Out of the Shadows, Part 1 | Jim Valentino

jimmyheader.jpgIn the first part of a two-part look at Shadowline, Image Comics founder Jim Valentino chats about his new autobiographical series Drawing From Life and the publishing philosophy behind his own corner of the Image brand.

 

Jim Valentino knows a thing or two about diversity when it comes to comics. In a career spanning back to the late 1970s, Valentino put his stamp on genres ranging from autobiographical comics (collected as Vignettes) to superhero parody (normalman) to space opera (Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy), and the writer-artist only continued this streak as one of the seven original founders of Image Comics, launching not only the hyper-violent vigilante superhero Shadowhawk but also the introspective memoir A Touch of Silver. His tenure as publisher of Image from 1999 to 2004 saw the company’s output expand to an unprecedented level of diversity.

 

With Erik Larsen now seated in the publisher’s chair, Valentino has turned his attention back to his own line within Image, Shadowline. Launching with a series of high concept superhero books such as Emissary and a newly-resurrected Shadowhawk, the line began seeing sold-out successes with untraditional stories like Jimmie Robinson’s adult-oriented supervillain book Bomb Queen, the genre mash-up Sam Noir: Samurai Detective, and the fallen hero tale After The Cape. But all of this was just a warm-up for Shadowline’s next chapter, with a fall line-up that runs the gamut from all-ages adventure (PX!, The Surreal Adventures of Edgar Allan Poo) to historical drama (Parade (with Fireworks) by cartoonist Mike Cavallaro) to Western zombie horror (Graveslinger). Valentino is not only shepherding the diverse line of books but contributing himself, returning to the autobio genre that made him famous with a new series titled Drawing From Life, whose second issue is due out in December.

 

We caught up with Valentino at this summer’s Wizard World Chicago convention, where he talked of his new book and the publishing philosophy he uses to set Shadowline apart. "We really pick and choose books very, very carefully," says Valentino, "and they’re books that we like on one level or another, but that we just think are good. To me, no one book stands out above any other. They’re all pretty close to our hearts. All of them. Otherwise, why do them?"

 

This is part one of a two-part interview on Shadowline. Be sure to check back soon for part two, where we discuss the line with Valentino’s partner in crime, Shadowline editor Kris Simon.

Since Shadowline is its own entity within Image Comics, how do you see its role as it relates to the other parts of the company? What is it that sets Shadowline apart from Image Central, Top Cow, and Todd McFarlane Productions?

 

Jim Valentino: Well, we’re better than they are, so, y’know, that’s the first thing.

 

We have a very limited line of books, and those books are specially selected, edited, and moved through in a way that Image Central, at least, doesn’t. That would be the first difference: we’re only going to max out at 5 books a month. That’s it, because that’s all that Kris and I can deal with at any given time.

 

Do you have a certain philosophy that you use to select the books you publish?

 

JV: My basic philosophy behind publishing is that I think a publisher should publish a wide variety of books. Just like Simon & Shuster publish everything from cookbooks to soft porn, I think that a comic book publisher should do the same — not necessarily cookbooks and soft porn, but a wide gamut of books.

 

The first thing we look for is a solid story. We look for art that’s up to a certain level, a certain caliber that we deem is okay. And once those things are together, then we’re looking for things like pacing, plotting, timing. The ability of a creative team to actually do the book on time: that’s really important to us, so we maintain very tight deadlines. [Shadowline] is run like a professional publisher, as opposed to haphazardly.

 

Do you find since you guys don’t have some sort of unifying theme across your books that it’s harder to get people to understand what Shadowline is, exactly?  

 

JV: I don’t really care about that, I figure there’s not much you can do about stupid people. [laughs] So who cares? It says "Shadowline" somewhere on the title, and that’s enough. Hopefully, if we’re doing our job correctly, then the brand will stand for a certain degree of quality, as opposed to a certain genre or style of storytelling.

 

Two of the titles you have recently released are PX! and Edgar Allan Poo, which are both all-ages comics and also both originally came from webcomics. What do you see as the role of all-ages comics and webcomics going forward?

JV: Well, publishing-wise, it’s always an experiment. All-ages comics have never really done well in the direct sales market, mostly because the majority of the direct sales market is males from the ages of about 18 to about 50, so quote-unquote "kids comics" don’t usually work. But we’re looking at a broader audience, and we’re trying to get a broader audience. We don’t go to adolescent power fantasies. I’m not interested in doing another book about teenage mutants disemboweling one another, it just doesn’t interest me. We’re looking at a much broader range.

Poo and PX! fit in in the same way that In Her Darkest Hour fits in, or Parade (with Fireworks) fits in, or Archibald Saves Christmas fits in, in the fact that they’re just well done books, period, and that’s the way they fit in with us. Whether or not they do well in the future, it’s up to each publisher to decide what he wants to put out there. I’d rather put out a good book than a million-selling book if the million-selling book is a piece of crap.

 

You’ve just recently started creating your own comics again with the series Drawing From Life. What brought about you both starting a new book and working in the autobiographical genre again?

 

JV: Kris [Simon, Shadowline editor] was nagging me to no end, so I just had no choice. It was either that or listen to her nag me forever, so, you know, I had to.

 

Do you want to counter that?

 

Kris Simon: No! [all laugh] I fully admit I nagged.

 

JV: I had just moved to Portland, Oregon, and I just started writing and drawing again. There’s no other explanation for it: I just started again. It was just time, I think, for me to do that kind of work again, and it felt really good.

 

How regularly are you working on it? Are you trying to make it a regularly published event, or just whenever the mood and the inspiration strikes you to make new stories?

JV: I don’t think you can do those kinds of comics on a monthly basis or a bimonthly basis. It’s a lot different than doing a superhero story, for example. I just do it whenever the mood strikes. There will be a second one later in the year that will have my first Image stories in it. It will be bookended by two Image stories, one from 1992 [and] one from 2007, from the San Diego Comic Con that just passed, so that’s kind of a first. It just depends. These are real stories, and sometimes they’re hard to do. I’m not rushing it.

 

Also, we’ve got a whole lot to do with all the publishing stuff that we’re doing. We work…a lot. [laughs] We really do. So there’s only so much I can do.

 

Stay tuned for part 2 of our look at Shadowline, featuring an interview with editor Kris Simon! In the meantime, discuss your favorite Shadowline books at the Shadowline messageboard at ImageComics.com.

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