book a month. And when we quit our books at Marvel, and we went and started our new books, there was nobody.

I have no illusions that anybody in this room bought Spawn #1 because of the character. You didn't know who the hell he was. You bought it because you liked my artwork and you went, "I like Todd. Todd used to stand to the left doing Spider-Man; Todd's now standing over here doing Prawn, Spawn, Brawn, I don't know what it's called, but I have to buy that book because that’s where Todd's at. I gave you no option but to buy that book. No, it's true, all of us.

And now the pressure's on us to give you a book that you actually will come back for, that you will go, "OK." What the writers did, what they failed to figure out, was that if you continued to do Flash, and Superman, and X-Men, and Captain America, and your independent book, you are giving them five options. And if you have a limited budget, if I were the kid collecting, I'd take those characters that I know about before I take the character I don't know about.

The only way you going to get them to go there is to shut those off and come over here. And it's why [long transition] why Robert Kirkman became the first partner, not only a guy that came over, became a partner, because Kirkman figured out the same thing we did. Shut it off.

We weren't going to have a partner that was going to be doing a book for Marvel and DC at the same time. He shut it off. He moved over there, and I'm sure people went, "Walking Dead? Alright, I'll buy it." And now we're here ten years later and he's shown that not only can you have the success that we had in 1992, but that ten years later, lightning strikes again, and it's an artist, and he's a partner. It can happen. But you can't have your cake and eat it too, and none of them wanted to make the move, the ballsy move, that Robert Kirkman did. And I applaud this man.

Robert Kirkman: I still don't know that I should be on this panel.

McFarlane: You were 14. Tell them you bought out books.

Kirkman: This is kind of a big deal for me because I was 13 or 14 when all this stuff started. I know that I have a very big career, and I have a very good life, and I really do enjoy doing all of the work that I'm doing now. I wouldn't be doing that if it wasn't for these guys sitting at this table here; if they hadn't decided to take those risks and start this company when they did. Those options may not have been available for me, and I've been benefitting a great deal from all their hard work. And I know I thanked them before, but I'll do it again: you guys are the best. So yeah, my kids are getting fat because of you guys.

McFarlane: Here's the fact, so you guys understand this one, because people don't quite understand where we started the studios and where we started Image. Image Comic Books has never, ever, owned anything, ever. Every book is owned by the people that are producing it, or somebody else who gets somebody to produce it. Image owns nothing.

Silvestri: And that's Business 101.

McFarlane: No, but what that does is we, at the beginning, twenty years ago, had the best deal, we thought, for a creator. Twenty years later bar none, we have the best deal for a creator. And as Robert said, if you get tired of those options of working for the big companies, we just became another possibility. Or we showed that we could survive for twenty years, that you can go off on your own, start your own company, and maybe you can survive for twenty years; you don't have to work for the same two guys over and over if you don't want to. If you want to, fine, God bless you.

Silvestri: We're the first legitimate, safe option to do that. And like Todd says, if you've always wanted to draw Spider-Man or whatever, God bless you.

Valentino: God bless you.

Silvestri: Yeah, God bless you; go do it. We get that. But we're an option. We are, twenty years now, into the failure. You know what? Maybe twenty years from now, it will, but I don't think so. I think it's going to outlive all of us, and I plan to live a long time. But it's a legitimate and safe option. For a couple of dollars -- a paycheck for most of you who have a job, and you're in comics so you probably don't have a job. But most of you have a job. For a couple thousand bucks, put something together ,and you're published. You have that option now. It's not so scary. The waters have been tested safe, and Robert is the best example of how that system works, to the ultimate degree.

Kirkman: I mean really, just to analyze my career for a minute, I had a self-publishing company. But I didn't really take off until I came in as an unknown and started doing comics at Image Comics.

Image is a perfect house for two things: it's one of the only publishing companies that discovers new talent and gives new talent a huge platform to have their debut. Jonathan Hickman is another really good example of that: he was a blind submission that came across Eric Stephenson's desk, and the nest thing you know, three years later, he's writing almost every Marvel book that's worth reading.

