IMAGE COMICS Continues Creating Alternative to Superheroes

Chew #35
Credit: Image Comics

In case you haven't noticed, genre comics have populated the comic racks again, especially ones with the Image logo in the corner, like East of West, Rat Queens, Revival, The Walking Dead, Fatale and many more. Image Comics held a panel at Comic-Con to discuss the resurgence of genre comics and on the panel were Ron Marz, Kurtis J. Wiebe, Mike Norton, Tim Seeley, Frank Barbiere, John Layman, Ed Brubaker, and Ron Richards moderated and asked them questions about their own books, adding something unique to genre comics, understanding what genres stick with audiences, and how much they absorb what's already been done.

Credit: Image Comics

Richards opened up the panel by asking why there's been a recent comeback in genre comics, a phenomena that hasn't happened since the 1940s and 1950s. "Comics have been dominated by superhero comics but I think the bubble burst on it awhile ago." Seeley said. "They do an event, then they kill a guy, then bring him back, if you've been around comics for awhile, you start to recognize the patterns."

Seeley believes that part of the surge could be the effort by individual creators who have build a following amongst fans and retailers and are stepping out to do genre stories with their own sensibilities; readers are excited by the various takes.

Marz thinks the allure is two-fold. "As superhero comics have become more corporate and editorially controlled, we want to do other things, we want to have other outlets for what we do. Frankly, it's kinda cool to make shit up and you don't much of a chance to do that at Marvel or DC anymore. You're playing with their toys. Exploring different genres is the way we can play with the toys we make up ourselves. The fact that you guys are embracing this stuff, in shops and digitally, instead of blindly gobbling whatever event whatever event the big two are putting in front of you allows us to do this."

There are challenges along the way, like pitching a book concisely and trying to market the book so it has the best chance of survival at the start. Also evaluating the book to see if it's touching a nerve is a challenge and that's where reader feedback and social networking is becoming more helpful.

But the most important task is establishing a visual look is what has helped the panelists get their books on track. "In a comic, the look of the art is the biggest thing." Brubaker declared. "This is what it will feel like. In Marvel sometimes you're writing for one artist and another steps in and it's a disaster."

Norton's art on Revival has set it apart from other horror books that are full of black space and distressed visuals. "I think that's what makes our book a scary book because they don't see the usual visual cues," Norton said. "If you're doing a war story, I think you need to be able to set the atmosphere. Not being the typical Bernie Wrightson artists helped us."

On the writing side of things, Seeley explained that the genre tropes are developed by multiple people, movies and television shows. "Once they're there, the best part is subverting the tropes." While other genres, like Wiebe's World War Peter Panzerfaust, research is important to sell the reader, "I'm trying to keep it historically accurate so I have timelines for each character. It doesn't always show up in the story, but it supports the rest of the story."

Brubaker does a mixture of reading and watching movies for his research. "When I do period stuff, I always watch movies from that era, which is fake anyway, then you watch movies 20 years later that are about that same era and they're more accurate. I read a lot of non-fiction about whatever the subject matter is. Currently I've been reading spy novels from the 60s and 70s and books about the cold war." At the end of the day though, Brubaker said that he's writing fiction, not fact.

That felt like too much work for Layman who admitted that the only research he does for Chew is looking up Greek and Latin root words for the names of the different powers, which was basically one long hard day of work. Different comics call for different measures but Marz said that "the veneer of truth is more important than getting every detail right."

One genre currently under-represented was romance comics. Everyone on the panel except Layman agreed that they'd like a greater presence, some even wanted to try and tackle that genre some day. "Saga's a romance comic," said Brubaker. "But it's considered sci-fi. Fatale's a romance comic, except everyone who she falls in love with dies." At the rate that genres are being covered, someone will come up with a great romance comic before too long. The panel said they'd be interested in covering westerns too and then teen sex comedies came up but Brubaker said that Sex Criminals is part crime comic, existential time travel story and teen sex comedy all in one.

Marz made a wonderful analogy that drove home the theme of the panel, that there are so many stories to tell and read. "There are artists and writers who got into this business to do superheroes, and are doing superheroes and that's cool. There will be plenty of intellectual properties that mega-corporations will want you to prop up for them. I don't mean anyone specific. I love pizza, but I don't want to eat it three meals a day, seven days a week. I just don't want to keep doing the same thing. I would love to do anything that comes down the pipe or any idea that occurs to me. I want a smorgasbord, not just pepperoni and cheese."

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