Ok, so that was a long, loooong day, in a totally phenomenal way, but still . . whew. Which is why it's taken me so long to get my brainstuffs firing again enough to give any sort of half-comprehensible account. Incredible event; I can't wait for next years (seriously, if the tickets were already available for Image Expo '16, i'd have one in hand right now and be doing the jiggy of a thousand jigs); my camera decided to crap out on me, day of, so I don't have much in the way of pics, but i've scraped a few together from the websauce, also I wasn't able to get to much in the way of panels, too busy across the way in the merch/signings building, so that was a bummer, but being able to get a little facetime and some John Hancock's from a solid dozen of my favorite writers and artists was worth it (this time around); next year i'm likely to spend most of that time in the panels, because really how many signatures does a person need, but for my first run, I regret nothing (NOTHING).
I scribbled a few things down during the keynote, the big talk/announcement event in the morning. My buddies and I were in the fourth row, just right of middle, very, very close to the stage, and I was pinching myself the whole time that this was actually happening. This is what I wrote down, and what I can remember from the proceedings:
08:30 - Awwwwww yeah, we made it! Take that, Bay Bridge gridlock!
08:35 - First queue of the day, not counting the bridge.
09:00 - The doors, they are opening!
09:10 - We look through the tote bags they gave us at the check-in, which is to say that I stand there and buzz to myself happily while Jake and Kris look through their Premium and Retailer tote bags, respectively, because I -being a pleb- was not given one, which is perfectly cool and expected considering how cheap my GenAdmin ticket was. Jake hands me his ridiculously-long, stunning, most-coveted "Retailer" bonus East of West poster that has all of the covers for #16 in one gorgeous, connected, glossy panorama, and tells me it's mine if I want it (he knows i've been jonesing for one since they announced that such a thing existed). They don't appear to be on sale or otherwise gettable (fuck me, so this is what they mean by "very limited quantities"). Out of nowhere, Kris then hands me his exclusive variants for Bitch Planet #1, Wytches #3, and East of West #16, and asks if I want them, because he's transitioning away from singles. These fucking guys . . i'm a very lucky guy to know such kings among men.
09:15 - We're funneled back outside and put in the second queue of the day. There's a geriatric fellow with a very serene (and possibly a touch senile) smile on his face doing arthritic tai-chi near the big fountain. The weather is nice, the anticipation continues to rise.
09:45 - We file in to the hall and mosey over to the first free row. Damn we're close. Amaterasu is sitting just in front of us; surely this is a good sign.
10:00 - Keynote, Eric Stephenson, any time now.
10:23 - They've been displaying the Image logo made-up to look like Ziggy Stardust and playing mostly Bowie music for 23 minutes; Stephenson still hasn't come out. I love Bowie and all, but unless The Thin White Duke himself is going to appear on stage, you should probably just start your presentation, 'cause we're all a-waitin', and let's not get behind schedule on the very first thing of the day, maybe. Also i've had way, way, way too much coffee, so I may be a touch irritable with all the anticipation and waiting, so just comeondoitrightnowseriouslykickthisshitoffnownownownownow . . .
10:30 - Here he comes. Finally. Less do dis thing.
* Apparently it's Bowies birthday, today. The entire crowd when he mentions this, "Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Ok. That makes sense, now."
* Many charts and graphs of sales figures and numbers from the year, all impressive. Double digit market share, this year, growth in both units sold and earnings for the 7th straight year, and a surprisingly massive share of the book store market (Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc) coming in second among all publishers (DC being first, and Marvel sitting third, way behind Image and DC, which is really interesting, and certainly a little unexpected).
* Damn Eric Stephenson is one suave, cool, collected sonofabitch. I would follow this man off a cliff into a giant meat grinder if he told me he had every confidence i'd come out the other side all the better for it.
* Diamond Publisher of The Year. Again. Much applause.
* Excellent address, through and through. Much talk of how proud they are of their business model, their small overhead, their big gains on The Big Two, their continued and consistent growth, their philosophy and dedication to keeping the price of their books lower than the market standard, how they're there to serve the creators and to put books in people's hands, their domination at The Eisners, their best year ever for digital sales, comparisons to the various craft and artisanal markets (as opposed to mass-market) that have risen in popularity in all sorts of fields in recent years, "Our entire culture is changing. Our entire culture was once geared almost entirely towards mass consumption, but more and more people want the things they bring into their homes to be more carefully curated. In comics, we're definitely transitioning away from a market that was once dominated by a Big Two." More very enthusiastic applause.
