Return with us now to the heady days of 1992. It was the spring, a time of endless possibilities . . . like multiple distributors, fancy covers, new comic shops everywhere, and proliferating comic companies. That’s right, kids. It was a boom, and one of the biggest bangs was about to happen. But first . . .
Where Were You in ’92?: In the Spring of 1992, I was finishing my freshman year in college. Lucas Siegel was finishing his fifth grade lunch. And David Pepose was finishing a rough day of fingerpaints and napping at Kindergarten.
What Else Was Up?: “60 Minutes” and a flotilla of sitcoms (“Roseanne”, “Murphy Brown”, “Cheers”, “Home Improvement”, “Designing Women”, “Coach” and “Full House”) ruled TV. Relevant to us, both the Sci-Fi Channel and Cartoon Network get rolling. At the movies, the big bank-makers were “Aladdin”, horrible aberration “Home Alone 2”, “Batman Returns”, “Lethal Weapon 3”, and “A Few Good Men”. Music had gone completely insane, as huge success was experienced by Boyz II Men, Garth Brooks, Nirvana, Guns N’ Roses, Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sir Mix-A-Lot and more. Country went mainstream, R&B and hip-hop exploded, alternative rock continued to break huge, and hair metal waned (leaving only Metallica and GNR as chart-toppers).
In Comics . . .: It’s mind-blowing to consider what was still being published at that point. Gaiman/Buckingham’s penultimate issue of the aborted Miracleman run was just coming out. Issue #23 of the second volume of The Elementals hit with a May cover date. There was Cerebus, Bone . . . Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was still running under Mirage in the original numbering . . . we had The Sandman, but it was still Pre-Veritgo . . . there are so many more. It’s pretty amazing to consider; things were Happening.
The sales landscape had changed, too. Comics were selling in pretty staggering number. None more staggering than a trio of Marvel launches between 1990 and 1991: Spider-Man, X-Force, and X-Men. Those issues sold literally millions of copies, including 8.3 million for “X-Men” (buttressed of course by four interlocking variant covers and a fifth cover that was a pullout of the other four). It’s hard to argue that sales weren’t at least in part powered by the artists on those respective books: Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld, and Jim Lee.
You know what happened next. That trio (along with Erik Larsen, Marc Silvestri, Jim Valentino, and Whilce Portacio) formed the group that would become Image Comics. The emphasis would be on the creators (obviously, with a leaning toward the artist) and their ownership, and the company, despite various changes, continues to this day. It’s appropriate to look at this now, given the fact that Image United, the project that features the founders together again for the first time in years, is about to arrive.
But what about then? Let’s take a quick look at four of the early titles that happen to still be around.
Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood: Properly the first title, “Youngblood” has gone through a number of different incarnations and relaunches over the years. “Youngblood” has historically taken the greatest critical pounding due to issues as varied as scripting to lateness, but it did boast a well-received set of stories by Alan Moore that were never properly completed.
Todd McFarlane’s Spawn: The biggest immediate hit, “Spawn” of course laid the groundwork for McFarlane’s very successful toy company. “Spawn” also made it to the big screen and to HBO in animated series form. Though it completed the original arc of the first Spawn, Al Simmons, it’s quite apparent that Simmons has a new, diabolical role to play in “Image United”.
Jim Lee’s WildC.A.T.s: “WildC.A.T.s” also found early success in toys and animation. However, the book now resides with the rest of the Wildstorm Universe at DC, to whom Lee sold his creation in 1999. Lee became editorial director, and remains so, as well as continuing to be a heavy artistic presence at DC on various projects.
Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon: In many ways, “Dragon” can be held up as Image’s flagship book. It has, really, been the one that stuck closest to the original conception of Image, as Larsen continues to be the writer and artist of his own creation after all this time. It also received a toy line and the Saturday morning cartoon treatment in the mid-‘90s.
So, What Was It Like, Really?: My honest assessment of those days was that it was an extremely exciting time to be a reader of comics. I was 19, and it seemed like the whole media was exploding with energy. Of course, it would later be imploding, but that’s beside the point. It did seem for a while there that comics were beginning to rule the world. I was excited by the prospect of Image, but my interest waned over time. Over time, I’ve found various Image books to invest my time in, such as “The Walking Dead”, but it’s fun to recall the abject feeling that the whole of comics just had so much momentum. Bittersweet or not, that’s your Friday Flashback.