Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Image of love

I read a lot of comics when I was a kid, mostly super-heroes, and all of them had a big influence on me when I decided to work with comicbooks. Certainly books like The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen and Moonshadow had a huge impact over me, even if I wasn't old enough to really understand it. I was just enjoying it and being dragged inside that world.

As the 80's were coming to it's closure, I began to pay attention to the creators behind the comics I was reading, not only the characters and the stories. Claremont and Byrne on the X-Men, Jim Aparo on Batman, John Romita Jr., Walter Simonson, Peter David, George Perez. I noticed something was changing, I just had no idea how big this change would be. It was only on the early 90's that seven of these "names" I had been starting to follow took me by surprised and changed the world of comics forever. They were Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Marc Silvestri, Erik Larsen, Jim Valentino and Whilce Portacio. Yes, I'm talking about Image.

I know we really repeat over and over how much the story is important to us on comicbooks, more important than the art, but we were 16 and Image Comics was the best thing on Earth for us back then. It was beautiful, it was fun, it was new (even if they used old formulas). Wildcats, Savage Dragon, Spawn. The Maxx, Gen 13, Pitt. At that time, all we wanted to do was work at Image Comics.

I have done my share of portfolio reviews and artwork submission here in Brazil and like many others in the 90's, I did walk the path of the "Jim Lee's mimics". Stiff and unnatural, (luckily) it didn't work out for me.

Back in 1996, on my first trip to California, with a handful of deskjet prints of color samples, I tried to visit Wildstorm and Extreme Studios. Found the post office in La Jolla and got stood up on my hotel in San Diego, but I did go to Extreme studios and showed my pages there. I was supposed to send more samples, but I never did.

In 97, everything changed for us when we went to our first San Diego Comic Con and we discovered a whole universe of comics we had never heard of, never imagined that existed. Image was there, all the creators were there (in person!), but even if we have been reading their books for years, we suddenly identified ourselves more with independent and alternative creators. Image was too big for us, too mainstream and there was too many deliciously unknown stuff for us to discover.

Our road on the comicbook world turned to a new and unknown direction with Roland: Days of Wrath and the all new connections we made during the following years, hanging with creators like Jeff Smith, Terry Moore, Jill Thompson and talking to editors like Diana Schutz and Bob Schreck. Every new book we published in Brazil, we took the artwork to portfolio reviews in San Diego year after year and showed the stories to Diana. We hanged out mostly on the Small Press area of the convention, where Shane had his Terra Major table, and we walked the floor following the creators we admired, showing pages to editors and buying new comics by the hands of strange authors.

In 2004 we did a self-published comic called Rock'n'Roll (with Bruno D'Angelo and Kako), a silent comic that we could sell at the convention. We were fed up of only showing pages on portfolio reviews. In 2004, we also got our first story published in the US, URSULA, by Ait/Planet Lar, a publisher we had discovered the year before and that had published a book called Last of the Independents, by Matt Fraction and Kieron Dwyer. It was at the AiT booth in San Diego that we also met a tiny little shy girl called Becky Cloonan. And it was with AiT that we would make our first really commercial comic, Smoke and Guns, written by Kirsten Baldock, with high hopes that it would be turned into a movie.

Smoke and Guns didn't turn into a movie, but it called the attention of a guy called Eric Stephenson, who was an editor at... Image Comics. He saw some pages of it online and looked for what Fábio had done before. He found Rock'n'Roll and liked it. And just like that, he contacted us.

He wanted to publish Rock'n'Roll at Image and he had this project pitched by a writer called Matt Fraction that he thought Fábio's artwork fitted the bill. It was called Casanova.

Like a work of magic (and more than ten years later), we were where we wanted to be in the first place. It was only then that we discovered that Image had changed a lot from the last time we checked. It was no longer Wildcats, Youngblood, Cyberforce, Spawn and Witchblade all over the place, but now it was more like a "big independent publisher", full of new creator-owned projects like Powers, Invincible, Pirates of Coney Island, Walking Dead and anthologies like Flight, so we felt right at home.

All at once, our efforts started to pay off and everything began to happen in our freshly started careers. Image published Rock'n'Roll and Casanova and we did a little story for an anthology called 24seven, also published by them, organized by Ivan Brandon. We ended up doing another story for the second volume of 24seven on the next year (nominated for an Eisner of best anthology).
As we were publishing new and interesting comics, we shared tables on the Image booth for 3 years in a row, an important move to look the audience in the eye and win them over with our charming accent. Located on a tremendous spot and sharing the space with incredible creators, we took the most of this experience selling all our comics (even the ones we had with other publishers), including our self-published "5", done with Becky Cloonan and Vasilis Lolos, that ended up winning an Eisner Award in 2008. Selling it at that table during the convention was crucial to it's success.

For the past three years, everything has changed for me. If it wasn't for Eric Stephenson's first contact, there would be no Casanova. If that would be the case, there'd be no Umbrella Academy, because that comic really made Scott Allie and Gerard Way invite me to the series. We met incredible people over these years. Eric Stephenson, Joe Keating, Drew Gill, Ivan Brandon, Andy MacDonald, Paul Azaceta, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Rick Spears, Jason Pearson and Robert Kirkman. I'm sure there's a whole lot more.

We have worked with a lot of different publishers, small and big, in Brazil and in the U.S., on very different projects. No one is perfect, there's no easy way to do this thing we do. All you need is to really love what you're doing and that's what Image represented for me from the beginning: love for comicbooks.

I don't know about you, but Image Comics really changed my life.

4 comments:

Róger Torres said...

Motivational one.

Ally said...

If I ever become a well-known comic illustrator/author when I grow up, I'm going to make a testimony just like this just for you guys. Well, time will tell.

Master Kang-kong said...

Truly inspirational.

david said...

I really love the idea of Image Comics. When I was in San Diego, as a child, I even used to dream about the future of comics. Your article really reminded me of your days in San Diego and the things I wanted to do for the comics world. May be will try them all now in some time.