“Image is Always Different, Always Changing”: Image’s Eric Stephenson on the Current State of the Publisher

You may have read my deep dive earlier on where Image Comics is in the post Walking Dead era, or perhaps if you didn’t. But if you haven’t, you missed that a big portion of it was built off perspective from Eric Stephenson, Image’s Publisher and Chief Creative Officer. Stephenson shared insight on everything they’re up to these days as they move forward after the conclusion of their biggest gun and some a few other significant titles.

Those snippets were taken from a larger interview I did with Stephenson focusing on the business side of things for the publisher, as Stephenson went deep on topics like how they’re handling the array of titles that have ended for them this year, dealing with delays, returnability, how much they’re focusing on graphic novels and other markets, and a whole lot more. It’s a whole thing, and because we went so deep, I wanted to share the interview in full with you all. As per usual with Stephenson, it’s filled with frank, honest takes on everything that comes up, making it well worth a read. And it’s open to everyone.

So give it a read below, and hey, if you enjoy this kind of content, consider subscribing to SKTCHD for more like it. You’ll get access to the full Image Comics feature and a whole lot more if you do.

There have been several notable Image titles ending in 2019. That leads to a hole, at least in theory, at the top of the Image line. So it seems like a big deal. You all knew this was coming far before any of us did. How do you plan for something like that? And what do you do to adjust? Was it shifting focus to building up the next generation of Image hits, or was it mostly business as usual?

Eric Stephenson: Well, none of that is new – we have titles ending all the time. SPAWN just passed the 300-issue mark, and SAVAGE DRAGON, which will hit issue 250 early next year, but series that run that long are typically the exception and not the rule at Image. Generally speaking, creators launch series here with a natural ending in mind. INVINCIBLE, KILL OR BE KILLED, DESCENDER, I HATE FAIRYLAND, and CHEW ended last year, all according to the creators’ plans. THE WALKING DEAD, THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, PAPER GIRLS, and most recently BLACK SCIENCE all ended this year, and again, all as planned. EAST OF WEST is up next. There are books that will end next year. Not every series is intended to go on forever, and the way Image is set up, we work to support creators’ plans for their books, and we don’t try to talk them out of finishing stories that are ready to come to their set conclusion.

The cover to The Walking Dead #193’s second print, art by Charlie Adlard

That said, yeah, something like THE WALKING DEAD coming to its natural end is obviously going to seem like a big deal, because it wasn’t just a successful comic book, it became a huge international phenomenon. The thing is, though, there aren’t a lot of WALKING DEADs, just like there aren’t a lot of STAR WARS or a lot of HARRY POTTERs. That kind of massive, worldwide success can be very elusive, regardless of the medium.

Back when THE WALKING DEAD was really gaining momentum, John Layman and Rob Guillory brought us a book called CHEW and that did incredibly well. It didn’t do the same numbers as THE WALKING DEAD, but it did very, very well, and to a large extent, I attribute the success of that book to the subsequent influx of creators that transformed the landscape of comics over the last 10 years or so. And when people used to ask me what the next WALKING DEAD was, my response was typically that I didn’t necessarily want the next WALKING DEAD – I wanted a dozen more CHEWs.

So, yes, knowing that the conclusion of THE WALKING DEAD was on the horizon, we’ve spent time cultivating other projects and onboarding those next CHEWs – and that is very much what you refer to as “business as usual.”

Image is always different, always changing, and we’re always looking for what’s next. So when something like THE WICKED + THE DIVINE ends, Kieron starts DIE with Stephanie Hans – which sales-wise is already rivalling what THE WICKED + THE DIVINE was doing at the same point in its run four years prior – and then we’ve got THE KILLING HORIZON from Jamie coming in 2020 with Kieron’s LUDOCRATS on tap for next year as well. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips started at Image in 2012 with FATALE, but they’re on their fourth series now with CRIMINAL; Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen replaced DESCENDER with its follow-up, ASCENDER; Skottie Young moved from I HATE FAIRYLAND to MIDDLEWEST and has multiple other projects in the works… It’s kind of a constant churn, and that’s one of the things that makes Image unique. We’re not shackled to a bunch of decades-old IP, and we don’t have licensors to appease, so there is a regular flow of new creativity.

That’s how you get things like MONSTRESS, LITTLE BIRD, UNNATURAL, OBLIVION SONG, GIDEON FALLS, DEADLY CLASS, LAZARUS, SFSX, COFFIN BOUND, THE MAGIC ORDER, UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY, and so many others, and that’s why those books and others have all seen great numbers, multiple reprints, critical acclaim, and constant reorders as the retail community responds to fan enthusiasm for the titles we publish.

