Image United, the six-issue "jam session" with six of the artists who founded the publishing company 17 years ago, hits stores in November with a story by the newest Image partner, Robert Kirkman.
Including art from Erik Larsen, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Whilce Portacio, Marc Silvestri and Jim Valentino, the comic brings together six of the seven artists that made comic book history in 1992 when they left Marvel Comics to start their own company where creators own their properties.
With Image United, the six artists are doing something unique in comic books – each artist will draw the characters he created, meaning sometimes one page might have six artists working on it, sending pages back and forth until they're all done.
Now that the series is actually happening – something a lot of fans wondered about, since a few of the artists involved aren't exactly known for their recent timeliness – Newsarama is talking to these Image founders in a feature we're calling Image United Weekly.
Last time, we talked with Larsen about the project and found out Kirkman was "cracking the whip" and "herding" the artists in the direction they need to go. Larsen, who is doing most of the layouts for the pages before they're distributed to the other artists, said it's a "kick to see your layouts turn into a McFarlane drawing or a Silvestri drawing."
This week, we talk with Valentino, who served as publisher at the company from 1999 to 2003 and has since overseen his own Shadowline imprint within Image Comics. As we talked to the artist, we found out he's enjoying the chance to work together with his cohorts at Image, and has no doubt he'll make every deadline.
Newsarama: We've talked before about how this whole project came together. But what was your personal motivation to do this? Why did the project and the opportunity appeal to you in particular?
Jim Valentino: I’ve likened this project to musicians jamming. They do so not merely for the joy of making music, but also to see how another artist approaches his work, the choices he makes. It’s the same for me here; seeing how Erik lays a page out, then Rob’s or Marc’s interpretation, Whilce or Todd’s choice of line weight. It’s a way of seeing how they think and in some ways, re-thinking one’s own approach. That’s what appealed the most to me. Plus, I respect all of these guys and love their work, so just seeing it is cool—seeing the juxtaposition between their divergent styles is cool for me. It makes me feel like a fan again.
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?
Valentino: Eye of the hurricane. We were in the middle of that maelstrom. I’ve met several people who were in the Image Tent in Chicago ’92 and I always ask for their perception of it, just to see what it was like from the outside. From the inside it was exciting, exhilarating, and exhausting. It was a life changing experience for me and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Nrama: With this project, do the words Image United have more than one meaning? What do they mean to you?
Valentino: Well, the obvious double meaning would be that the founders, as well as the characters, unite. So, I liken it to the Unification Theory of the (Image) Universe. [laughs] Einstein is rolling over in his grave!
On a personal note I’ve long been a proponent of a more interactive singular universe rather than a bunch of self-contained universes, and that is one of the stated goals of this story, to make a more interactive universe.
Nrama: What do you think of the story? How would you describe it?
Valentino: Big apocalyptic mega-crossovers are difficult to do in that you have to respect the individual character, especially when they’re all creator-owned, while attempting to affect genuine change to the status quo. Robert has been doing a great job, probably because he’s more reverent to these characters than we, the creators, are.
Here’s the thing that seems to have slipped through because we’ve been keeping such a tight lid on what happens, but in most cases, with most of these characters, this story will alter the status quo of the Image Universe.
“Worlds will live, worlds will die” has become a much misused cliché over the last several years, but with Image United, Robert, and all the rest of us, want to turn it into an axiom.
Nrama: What character are you working on?
Valentino: My primary focus is on ShadowHawk, although several other characters I’ve created appear in the story. Unfortunately, I can’t really say what happens to him without giving away some major story points. I can say to keep a close eye on Issues #4 and #5, because events there will be surprising.
Nrama: What's the process been like over the last year of working on Image United?
Valentino: Oh, God! Well, we’ve threatened to publish the back and forth e-mails between the boys. Trust me, it would be enormously entertaining. I’ve also threatened to do a parody book called Image Untied about it all. But all in all, it’s been a lot of fun working on the book, and hanging with the guys at various shows. It’s been creatively rejuvenating.
Nrama: Have you guys hit any snafus?Valentino: Oh, tons of them! This is a complex project but the way we overcome them is the same way families or groups do — we throw a fit, threaten to walk, then realize it isn’t big a deal, find a solution and move on. In all the years we’ve been together, I don’t believe that we have ever encountered a problem that was insurmountable.
Nrama: Are you feeling good about your ability to get all the issues done in a timely manner?
Valentino: I’m in the unique position of not being on a monthly book at present, so no, I have no fears about my ability to hit a deadline. Just walk away from the computer, slide a DVD in, and start working. But I’ve never had a problem with deadlines. I always put in a full day and was capable of producing two books a month when I was up to speed. Of course, I’m 700 now, so I’m a bit slower, but no, I turn things around quickly.
Nrama: What has the experience been like for you, placing those characters into the story and seeing them interact in this way?
Valentino: Oh, I love it! I’m a big fan of all of the other characters and I’ve also preferred group and team-up books — so for me, it’s an absolute joy. I love placing two characters together and seeing how they’ll interact and, as noted, Robert is a really big fan of all of these characters and he really goes out of his way to ensure that he doesn’t miss a beat with their personalities, back stories and whatnot, so it’s very cool. It brings me back to when I was a fan — that same level of excitement and enjoyment.
Nrama: If someone else was planning to do a comic the same way, what advice would you have for them?
Valentino: No advice, just three small words: “ARE YOU
That’d pretty much cover it. Luckily, we insane, so it all works out.
Nrama: Do you think this experience has shaped the way your company will work in the future?
Valentino: Not really, no. I’ll continue along the path I’m on and, I suspect, the others will continue along the path they’re on. That, to me, has always been the best thing about Image; we allow ourselves and one another the freedom and autonomy to choose our own path.
Now, that said, we are all discussing ways to make our universe a bit more interactive. This will manifest in ways other than just major character team-ups and crossovers. You may see a news reporter from one book show up in another, perhaps a mention of a supporting character, whatever works for the scene. That would be nice as it would be far closer to the early Marvel universe, where you’d spot Millie the Model at Reed and Sue’s wedding. No one does stuff like that anymore and I think it would be nice to get back to that.