Imprint Trouble

As anyone who follows the comics industry will tell you, one of the biggest events recently was the purchase of Wildstorm Productions by DC Comics. While Wildstorm founder Jim Lee no doubt made a great deal of money in exchange, it was DC that made out like bandits. They earned themselves some truly well-respected titles, including Kurt Busiek's Astro City, The Authority and Planetary. They got Alan Moore to work for them again, which was a major coup given that he didn't want to deal with the company ever again.

But one of the biggest gains was a whole stable of new imprints. They had America's Best Comics to appeal to the Moore fans, Wildstorm to appeal to the teen audience that was Marvel's biggest demographic, Cliffhanger to appeal to the art-driven, babe-driven crowd, and...Homage.

Homage Comics started out incredibly well. It was to be Jim Lee's "away from Image" project, like Rob Liefeld's Maximum Press except it featured readable comics. Very readable comics. The much-lauded Kurt Busiek's Astro City, the indie hit Strangers in Paradise, and the promising newcomer Leave it to Chance by established talents James Robinson and Paul Smith. The purpose of the imprint really seemed to be "well-established talent on cream of the crop books." It looked very promising, and we were all anxious to find out what was coming next.

What came next was Damned, a crime comic by Steven Grant and Mike Zeck. It looked like, with the exception of Astro City, it was going to be an imprint that featured non-super-hero titles, which was another nice touch. The launch of Desperadoes, a horror-tinged western by Jeff Mariotte and John Cassaday, seemed to confirm that.

However, the imprint seems to be drifting a bit now, and I'll confess I'm not sure what reason it has for existing anymore, other than to give Astro City a little bit of extra prestige as the flagship of a line. Terry Moore took Strangers in Paradise back to self-publishing relatively early, and Leave it to Chance ran into deadline problems that made the turnaround on the Star Wars prequels look snappy. While Damned and Desperadoes were both solid books, they were mini-series, and neither took off as well as the flagship.

Suddenly, at DC, more books have been coming out from the Homage imprint. Yeah! fit the profile, with high-visibility independent creators Gilbert Hernandez and Peter Bagge. It even shared a certain similarity with Leave it to Chance, in that it could easily be enjoyed by young girls, always an admirable goal. Not their fault that the result of the collaboration has been, to put it kindly, disappointing to many.

But then came Nightfall: The Black Chronicles by screenwriter Ford Lytle Gilmore and artist Tomm Coker and the upcoming Disavowed by Brandon Choi, Michael Heisler and Tommy Lee Edwards. None of these are exactly the level of big names that Homage originally boasted. While tastes can and do vary, and I hate to judge based solely on my own taste, I think even the writers of these projects would acknowledge that they're not on the level of Kurt Busiek, Terry Moore or James Robinson. Even if you're one of the folks who likes Coker or Edwards for their very distinct and unusual styles, I think you'll admit that they don't have the widespread appeal that John Cassaday or Paul Smith do.

Add to that the fact that both titles are dark and supernatural in tone, and would seem to fall into the purview of the Vertigo imprint, and it seems equally mysterious that they came out from Homage. I understand the whole geographic location and the fact that it's a Wildstorm editor and not a DC editor handling them, but why not just release them as Wildstorm projects in that case?

So the question remains...what is the purpose of Homage? Is it strictly for creator-owned projects? That would make sense, except that much of Vertigo is creator-owned, and DC has done creator-owned projects as well (Xero) in the recent past. Is it for non-DC Universe properties? OK, but then why wasn't Giantkiller a Homage project? Is it for non-super-hero projects? Then what's Astro City doing in there?

This may seem like a lot of concern for nothing. After all, I can just read the books I like and ignore the ones I don't, right? (Well, except for having to review books I don't want to read so that we'll have reviews on the site, but that's another topic entirely.) The thing that gets me is that Homage could be a great imprint. I remember the anticipation when Homage first came out, and the thought that everything they did was going to turn to gold. With a strong editorial vision, I still believe that could happen.

Instead of seeking out new creators or in-house Wildstorm talent for these books, go out and look in the independent field, or among the established Marvel and DC pros. Creator-owned is a big draw for folks these days, and almost any established pro would like to take their shot at it. Especially if they keep to the non-super-hero aspect of it. Ask Chuck Dixon if he'd like to do a war book (a long-missing staple of the industry, and one I believe Dixon has an interest in). What about John Ostrander on a western? Maybe Garth Ennis would have interest in flexing the muscles he showed on Heartland and do a historical piece in Ireland, or a straight family drama, or even a romance?

There are any number of established creators out there, and I'm sure some of them would love the chance to do creator-owned, non-super-hero work. All they'd need is a simple question, "Any interest in doing this?" Don't pitch them a complete project, just give them a possible genre and see what they come up with.

Homage is the only imprint from DC that needs this kind of work. The DC Universe has problems in spots, but is generally a more tightly-focused universe than Marvel. Wildstorm has its weak books, but it also has some very strong ones, and it seems to be undergoing some pruning as well. ABC is Alan Moore, and that's enough said right there. And Vertigo is, as always, turning out some of the best mainstream comics out there.

Except for the fact that they're doing a movie adaptation... what the hell is that about?

Randy W. Lander

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