And for me to be able to come into this industry through Image Comics, and then have a little bit of success at Marvel, and then get sick of it because they're horrible, and then come back -- I never really left Image Comics but then to retreat and go [back] to Image Comics and stay there and have this great success is really a testament to the fact that this company can be so many things to so many people. It's such a unique and awesome thing.

Richards: It's what you make of it.

McFarlane: And let me tell you, because I know what's going to be your question, I'll tell you what my biggest disappointment's been with Image Comic Books. It's is running into creative people, who allow 90 days of eating macaroni and cheese dictate the rest of their natural life.

They come in, they go, "Oh, we've got an idea." They want a page rate. We don't give you page rate. "Why not?" "Because we don't own it; you own it. The way it works is: you walk in. You come up with the idea. You hire your buddies. You get everybody together. You publish this book. And in about ninety days you're going to get the numbers, and eventually collect the money, and eventually you will get money."

Their answer has been, and I have heard this dozens of times in two decades, and it is staggering to me, that they are going to sit there and go, "Well, I have money now, but I can't afford to not get a paycheck for three months." And so they will never, ever put up the possibility of having a Walking Dead that will carry you for the rest of your life and get your kids fat, supposedly.

Erik Larsen, Whilce Portacio and Robert KirkmanKirkman: I will say, unusually, my kids are somewhat thin.

McFarlane: For 90 days, you should be able to tap into your mom, your dad, your credit card, your neighbor, your friends -- somehow, beg, borrow, or steal whatever nominal amount of money you need to survive -- to get that out, to say that I at least tried and it didn't work before you shut it down because you didn't have a thousand bucks in your pocket. You're going to let a thousand bucks stop you from potentially making a million.

It's just inconceivable for a guy like me, who will jump off a cliff and wonder if there is safe landing half way down. So any of guys out there who are thinking about it, just do it. I'm telling you it is the definition between an entrepreneur and an employee. The entrepreneur, compared to the employee. The employee goes to the cliff, looks over the cliff, says, "Is there a balloon down there to catch me? Will I be safe? What happens if it hurt? What if I land on my neck? " The entrepreneur, when they say you need to jump off the cliff, backs up ten feet to get a fucking run, jumps off the cliff and half way down says, "Is there anything down there to catch me?"

You don't think of failure on any level, instead of trying to figure out, "How can I make all of this soft landing?" Sometimes life is a little harsh; you just got to go for it. It's good. It's good when it works.

Richards: It's twenty years later, here we are in 2012, we're at a convention around Image Comics, the state of the industry for everyone, is just as important as it was twenty years ago, if not more important. How do you see where Image fits in today compared to what's going on. You bring up Grant Morrison and Brian K. Vaughan, all of these great stars coming to Image. Whereas Marvel and DC publishers are still kind of trudging along with what they're doing. How do you see Image's role today in 2012?

Kirkman: I think Image is probably more important than it's ever been. I look around at the industry now and I just kind of laugh because it doesn't seem like anyone's even able to compete at this point.

I see what's going on at Marvel and DC -- and things are actually getting worse for creators, from everything that I hear -- and I just kind of giggle about it. I think that 2012 is going to be a huge year for us, and I think it's really going to be a launching point for a lot of bigger and better things. The fact that we're still offering the same deal that these guys constructed twenty years ago, and it's still the deal where Image doesn't take any of your rights and doesn't tell you what to do at all.

Even If you have a bad idea, and you're like, "Oh yeah, I want to do this." Eric Stephenson and I talk to creators sometimes and then we're like, "I don't think this stuff was a good idea" and they're like, "I really want to do it", and we're like, "Yeah, that's kind of what we're about, so that's cool." And that's a good thing; you can't do that anywhere else. So I think we're in a good place, and I think things are only going to get better.

Silvestri: And I have to agree with Robert, as long as you're cool. Absolutely, the thing about Image Comics when it started twenty years ago -- and it's still kind of holds true today, although we have more experience now -- and the truth is, we've learned lot, both from successes and failures. But the dysfunction of Image is actually the function of it; Image was formed by seven lunatics who, like Todd said, backed up and took a running start off a cliff.

