Let me just say that this is not a love letter to Image Comics in the way CBR’s awful “Predictions for 2012” was. If you don’t know what I’m talking about it, it was a list of predictions for this upcoming year that spiraled into a long list of reasons on why Image was going to become the #1 company this year. That did however get me thinking about Image, but not enough to push me to commit to an article. Then I was reading Bleeding Cool and they talked about the newest #1 issues from Image that are selling for decent bucks on eBay already (incidentally that sent a flood of sellers and now the prices have dropped nearly half). But there it was… the conclusion to my thought of Image and how they are actually the number one comic company in the industry already. It’s a bold statement to say that they’re the number one comic company, so I’ll get right into it rather than coming back around to it in a paragraph or two. Obviously, in terms of sales and market share Marvel and DC are ahead of them… by a lot. During my time thinking about Image I realized that you can’t really consider DC or Marvel comic companies anymore. They’re actually just subsidiaries of their parent respected parent companies. If you remove them from the equation and basically disregard the fact they sell comics (like their parent companies tend to do), then that places Image in first.
My thought process didn’t stop there though. I had to take in to consideration that if I’m going to rule out Marvel and DC for their corporate leashes that a few other companies needed to be tossed out as well. After all, we’re talking about comic book companies not adaptation machines. Because of that I had to toss IDW, Dark Horse and Dynamite out. As much as I love those first two companies, they ultimately write a check to use the licenses that they have.
This left me with the conclusion that Image Comics is the top comic book company in the industry. Sure there have been adaptations of individual creators works, the most notable being The Walking Dead right now. But the company as a whole does not set out to produce TV, movie or video adaptions of their comics and couldn’t even if they wanted to; that all rests with the creators who own the materials rights. Meaning that no matter what, Image will only ever produce comic books.
Again there are always going to be some adaptations to come from the body of work, but if you really think about it Image is at the point Marvel and DC were years ago. How often do you hear about a first issue of an Image title selling out? Actually pretty often, just this month Fatale #1 and Prophet #21 have sold out at the distributor level and have been slated for second prints. The list goes on, but the key thing is that it maintains value. Chew #1, Walking Dead #1 and Invincible #1 all continue to increase their value each year and other Image books are sure to join them as more break outs occur. My prediction is that The Strange Talent of Luther Strode will be one of those books. Sure the price has dipped right now, but the market always fluctuates.
When you really think about it, they’re the only company producing #1’s that have the potential to become a valuable comic like platinum and golden age comics before them could. As successful as the DC reboot was, Justice League #1 isn’t going to be worth $100 bucks in ten years but Luther Strode just might. That excites me about comics and I’m sure it does for a lot of collectors as well. There might be few Marvel and DC titles that will be a quick flash in the pan, but as more of their titles become available digitally we’ll lose that value that comics have. That's not to say that the same thing won't start happening to Image, but no one can say that it’s not exciting to buy a comic and for it to become worth ten to twenty times the amount you paid and Image is the only company still producing books that do this.
The only thing that’s going to hold Image back is itself. Shipping delays and poor marketing are its major problems. Tell me the last time Top Cow shipped something other than Witchblade or the Darkness on time? What about Infinite Vacation? There was a huge gap between issues two and three and who knows when four will come out. As for the marketing the days of Image being their own biggest promoter are over. Sure there have been sell out issues, but usually the news comes from the creator announcing it and the news sites picking up on it. They used to send out the information and announcement to build the excitement and the hype of a book selling out. This caused books like Li’l Depressed Boy and Morning Glories to grab a lot of attention and help their sales.
The marketing fails in other departments too, books like Green Wake had so much success that they were given an ongoing series only to now be slated for cancellation. Probably because most people didn’t know that it was given an ongoing. The marketing tends to take a lot for granted and that’s the worst possible thing to do. Image isn't Marvel or DC yet and they can't assume that everyone is visiting their site to check for news twice daily, because of this a lot of their success sits untouched by the internet as a whole.
I’m not saying Image is perfect by any means, but I truly feel that the role they play in comics is that of Marvel and DC did decades ago. They really are the biggest true comic company in the industry and as long as they learn from their mistakes and keep finding new talent (and have actually figure out a way to keep them from going to DC and Marvel) then they have the tools for success. Is 2012 their year to become the biggest and best? Not really, but this could be the year that DC and Marvel stumble with their lack of vision and poor decision-making. Image is still telling the comic world what is cool rather than asking what everyone thinks is cool and that makes them stand out.