* "We've kept as many of our monthly comics as possible at $2.99 and $3.50, even as $3.99 has become the industry standard, and we've done that without increasing the number of ads in our comics, some of which have no ads at all." He follows that by mentioning their $10 trades, and that "There will never be a time when Image Comics [paraphrased; my handwriting got a little messy here] will value profit margins over growth." Neither for the first time or the last, the entire room erupts into immediate and extremely energetic applause.
* After Stephenson's speech concludes, he stays on stage to MC and moderate the rest of the presentation. He introduces McFarlane.
* McFarlane does a very tight, surprisingly interesting 7-9 minutes. Talks Spawn #250, how many years it took to get there, and how much work it's been, and why he would never even consider renumbering/rebooting it back to #1 (which, apparently, he's constantly being asked about).
* Talk and slides of the upcoming Cappullo cover, Jock cover, and Skottie Young cover, the upcoming Spawn: Resurrection #1 (one-shot) by Paul Jenkins and Jonboy Meyers, the return of Al Simmons as Spawn, and how he's, for the first time, "Going to take control of the game and go on the offensive."
* Talks about his new project Savior #1, by himself, Brian Holguin, and Clayton Crain, about a man in modern America with "Jesus-like powers" but who remains an enigma, and thus divides popular opinion, and inspires a manhunt to find him. 8 issues in the can already. He shows a slide with every page lined-up on it, sized very small so we "can't read the whole damn thing right here, right now." The tagline is "What if the most dangerous man on Earth was also the one trying to do the most good?"
* McFarlane exits; Stephenson introduces James Robinson.
* Robinson mumbles for maybe 3-4 minutes about Airboy, which he says is on its way, and Heaven, with Philip Tan, which he describes as weird sci-fi, a literal war between angels and demons, before darting away off the stage. What they show of Heaven looks very pretty, but he lost me at "angels and demons".
* Stephenson announces that Brain Wood was to be the next guest, but he couldn't make it last minute for personal reasons. Briefly talks up Wood's upcoming projects Starve, with Danijel Zezelj and Dave Stewart (which looks like delightful black comedy; "Anthony Bourdain meets Spider Jerusalem"), and Black Road with Garry Brown, his return to Viking tales.
* Stephenson then introduces Brandon Graham. Bigger man that i'd for some reason imagined; tall, hulking, neck-tatt. I love his work; I sit up in my seat a little straighter. He talks 8House for a minute, promising that "It's coming, really, it is." Slides of it tantalize.
* He then invites Emma Rios to come up and join he and Stephenson on stage; she's writing a story for 8House called Mirror, drawn by Hwei Lim, the first time she's written for another artist. She describes it as "a new community with a mix of animals and humans. If you give free will to animals, how would you feel about them? These animals are creating a community, and want to get rid of the humans." Sounds very cool.
* Graham and Rios then introduce Island, a "comics magazine for comics", an ongoing anthology of sorts, where each of the stories within will each be a full-length 20-22 page comic, "It's going to be like buying two, three comics stapled together, with articles." Not even an hour earlier I had been talking to Jake and Kris about how Image should do something like this ("kind of like the Vertigo Quarterlys," i'd said, "How cool would that be."); it looks fantastic and I can't wait. They describe it as "Heavy Metal, but less teenage boy". Graham will contribute new Multiple Warheads for it, and Rios is writing and drawing a story called I.D. for it, which she describes as a world where mind/body transplants have become possible; an exploration of the concept of and conflict inherent in self-identity. "Do you like your body? Who does?".
* Brandon leaves the stage, and the human fireball that is Kelly Sue DeConnick jogs on, joining Emma and Stephenson. The crowd erupts, once more, with feeling. They show slides of Pretty Deadly vol 2, and say they're hoping to get the first issue out by September, and that it'll be worth the wait. The main character is Cyrus, the little boy who survived the shootout in the first volume, now grown and in the army during WW1, a few decades on. It looks appropriately spectacular and grim. Kelly Sue on the delay: "That book fights back. Everything about that book is problematic. My creative partner here draws every leaf on every fucking tree! It's extraordinarily beautiful, and I wouldn't change anything about it, but because of that, it's a book that can't be done in 30 days, so we have to get ahead enough so we don't fall terribly behind." She's delightful, and I can't wait, but however long it takes them to do what they do is just fine by me.
