On Taking Risks: Eric Stephenson’s Keynote Speech At Image Expo

by Hannah Means Shannon

Eric Stephenson’s opening speech reflected on 2017, the publisher’s move to Portland, Oregon, and the launch of new titles. He is reassured by the power of new comics and creators to take fans and publishers by surprise. An excellent example is Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw’s God Country, which was by no means a “sure thing”. When subsequent issue orders went up rather than down, God Country brought Cates and Shaw from less known status to being in demand.

Stephenson also cited the example of Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead, which had been rejected by various publishers, but once published by Image, issue by issue sales went up. He said that it became a hit because fans took a chance on a new book. Many others fit that model, even Saga.

Speaking of Brian K. Vaughn’s work, Stephenson said that Saga as a space opera was also not a “sure thing”. But it took off, and Fiona Staples and Vaughn give Stephenson a good reminder of thinking “outside the box”, even when it came to publishing schedule. They wanted to take breaks of varying lengths between each arc of the story, which he thought was “crazy” at first, but Saga became an even bigger hit without the least hit to quality or integrity of the comic, Stephenson said.

Addressing what might feel like a slump or a “slog” in the comics industry right now, Stephenson encouraged all of us to take a “risk” on things we don’t know, things with unusual sounding titles. That’s the way to show that we believe in comics and what the medium is capable of.