It's something that hasn't been tried before. Six superstar artists working together, sharing pages and drawing their respective characters interacting on a singe comic book series.
And in the case of Image United, what makes it even more groundbreaking is that these artists are six of the seven founders of Image Comics, the company that made comic book history in 1992 when Erik Larsen, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Whilce Portacio, Marc Silvestri, Jim Valentino and Jim Lee left Marvel to give creator-owned projects a new foothold in the industry.
Now six of the founders (without Lee, who has moved his WildStorm characters to DC Comics) are doing something pretty revolutionary with Image United – a project being written by the latest Image partner, Robert Kirkman. Each artist will draw the characters he created, meaning sometimes one page might have all six artists working on it, a process that is forcing them to send the pages back and forth to each other until they are completed.
Very little of the story before now has been revealed, except for the surprise announcement that the main villain in Image United would be Al Simmons, the original Spawn. But Larsen told us two weeks ago that "the notion of it is that the character Fortress has seen a vision of a world in which everything has gone really screwy, and it's all the fault of the Image characters not acting in a way and doing things in a way they should have been to have things go right. So it's a lot like a 'Days of Future Past' type story."
"'Worlds will live, worlds will die' has become a much misused cliché over the last several years," admitted Valentino last week, "but with Image United, Robert, and all the rest of us, want to turn it into an axiom."
This week, we get more information on the process behind Image United and its story from Liefeld, who's getting to draw characters like Youngblood and Supreme.
Newsarama: Rob, we've talked before about how you guys put together this project. But what was your personal motivation to do this? Why did the project and the opportunity appeal to you in particular?
Rob Liefeld: Great question. So many answers. I was motivated by working with all my talented peers at Image, I was motivated by the process of creating this very unique project, I was motivated by fulfilling a promise of sorts for our fans that I don't believe we ever really delivered on. Back in 1992, we told everyone that we were going to work together and share characters and build a shared experience, and after a brief period at the outset, we fell away from that and never really returned to it. Image United delivers on all those early aspirations.
Nrama: Looking back, the founding of Image Comics has come to mean a lot of things to a lot of people. How do you remember that time?
Liefeld: I remember that time when we created Image as a breaking of the old guard. We shattered the system from all angles. From comics' production, distribution, publishing, storytelling, design, we ushered in a new era.
Marvel and DC were powerhouses and Image rose up and really shook things up. DC was much more affected than Marvel; I mean, we leapt over DC with only 8 comic books to become the #2 publisher in 1992. Talk about a shock to the system. We certainly didn't see it coming. Image kicked off an absolute frenzy; it affected every aspect of our business, good and bad. No one had any idea that Image was going to erupt as it did.
I was in my young 20's – I was 23 in 1992 – and I remember it all as one of the best times in my life. For fans that I have had the opportunity to speak to over the years, Image meant a great deal to them as they followed our careers and our characters with great personal investment. The industry was booming as Image emerged and our fans remember the roller coaster ride as one of their favorite experiences. Some of them who were disappointed that the company fractured are freaked out by the promise of Image United.
Nrama: With this project, do the words Image United have more than one meaning to you?
Liefeld: Well, as we the original founders have united, so have the characters, in ways that they have not in years. There's so much cross-pollination right now, lots of sharing and future sharing of concepts and characters. It's giving the company a big shot in the arm.
Nrama: What do you think of the story? How would you describe it?
Liefeld: I think the story is a classic good vs. evil story that pits Image Comics' greatest heroes against their greatest villains, and I know first hand that it will shake up the characters and titles involved in the story. But at its most basic, its great fun, with a mystery or two to be revealed with some great action to boot. The characters are united by multiple threats and respond as heroes do, they fight for what they believe to be right. Throw some time travel in there for good measure. There's a sub-plot where we creators all go back in time to 1992 and ship our books on time! Look out!!!
Nrama: What characters are you working on, and what role do the characters play in the story?
Liefeld: So far I've drawn everyone from the Youngblood team to Bloodstrike, Supreme, Brigade... and there's way more to come. Plenty of villains as well. Chapel, Blackrock, Overtkill... Robert Kirkman is fitting it all in along the way. It's fun to get the pages and see all of Larsen's characters, Valentino's, Silvestri's, McFarlane's, everyone's villains and supporting casts are making appearances throughout the series.
Nrama: What's the process been like over the last year of working on Image United?
Liefeld: It's a series of fits and starts, bursts and stops. You complete a batch of pages and then send those off and wait for another batch from the next guy. But it hasn't been a hindrance, since we started the whole process 14 months ago.
Nrama: Have you guys hit any snafus?
Liefeld: No, not yet. Fed Ex losing a package would be a snafu. My dog eating pages would be a snafu. We are all pros we know how to respond to pressure, deadlines, crazy shipping of pages. Expectations are everything and I keep expecting pages to get lost, so as long as that doesn't happen, I'm good.
Nrama: Are you feeling good about your ability to get all the issues done in a timely manner?
Liefeld: Absolutely, the pages keep coming in and going out the door. We'll hit our marks.
Nrama: What has the experience been like for you, placing those characters into the story and seeing them interact in this way?
Liefeld: The whole experience is great, great fun. I can't stress enough that I've never ever experienced anything like this as a fan, and I'm always in fan mode on this. Reading Robert's scripts, seeing how he is mixing up the universe and how the characters are being divided is a big thrill. Knowing I'll be sharing a page with Todd or Marc or Whilce or everybody is a rush. The process of teaming the characters as well as the creators keeps the whole thing fresh.
Nrama: If someone else was planning to do a comic the same way, what advice would you have for them?
Liefeld: Start early.
Nrama: Do you think this experience has shaped the way your company will work in the future?
Liefeld: This is a once-in-a-lifetime event. I know others could imitate the process, but for me, this is once-in-a-lifetime, getting the guys who founded the company together for a cross-over event featuring their original characters. I do believe that Image United is a re-branding of Image Comics to new audiences and a surge for the fans that have been waiting for something like this since the company's launch.