* Kelly Sue and Emma both exit to enthusiastic applause; Emi Lenox is introduced.
* Emi looks more than a little petrified to be addressing this size crowd, appearing a few times to be on the verge of hurling, but Stephenson helps coax her out of her shell a bit, and she talks about her upcoming OGN Tadaima (meaning "coming home"), which is an autobiographical piece about her recent trip to Japan with her mom, her experiences there, and her feelings of guilt in regards to not being there since before her grandmother passed away. It's all in watercolors, and it looks beautiful, though she remarked that watercolors proved to be much slower and more difficult than she'd initially thought. She's freaking adorable, I dig her art style, and I want very much to read this book. She then introduces her "best friend" Jeff Lemire.
* Together they show a slide or two of their upcoming 5-issue limited series Plutona, colored by Jordie Bellaire, because of course it is. They describe it as "Stand By Me" but with a dead superhero. Jeff makes a quick comment about how happy he is to be at Image, free of the restraints and confines of DC. Emi leaves, and Jeff asks Scott Snyder to come up. The place explodes.
* Jeff and Scott talk about their upcoming OGN A.D.: After Death, a story that takes place in a world not unlike ours, but one where the genetic cure for death has been discovered, and explores the ramifications of that. Snyder is bubbling over with excitement and enthusiasm the whole time. "I'm so used to writing serialized comics, and being, 'How is Batman going to get out of this one?' I've been dying to write something that is more expansive, and robust, and tell a story and let it wander." He mentions several times that this is something he's always wanted to do, and never been able to until now. "Thank you for changing comics," he says to us, the audience, "Thank you so much for following creators wherever they go and letting them do these kinds of things." His energy is infectious, and his gratitude seems totally genuine, and almost brings a tear to my eye. He and Lemire both make their feelings clear on how excited they are to be at Image, and how different it is from the situations they've dealt with while at other publishers. They both make their exit.
* Stephenson introduces Mr Brian K Vaughan; my god, I love this man and his work. The applause is appropriately lengthy and beyond enthusiastic. He mentions how he's just riding Fiona Staples' coattails, and then he talks about his upcoming limited series We Stand On Guard, with Steve Skroce, which is apparently named after the motto of the Canadian Army. It takes place 100 years in the future and is about "Canadian civilians turned badass freedom fighters, who have to fight off an invasion of their country from another country: the United States of America. Unfortunately, a hundred years from now, the United States has a lot of giant fucking robots." Much laughter. I want this in my hands right this very minute. BKV takes his leave.
* Stephenson welcomes NYT Best Selling Author, Marjorie Liu to the stage. She tells us about her new series Monstress, with Sana Takeda. At the mention of Takeda's name, someone a couple of seats over from me gasps very, very loudly, and Liu smiles and chuckles, and says, "That was my reaction, too!" (cue: rolling laughter). The art goes up on the screens, and it is breathtaking. "Imagine, if you will, an alternate 1920s Earth in which immense, other-worldly creatures roam the world. Some of them are made of flesh, some of them are made of spirit, some of them are a mix of both. Then imagine there is this young girl who is a refugee from a war. She lives in the margins of society. She wakes up one day and has a psychic connection to the most dangerous, most mysterious, of these creatures." This takes the cake for the day in terms of what I'll be anticipating the most in the coming year; it looks spectacular.
* Marjorie exits, and Stephenson welcomes Brian Buccelato to the stage. He talks about his Kickstarted upcoming book Sons of The Devil, with Toni Infante, scheduled for a summer release. It's about a young man who finds out that his dad was a Charles Manson-esque cult leader, and the craziness that follows that realization. On and off in a shake, Buccelato quickly gives way to Eric Canete and Jonathan Tsuei.
* Canete and Tsuei mention that they have a new book coming out called RunLoveKill, due in April; they then fail utterly to describe it to any reasonable extent. "We're being super literal. There's a lot of running, a lot of loving, and a lot of killing." Dinosaurs seem to be involved in some way. I think that they think they're being funny by being so cryptic; it comes off as strange and a little annoying, and falls a bit flat. Who the hell knows. They exit.