To put it another way, this year Image had 30 Eisner nominations – and every single nomination in the Best New Series category was an Image title, the first time that’s happened in the history of the Eisner Awards. There are always going to be long-running books that we’ll miss after they’ve ended, but we’re hardly resting on our laurels.

2020 is a big year for a number of reasons for Image, but maybe the biggest is the wave of titles that are returning in 2020. Does knowing the returns of those titles are on the horizon make The Walking Dead, Paper Girls and WicDiv’s departure a bit easier to handle? What difference does it make to have those somewhere on the schedule?

The cover to Sex Criminals #26, art by Chip Zdarsky

ES: The biggest difference is that it will satisfy the ongoing demand from the fandom built around each of those series. Books like SEX CRIMINALS, BITCH PLANET, THE GODDAMNED – we get questions about them all the time. When creators feel like their readers are eager for more, I think that has an energizing effect on everyone involved. Breaks are necessary sometimes, but it’s exciting to come back when there’s so much enthusiasm and anticipation within the fan community.

As far as the specific titles you mention, like I said, they ran as long as the creators involved wanted them to run and it would be a disservice to everyone who read and loved those books to continue them simply to maintain some kind of financial bottom line.

What’s exciting is that every one of the creators involved in the books that are ending will be launching something new with Image, in some instances as early as next year, in some cases a little further down the line, and ultimately, there’s more value in shepherding the next wave of big ideas than just milking the old ones forever.

In fact, the latter approach has had a somewhat detrimental effect on our industry overall.

Related to that: We’re seeing the return of some titles after sizable gaps, like Sex Criminals and Pretty Deadly for two. Is working with creators to manage schedules to help prevent gaps like that something you and your team are regularly looking at? Or is there only so much you can do?

ES: We do work with creators on scheduling, but in some cases, it’s more than that. Using SAGA as an example, that’s not a scheduling problem, it’s a matter of Brian and Fiona needing to take some time off. SEX CRIMINALS was a similar situation. In other instances, things happen that are legitimately out of anyone’s control and we all deal with it as best we can.

Overall, though, our position is that our main job is to support the creators, and sometimes that means supporting their decision to take time off and figuring out how best to manage expectations for their return. What we’re working on presently is better communication with our retail partners, as well as the fanbase regarding the returns of series – as well as any potential delays – so that everyone can be better prepared for what comes next.

It does seem like 2019 has brought some new hits to the table, as shops I know raved about Little Bird, for one. But we’re also going to see Undiscovered Country later this year, which has all the markings of another one, and there are other new books that feel like sure shots to attract an audience like The Killing Horizon. We’ve talked many times before about how the focus for Image is always on making good comics. But do you ever aim for ones that look like “hits” in particular? Or is that type of game too unpredictable?

ES: You don’t get to choose your hits.

There are any number of books we’ve published over the years that we felt for sure what be huge, but then, as good as they were, didn’t quite live up to our expectations. I think any publisher will tell you that. While it’s easy to get a sense for how good something is, or its potential, it’s impossible to look at something and say, “This is going to be the next…” Well, I was going to say, “fill in the blank,” but since other people say it, I’m going to say it, too: “This is going to be the next WALKING DEAD.”

And here’s the thing: THE WALKING DEAD launched at around 7,000 copies back in 2003. In no way was it a sure thing. At the time, Image’s top selling book was SPAWN and our most recent hit was Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming’s POWERS. Robert had been self-publishing BATTLE POPE, and he’d done SUPERPATRIOT, CAPES, TECH JACKET, and INVINCIBLE at Image – none of which were particularly big hits. He pitched THE WALKING DEAD to us multiple times before then-publisher Jim Valentino agreed to take a chance on it, and again – it got like 7,000 orders. We launched a handful of other horror titles that month, and another of those, a book called SWORD OF DRACULA had much higher orders. In fact, I’d have to compare notes with Valentino, but my own recollection is that we anticipated that book was going to be the breakout book from our horror launch. It was a good book, but it didn’t turn into THE WALKING DEAD.

