Eric Stephenson is known for making controversial statements about the comic book industry, so all eyes were on today's Image Expo to see what Stephenson would have to say on the eve of San Diego Comic Con 2014. Airlifted to the convention center by helicopter, Stephenson walked out on stage in boxing gloves in a sequined robe as L.L. Cool J's "Mama Said Knock You Out" blared over the loudspeakers. After fifteen minutes of posing for the crowd and breaking beer bottles over his head, Stephenson opened up with a joke.
"A bear and a rabbit are taking a shit in the woods," Stephenson began. "Long story short, the bear wipes his ass with the rabbit. Now let's talk some trash about the comics industry!"
As the crowd cheered, Stephenson accused the mainstream comics industry of coming to San Diego just to make announcements about "licensed series, gender-bending superheroes, and crossover events usually relegated to fanfiction," before pointing out that Image is here to save the industry from itself. Eric Stephenson might not be the hero the comics industry deserves, but he's the hero they need right now.
Stephenson on controversy: I say what I say and do what I do because I believe in the future of comics.— Heidi MacDonald (@Comixace) July 23, 2014
"One of the questions I get asked is how to provide more diversity in comics. They've been viewed as a boys' club, but thankfully that's changing. The industry was set up as a place for young white men, and thus the readers were young, white men. Now we need to appeal to as wide an audience as possible - people won't wake up and decide they want to work in this business if we're not appealing to them. We can't change the comics of the past, but we can make a better future now, by changing now.
"Change is integral to our future. Accepting things as they are isn't moving forward, that's standing still. Over the course of 2014, Diamond has reported that sales are down this year. Down is the direction you go if you stand still for too long. That's why at Image Comics, we have an ongoing policy that's based on two simple words: Move Forward."
Stephenson bragged about Image having a great year while the rest of the industry is seeing decreased sales, and pointed out that Image has grown its market share from less than 4% to 10%. He then queued up a video featuring various big name comics creators explaining why they choose to create comics at Image in a single word: freedom.
Clip of Image's Freedom Video. From left to right: Erik Larsen, Matt Fraction, Rick Remender, Brian K. Vaughan, Kelly Sue DeConnick.
Stephenson referenced past controversies in which his speeches offended the rest of the comics industry, and then promised to do it again today by tattling on their shady business practices and corporate double-speak. Again, from Newsarama:
"Many other companies have started to take a bigger look at creator-owned comics. But so often, many of the books they're publishing are so not creator-owned that they've created the new term creator-driven."
Going back to the ComicsPro meeting, he mentioned a panel with four other competitors, and one said that creator-owned comics don't matter to the comics buying public, with another saying it's most important that they're creator-driven.
"Creator-owned isn't a sexy term. Creator-driven though? That's the past speaking, as it hangs on by a thread. The mistakes my colleagues make is that creator-owned isn't a term coined for consumers: it does matter to the men and women writing and drawing comics. The difference is that one of those terms is double speak for an industry standard, while the other is something real and worth fighting for."
That sounds about right. Stephenson claimed that Image offers the best deal for creators, and that's why they love to work for Image. Also, they enjoy Stephenson's magic tricks. To demonstrate, Stephenson pulled a bejeweled turban from under the podium, placed it on his head, and invited Robert Kirkman onstage to join him for an Ernac the Magnificent segment.
"I hold in my hands an envelope," Kirkman announced. "Any child of four or Bob Harras can plainly see that the envelope is hermetically sealed. It's sat in a jar of Slim Fast in Tom Brevoort's office since 1984, and as you can see, it's never been touched, just like everyone in the audience. No one knows the contents of this envelope, but you, Ernac the Magnificent, in your borderline mystical and divine and wicked way, will ascertain the answer before ever having seen the question."
Stephenson snatched the envelope from Kirkman's hands and held it up to his forehead. "Ernac requires complete silence when he's working," Stephenson told the audience.
"Often times, he gets it," Kirkman responded. "Hi-yoooo!"
"May your wife attend a convention panel with Scott Lobdell," Stephenson retorted. He then pressed the envelop to his forehead and concentrated. "Big boobs in Burbank."
"Big boobs in Burbank," Kirkman repeated.
Stephenson ripped open the envelope and blew into it. "How will the DC editorial staff sign all their emails after moving from New York?!"
Stephenson then asked Kirkman to leave the stage, cursing the Kentucky comics mogul one last time: "May AMC replace your Walking Dead showrunner with an overzealous yak."
To be fair, if they keep replacing them at the rate they're currently going, there won't be many options left. Hi-yooo!
To close things off, Stephenson performed a freestyle rap directed at Marvel and DC:
Then he dropped the microphone and walked off the stage as various Image creators came up to announce their projects that might be out sometime before the next Image Expo. Read about those below:
- Lemire and Dustin Ngyuen on "Descender"
- Cloonan and Belanger on "Southern Cross"
- Remender, Murphy, and Hollingworth Unveil "Tokyo Drift"
- Ray Fawkes to Write, Paint "Intersect"
- Arcudi, Harren Bring "Rumble" to Image
- Fantasy Series "From Under Mountains" Coming From Churchland, Gibson, and Leong
- Casey, Maybury Bring Humor to the Nine Realms With "Valhalla Mad"
- Kurt Busiek and Ben Dewey to Have an Image Fantasy Series Too
- Image Announces "The Humans," Starring an Ape Biker Gang
Stay tuned to The Outhouse all weekend long for the kind of San Diego Comic Con coverage you can't get anywhere else, because we make half of it up!