* Stephenson introduces Alex de Campi. She seems extremely excited but also nervous, and i'm worried for a second that she might pass out up there on stage. She says to the crowd that Image is "The REAL House of Ideas, right?!! RIGHT?!?" (She's certainly not wrong) Shots fired, bro. She shows the cover of her new book No Mercy, with Carla Speed McNeil, due in April. It will be at least 8 issues, and revolves around a group of teens on a trip in central or south america who have a dire and crazy adventure after their bus falls off a mountain road. It looks very YA/teen oriented, and she intimates that it will get dark and sad. She looks relieved to get off stage. Stephenson calls up Sir Kieron of Gillen.
* Gillen walks to the podium to a roar of applause, clears his throat loudly, pulls out a scroll (yes, a scroll, as in a rolled up length of fucking vellum or parchment, presumably with calligraphy of one sort or another on it), and proceeds to intone solemnly and formally an extremely pompous and completely hilarious speech, the contents of which I can't quite recall, to be honest, because I was too busy laughing along, as was everyone else in the room. Generally and mostly it was about his new book The Ludocrats, with David Lafuente, that is “as good as Brandon Graham thinks his comics are," and how it's the most important piece of art ever created. "I promise you today, in all seriousness, The Ludocrats will be the greatest comic of all time." Yet another one I can't wait for; bound to be a riot.
* After the reading of the scroll, up trots Jamie McKelvie to join him, again to a roar of applause and appreciation. They've had quite a couple of years, haven't they; veritable rock stars; love these guys. They say that the second arc of The Wicked + The Divine is more or less finished, and that they're starting to work on the third arc, which will be a series of one-shot-ish profiles, each with a different artist (three of which are Tula Lotay, Kate Brown, Stephanie Hans), each focused on a different god (they mention Amaterasu and Baphomet as two of the five featured). The screens then flash to the cover of the upcoming Phonogram 3; pause for more applause and many "ooo"s and "ahhhh"s at the stylized cover. I really, really ought to read Phonogram 1 and 2 before the finale drops in August, oughtn't I.
* It is at this point that Chip Zdarsky begins to set up a poster stand in the background, 'crashing' their presentation (wink, wink, nod, nod). He looks, acts, and moves like a long-lost Marx Brother, or like a Looney Toons character come to life. Myself and the rest of the crowd soon graduate from giggles, to chuckles, to cry-laughing. He keeps saying things like, "Oh, you know, since you didn't INVITE me, I thought maybe i'd . . is this ok? Can I be back here? I'm just gonna put this up, if that's alright with you . . don't mind me, I wasn't even invited
. . ." Gillen + McKelvie struggle to keep up the ruse, and make their way off stage pretty quickly. "It's weird, because you didn't invite me. You think just by not inviting me, you're not going to get a white, male, bearded Canadian on your stage?"
* Chip tells the slideshow guy to put up the next shot, and up comes the (real) cover for his upcoming Howard The Duck #1 for Marvel. Cue: deafening laughter. Stephenson does his best to look cross, and tells Chip, "THAT'S how you want to start, eh? No. No. Take it down, TAKE it down right now. Don't make me come over there and wrestle you to the ground" to which Chip replies, "Ooooo, I might just enjoy that." The slide then changes to a cover of Gary The Duck #1, MSRP $20. Stephenson tells him, "We're never going to publish 'Gary the Duck,'" to which he replies, "But he's got a quackload of attitude." It's turned into Laurel and Hardy, all of a sudden. The guffaws continue unabated; this man is a treasure.
* Eventually Chip moves on to what he's actually there to promote, his new series Kaptara, with Kagan McLeod on art duties, due in April. He describes it as a sci-fi comedy, and, indeed, it looks like prime-cut Douglas Adams (which of course I mean as the highest possible complement). He says he pitched it as a "gay Saga" and "feel(s) The Motivational Orb will be the Breakthrough Character of 2015." The art looks incredible; reminds me strongly of the concept art and character designs for some of the Final Fantasy series' before they were turned into sprites. Yet ANOTHER series that i'm already chomping at the bit for, and furthermore, seeing Chip in person, getting the authentic Zdarsk-sperience, has given me a great deal of faith in him as a creative talent that can transcend his current status as a penciler-inker and successfully make the move to writing; in other words, he actually did manage to make me interested in his Howard the Duck series, as well, naughty boy. Phrases like "gay Merlin" and "Hercules, but, you know, . . with darts" and "I mean, just look at that codpiece" mark his pitch. He finishes by declaring, simply "Gay Saga, 2015" to the crowd, and trots off in a flourish, then scampers back over to where he'd set up his unfurled poster, and breaks it down in the most slapstick manner possible. I say again: this man is a fucking treasure.