It wasn't as dangerous as some of the legends has made it out to be because in all truth, months and months in, we were still getting phone calls saying, "Do you want to come back? Do you want to draw X-Men? Do you want to come back?" So it was always our choice to say no. There was a job there waiting, but that would have been an enormous failure, I think, to all of us personally, if we had had to do that. That's a major eat-crow. It would pay our bills, but it was a major eat-crow.

So for us, we've always done things a little differently, like Jim mentioned: we are Image Comics and we have solidarity and we’ve got size and that that has a lot of certain deals that we would not have had independently. This also allowed us to continue twenty years down the line. But we all respect each other and respect what we do. We respect all [that] these guys do and that they have done. They've taken variations on the theme. The theme being comics, and we're all doing our little thing based off of that.

But I think the beauty of Image is the fact that now, in twenty years of retrospect, what Image did has literally become part of pop culture history. And I don't think any kind of creation in any media has not been affected by that.

Because Robert walks in with The Walking Dead to a studio and a network, at the end of the day Robert owns The Walking Dead. He can do whatever the hell he wants with it. So that has an effect, a ripple effect, all throughout entertainment, especially now it's a digital age.

So I think the fact that we can all look back and go, "You know what? Long after we're gone, people are going to remember that there was a time in 1992 where something happened." And everything else in comics before that, and after that, has been evolutionary. Even Marvel comics when they came off with Stan Lee and the other guys, Fantastic Four and that stuff, it's still evolutionary. It's like, "Oh, that's kind of cool. That not DC. That's cool". But there was no [Punching his fist against his hand] this.

When Image happened, this literally happened in a heartbeat. It wasn't a gradual thing. It wasn't evolutionary; it was revolutionary. And I think that everything from that day has been evolutionary from that moment of revolution. That's quite frankly thanks to that guy, [Points to Rob Liefeld] who started it out, with the guts to walk ten feet back when there was nothing before him to say that that was going to work. Keep in mind, this was a guy who was ready to do that when he was 22 years old.

And then with guys like Todd, obviously with his track record, what he's done in not only comics, basically not only helped bring Marvel and DC to their knees and having to change certain things, but [with] major toy companies. They were looking at him like, "You asshole. You know how much money we have to spend to even come close to the quality of your toy?" But they don't have what Todd has, and I'm not just talking about creative vision. I'm talking about just plain, stupid insanity. That has always been the function in the dysfunction of Image Comics, the fact that we all just hated to be told no. That's where it comes from.

Todd McFarlane and Marc SilvestriMcFarlane: If I can add too, that I know that Image matters because let's just look at Image very quickly. Rob Liefeld was at the front of the pack; he was there at the beginning. Jim Lee, Whilce moved on. We've added people. We've subtracted people. There are different books there. Today Spawn could go away, and Image Comic books would be very fine, thank you.

Although we sit here on the panel today with us, the founders, here, I look down in that room downstairs, I walk around and very little of it is coming from the original founders themselves. So we can all get hit by a bus and Image is going to survive regardless. We've now created enough offspring that are now carrying the flag for us that it's going to work.

And I know, as Marc said, our obituaries were written that very first year, they thought we were going to fail, but I knew with a guy like Erik Larsen who, I want to go on the record and say I admire Erik more than anybody else of all my partners for just being single minded in his vision of just wanting to do comic books the way he saw. He didn't have any bigger vision to be on, he just wanted to do…

Silvestri: It's a fin. That's a fin.

McFarlane: And my admiration for him is that he started it, and so I know that somewhere along the line, Erik, just like me, is immature enough or stubborn enough that Image will live at least my lifetime.

Because I promise everyone here, and I've got enemies that I want to spite, I will have that Image logo on Spawn till the day I die. So it will live at least my lifetime, and I'm hoping Erik lives a lot longer, and if he can find one guy downstairs that keeps it going; it's just going to keep going. It's going to transform itself. We don't know better or worse than it is right now, but at you said, [points to Marc Silvestri] something happened in 1992, and I hope 100 years from now we're having a convention to be cool.

