It's something that's unique in the comics business. Six superstar artists working together, sharing pages and drawing their respective characters interacting on a singe comic book series.But Image United is even more groundbreaking because 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.
With Issue #1 of the series being released next week, six of the founders (without Lee, who has moved his WildStorm characters to DC Comics) begin 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.
Image has revealed that the story's villain is Al Simmons, the original Spawn. As Larsen told Newsarama when we began our "Image United Weekly" conversations, "the notion of [the story] 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," Valentino said during his Image United interview, "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 Silvestri, who's getting to draw the characters he and his studio have made into what he calls modern icons.
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?
Marc Silvestri: When Erik had that wacky idea, which is what Erik does, I think he either pitched it to Rob or to Valentino first. I'm not sure who it was. But at first, we were kind of chuckling about it, like wouldn't it be fun – or funny, depending on how you looked at it – and the more we sat and talked about it, which we did out in Arizona when we did a signing at Atomic Comics, the more fun it sounded.
Initially, none of us were thinking in the sense that this would be a cool marketing thing. It never really dawned on us as anything other than the fact that we were wacky guys back in the day – just doing crazy crap just 'cause we wanted to and we thought it would be fun – and that's kind of the feeling I was getting from this. It seemed like a way for us to just have a good time. We were kind of bonding again together as partners and non-partners, just with the original guys, although Jim Lee couldn't be part of it, except for the blackmail cover. [laughs]
Also, for us, it's like a way for us to show the comic book community that we still have it, that we can still entertain and we can still have a good time while we're doing it. And do something unique in the sense that, who else can really draw their own creations today in a comic, page by page, panel by panel, against another guy who created his character and is also drawing a character. It's not something another company is going to do, or even could do.
It seemed to just strangely fit for us, because it was so unusual and out-of-the-box. Anyone who knows Image's history would say this is a perfect fit, simply because it is odd and kind of quirky and fun. It sounded like a perfect fit for us.
I think the fans are going to get into the spirit of the fun. And with Robert writing it, they're going get treated to a solid comic book story.Nrama: How would you describe the story?
Silvestri: I don't mean to sound trite with this, but I think it's a comic book fan's comic book, if that makes any sense at all. In a way, it's a throwback, but it's not a nostalgia trip. It's taking characters that I think a lot of people have affection for and putting them in a current situation that puts them through the wringer. And Robert's really good at that. And he's very respectful of source material. But we told him, look, be respectful of it, but don't hold back. You know? Destroy what you want to destroy. Come up with a story that makes sense, and it's believable that the Image Universe is now becoming a cohesive whole. Make it make sense that Savage Dragon is standing next to Sara Pezzini. Make it make sense that Spawn is standing next to Ripclaw. Rob is telling a great story, and I like it a lot.
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?
Silvestri: You know, I'm kind of curious how history's going to write that. And I believe we're going to be treated fairly and unfairly at the same time. Back in the early days of Image, it was a Wild West show in every sense. And I think people really followed us because of that, because the comic book industry was so stale and it was literally run by two companies. And both those companies has a set of rules that you had to follow. You created everything for them, and everything was multi-editorialed. And you had to tell stories within that universe with strict guidelines.
I think when Image busted out and the guys busted out with it, it made such an impact because it was such a shock. "You guys are leaving steady work! You guys are leaving a system that has been in place for decades! Generations before you have done comics this way. Comics have been published this way."
And what we realized was that comics had been published for decades with one massive, and I think almost criminal behavior, where the creators were marginalized. And I think, a lot of us had reached a pinnacle of our careers within that system. We had nowhere else to go.
For me, I was literally about to leave comics because I had nowhere else to go and I have nothing else to say. I was doing X-Men and Wolverine for years, and where you going to go beyond that, at that time?
So when this opportunity hit to be part of a company with creator-owned rights, and everything that meant, and the fact that the fans went with us and supported us in a way that allowed us to take some chances and allowed us to be generous with other creators, that was a heady two years before the marketplace started to calm down a bit and certain reservations were hitting in the marketplace. But up until that point it was, "Well, I want to do this." And we did it, good or bad.
