IMAGE @20: MARC SILVESTRI - 'Egos Just Part of the Game'

IMAGE @20: MARC SILVESTRI

Even Marc Silvestri admits there were some hefty "egos" involved in the founding of Image.

But without those egos, he says, it never would have happened, because taking a chance on creator-owned comics takes a certain kind of self-confidence anyway.

"You had to have those strong personalities who wanted to change things," Silvestri told Newsarama. "You don't take those kind of chances and you're not out there in the public eye enough to take those chances unless you have an ego that's driving it."

 

It's been 20 years since Silvestri and six other comic book creators founded Image Comics. Their move represented not only the formation of comics' third largest publisher, but it put an importance on creator ownership that still drives the philosophy of Image 20 years later.

When Silvestri launched Image Comics in 1992 — with Erik Larsen, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Whilce Portacio, Todd McFarlane and Jim Valentino — the group advocated self-ownership of characters and concepts.

Silvestri soon started his own studio, Top Cow, under the umbrella of Image. And although Silvestri left Image briefly when there were disputes among the Image partners — thanks to those aforementioned egos — he soon returned. And under the Top Cow and Image label, he created hit series like Cyberforce, Witchblade and The Darkness.

Newsarama has been looking at the legacy of that event in 1992 when seven artists decided to start Image Comics. We've been talking to the people who were involved and discussing the issues that prompted the move.

In the sixth installment of our series, we talk to Silvestri about what happened 20 years ago, how it affected creator rights, and why the mistakes and egos involved in those early years aren't regrets.

Newsarama: Marc, what was the status of creator rights when you guys were still doing work-for-hire stuff before the founding of Image Comics, and what was the feeling that motivated the move toward forming Image?

Marc Silvestri: Well, here's the thing. No one has ever necessarily not had the ability for creator rights or creator ownership. But before Image, the question was, well, how are you going to do that? Because it's a very scary prospect. Neal Adams was doing creator owned stuff years before, and Frank Miller was dabbling in that, and there were others. So there was always that option. But it was a very scary and dangerous option, to put out a new creation, because not a lot of people were doing it, and it was tough to get noticed in that atmosphere.

 

I think what Image did best, and I think how Image did change things, is really just giving people a choice, a safer choice. For us, obviously Image works because of the time we did it and the fact that it was seven of us. And it was a group of people who the readers felt "mattered" in the industry, all banded together to try something new.

The effect was pretty strong. For a little while, and I realize it was a short window, and I'm not necessarily saying this was a good thing, but for a little while, the creators actually because more important than the creations. That sounds awful now, but the truth is that it's what allowed Image to thrive.

Eventually, the characters did take over the creators. The hoopla died down a little bit, as far as who we were. And then our characters started to take the forefront.

But the key was, we controlled those characters. We owned them and we could do what we wanted.

Nrama: When you guys left Marvel and started this initiative, you invited a lot of people to join you that didn't take you up on the offer, didn't you?

Silvestri: Yeah, we offered that deal to a ton of people. We said, "Come on aboard!" We were like, "Come on! Come on!"

But there were only seven of us who took that leap of faith. We could only get seven of us, and no writers.

That shows how scary it was to have creator-owned and creator rights. It wasn't something most people thought they could do. It wasn't something they saw as "safe," because the second you do that, you lose a certain amount of security.

Now that there is an Image Comics, you can see that it can work. And of course, the best example of that is Robert Kirkman. It works. You've got to work at it. Nobody's going to hand it to you. But if you're willing to do it, it works.

For us, that's the best option for creator rights today. If you want to have complete control of your destiny, come on over to Image and do it. If you don't, if you would rather just work on Spider-Man or Batman, that's fine too. It's up to you. There are people who grew up and that's all they ever wanted to do, was draw Spider-Man. More power to you.

But if you don't want that, there are options now. That's our best legacy.

Nrama: Do you think, with the reaction from the industry in 1992, do you feel there were other changes made, even if it was only in the attitude of creators?

Silvestri: I think Marvel was forced to change things. They handed out what I think was called "super contracts." But it was monetary. There was no ownership offered.

 

That's not to say the money piece of it wasn't important back then. Everyone was selling comics in much higher numbers then. I think in the early days of Image, that paid for some nice homes for people who worked with us.

I think there was immediate change, though. I don't think the creator rights changed for awhile. But certainly, those monetary changes came about after Image was founded, because Marvel and DC were forced to make those changes based on the fact that, once people saw it was working for us, they did start to want to not just dip their toe in the new pond, but maybe the whole foot.

Nrama: I know there's been talk over the years about forming a union for comic creators. What did you think about the idea then, what do you think about it now, and do you think it could ever happen?

Silvestri: Personally, I don't think that's a good idea. I think that's the fastest route to getting rid of comics. But what I do think is a good idea is creator ownership and creator rights. I think that's a good idea.

If you're going to unionize, then have everyone in this industry pull together and get health care and a good discount or whatever. That part of it makes sense. But besides that, the other benefits of a union don't apply because the industry just isn't a big enough industry to support that.

I think the most important thing today, and what's contemporary today, is the choice you have now of creating something that you control. I think that's the biggest issue in this industry. Just having that option to own your creation.