Was something like SAGA a sure thing? Kind of? Brian K. Vaughan obviously had a considerable reputation. He’d generated some incredible work at other publishers – Y: THE LAST MAN, PRIDE OF BAGHDAD, RUNAWAYS, EX MACHINA – and Fiona Staples, at the time we first announced the book, was on the cusp of really breaking out as a major talent. She’d just done this great book with Steve Niles called THE MYSTERY SOCIETY, and she was doing these phenomenal covers for Wildstorm, so yeah, everything about SAGA looked good. UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY is similar in that Scott, Charles, and Guiseppe are all extremely well-known and well-liked, and they’ve come up with a fantastic concept. It would be dumb for that book not to be a hit. Those are exceptions, though, and in a broader sense, exceptions that are somewhat dependent on the talent involved.

The cover to Little Bird #1, art by Ian Bertram

Robert wasn’t a Brian K. Vaughan level talent in terms of recognition at the time THE WALKING DEAD launched, and if you look at something like Y: THE LAST MAN, Brian wasn’t as well-known back then as he is now. Neither John Layman nor Rob Guillory were big names before CHEW, and so on. A big part of what makes comics exciting is the constant influx of new talent and new ideas – discovering things for the first time.

I think that’s why LITTLE BIRD did so well earlier this year, and why we have such high expectations for its follow-up, PRECIOUS METAL. Darcy and Ian have been around and they’ve done some good work, but for most readers, they’re new blood, doing something that stands out from other comics. Mirka Andolfo is a similar success story. UNNATURAL did really well for us, and I think her next Image series, MERCY, is going to do even better. Tina Horn isn’t a household name as far as comic books go, but she’s an extraordinarily gifted writer with a fresh perspective, and I can’t believe how lucky we got to include SFSX in our lineup.

Ultimately, the thing that drives success in this industry is telling an engaging story and telling it well. Sometimes identifying strong talent or a good story leads to a surefire hit, but even when it doesn’t, producing good comics is what builds trust with retailers and fans over time and keeps them coming back.

2019 saw Image reduce the size of its line, and it was something you talked about publicly after a whole lot of feedback came from retailers about that. Why was that a necessary move?

ES: It’s something we’d been talking about internally for a long time, honestly, because there’s just way too much content in the marketplace right now. I was working in comics during the publishing glut of the ‘90s, and I’m old enough to remember the huge glut of black and white indie titles in the ‘80s, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that flooding the market never ends well for anyone. Every publisher that cares about the long-term success of this industry should be doing their part to better curate their line.

I’m not one of those people obsessed with proclaiming each and every month of this year as a new all-time low for comics – mostly because I know it’s not true, but also because just sitting around complaining about how bad things seem has never contributed to actual change – but to a large degree, I think our industry as a whole has lost sight of the bigger picture. Consumers have more entertainment options than ever and there is a lot of competition across all forms of media, and that can be challenging for everyone, at every level, but we’re far from the only company that has figured out that quality ultimately wins out over quantity.

To put that in more specific terms: We launched 66 titles in 2018, which may sound high, but is actually lower than our all-time high for launches – a total that exceeded 70 – back in 2014. Anyway, we launched just under 70 titles last year and around 30% of those were what I would characterize as disappointing or poor launches, in terms of raw sales data. This year, we cut that launch total not quite in half, but close, and while we don’t have final numbers for the whole year yet, it’s looking like less than 1% of our 2019 launches fall into that “disappointing” category. We had some bigger launches last year – OBLIVION SONG was huge, and so was THE MAGIC ORDER and the first Image issue of KICK-ASS – but overall, we’ve been launching things better and more consistently as a result of curbing our output, and UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY #1 just FOC’d with higher launch numbers than every one of the three titles I just mentioned.

The cover to Undiscovered Country #1, art by Giuseppe Camuncoli

Another effort Image took on in 2019 was No Risk Number Ones, a program that makes select first issues at Image fully returnable with no order gates. It was part of a couple programs you rolled out this year to help mitigate risk for shops, which is a huge piece of the direct market puzzle these days. What were the origins of that, and how important is it to keep trying to find answers that work for both Image and its partners in the varying markets?

ES: To a large degree, that goes back to 2011, when we were preparing for our 20th anniversary and knew we were launching several big new series. DC had just done a major reboot in September of that year and the retail community was buzzing about the fact that DC had offered varying levels of returnabilty in an effort to get everyone to go big on the New 52.