I don't think things are ever going to come back at that level, but I think, hopefully, most of history will understand that Image ultimately was about creator rights and ultimately changed the way things were done in our business forever. It allowed people to have a say in what they create, and it allowed people to have a benefit outside just page rates in a way that wasn't there before.
Nrama: With this project, do the words Image United have more than one meaning? What do they mean to you?Silvestri: That title is very deliberate. It's the creators from the beginning, although we unfortunately couldn't get Jim Lee in there except for the cover, but for us it shows everyone and us that, look, we're not all partners anymore. There's only four of us, well five now with Robert, but we all still appreciate what we did. We all still appreciate what we're still doing. And we're united on this project. We're united in the fact that we still believe in the creator rights aspect of why Image was formed. We still believe in that.
And also, the other meaning is all these characters we've created over the years are also united. They're not just living in the McFarlane universe. They're not just living in the Top Cow universe. They're not just living in the Savage Dragon universe. They're living in the Image universe. And that's why it was important for Robert to write as many characters from back in the day into this story, interacting with each other.
So yeah, it definitely had double-meaning.
Nrama: What characters are you working on, and what role do they play in the story?
Silvestri: The Cyberforce characters are in there with updated looks, because we're relaunching Cyberforce. We're trying to acknowledge – showing how smart Robert is being about writing this – that yes, things have a history, but they're also changing. So in the case of Cyberforce, he's taking into account the fact that they're coming back as a new team with a new look, and he puts it into the storyline. So I get to draw that, which is a lot of fun. Plus it gives me an excuse to look back at those old Cyberforce books, which I haven't looked at in years. [laughs] Sometimes I kind of smile, sometimes I kind of cringe at what's in there back in the day. But it's fun to get my hands back in there and draw those characters.
I'm drawing Witchblade, who is always fun to draw. And Ripclaw, which is one of my favorites. Darkness shows up, and a few other characters from the Top Cow universe. So I got to draw quite a few characters.
Nrama: Does Witchblade play a key role?
Silvestri: Yeah. She does. Although Cyberforce starts to come in in a big way. But for the most part, it's her and Cyberforce. Darkness doesn't have a very big role in this. But Witchblade does, as do the members of Cyberforce.
The heroes are getting together to fight this new threat, which is a twist of a threat. It's uniting all those characters for a common goal, which is to basically save the Image universe. You know, we're not trying to save the Marvel universe, although if they want to lend us Wolverine, we can put him in there. [laughs] And DC, they destroy their universe every other week, so that's their issue.But yeah, Robert is going in there and blowing everything up and putting it back together in a story. And Sara is kind of unique in what she can do, her supernatural abilities. She brings to the table her issues in her character, just like Spawn does. Savage Dragon has a rich history, and he's going to have who he is as a major part of this story.
Robert's being very smart and very fair making sure we all get our time in the limelight, and making sure they all matter, which I think is very cool.
Nrama: Erik Larsen gave Newsarama a really detailed breakdown of how the process behind Image United works. You're working on original pages instead of emailing artwork to each other?
Silvestri: Yeah, that was something we decided on right off the bat. We wanted originals. We wanted people who were interested to actually hold a page in their hand and see it. One reason for it was a tip of the hat, kind of saying that, OK, comics are still here and they're still drawn on paper. Plus it's pretty unique to see one sheet of paper with six different artists working on it, each individual character.
Erik Larsen is laying out the issues. But all he's doing is figure placements. Beyond that, we're drawing our own characters. You just tell us where the hand basically goes or where the figure goes and we put it in there. And we get a description from Robert taped on the back of every single page so we all know what's going on, as a sample of the scripts so we don't lose track of anything. So we all know what our character's expressions are and what they're going to be saying and what they're doing.