Whether unionizing is a good idea? Eh... I don't know. I've never had that conversation or argument with anyone, so I don't know how much of a hot button it is today. I know that it was years ago. I think Neal Adams was kind of at the forefront of that, if I'm not mistaken. But nothing really happened with it. And that's probably due to the fact that comics are a very specific industry that runs a specific way. A radical change like that maybe wouldn't be healthy with an industry this small right now. But I don't know.

I'm just happy that Image was able to help, at least, launch this choice, this other option for people.

Nrama: There are also egos involved, and that would affect the ability of a union to stick together, right? I mean, you guys dealt with that when you started Image, didn't you?

Silvestri: What? [laughs] Nah...

Nrama: Uh huh. But Marc, looking back, do you feel good about the directions that each of you took, and how Image evolved? Any regrets? After all, you left Image for awhile...

Silvestri: With the benefit of history, I can look back and go, even the mistakes were inevitable growing pains. So I feel good about it. And mistakes were made. I won't try to sweep that under the rug here. Mistakes were made.

But for every mistake, there was an monumental advance.

 

I think the fact that it was seven, then six, then five... [laughs] pretty strong personalities at the helm of this, you couldn't expect everyone to agree on every single thing. But you had to have all those people involved because that's the only way this could have happened. You had to have people that, for various reasons, did not want to do the "status quo" anymore. You had to have those strong personalities who wanted to change things. We all had our reasons, and it was different. But it had to happen that way and it had to happen with the people that it happened with.

But with that, like you said, it brought some egos into the room. Certainly, you don't take those kind of chances and you're not out there in the public eye enough to take those chances unless you have an ego that's driving it, among other things.

Nrama: What motivated you personally to join with the other who were founding Image Comics?

Silvestri: For me, I had been in comics for awhile, and I felt like I'd reached the pinnacle, drawing the X-Men. In comics, back in the '90s, you couldn't go any further than that. That was it, you know?

So I was thinking, "Jeez, now what do I do?" You know? It was like, "I can't draw the X-Men or Wolverine for the rest of my life."

So Image hit perfectly for me, as far as where I was in my career.

It also revitalized my interest in comics. It gave me all these new options.

And I think all of us, back in that day, we like options. We like not being told "no."

I think that was the key. We hated being told "no." And we hated being told what to do. And if you're working for somebody else, you're going to be told what to do. They're paying the checks.

We didn't like editors telling us, "you can't do that." We didn't like pitching ideas at Marvel and hearing, "nah, we don't want to do that." I would react by thinking, "Well, I want to do that."

 

And I think that spirit motivated us and got us through the crazy times. It really helped us. It's like life itself. Life is aggressive and changes need to be made, and they don't just happen to you. You have to make them happen.

For us, we had to have an aggressive attitude toward what we wanted to do. You had to go all in. You had to go balls in to make it happen. And that's what we did. We all went all in.

I think once we saw that things work a certain way, even with the fighting and the bickering and what-have-you, the public and private spats, those were all growing pains that, 20 years later, we have Image Comics. People have the option of creator ownership now. It's not a scary place anymore to step away from the safety net of a big company.

Nrama: It's also timely to talk about that "option" because of the reaction from many fans over the decision to let other creators dabble in the world that Alan Moore created in Watchmen. You have to wonder if Alan would have signed that contract if he was coming up with those ideas after the formation of Image Comics.

Silvestri: Yeah. I suppose it depends on the individual. I don't know Alan Moore. I respect his work completely. I've never met him, but I'd like to someday. But really, it depends on the individual.

Frank Miller stuck his neck out there after Batman, took some chances. And Rob Liefeld was publishing Youngblood outside of Marvel. That was obviously the beginning of Image Comics, and that was a big risk for him. So it depends.

There are still people who are very happy working for Marvel and DC. And they get their paid page rate. And if it's a good, big book, they get their royalty. And that's it. And they're completely happy with that.

 

And I respect that. That's where I started. That's where all the Image partners started. And we'd be shoveling bullsh*t if we thought Image would even exist if none of us worked for Marvel first and got our name out there, and became famous because of that. Image would not have worked if it was just seven guys coming off the street and saying, "Hey, we're doing a comic book!"

So yeah, it's an individual choice, today. So whether or not Alan Moore would have done that back then? In that particular case? I don't know. I have a feeling he might have. He certainly would have had an option that didn't exist before that.

Nrama: Then to finish up, Marc, is there anything else you want to say about the 20th anniversary of Image Comics?

Silvestri: How about: Nee ner nee ner nee ner! [laughs]

Nrama: Is that your way of saying, "We're still here despite what the naysayers predicted?"

Silvestri: Yeah. You know, I mean, literally, I was getting calls from the powers-that-be over at Marvel saying, "You know, you're just going to be back here in six months. I don't know what the hell's wrong with you."

And that was 20 years ago. So with all the growing pains, and with everything... I'm sure I could speak for all the Image guys: We wouldn't change anything. Look where we are today. Look at where Todd is and where we are with Top Cow. Erik's drawing his 500th issue of Dragon right now, or whatever number that is. And he's happy as a clam. It's something that he could never do working for someone else.

What Image did was give people the chance to do what they wanted to do, and have a choice in the matter.

Life's what you make it, and that's what we did with Image. And that's the offer that's out to everybody now.

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