SDCC '08 - Image Founders Unite (Literally) in Image United

Image United will give a whole new meaning to the term "jam session."

As announced at San Diego Comic-Con on Friday, the Image United mini-series that debuts next year will be created by six of the artists who founded the publishing company 16 years ago -- Marc Silvestri, Erik Larsen, Jim Valentino, Rob Liefeld, Whilce Portacio, and Todd McFarlane -- along with the newest Image partner, writer Robert Kirkman. But what is really different about this jam session is that each artist will draw the characters he created -- sometimes meaning one scene of the series will have six artists working on it.

"It's a huge, unprecedented comic book event," Kirkman told Newsarama. "It's iconic modern characters all being drawn by their creators, which has never happened before in one series. It's the first time that this group of characters has gotten together in a long time."

"The Image United title has a couple of meanings," Silvestri said. "One is based on the characters because they're uniting in a crossover for the first time ever. And the other is the uniting of the Image partners, the original Image guys with the exception of Jim Lee because of his DC obligations. We're all getting together and making some magic happen."

Liefeld said he's been excited to see fan reaction to the news because he's shared the secret with a few people he knows and they've "freaked out."

"This is the single biggest event in Image's history. It's an event that no one has attempted before, involving top creators drawing their most famous creations. What if Kirby drew the Fantastic Four alongside a Ditko Spider-Man and a Buscema Silver Surfer? Or a Gene Colan Iron Man drawn next to a Kirby Thor? That's what this is. And what makes it bigger is that people never saw this coming. They believed we would never work together again," Liefeld said.

The logistics of having each artist draw his characters' appearances may seem daunting because it's never been done before, but Kirkman, who will act as coordinator of the project along with Image Comics publisher Eric Stephenson, explained that they've tested out the process and believe they can make it work.

"Each artist is going to do the layouts for one issue," Kirkman explained. "Those guys will get the script for the issue and they'll be the one breaking it down into pages. Then once the story's laid out, they're going to be mailed all over the country, and everybody's going to be drawing their characters onto the pages. This is the future. It's going to be a lot of work, and I don't know -- maybe we'll have to give FedEx a credit in the book. But this just shows that anything can be done. "

The creators said the main players in the series will be Cyberforce, Witchblade, Youngblood, Whilce Portacio's new character Fortress, Savage Dragon, Spawn, and ShadowHawk. "But this will be the whole Image Universe," Kirkman explained, "so you'll be seeing Erik Larsen's side characters, some more of Rob's guys, a bunch of the villains from Spawn will be showing up, probably Darkness and whatnot will be showing up, so it will be a lot of stuff."

Valentino said he's excited about working again with the Image founders, as well as reuniting with inker Chance Wolf as he works mainly on the ShadowHawk appearances. "The cool thing for me is that Kirkman is trying to work it out so that I'll be drawing both Eddie Collins, the new ShadowHawk, and Paul Johnstone, the original back-breaker. That should be fun," he said.

One challenge creators cited is that when each artist lays out a comic, he will have to capture the feel of the other characters and "make sure their gesture, body language is correct," Valentino said. "Even though we were all painted with this huge 'Image style' brush, the fact is that none of us draws or composes a page in the same way. We all have unique approaches to design, composition and gesture. So my challenge is to try and imagine how Todd would position Spawn in this panel or how Witchblade might be posed here. I find that a very exciting exercise."

Another challenge will be keeping up with the work among other projects the artists are doing. But Liefeld said he was surprised during their test run that it didn't take as much time as people might expect. "The great aspect of all this is that it requires about an issue and a half's worth of work," he said. "The pages I produced with Erik Larsen involved both of us splitting the chores down the middle, it was simple and fun. In the meantime I'm drawing Killraven for Marvel and Armageddon Now for 12 Gates effortlessly. I produce a lot of work -- it's just been spread out and in the drawer for so long. It'll be good to get it all out in 2009."

The artists said they came up with the idea while all appearing at signing in Phoenix at Atomic Comics, then they brought Kirkman on board to write it.

"They'd been getting together from time to time," Kirkman said of the Image founders who are involved in Image United. "Every time they got together, they started talking about working together. For a time there, they'd all been wracking their brains on what to do. And I think Larsen was the one who came up with the idea to do a crossover where everyone draws their own characters. And he called me up and was like, 'Hey! We're going to need somebody to write this thing and make it all make sense, and I think you're that guy.'"

"It was put together in a flash of inspiration," Larsen said. "Before we went and did the signing, I woke up and had this idea. I was excited about it and I called everybody from my hotel room. And while we were there, we were talking about it and realizing that it was a really cool thing."

"I was of two minds about it," Valentino said about the first time he heard about the project. "My practical side said this would be like herding blind cats, a logistical nightmare. But, the fan in me was like Hell, yes! This'll be a hoot! Come to think of it, I'm still of two minds about it!"

Larsen said that there have been a few times in comic book history where something like this was done, but never quite to this extent. He used the example of there being some issues where the artist who was drawing Captain Marvel Jr. would draw that character while the artist who drew Captain Marvel would draw him.

"It worked because the characters looked right," he said, adding that the same appeal should come through for readers of Image United. "There's a definitive version of, for example, Todd McFarlane's Spawn, and there's a definitive version of Savage Dragon. And that's the really cool thing about doing the project this way, with everyone drawing their own characters. They'll look right."

Besides the art, the creators also want to make Image United a story people will want to read. And while Kirkman wasn't sharing details of the story, he said it will, as readers would expect, have some major ramifications in the Image Universe.

"The title is Image United, so the theme is these characters uniting for some catastrophic event," Kirkman said. "We're keeping plot details kind of close to the vest. A lot of times these type of stories end up being lackluster just because there's so much thrown into it. So I'm kind of setting out to write a large multi-character crossover epic that actually reads well on its own and is a cool story when you read it start to finish. I want it to be cool because of the story and not just because all these guys got together. It's all big. It's all very big."

Liefeld said the creators are also aiming to re-establish a universe that has suffered over the years since Image's founding. "We will re-establish the most potent universe of the last 20 years. The Image line-up ruled the charts for five years until we collectively succumbed to the worst elements of our competitive partnerships," he said. "With Image United we are again breaking new ground by collaborating in this manner. Like I said before, when Larsen created this unique approach, the project finally took flight."

As for the tone of the story, Kirkman said it's going to be a really serious story, so the tone will reflect that. "This series is going to be in tone with those books that were being published by Image at the time these characters first appeared in that it will be a dark, dramatic, action-packed superhero epic," Kirkman said. "The mood's very serious. This isn't going to be zany or wacky or anything like that. It's going to have long-lasting ramifications on the characters involved. There are going to be a lot of other cool surprises along the way."

Silvestri said the point of doing the series is to reinvigorate the Image characters that people love, and to have fun doing it. "I think the point is it's a bit of nostalgia looking forward. It really is us getting back together and going, you know what? Image Comics did something 16 years ago that is still being felt today," Silvestri said. "So we're celebrating that by going back to our characters and kind of updating them. And we're putting them into a universe that we really haven't done before."

"I'm not sure that there's another company that could do this," Valentino said. "I'm pretty sure no one but Image would be crazy enough to try! So for me, the goal is to have fun, to challenge one another and ourselves, to show everyone that when Image unites we can still generate excitement, because we're still excited to be here! And I think it shows."

Twitter activity