And you just kind of put your characters in there, and it all goes around the loop. Each artist sends it to the next guy. Then it ends up at Image Central where Erik kind of fills in little gaps, like the background and stuff like that, just to make it look more cohesive. And then it goes to color.Nrama: Have you guys hit any snafus? We already heard a story about how you didn't draw a Cyberforce ship in there and the page required a patch. Does the process inevitably lead to stuff like that?
Silvestri: [laughs] Well the layout was so loose that I didn't realize there was a plane in the background! So I had to send a little patch, but it's a small thing. Erik noticed it and probably could have done it himself, but in the spirit of us all doing our own characters and their stuff, I sent a little patch.
That sort of thing happens on a fairly regular basis. It's going to continue to happen. But it doesn't take much to fix it. And the amazing thing is that the whole process is actually working. And at the end of it, when the fans pick it up, I believe they're going to completely buy into the concept. It's not a gimmick. We're not trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes or anything. This is exactly as advertised.
Nrama: What has the experience been like for you, placing those characters into the story and seeing them interact in this way?
Silvestri: Yeah, to draw one of my characters next to a Todd McFarlane Spawn is really cool. That's coming from a fan. That's coming from someone who is a fan of the character Spawn, but a fan of Todd's. So to be able to do a jam with him and do a jam with Erik, and Whilce, and everyone else, that's just so fun. And it's not just a cover, you know? This is a whole story. This is literally a jam mini-series, where every page has artists working together in almost every single panel. That's just fun. And it's fun to see the finished page. Whoever has it at the end posts it up and emails it to everyone, and we all kind of go "Oooooo! That's cool!"
And it raises the bar for everyone. You don't want to be the one guy who draws a lame figure on that page.
Nrama: Are you feeling good about your ability to get all the issues done in a timely manner?
Silvestri: Gee, why do you ask that? [laughs] What are you talking about?
No, that was a joke from day one, which is why we gave it to Robert to coordinate the whole thing, because he's so anal about the deadlines. Just the logistics seemed like it was going to be impossible, because there are all these people involved. It was daunting, especially as we were getting into it and seeing that there might be problems or like you said, snafus. There was also potential for something getting lost in the mail, so we scan things first so we at least have a record of it.
But as far as it getting out, it's going to get out on time. Quality is rule No. 1, because you want people to be entertained and glad they picked it up. And No. 2, it needs to get out there when it's supposed to be. We're all going to make sure that happens. We're confident that's going to happen. It's not really a worry of ours.
Plus Robert is emailing everybody every day, and Eric Stephenson is emailing everyone every day. They're basically calling anyone out that doesn't have a page in. And it's a great system, because it shames you into finishing the page. [laughs] There's a list of who has turned in a page, and who has not. And the "who has not" is in bold. And nobody wants to be in bold. They don't want to be the last guy. So everyone's racing to not be the guy holding up that page. Like, I have some pages right now that I'm constantly thinking I need to get into the mail so I'm not that guy.
But really, the fans shouldn't worry too much about us being late, because we're in competition to not be the late guy.
Nrama: If someone else was planning to do a comic the same way, what advice would you have for them?
Silvestri: Don't do it! [laughs]
No, you know, I can't think of who would do this. Or who could. These are modern icons with the original creators on them.
But if anyone were going to try to do it, I'd say they need to ask themselves why. We figured out why. It makes sense for us. That was No. 1, it made sense. And No. 2, it's fun. So make sure it's going to be something the people involved in can enjoy. The logistics will make you pull your hair out.
And make sure you've got a good writer on it. We do. We're in good hands there.
And have a good relationship with Federal Express! [laughs]
Nrama: Do you think this experience has shaped the way your company will work in the future?
Silvestri: Yeah, that little shame page is kind of effective. [laughs] But it just kind of shows that, and we all know this already in the publishing business, that it's a team effort. And when you have a team of people like this working on a book, you can really find a way to enjoy the work and make something special happen.Don't forget, Image Fans! We'll be hosting a live chat with ALL the creators involved in IMAGE UNITED on Tuesday night at 7:30 pm EST! Click Here for more information on the special event!