Lou: My name is Lou. My question is, many of you have had some really phenomenal successes and many challenges and going to different media. Which of you work together as friends with advice and mentoring about dealing with other industries like Hollywood and things.

Silvestri: Did you say friends?

Lou: Yeah. Colleagues, if you prefer.

Kirkman: I can say Todd has helped out quite a bit, getting on the phone and talking about the Walking Dead and all of that stuff, and Rob actually is pretty savvy in Hollywood.

Liefeld: With nothing produced.

Kirkman: You’ve got a ton of experience dealing with a ton of people out there, and so both of them have really helped me out in knowing when to listen to people and when not to listen to people, and all that kind of cool stuff. So yeah, I feel like I've been benefitted from them greatly. But I wouldn't call them friends.

Larsen: We all do talk pretty often, and when we're having experiences where we're going, "Well, OK, what do I do here?" These will be the first guys I'll call.

Silvestri: It's one of those things where you say friends, but they're more like partners in what we're doing. Maybe Todd can go and finance his own movie, but for the most part, you kind of have to make good partnerships in Hollywood. Because at that point, you're not cutting the checks.

But that said, you got a guy like Robert coming into a room and these days -- plus he's proved himself on his own -- but these days, if the creator of something [like] a comic book [that] has real value, that creator has value. So back when we first started dipping our toe in other media, you walk in the room when we were doing the Witchblade TV series, the live-action one, and I was the comic book guy, the attitude was like, "Thanks, let us do our job." It's like, "Fuck you."

And I had Oliver Stone on my side of the table, the original, and he bailed because we had some disagreements with the network, but we had to overcome that stigma. And now, Robert, guaranteed, has a different experience, because there's a respect now. Now when I walk in to a room, there's more of a respect and Todd, obviously, he commands respect, whether they give it to him or no. It's like, you got to pick your people that you work with.

Liefeld: Yeah, I just want to touch one more thing. Look, they'll all tell you, I fell asleep in all the business meetings when these guys started talking about business.

Image Comics to me was always, and even now twenty years later, is about camaraderie. There's some magic that we all created, and that's why Kirkman fit in. He is like our kid, like our mutual baby. When we would meet every six weeks or whatever, like I said: Todd was a mentor to me, Valentino was a mentor to me, I shared a studio with him, Jim Lee, Whilce, Larsen.

I bonded with Larsen and Todd the day I met them. We literally were inseparable for three days in San Diego. That was the seeds; that's the late '80s, that's where it all began. We trusted each other. You know the thing is, I just don't see it when people go, "Could it happen again?" I used to kid myself that it could be replicated. It absolutely cannot; I'm now of the belief it cannot.

We had a camaraderie, a mutual respect. I was in awe of every guy at this table, and Jim Lee, and what we had: a good time being together. We were literally this fun, crazy, frat house that just happened to become the number-two publisher. And again, we were just seven guys drawing seven books and one day, again I get a call, "Hey, we’re number 2." "What?"

McFarlane: We passed DC Comic Books.

Silvestri: With seven books.

Liefeld: Can't even complete two hands: just seven. And we were the number 2 comic company in the world. Again you go, what we did together, we just had a blast. When you guys come up to us at this show, and we're signing your books, and you're sharing your memories with us, we cherish these times. I know I do.

From conventions, nobody, not even Marvel and DC have had a tent erected. They gave us a circus tent, in Chicago in 1992, and we were away from the convention just to accommodate us. There was an insanity and you've heard it, Marc's mentioned it, Todd's mentioned it because he is insane. But the insanity is part of the company. Marc mentioned the dysfunctionality. But at the end of the day, there's always been a camaraderie, and it can't be replicated and It won't be. But that's what we share, and we've shared it with you guys, and it's this mutual back-and-forth that's made it so special.Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, Marc Silvestri

Man: With the varied success like the HBO Spawn series and movie, and the Witchblade series, and Walking Dead and all of these other ventures into Hollywood and into other media, because you guys aren't owned by a conglomerate corporation, or there's no one head, or the company does not own the properties, how do you go about doing that?

