For Sale: My Collection of Image Comics
By Bert Ehrmann
August 3, 2012
The 1990s were a very interesting time for those of us who collected comic books. Back then, comics weren't nearly as mainstream as they are today. In fact, kids were the ones who were supposed to be buying the comics and any kid who kept purchasing them into their teens was looked upon with pity or downright scorn for doing so.
I was one of those pitied and teased teens who would hit the local drug stores and supermarkets each week looking for new comics. And, on the first Sunday of the month, would visit the local flea market hoping to load-up on older titles too.
In the early 1990s things seemed to be changing. Kids and certain teens were still buying comics, but adults in business suits started buying them too. Some of these adults were buying comics because they loved them, but others saw them as an investment and would buy up at least one of every new comic they could get their hands on. It was also during this time that mainstream comics began to lose some of the goofy trappings of old and began to focus more on mature subject matter.
To all this entered a new comics publisher in 1992; Image Comics. Formed by some of the top industry artists of the time including Rob Liefeld, Erik Larsen, Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee, Image Comics would focus on pushing the envelope of the comics medium while at the same time asserting comic creator's rights to own whatever titles and characters they created. Something that at that time was sorely missing from the mainstream comics publishers.
For many years, the coolest comics out there were Image Comics. Everything else seemed simple and old-fashioned in comparison. If in the 1960s music pushed boundaries, the 1970s movies and the 1980s fine art, then what was pushing the boundaries in the 1990s were comics, specifically Image Comics. Image Comics ticked off adults and were so hip that co-founder Rob Liefeld was a spokesperson for then top-brand Levi Jeans and appeared in print and in TV commercials touting them.
And because of the huge success of Image Comics, where they went the mainstream publishers like Marvel and DC followed, updating characters, adding new ones and modernizing storylines.
For years I bought every Image Comic released and probably spend thousands of dollars them. But while my obsession was complete in the early 1990s, things began to change for me in the late 1990s.
From the start, Image Comics pushed style over substance. And while this appealed to me as a teen, by the time I was in my 20s I had evolved different tastes while Image Comics was still the same. And since the mainstream publishers had also begun to push style over substance in order to be more Image-like, it meant that while I still bought a few comics from time to time, there simply weren't many of them that I was interested in anymore.
When I look back at Image Comics in the 1990s I have to admit that there's a sour taste in my mouth. While the comics were a lot of fun to collect and read back then, looking back there's really not much there today other than a few issues/titles that stands any test of time. People who don't read comics know who Superman, Wonder Woman and Spider-Man are, but does any non-comic reader know who Spawn, Ripclaw or Badrock are ,who were some of the major Image characters of the '90s?
But the biggest letdown with Image Comics has to be the idea of "creator's rights" that was pushed so heavily by them when they first launched. Any idea that Image was going to be any different than mainstream publishers like Marvel or DC was abandoned by them when one of the Image co-founders Todd McFarlane got into a protracted years-long legal battle with writer Neil Gaiman over the rights to a character Gaiman created in an issue of Spawn which Gaiman eventually won.
While Image Comics is responsible for a lot of bad when it comes to modern comics, be it style over substance or a lack of continuity that plagues comics today, I'd also argue that that Image pushed comics into the mainstream and the incredible success that followed is one of the biggest reasons that the general public no longer considers comic books just for kids anymore.
I've got a closet full of Image Comics that aren't worth any more than the paper they're printed on. Investment? HA!