The 800 lb. Gorilla
I'm sure most of you have heard the joke: "Where does an 800 lb. gorilla sit?" Answer: "Anywhere he wants to." It's just one way of saying that the 800 lb. gorilla does whatever it wants, because it has the muscle to do so. Dennis Miller referenced it in the credits of his show on HBO, where he was credited as the "800 lb. Gorilla" of that show. And while I'm not sure that's the reference that they were going for, it seems appropriate that the next 800 lb. gorilla in comics is the Gorilla imprint from Image comics.
It's been rumored (and denied) for a long time courtesy of Internet rumormonger Rich Johnston. The news finally broke at Mid-Ohio Con last weekend, and the facts are even more impressive than most of the rumors, which is always a surprise. The names read like a "who's who" of super-hero comic-book writers: Kurt Busiek. Mark Waid. Joe Kelly. Karl Kesel. The artistic talent is equal to their writing collaborators: Mike Wieringo. Barry Kitson. Tom Grummett. George Perez.
I'll tell you what else I see when I look at those names: Fun comics. Astro City, Avengers, Flash, JLA: Year One, Deadpool, and Superboy all have a sense of "Silver Age" fun to them with a modern writing style. Much as Vertigo has a feel of "adult-tinged horror/crime" just by saying the name, Gorilla may come to mean "fun, light-hearted comics."
Those eight folks are the "founders" and if that reminds anyone of the original "Image Seven" the comparison probably isn't too far off. Just as the effect of those seven hot artists echoed throughout the industry and changed the way they do things, it seems likely that this will have the same effect, maybe legitimizing the part a writer plays in creating good comics for those in the industry who still don't get it. But while there does seem to be some anger at the way things are done, just as there was when the Image founders left, it seems to be more of the frustrated type than the bitter type. To wit, all these creators are staying with their publisher-owned work while they do this. This also lets them hedge their bets in case Gorilla doesn't take off. (Which, let's face it, is an unlikely proposition. Though all of these folks have had misses, their success ratio is impressive.)
There was resentment from some quarters when the Image founders left. They came out of the gate bragging about how they were going to put DC and Marvel out of business, or at least that's how it sounded to this fan. And while I respected the struggle for creator's rights, I remember being unhappy that the characters I had enjoyed were suddenly going to be struggling for good creative teams. Here were these creators telling me that in a few years, nobody was going to want to work on Spider-Man or the X-Men because they could see how great creator-owned work was with Image as an example. I was gaining a whole bunch of unknown quantities (that were, granted, possibly exciting) and losing all my old favorites. The Banana Trust (as those eight are called) have wisely avoided that. While I'm very interested to see a new book from Busiek, or to see Waid write something creator-owned, or to see anything new Kelly develops, I don't lose Avengers or JLA or Action Comics.
In addition, the tone of the announcements from these folks has been "there's something wrong in the industry for us, and we thought we'd fix it." Not "Marvel and DC suck, and we're taking our ball and going home." What they're doing is maintaining the excitement that the Image creation had without also building up the animosity and resentment. While it makes the new imprint seem a little less radical, a little less "all or nothing," what they gain in exchange is well worth the tiny bit of hoopla they miss. I'd rather see "Busiek and Perez to create a new book!" over "Busiek and Perez are leaving Avengers to create a new book!" any day.
It's ironic that this is being published through Image. Not just for the similarity in genesis, but because when Image formed, it seemed predicated on the belief that writers weren't necessary. Heck, one of the founders out and out said that in an infamous letter to Comic Buyer's Guide. But Image, thankfully, has changed and grown since it's birth. Mostly for the better, because even though their dream of "creator-owned" slipped by the wayside a little (what with work-for-hire showing up in most of the studios, and most of the creators having long since abandoned their creations for other work) they have become a haven for smaller press, creator-owned books. Everything from Image may not be a huge splash anymore, but they've got such a variety of product, it's much easier to take them seriously than it was in the early days. They've grown from arrogant upstart publisher to one so big they can be considered an established publisher for launching a new imprint.
Gorilla, on the other hand, should be interesting to watch right out the gate. Waid has been an editor and a writer, and he probably has far more knowledge of the business than any of the Image founders had when they started. Busiek likewise has been in the business a while, and Perez has been around even longer. Wieringo, Busiek, Kelly and Perez all have experience with creator-owned projects prior to this. While the Image bunch had talent and the bravery and arrogance of youth, the Banana Trust has talent and a wealth of industry experience. It's a much more impressive foundation to build an imprint on.
What I find most remarkable about this imprint is the huge amount of buzz when basically no titles have been announced. There is speculation, and one book that will most likely be a Gorilla book (Superstar by Busiek and Stuart Immonen), but we don't know anything about these books. All we know is that these are talented, intelligent creators doing what they want to do, and that's exciting.
As it should be. If only more comic companies would take that as their bottom line, they'd probably see an impressive effect on their other bottom line.