McFarlane: If we can sort of simplify it: each one of us prints out a book; we own that book. Todd McFarlane owns Spawn. Image publishes Spawn. I just happen to be a partner of that company. So this were it gets confusing, that we're actually two different people. So whether you're doing Chew or Robert when he first came on doing Walking Dead, or you're Todd, or Rob, or Marc, or Whilce and you're running it through and you happen to also be the partner of the guy who is running it through, you get to make the decision of who you want to meet, what kind of deals you want to broker, whether they're good or bad, who you want to hang out with, all that. That's all on you; we don't have any say in it. If you happen to ask us, and you want an opinion, we'll give it to you. But short of that it's all on you; it's your gig. You can create your baby the way you see fit.

Silvestri: That was rule number 1.

Valentino: Rule number 1 was that each partner would be completely autonomous, and we would never get in one another's way. We have stuck to that for twenty years, and I think that's what kept the company together for twenty years.

Larsen: Image itself doesn't broker deals, so Image is silent.

Silvestri: The seven of us together was bigger, market share-wise, than each of us independently. Plus Image as a company was a great conduit for creative rights. It's stood for something.

Larsen: Creative or whatever, people will call Image, but they just pass [them] on to the original creators.

Silvestri: Dale Keown with Pitt, who came on board, he had the Image deal that still exists today. We don't own Pitt. At Top Cow,we publish Pitt. That's Dale's; I'm just happy that Pitt's awesome. But it's whatever he wants to do. I'm pissed I don't own a piece of Walking Dead, but that's it. It's like, damn it, this company sucks.

Mike: I was just wondering from a creator standpoint, you guys, just as general fans of comics: Since you guys started Image, was there ever characters that you created for either Marvel or DC and said, I wish I would have kept that idea for myself. Or even if vice versa, there was an idea that you kept for Image that you just thought that it would fit better in Marvel or DC?

McFarlane: Well, I'll start because I know that I have probably the tightest ass here on the table. I intentionally never created anything for Marvel and DC unless they asked me to. I never gave them anything. So they said, "Hey, here's the script; it's got this mad scientist in it, he's got something." I mean, I had no choice; I just had the script in front of me. I would then create that new character. I never pulled anything out of my portfolio, and I had created dozens of characters when I was in high school.

Mike: I'm sorry to cut you off, but I mean like design-wise, also.

Silvestri: The same thing.

McFarlane: The same. I know some of the other guys can talk, because they actually gave some of their ideas to the companies. I never did, so I don't have any of those regrets because I never gave them anything. I was always holding on until this thing -- I didn't know it was going to be called Image -- would eventually come around and I pulled them all out. So I think these other guys can talk about that.

Silvestri: I think Rob had a lot of issues, because he created a lot of really cool shit for Marvel that's still exploited today. For me, when we walked into the X-Men summit, I was fully prepared to pitch Cyberforce as an offshoot to X-Men; and I remember Rob spoke to me later; he was sitting there going, "Dude, don't tell them. Don't tell them!"

Liefeld: Yeah, that's when I changed…

Silvestri: Changed the conversation. So I just took the idea and went, "That's a perfect launching book for me personally with Image. So screw you, I'll keep that." But Rob…

Liefeld: I don't have any regrets; there's never been a time ever I've said, "Oh, I should have kept Cable or Deadpool for me." It wouldn't have worked. Outside of the X-Men family, Cable and Deadpool just didn't work; I keep telling people this. Todd and Eric were working on the brightest icon of the company. Spider-Man is the crown jewel. I was asked to fill a book and turn around sales-wise, where the month prior had starred a character called Birdbrain that looked like Big Bird for Sesame Street, and I'm like, "I'm screwed."

So I decided, if I'm going to do my job and excel at Marvel, I better start filling it with something cool soon because there's nothing cool in it from page 1 to page 22. And I'm sorry, and it's probably made my career, but that was the best act ever to follow because I couldn't miss. So I threw Cable and those characters in. But no, again Todd, I love him, he'd be, "What are you doing? Can't you just create them something else? " And I'm like, "Hell, Todd, I've got a million of these." And you know what? I don't regret. Youngblood, Supreme Prophet, Glory those are mine. So I'm in that weird position that it worked out well for me. But you know what? No regrets.

