I was fortunate enough to talk with the legendary Jim Valentino this past week, who has done so much for Image Comics and the industry as a whole. He literally helped Image Comics start a revolution.
He began his career in small press and in the early/mid 80's debuted his "normalman" book through Dave Sim's Aardvark-Vanheim company. In the late 80's he started his run on "Guardians of the Galaxy" which has been beloved by fans for years.
In 1992, along with six of his fellow creators, he left Marvel to form Image Comics. It was there that he introduced the world to ShadowHawk, a dark and gritty superhero, under his Shadowline Imprint. In 1999 he became publisher of Image Comics. Under his leadership the company brought in a more diverse line of comics and new creators, such as Brian Michael Bendis and Robert Kirkman. He continues to run his Shadowline imprint and also serves on the Board of Directors of the Hero Initiative.
Comic Lounge: You've been in the comic book industry since the 70s. What would you say have been the biggest changes from then until now?
Jim Valentino: Diversity on every level--fans, creators, characters. When I first started attending conventions in the mid-seventies there were almost no women, no persons of color, any LGBT person was deep in the closet. It was straight, white males. The same was true for both characters and creators. Today we're seeing a far wider range, hearing from more diverse and less homogenous talents. This has been an incredibly positive step toward expanding the scope of possibilities within the medium.
Comic Lounge: You've done everything in comics, writing, art, editing, and publishing. What would you say was your favorite?
Jim: All of the above. Everything is interesting and unique. While not a sports person, I tend to use a sports analogy to describe my career: when I was younger, I played on the field; as I grew older, I moved into a coaching position. Every step along the way has been creatively fulfilling. Each has come in its proper time and, I feel, contributed to both my personal and creative growth, so I have no favorite. I've enjoyed it all and am grateful that I've been able to live my childhood dream.
Comic Lounge: You did an awesome run on Guardians of the Galaxy. As a fan and creator, what was it like to see these characters become so popular? Also seeing the original Guardians on the big screen in Vol. 2?
Jim: Well, I don't consider the movie version of the team to be "my" version. I believe that this version was created by my old pal, Keith Giffen. Certainly they were developed by the wonderful work of Abnett, Lanning, Bendis and others. That said, I no longer have to explain what book I did to citizens (non-comics readers) during my time at Marvel, so that's a plus!
Comic Lounge: When you decided to leave Marvel to form Image, what were your main motivations?
Jim: To put it as succinctly as possible, self-reliance. I was never anti-Marvel; in point of fact, only one of the original founders was anti-Marvel (I leave it to you to figure out who). I saw Image as a great opportunity, not only for myself and my partners, but for other creators. You have to understand that I came up from small press underground and alternative comics, a far different path than my brethren. To me there was nothing unusual in owning your creations, it was a matter of course. Also, I was friends with Jerry Siegel and knew many of the first-generation creators such as Jack Kirby, Murphy Anderson and others. I have always been a proponent of creator's rights, so for me this was rather like coming home.
Comic Lounge: What was it like for you when Image first launched and became so successful from the beginning?
Jim: Well, it changed everything for me. It elevated me from mid-list to A-list virtually overnight and secured my career in a way that it had never been before. More, though, it provided me the opportunity to help other creators. As for the autograph lines and all of that nonsense, that wasn't what it was about for me. I had no desire and still have no desire to be a "super-star." I'd much rather be the man behind the curtain. That said, it was all great fun as it all continues to be.
Comic Lounge: You were also responsible for turning Image away from less super-hero books and bringing in more genres. What made you decide to do that? Did you have any idea that it would be so successful?
Jim: Well, first, I never really saw Image as a super-hero company. Fact is, I don't believe that most of us did. We were a comic book company. Since all of us were known for doing super-hero comics, it only made sense that in order to be successful we would come out of the gate doing super-hero comics. We'd all seen popular creators leave Marvel and DC to do their "Art" projects and tank. We wanted to compete with the big two, and the way to do that was to give the fans what they expected from us. Almost from the very beginning we started publishing books like The Maxx and Groo, Bone, and Strangers In Paradise.
When I took over as publisher in 1999, Image was publishing a lot of titillation books that I felt were beneath us creatively. I love super-hero comics, I was weaned on them, but coming as I did from independents I knew that there was so much more to the medium than just super-heroes and I knew that if Image was going to grow into the next century, we had to expand beyond those limited parameters. First and foremost, I'm a fan of the art form. I like a unique idea well told. That's what I looked for then and, I'm very proud to say, it's what Eric Stephenson is continuing now. Comics, like all artforms, should never be limited to a single genre, but should encompass as wide a range of styles and subjects as possible.
Comic Lounge: ShadowHawk was one of my favorite Image books. Do you ever see yourself returning to the character, or letting anyone else work on him?
Jim: Well, you know what they say, "Never say never...except for sometimes." A few ideas have been floating around. None have quite hit the bell just yet, so for the time being the answer is still no. That said, who knows what the future will bring? Certainly not me.
Comic Lounge: Do you have any plans to write/draw again in the future?
Jim: I've penciled a few Rat Queens B covers recently and pretty much always draw a cover for the Hero Initiative's 100 Projects, but I have no plans to return to monthly comic production. Same is true for writing--prose pieces here and there, but no plans to return to a monthly series. Having reached triple digits, I consider myself semi-retired these days.
Comic Lounge: What would you say has been your most memorable moment in your career?
Jim: Honestly, I've never thought of that. When you're in the middle of the stream you don't contemplate the precision of your stroke, do you? I guess the formation of Image would be right up there. I've enjoyed working on the Guardians, normalman and more auto-biographical stuff. I've had the opportunity to work with, meet and even introduce people I greatly admire, to travel and make lifelong friends. Everything about my career has been a blessing and enriched my life. I wouldn't change a thing. Well, some things, but they have little to do with my career (he said with an evil grin).