And people were talking about it because it worked – the New 52 provided the industry with some much needed momentum at a time when things were far, far more dire than they are now. I mean, February of 2011 was like our darkest hour if you ask me – the number one book that month was an issue of GREEN LANTERN that not only failed to break 100,000 in estimated sales, it didn’t even break 75,000. I think the reported total was something like 71,000 or thereabouts, and worse, fewer than 20 titles sold over 50,000 that month – with fewer than 90 over 20,000. I don’t mean to get off on a tangent, but I really want to underscore how grim things were, and how important it was for DC to make the New 52 work and why they resorted to returnability as a sales tool.

But the important thing is, it did work, and looking at how they accomplished that, I went to Bill Schanes at Diamond and asked if he thought a similar approach would help us with the books we were launching in 2012. These were books like SAGA and FATALE and THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS, and while we were anticipating a lot of attention for these titles, we wanted to prime the pump a little, to make sure retailers viewed ordering them as more of an opportunity than a risk. Bill offered some advice on how to make this work best for Image – making it an incentive, limiting it to only one or two titles per month – and we set up the program. Over the course of 2012 and for the next few years, it worked very well for us, and I’m proud to say that in most instances, we received very few returns – at levels well below what is considered “acceptable” and both the creators involved and the retail community benefitted.

Around the middle of 2015, other publishers had looked at the success DC and Image were having with returnability and set up their own programs. In some instances, these programs involved membership in publisher-managed programs and that seemed to work out for them as well. What we were seeing by then, though, was that active participation in our own returnability program was declining, so our Director of Sales recommended we cut back on returnability and try other types of incentives, and the number of titles we offered returnability on trickled down to almost nothing over the following years.

Once Image set up shop in Portland, though, we invited some local retailers into the office to discuss how we could better support them, and we made some visits to stores in other states, as well as bringing various retailers out for meetings, and returnability kept coming up. We’ve always been pretty vocal about how much we value feedback from retailers, and in this instance, it was obvious that returnability in any form would help and that feedback is ultimately what informed our decision to revisit returnability via the No Risk Number Ones program. But we looked for ways to improve on what we’d done before and make it available to as many stores as possible. We didn’t want to make it an incentive or membership-based or anything like that. If returnabilty helps the Direct Market, we want it to help all of the Direct Market. As you mention, there have been other initiatives we’ve put in place—higher discounts, backlist incentives, overships, and the like – and the goal with all of them is to create more and better opportunities for all stores, regardless of size, to support the titles we publish with a minimum of risk.

I’m at one comic shop or another every Wednesday to scope out the shelves, and from talking to local retailers, I know that everything helps. Honestly, I think everyone working in comics, no matter what they’re doing – writing, drawing, editing, marketing, production, you name it – should go a comic book shop if not every week than as often as possible. I find it incredibly helpful in terms of building perspective, and in my experience, very few retailers are reluctant to talk about their business. With that in mind, we’re emailing or calling retailers whenever we can. Better communication is good for everyone, and we want to know what works and what doesn’t. Hopefully, the overall message we’re getting across is that we’re all working toward the same goal and should be helping one another get good comics in as many customers’ hands as possible.

The focus used to be on the direct market, but it’s obviously much more than just that. The book market very well may pass the direct market this year. Graphic novels are the dominant format. Libraries are a powerful channel, and one that serves a different audience that often desires different types of comics. That’s a lot to consider. How has Image tried to evolve as these other markets have grown in size? And do you think you’ve had any particular success stories in any of those other markets that may surprise people?

ES: First off, it may well be that the book market passes the Direct Market in sales of comics content this year – but that’s based largely on product the Direct Market is not selling, or is not selling in like quantities.

A good example of this is Raina Telgemeier’s new book, GUTS. That book is doing phenomenally well, but the majority of those sales are coming from outside comic book shops. Same with Dave Pilkey’s DOG MAN books. There is a wide variety of comics content aimed at younger readers that is doing exceptionally well in bookstores, but selling at a lesser level in comic book stores, and I think that skews the data somewhat. Is it a problem for the Direct Market that a majority of consumers are buying GUTS somewhere other than comic book stores? I would argue yes, but I would also argue that not every graphic novel is going to perform as well as GUTS, in any marketplace.

Something else to consider is that a growing number of comic book stores are ordering trade paperbacks from wholesalers like Ingram, especially when it comes to books like GUTS, so again, that throws the numbers off a bit because Ingram sales are lumped in with that overall total for the book market, regardless of where those books are being sold.

All that said, the Direct Market is still the foundation of our industry and while the market for comics content outside of comic book shops has grown significantly over the last 20 years or so, comics are still competing for a relatively small portion of shelf space. Even if we’re talking about Amazon, where there is theoretically unlimited “shelf space,” there is a fairly narrow opportunity for discoverability against a seemingly infinite assortment of product.

