Getting Excited About Comics Again: Image Expo 2015

As those of you who read my monthly Pull List column here know, last year was the year I finally returned to comics after having abandoned them as a teenager. Well, specifically, it was the year I went back to superhero comics. I’d been reading alt comics and graphic novels for years—Preacher, Sandman, Hellboy, and Y: The Last Man hold a special place on my bookshelves—but even my readership in those had nosedived after my frustration with The Walking Dead comics put me off just about all illustrated works. Going back to capes meant going back to graphic novels, which lead directly to my belated discovery of Image Comics’ current output.

And that’s why I was so excited to attend Image Expo for the first time last week. I’ve been to a variety of SFF cons in the last few years, but had no idea what to expect with this one. It both surpassed and underwhelmed my expectations, but regardless I had a grand time. First off, it’s not a con, at least not in the way I thought it would be. I’m terrible at judging crowd sizes, but it seemed like there couldn’t have been more than two thousand people, if that. Which worked out perfectly in a venue as small as the Yerba Buena Arts Center in San Francisco.

Think about that for a second. There’s no way you get a series like Saga or Pretty Deadly or Sex Criminals at the Big Two. NO WAY. Moreover, not only is Image the only company publishing such creatively off-the-wall comics, but they’re the only ones doing it with rampant success. And despite keeping their pricing low—publisher Eric Stephenson believes “pricing should never be an obstacle for new readers”—according to the stats provided in the opening ceremonies, they’re up in both sales and units sold. They had double digit market share last year, and are only the second publisher outside Marvel and DC to achieve that. The first? Image Comics from 1993-2000.

Founded over 20 years ago down in SoCal, Image Comics now resides in Berkeley, and as soon as I heard that it all made so much sense. Image Comics is such a Bay Area kind of company. It’s one of the only companies out there that is really all about the comics. They don’t have a bottom line or a publishing agenda. They don’t have properties, franchises, and crossovers to promote or movie deals to secure. They want what the creators want at whatever pace the creators can provide it. Over and over again at Image Expo I heard creators and staff talking about how a writer was worried their idea wouldn’t fly with the publisher, only to have the publisher remind them that if the writer wanted to do it, they’d support them.

There were four panels, but I use that term loosely. Basically, it was a handful of creators in between interviews and signings chilling on a stage while being asked general questions by the moderator and audience members. Ostensibly, each panel had a theme, but it was rarely attended to. Straying from the topics at hand didn’t bother me. I just like listening to whatever the panelists have to say; it’s all interesting to me, more or less. Especially Kelly Sue DeConnick. I could listen to her take down the racist, homophobic patriarchy until the cows come home and still be enraptured. Feminist hero, that woman. When I grow up, I want to be a cross between her and Amanda Palmer.

And that’s where I spent my hours, sitting near the front, soaking it all in. I’m not much for signings except where they’re tacked onto author readings. It all seems so artificial and hollow to me, and I’d much rather hear what they have to say than be the hundredth person to have ten seconds to say how much I like their work and get their name scribbled on a poster I now am obliged to keep forever. Hearing their opinions and advice (in effect, getting to know them as people rather than celebrities) will get me to buy their comics a helluva lot more than a signing line ever will. That being said, the people I know who went to the signings had a grand time, so take my whinging with a grain of salt.

The only real negative the whole day was the lack of cosplayers. I freely admit that I didn’t cosplay either, but mostly because my outfits—Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye (Marvel), Mal from Lumberjanes (BOOM! Studios), and Dean Winchester (Supernatural)—are Image Comics inappropriate. There was a grand total of one cosplayer, and while her Amatersau (The Wicked + The Divine) was awesome, I wish there had been more. I mean, come on. It’s Image Comics, people! Not even a Deathface Ginny or a Suze? Disappointed.

Lastly…new comics! Image announced 22 titles this year, and almost all of them are on my wishlist. Of course, Pretty Deadly and Kaptara are top of the stack, but Tadaima, Paper Girls, and I Hate Fairyland are trailing close behind. What looks good to you?

  • 8House—Emma Ríos and Brandon Graham (June)
  • AD: After Death—Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire (November)
  • Black Road—Brian Wood, Garry Brown, and Lauren Affe (September)
  • Heaven – James Robinson and Philip Tan (2015)
  • I Hate Fairyland—Skottie Young (Fall)
  • Island—Emma Ríos and Brandon Graham (2015)
  • The Ludocrats—Kieron Gillen, David Lafuente, Jim Rossignol, and Ricardo Venacio (Summer)
  • Kaptara—Chip Zdarsky and Kagan McLeod (April)
  • Monstress—Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda (2015)
  • No Mercy—Alex de Campi, Carla Speed McNeil, and Jenn Manley Lee (Spring)
  • Paper Girls—Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang (2015)
  • Phonogram—Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie (2015)
  • Plutona—Jeff Lemire, Emi Lenox, and Jordie Bellaire (2015)
  • Pretty Deadly—Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Ríos (September)
  • Revengeance—Darwyn Cooke (June)
  • Run Love Kill—Eric Canete and Jon Tsuei (April)
  • Savior—Todd McFarlane, Brian Holguin, and Clayton Crain (April)
  • Sons of the Devil—Brian Buccellato and Toni Infante (Spring)
  • Spawn—Todd McFarlane (2015)
  • Starve—Brian Wood, Danijel Zezelj, and Dave Stewart (May)
  • Tadaima—Emi Lenox (2015)
  • We Stand on Guard—Brian K. Vaughan and Steve Skroce (Summer)

Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.

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