* Darwyn Cooke's name now goes up on the screens, everyone gasps, and Stephenson regretfully informs us that he was supposed to come ("Awwwwww" from the crowd), but had to cancel last minute due to unforeseen and unavoidable circumstances; he did, however record for us an audio message. While the A/V people are queuing up Cooke's audio recording/greeting, the slide operator goes one slide too far and accidentally shows us the name "Skottie Young", before quickly snapping it back one; the reveal causes everyone in the crowd to gasp once more; jaws drop; a buzz goes around, Stephenson looks annoyed, and as a result, almost no one seems to be paying much attention to Cooke's muted, poorly-mic'd, difficult to discern pitch, which mentions his new 3 issue mini series Revengeance!, due out soon (Spring/Summer). He mentions Mickey Spillane, and hard-boiled detective noir; he mentions David Lynch; he talks about how over-the-moon he is about finally coming to Image, "The most dynamic company in the mainstream," and about how his good friend Ed Brubaker is responsible for that. I look over at Jake, knowing that Cooke is his favorite-ever artist, and his face is a mixture of rapture (for the series), shock (at the announcement that Cooke was to be one of the surprise guests), and disappointment (that he couldn't make it, after all). We only see the cover, but the series looks and sounds fantastic, and -once again- I can't wait.
* The next guest (also meant to be a big-time surprise) already spoiled, Stephenson wastes no time in calling up Skottie Young to the stage to another massive wave of cheers. As i've thoroughly plastered all over these very forums, Rocket Raccoon has been one of my top series' of the year, and i've totally and completely fallen in love with Mr Young's art and overall style, so this was quite a sparkling-shiny moment, for me. He talks up his upcoming new series/long-time-in-the-works project I Hate Fairyland, with Jean-Francois Beaulieu, (originally titled Fuck Fairyland, which he reconsidered for the obvious reasons), due out in the Fall. He talks about his new perspective on the stories he used to love as a kid, now that he's reading them to his own kids ("He's telling me to eat green eggs. Obviously
I should never eat green eggs. They're rotten; they're fucking rotten!") and about how Alice In Wonderland, while once his favorite children's tale, now seems grotesque and ludicrous and full of awful people. "What if Alice never made it out of Wonderland" he muses, "She's still there years later, and although she looks 10, she's actually 40 on the inside." He mentions how much he used to love Mad Magazine, and Looney Toons, and drops Ren & Stimpy as an inspiration. The pages on the screens are a cartoon-ish typhoon of color, and majestic to behold; one more book to make room for in 2015; it looks phenomenally irreverent and funny as sin. Young waves adieu and exits to more applause.
* Stephenson now invites all of the Image Comics crew up to the stage and has them take a bow, ostensibly about to then sign-off and close out the morning's festivities, but just after the crew heads back off the stage he pulls one last rabbit out of his impeccably-tailored suit and asks Brian K Vaughan to come on back out, and come on back out he does . . with an overtly ecstatic Cliff Chiang on his heels. They announce a new ongoing series called Paper Girls. "Cliff and I last worked together 15 years ago, for a story from my ill-fated run on Swamp Thing. [cue: laughter] I'm very excited to announce that we're going to be working together again, on a new book called Paper Girls. This is a story of four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls, on the night something very strange happens. It's obviously about a lot more than this, but Cliff and I like to keep surprises." The only other thing they reveal is that it takes place (or at least starts) on the day after Halloween, which is of course Dia de Los Muertos; Chiang quips, "If i'm not on a sexual predator watchlist now for googling 12-year-old girls every day, the system has failed us." All we get to see is the cover, but it's more than enough; the energy in the room is palpable as BKV and Chiang exit the stage to another huge round of applause, Stephenson thanks us briefly and tells us that we're entering a bit of a break before the signings and panels are to begin, and excuses us to go grab schedules (which were only now being handed out), and get food and stretch our legs and whatnot.
12:00 noon - The morning concluded, I turn to Kris and Jake and truthfully exclaim, "Holy shit, that, alone, was worth the price of admission, and we haven't even had lunch yet. Fucking madness!!" So end-eth The Mighty Keynote. I'll recap the rest of the day once i've regained my senses a touch more; just typing that out was a bit like reliving it, and goddamn . . it's practically like sex.PART 1 - fin