With comic shops, we at least know a customer walking into the store likely wants to spend money on a comic, even if they don’t know which one yet, and the best shops cater to just as wide a range of tastes as bookstores, with the added bonus of having staffs who know and love the content they’re selling. In many ways, comic book stores are the last bastion of independent retailing, and the best comic shops are quite literally the last place you’ll find a full range of comics product. Are there things comic book stores could do better? Of course, but the very fact they continue to exist at all is something that should be celebrated, not scorned.

As much as I love comic book stores, though, I do think it’s important that comics get into other markets. Libraries are a key part of spreading the word for comics and graphic novels, and we’ve ramped up the energy we spend working with librarians on getting the word out about our books in a big way. Anyone who has seen one of the panels hosted by our Library Market Sale Representative, Chloe Ramos-Peterson, knows that we are very committed to working with libraries, and coming out of New York, we have a very ambitious library initiative we are hoping to have in place by the end of the year.

Libraries are only one piece of the puzzle, though, and bottom line, for comics to be successful, they need to be successful in as many sales channels as possible, with as many different formats and types of stories as possible.

Think about this, David: When the Direct Market was taking its first steps toward becoming the primary sales outlet for comics back in the early ‘80s, there were many who wanted to abandon newsstands completely. There were some in favor of continuing to sell into the newsstand market, despite increasing returns, but by the ‘90s, anything outside the Direct Market was a losing proposition. By the turn of the century, monthly comics were virtually invisible outside of comics shops, but with the proliferation of trade paperback collections, the chase for the book market dollar was on and in many ways, we’re right back to where we started, because the book market is 100% returnable and just because something is ordered in high quantities, that doesn’t mean you’re not going to get a good chunk of those back. Back in the newsstand days, sell-thru of 50% was often considered good, and returns under 40% were cause for celebration. In more recent history, there have been publishers who have been hobbled by high returns, or by the closure of chains like Borders or Hastings. The fewer sales channels, the fewer the sales opportunities, and the greater the overall risk.

The cover to My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies, art by Sean Phillips

One thing I’ve noticed repeatedly is some comics at Image becoming graphic novels and an increase in graphic novels being published at Image. Have you been looking for more graphic novels? And does that shift in focus relate to reducing the size of the single-issue line, or are those unrelated?

ES: Story dictates the format, not the other way around. There have been numerous instances in the past when creators have reached out seeking guidance on format, and my answer is always that it depends on the story.

Comic books and graphic novels are not the same thing. They’re part of the same overall medium, absolutely, but creatively, they work different muscles, and for readers, they provide different types of entertainment. It’s like the difference between film and television – there are great films and there are great TV series, but just because you can buy a box set of THE WEST WING, that doesn’t make it a movie.

I think we limit the potential of what our medium is capable of by lumping it all together as one thing. There are a lot of monthly comics that get collected into trade paperbacks, but they don’t make good graphic novels. In some cases, they don’t even make good stories, because they’re so serialized it’s difficult to enjoy an individual volume on its own. Something like THE DARK PHOENIX SAGA – that’s a collection of monthly comics books that actually hangs together really well as a trade paperback, and it’s one of the earliest examples of comics content being handled that way – but there were how many issues of X-MEN leading up to that? And how many followed it? The fact that Chris Claremont and John Byrne crafted a run of issues that could be collected into one book and work as one story – without reading the rest of the series – or worse, half a dozen other series – is pretty amazing when you think about it. Not every trade paperback works that well, even when it seems like our entire industry has shifted to writing for the trade.

Getting back to your original question, though, I wouldn’t necessarily say that we’re looking for more graphic novels at the expense of monthly comics. There have been a couple instances in which something wasn’t really reaching its full potential as a monthly comic and we recommended that the creators continue it as trades – Grace Ellis and Shae Beagle’s MOONSTRUCK comes most immediately to mind – and if that seems like a better option for other series in the future, then we’ll likely make that recommendation again.

I do think there should be more graphic novels, though, because there is talent I would like to see stretch out a bit and do more of that kind of work. Few things have made me happier than Matt Fraction embarking on NOVEMBER with Elsa Charterrier. That is extraordinary work, and I think it is work that could only exist in the format Matt & Elsa have chosen. I think what Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips did with MY HEROES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN JUNKIES was really special, and I don’t think that story would have worked as well as issues of CRIMINAL.

