How the Image Boys Changed the Comic Book Industry For the BetterBaltimore Post-Examiner

The Beatles of the Comic Book Industry

At the time of their height, it wasn’t uncommon for comic books to sell 500,000 to 600,000 copies a month. Top sellers like X-Men, Spider-Man, and Action Comics sold more than that regularly.

Marvel and DC, the top two publishers in the industry hold about 75% of the market share with the next publisher lags behind as a very far third. Almost all of the top comic book talents at the time worked at the Big Two, with most of the creative minds working in the halls of the Marvel Offices.

The Beatles of the Comic Book Industry

Seven of the most wanted and talented artists in comic books at the time were all working with Marvel. 39 of the top 50 selling comic books during that period were from these seven guys.

Todd McFarlane on Spider-Man. Marc Silvestri had a great Uncanny X-Men run with Chris Claremont. Jim Valentino steered the Guardians of the Galaxy and turned it into Marvel’s top cosmic comic. Whilce Portacio did amazing work on X-Factor and Uncanny X-Men. Erik Larsen dished out dynamic storytelling fit for the Amazing Spider-Man. Rob Liefeld brought new life to the New Mutants and turned them into X-Force. And superstar artist Jim Lee brought the 90s X-Men to their iconic status today.

Given that these 7 artists were working on top-tier titles at the time, most fans thought that they would be earning really fat paychecks not only for their work but for the amount of creativity they put into their work, as well, with all the new characters and ideas they brought in.

But no. At the time, creators weren’t given much value. This was pretty evident with the very public and famous struggles Jack Kirby had with Marvel. To the uninitiated, Jack Kirby’s name was synonymous with Stan Lee during the Golden Age of comics since he was the co-creator of many of Marvel’s iconic characters such as Captain America, the X-Men, Namor, Thor, and the Fantastic Four.

The unfair treatment that was given to Kirby and other creators like him was one of the things that motivated the seven artists, the Beatles of the comic book industry, to give the House of Ideas the middle finger, break out on their own, and start their own publishing house where the creator has all the rights to his creation and get top dollar from the sales while the publisher would only take a small percentage off the back-end to keep operations going.

How They Disrupted the Industry

To say that this move disrupted the industry is a very big understatement. This literally changed the landscape of the comic book industry.

Think of it like this. These seven guys went inside a compact and ran full speed ahead at Mighty Marvel’s 18-wheeler semi pretty much running at the same speed. As you can imagine, the impact was explosive. Get in the first responders, call a reliable car accident lawyer, and have highway cops on the scene to investigate what happened. Whatever the outcome is, it was certainly life-changing for both the ones in the compact and the guy behind the semi. Things were never the same again.

These seven creators went on a head-on collision with Marvel Comics when they decided to quit and form Image Comics, the banner under which all their work will be published. Most folks thought that the Image Boys, as they are fondly called, wouldn’t stand a chance and will come crawling back to Marvel. But they stood their ground and gave it all they had.

With all the clout behind the Image Boys, the rockstars of the comic book industry, and all the hype they created, the comic book industry took center stage and became the highlight of American pop culture in 1991 and 1992.

Remember when we said that Marvel and DC were the top two publishers at the time? It took Image Comics only four months to unseat DC from the number two position, a feat that has never been done before nor never seen again after.

With the brain drain they caused by jumping ship, a lot of Marvel’s investors also did the same because the rock stars, the sellers, are no longer there. This added fuel to Marvel’s financial fire but that’s a completely different story.

Opening Doors to New Creative Minds

Not everything went smoothly for the Image founders. While their success story is quite known in the industry, their struggles of keeping up with their success aren’t discussed much. They held on to the number two spot for only a short while as their street cred got hurt by delays in publishing, which often came from the three guys that had bigger teams and studios.

The idea of being young and having nothing to lose is what drove them to succeed. However, their youthful arrogance and lack of experience on the business end also led to their failures as creators. It wasn’t until Valentino reluctantly took on the role of the publisher that things took a turn for the better.

He steered Image Comics from being Marvel-DC superhero copycats into the more grounded and relatable creator-owned properties they are very well known for today, with properties such as The Walking Dead, Saga, Kick-Ass, Chew, and The Manhattan Projects. Unknown to the general public, a lot of movies and TV shows that came out in the past decade are comic book properties published under Image Comics.

Image Comics became the haven for independent creators who have amazing stories to tell that normally wouldn’t get picked up at Marvel and DC. It became the Creator’s Paradise and continues to function as the industry’s Garden of Eden.

The Image Boys’ decision to quit Marvel while they were at their peak may be immature and arrogant but ultimately, it was the right decision at the time and not one of the seven founders will trade that experience for anything else. They may not have been as successful with their own studios and titles but they surely succeeded in changing the entire industry’s landscape and opened doors for a lot of other brilliant creators to thrive and excel in this industry. It is their legacy to the world.


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