[Interview] Eric Stephenson – Image of the Future

If you’re a regular passenger of Spaceship OL, you know that we love us some comic books. As a crew of over-caffeinated pop-culture junkies who’ve read, watched, heard, and played all of the standards, what we also love are new ideas. Needless to say, we get especially jazzed up when we come across comic books that’re filled to the brim with the unconventional, the experimental, or even just the atypical.

Unfortunately, if you know anything about comics it’s that most of `em are just re-tellings of the same stories that’ve been around for years. You think the Big Two are primarily concerned with novelty and innovation? Then why did DC just retcon its continuity for the six-billionth time? Why is the current crux of the Marvel universe another battle between its heroes?

Something’s rotten in the state of funnybooks.

However, there are those who’re doing their best to push the limits of the paneled medium. These artists and writers dedicate their livelihoods to creating quality comics that take chances with their characters, settings, themes, compositions, and structures. And in the current comics climate, it seems that Image Comics is a nexus of creativity.

I reached out to Image publisher Eric Stephenson in the hopes of getting his thoughts on a few questions concerning the state of the medium. To my surprise, he responded! Huzzah! Behold the power of the Internet!

Hit the hyperspace button to check out what Stephenson had to say about dwindling readership, adaptations, digital comics, Pepsi-Cola, and more!


– Since the inception of Image twenty years ago, the driving force behind the company seems to be putting an emphasis on pushing comics into new terrain. What does that mean given the current landscape?

Pushing forward with new ideas is more important than ever. The current climate in comics is the product of years upon years of complacency — the result of companies and creators alike being satisfied to just keep reworking old ideas over and over and over again. And then we wonder why our readership is dwindling.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence or a mistake that all the comics people will be talking about in decades to come are the new ideas developed over the last 20 years, outside of the Marvel/DC superhero mainstream.

– Of all the writers/illustrators currently waving the Image banner, who’re you most excited about? Who do you see as being a comics titan in five years’ time?

Nathan Edmondson is certainly very good. He’s full of ideas and everything he’s done for Image so far has been fantastic. Likewise, I think Joe Keatinge is a good writer with a strong eye for what appeals to today’s comics readers. I think he’s just getting started with Glory and Hell Yeah.

– It seems that many comic book creators try to defend the medium by citing all of the recent television and cinematic adaptations. (One particular interesting sound bite can be found in the trailer for CNBC’s Comic Books Unbound “Most important talent pool for movies.”) However, it can also be argued that using comic books as the R&D division for other media undermines its artistic legitimacy. What are your thoughts on this?

What I find heartening is the number of people who tell me they came to The Walking Dead through the television show and then wound up liking the comic book much more, or that they saw Watchmen and didn’t really get what the fuss was all about, so they read the book and really enjoyed that. I think comics do comics better than anything else.

Does a bad film undermine the integrity of a good comic book? I don’t think so, and I don’t think being plundered by other media makes what we do any less valid. Movies have been made out of novels almost since the beginning of the motion picture industry, and I don’t think anyone questions their artistic legitimacy.

– More than a few of my Wednesday pilgrimages have been prolonged by my futile attempts to suggest new titles to fellow  funny-book devotees. I recently recommended SAGA to a chap I see at comic shop every week, assuming that he’d like it because it’s science fiction/fantasy/hilarious/beautiful. His response — “Sorry, I only read Marvel.” How do I mollify my bloodlust when this happens? What can be done to reach out to those fans who only read superhero books?

Well, they’re not comics fans, they’re superhero fans. Or they’re Marvel fans or DC fans.

For me, it’s a strange, narrow way to look at things, because it’s like saying you only like books published by Harper Collins or whatever, or that you’ll only watch shows that air on CBS. “Sorry, I only watch films made by Paramount.” It’s not a perspective I understand, because I like new things, and I like to be exposed to different types of stories. And even though Image publishes a much wider variety of material than a company like Marvel, I’d be just as confused if someone said they only bought Image. There are lots of great comics out there — why limit yourself?

I’d forget about trying to change them, though, honestly. If that’s all they want, God bless ’em. At least they’re reading comics.

– Comics publishers are slowly (but surely) making ritual sacrifices to the digital comics behemoth. While there’s certainly a contingent of weary fans who’re unwilling to give credence to the digital platform, many well-respected creators — Mark Waid and Jonathan Hickman, for instance — are gung-ho. What’re your thoughts on the effect — artistically and sales-wise — digital comics will have on the medium?

I’d like to hope that in the long run we see some genuine innovation. I think that’s starting to happen now, but we’re still a ways off from stepping outside the standard print comics model and approach. It’s an entirely different system of delivery and I think we can do almost anything we want with it.

– What’re your suggestions for those paneled-page lovin’ youths who’re hoping to one day write/draw/publish comic books?

Start doing it now. The best way to learn your craft is to actually sit down and do it. Start making your own comics. You’ll get better with each one, and you’ll have a better idea what you’re capable of.    It doesn’t matter if they suck initially, just start doing them. And keep doing them.

– What’s your poison of choice? Bourbon? Wine? Pepsi?

Beer, actually, but I’m partial to bourbon and wine, as well.

Pepsi’s fucking gross, though.

– The most important question of all-time: Han Solo or Indiana Jones?

Indiana Jones. He was better dressed, and as near as I can tell, seemed to have a bit more luck with the ladies.

– Any final thoughts? Books you’d like to plug? Words of wisdom to impart?

I love all our books equally, but lately, I’ve been frustrated more people haven’t picked up on Jay Faerber’s Near Death. It’s a great crime comic that counts Ed Brubaker and Brian K. Vaughan as its fans, and I really think that if you’re enjoying things like Fatale or Criminal or Thief of Thieves, you’re going to love Near Death.


For more Eric Stephenson, check out It Sparkles and Image Comics.