Five years ago, Robert Kirkman was named a partner at Image Comics. Around that same time he released a video that has come to be called ‘the Kirkman Manifesto’ on what is wrong with the comic book industry and how to save it.
The core principle behind the video was that the comic book market of 2008 was built on creators working on small, independent works and then graduating up to Marvel or DC. And then that was the end. But Kirkman believed that creators getting to those companies shouldn’t be the end of their journey. Instead, it should be used as a stepping stone to get as many fans as possible. Once they had reached their peak at Marvel or DC, they should leave and go back to independent comics, taking as many fans with them as possible.
Creators don’t own any of the ideas, concepts, or characters they create at the Big Two. They can own everything they create independently. Kirkman believed that comic creators could make a living doing their own work once they’ve built up a large enough fan base at Marvel or DC.
As less and less new readers, especially young ones, read comics, there is a fear that the comic reading community will essentially die out entirely. That, according to Kirkman, is because Marvel and DC aren’t marketing towards kids but towards the “fan men” who have been reading comics for decades. Kirkman called for as many creators as possible to leave the Big Two in order to do independent comics for the fan men, while Marvel and DC would be forced to market their wares towards creating new fanboys, thus creating a cycle that would keep the industry alive.
Five years later, we are possibly seeing the first part of Kirkman’s ideas come true. Two weeks ago at Image Expo, it was announced that Ed Brubaker, Mark Millar, Matt Fraction, Rick Remender, and Jason Aaron would be launching new books at the publisher. Greg Rucka’s newest Image comic, Lazarus, debuted last week. These are all creators that are counted among the current crop of top talent at Marvel and/or DC.
Some of the creators, like Jonathan Hickman and Remender, hardly left indie comics to begin with but are using their newfound popularity to launch more creator-owned books. Others, like Matt Fraction and Jason Aaron, are finally doing some of the only creator-owned books they’ve done since joining Marvel.
Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka so far are the only ones to fully leave Marvel (though it appears Mark Millar has essentially done the same) in order to work on their own comic book and television work. But the past few years have seen top talent at both companies dip their toes back in indie work after years of writing superhero comics.
Across the street, DC Comics may be inadvertently accelerating the exodus of creators to indie work. Since the New 52 started, James Robinson, Rob Liefeld, Andy Diggle, Chris Roberson, Judd Winick, Joshua Fialkov, and many more have all left DC over some form of creative differences. Most have started their own independent projects since leaving, arguably the most notable of which is Roberson, who started the digital company MonkeyBrain Comics with Allison Baker.
Some veteran creators who haven’t been given a top Marvel or DC book in recent years are more quickly making the transition to non-Big Two work. Paul Jenkins announced in June that he was done working for Marvel and DC because they didn’t allow him the creative freedom that his new job at BOOM! Studios afforded him. George Perez also just signed an exclusive contract with the studio. Though the books created at BOOM! aren’t fully creator-owned (the company owns a piece of the media rights) it still counts as a step in the direction Kirkman called for.
Whether all this movement means that the future Kirkman envisioned five years ago will come to pass remains to be seen, but all of the above sure is a sign that things are on that track. Or that, at the very least, a compromise is being made between the old ways and the Kirkman Manifesto.
Instead of the mass exodus from the Big Two, a lot of creators seem content to straddle the line. The Marvel creators who are doing books for Image are still doing their Marvel work. Deadly Class and Black Science doesn’t mean that Rick Remender is leaving Uncanny Avengers or Captain America anytime soon, just as Satellite Sam, ODY-C and Sex Criminals doesn’t imply Matt Fraction is leaving the Fantastic Four books or Hawkeye.
As comic sales go up around the industry, especially with Marvel and Image – which this year has already gained a 38% increase in unit sales – it seems that this is the ideal scenario for many of these creators’ fans too. They still get A-level talent making their favorite superhero comics. And, at the same time, they get original stories from the writers and artists they love.
Here’s hoping that this week’s SDCC will bring forth many announcements of top writers and artists making the leap into the world of creator-owned comics.