Experiencing double digit growth, Image Comics was the #2 publisher for graphic novels in the book market in 2014 according to BookScan figures, coming in behind DC and just ahead of Marvel.
Image publisher Eric Stephenson revealed some of Image’s numbers during Image Expo, the company’s twice a year press event, saying they had one of its best years ever. Image mainstays The Walking Dead and Saga and new in 2014 titles such as Sex Criminals and The Wicked + the Divine led the way to a banner year. The company won the Gem Award for Best Publisher from Diamond Distribution for the second year in a row and racked up "double digit growth in both dollars and units sold" in the past year (+33% in dollars, and + 25% in units sold compared to 2013), closing out with year with over 10% market share, "outperforming our closest competitor by 60%.”
Image Expo, held for the fourth time on January 8th at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, has become sort of an Apple Keynote speech for the comics industry, as Stephenson discusses Image business and creators are brought out to announce new projects. The two-day event is open to fans and press and features panel discussions and, for the first time this year, a day for retailers.
While the direct market/comics shops still represent 54% of Image's sales, Stephenson noted Image's strong showing in the bookstore market. "We're the #2 publisher in bookstores, handily outselling comics publishers with greater output," he said.
Stephenson singled out Image's pricing strategy as one of the key growth factors, keeping most of its line priced at $2.99, and $9.99 for all first volumes of collected editions. Noting that the first volume of The Walking Dead was priced at $9.99 for years, Stephenson said, "we sold millions of copies as a result. Following suit with the rest of our books was a no-brainer. What we may have lost in dollars with that plan, we gained in readership."
He also said that digital comics, "once seen as a threat to our industry," is now responsible for 13% of Image's sales. "Digital is just another distribution channel, working in tandem with bookstores and comic stores to bring comics to readers wherever they may be."
As with past Image Expos, following Stephenson’s keynote, fans were then bombarded with an invincible barrage of new books from the top creators in the industry.
Perhaps the biggest name to go Image is Darwyn Cooke (Justice League: The New Frontier, Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter) is debuting his 3-issue noir thriller Revengeance! with Image in Summer 2015. Set in Toronto, Revengeance! is inspired by Mickey Spillane's first Mike Hammer story, where a man finds that his best friend has been murdered and vows vengeance.
Alex DeCampi (Grindhouse) and Carla Speed McNeil (Finder) announced their new Image series No Mercy. Inspired in part by teens-in-crisis manga series like Death Note and Attack on Titan, No Mercy focuses a group of overachieving Princeton University freshmen on a trip to Central America to whose bus falls off a cliff. What will they do to survive now that all that the rules and truths they once knew no longer apply?
Brian K. Vaughan, still white hot due to the incredible success of Saga, his SF soap opera drawn by Fiona Staples, announced two new projects. Cliff Chiang will be making his Image Comics debut on one, Paper Girls about "four newspaper delivery girls on a night after Halloween, when something very strange happens…" Vaughn opted to hold off on describing the story in greater detail, but added that Paper Girls is "the weirdest thing I've ever written, and the most personal." And We Stand On Guard by Vaughan and Steve Skroce, is their take on a North America, 100 years in the future, when a "heroic band of Canadian freedom fighters have to fight off an invasion from the United States.
In all Image announced 19 new books. The rest:
- Island an eclectic new comics magazine edited by Brandon Graham, "Heavy Metal, with less of a teen boy focus" with contributions by artists from Michael DeForge to Emma Rios.
- I Hate Fairyland by Skottie Young, about "a character like Alice who went to Fairyland, but got stuck there for 40 years."
- Tadaima, an autobiographical comic by Emi Lennow about her trip to Japan with her mother,
- AD: After Death, a new graphic novel by Wytches scribe Scott Snyder and drawn by Lemire about what happens when a cure for death is discovered, and the man who has made this world-changing discovery has the chance to live multiple lives.
- Kaptara, a new sci-fi comedy from Chip Zdarsky (Sex Criminals) and Kagen MacLeod (Infinite Kung Fu) was described as a mix between The Planet of Doctor Moreau and "all the action figures you used to play with when you were a kid," Kapatara just might be the next "gay Saga," if Zdarsky has his way.
- 8House: Mirror by Emma Rios and Hwei Lim
- Sons of the Devil by Brian Buccalellato and Toni Infante
- RunLoveKill a dinosaur tale by Eric Canete and Jonathan Tsuei
- The Ludocrats by Kieron Gillen and David Lafuente
- Plutona, a story written by Jeff Lemire (Sweet Tooth) and illustrated by Lennox, about what happens when a group of kids find the body of a dead superhero, inspired by movies like Stand by Me and River's Edge.
- Starve by Brian Wood and Daniel Zezelj
- Black Road by Wood and Gary Brown, something of a follow-up to his Vertigo series Viking
- James Robinson’s Heaven, a comic with a hint of "religious/political parody," drawn by formerUncanny X-Men artist Philip Tan.
- Savor, Image founding father Todd McFarlene’s return with a story that asks the question, "what if God was one of us; just a slob like one of us?"
- Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, a fantasy-adventure series set in a 1920's era Shanghai, where monsters roam the Earth.