McFarlane: Take a look at the books that I wrote Spider-Man. I just regurgitated all the old guys. I can do Lizard cooler, I can do the Ghost Rider cooler, I can do the Hulk cooler. I decided, well, I'm not giving them any of my shit. I'll just do theirs cooler.

Valentino: The thing about Rob, he told me this once, we're driving down the road, and he's looking at this car in front of us, and he's like scoping up the name, and he goes, "What are you doing?" "Brahma, that's a cool name for a character." He can get car names and make a character out of them.

Liefeld: No, Brahma was a… and there was a Cougar.

Valentino: Cougar was a car.

Larsen: I remember the first time I drove to the Image office, I turned right, and it's like Katella Avenue and I'm like, "That's the alien race in a comic." And then I think I turned round another corner and it was another name from Youngblood.

Silvestri: Captain Acura.Ron Richards, Erik Larsen, Whilce Portacio, Robert Kirkman, Todd McFarlane, Marc Silvestri

McFarlane: I was with my wife, wanted to go get a bottle of wine, I don't drink, she does, fine. I'll sit in the car. And I was sitting, parked someplace I shouldn't have. And a sign was there, we've all seen it before, and it said, "No Parking. Violators will be towed." And I go, "Violators? That's cool. That's a cool name." That's how I got that name.

Larsen: In terms of myself? Yeah, there's a couple of characters that I did design that I kind of regretted, going, "I should have just kept them." Because I remember I was showing Todd a cover with Cardiac on it and he goes, "Oh, that guy is pretty cool. Did you give them that?" And I was like, at that point, "God, I should have just erased him and drew some idiot there. I'll keep that."

Kirkman: Yeah, I pitched like two Cardiac series while I was at Marvel, and I'm like, "What? Why?"

Man: So I want to thank Robert and everybody else up there because he told me that Image United will be coming to an end this year.

Kirkman: No, I said don't quote me on that.

Fan: Oh.

Kirkman: Nice last question. We almost made it to the end. I know it doesn't help you at all or any of you guys in the audience, but I can say, I've seen a ton of pages from issues 4 and 5, and it is going slowly. And I think if we all had time, we would all apologize for that, but I…

Man: We are definitely…

Kirkman: Hold on, let me talk, don't make this worse. I can say that everybody is hard at work at it, and it will eventually wrap up; it's just a matter of getting it all done. But we definitely want to do that. Everybody except for Erik.

Silvestri: Yeah, and for the record, it was Erik's idea.

Liefeld: If we wanted it to suck, we would have scribbled it out, and you'd have it, and it would be a piece of crap.

McFarlane: I just want to go on the record and say, to me I go, "It's going to be fucked." But everybody else was in, so I went with the team and I go, be careful what you wish for, Erik, If you're with seven creative people in a room and expect to come up with something logical at the end of it.

Man: I saw the The Beat at Newsarama and it looks like it's gonna be crazy. But my question is that, with all the success of the animation movies, are there any Image animated movies coming out?

Silvestri: Like Image…?

Man: Animation movies: from the founders or from anyone inside the banner…

Silvestri: Feature films?

Man: Yeah. Even things for television, or that go straight to DVD.

Silvestri: Have you seen the Witchblade anime?

Man: Yes.

Silvestri: Well, there's one thing and Todd, with Spawn.

McFarlane: No. Robert and I will be doing a couple of meetings. People have been bugging us.

Kirkman: What?

Silvestri: He hates that, by the way.

Liefeld: You're doing a couple of what?

McFarlane: We're going to be doing a couple of meetings with Hollywood because they have been bugging us about Haunt. So we got a couple of people that are pretty serious about wanting to get that thing moving. So we'll see what happens in the next month or two.

Silvestri: In true Image form, anything's possible, literally, so the answer is yes.

Don't miss the rest of our series of interviews with the Image founders!

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