By the same token, we need more comic books written as comic books, so we’re looking for that, too.

Like I said, it seems like everyone is writing for the trade, but at the same time, wondering why our readership is waiting for the trade. We’ve done it to ourselves – we’ve been begging them to wait for the trade, with the way we’re constructing the stories, with the needless interconnected series, by charging too much. If you’re selling someone six comic books at $3.99 each, or more and more commonly $4.99, and then they can wait a few months and get the trade paperback collecting those issues for less, it stands to reason they’re going to wait and save the money, especially if reading each of those comic books on its own results in something less than enjoying an actual story. We’re selling people pieces of a story and then wondering why they’re not satisfied with that.

People don’t have a problem with comic books, they have a problem with being asked to buy something that isn’t really good value for the money.

The cover to Fell #1, art by Ben Templesmith

Years ago, Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith did a book here called FELL. Do you remember that book? It was a serial, so each issue was a complete story, but it was still part of a greater whole. If you read the trade that collects issues 1-8, it actually reads as though it was all meant to fit together, but as it was coming out, each story – each 16-page story, actually – was perfectly digestible on its own. Warren wanted it to be something anyone could read at any time, for more or less the change in their pocket, so it was $1.99. FELL #1 was ordered reasonably well. The second issue dropped by about a third, which was better than standard but still a drop, and then with #3, it started going back up, and orders continued going up for the duration of the series. Reader response was pretty affirmative about both the content and the price – people liked getting a complete story for relatively little money.

Monthly comics can work just fine when they’re treated as monthly comics and are sold for a fair price, but in the mad dash to gain traction in bookstores with trade paperbacks, we’ve either forgotten how to make monthly comics work or we’re too filled with self-loathing for that particular aspect of our medium to be bothered. Sometimes it’s like our entire industry huddled together and decided to workshop a plan for turning monthly comics into the most unappealing entertainment format possible, and judging from industry stats, it seems like that was a roaring success.

Comics work best when they focus on what makes this medium unique and they’re not treated like a poor man’s version of some other medium. When we sit around and wonder why it is that Hollywood sees comics as a hotbed of creativity but people aren’t beating down the doors of their local comic shops, it’s largely to do with the fact that what we’re offering them is not so subtle attempts at making movies on paper, which just results in even more watered down versions of once vital material that used to turn heads in ways that other mediums simply aren’t capable of.

It feels more than ever that massive hits – in any medium! – that serve every audience are almost a thing of the past, and it’s become more about servicing more narrow audiences with stories that fit them. Is that something Image considers when looking at titles? That you need a diversity of subjects and formats because of the way everything is shifting? Or is it purely dependent on what is submitted?

ES: Our marketing director, Kat Salazar, made the observation recently that the really successful books are the ones that tap into things anyone can relate to: love, fear, grief, friendship, wins, losses, family. I think we were talking about SAGA at the time, but we could have just as easily been talking about Harry Potter, or honestly, THE WALKING DEAD. I don’t want to spoil the end of that book for anyone, but there are two different scenes in issue #192 that I am incapable of describing to someone without getting choked up. In one instance, it’s a scene involving a character who doesn’t know what’s coming even though the reader does, and even thinking about it now, I feel so bad for that character. Later on, there’s a scene involving the same character that involves other characters being supportive, that is at once both sad and aspirational, a really beautiful moment that unexpectedly brought me to tears. There’s a moment in SAGA when Sophie and Lying Cat are talking that just gutted me – I actually think Brian has made me cry more than any writer in comics. The back half of Y: THE LAST MAN turned me into a blubbering mess on an almost monthly basis, I’m not ashamed to say!

Ever since Kat brought that up, I keep thinking about various things we’ve published and how well they fit her brief. The list gets pretty long, pretty quick: I KILL GIANTS. PAPER GIRLS. MIDDLEWEST. MOONSTRUCK. ISOLA. BLACK SCIENCE. SNOTGIRL. STRAY BULLETS. THE FADE OUT. SKYWARD. BINGO LOVE. GOD COUNTRY. SEA OF STARS. MONSTRESS. SOUTHERN BASTARDS. SEX CRIMINALS. UNNATURAL.

Those are just some of the examples that spring to mind, though, and I’m not saying every good story needs to move readers to tears, but all the best stories tap into those very real human emotions that we all share and we’ve done more of them than I can rattle off. Those stories can take many forms and can provoke many different reactions, but by and large, that’s what we do, and that’s what we’re looking for.

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