It is hard to believe that it has been thirty years since those bold and brash comic creators left their jobs at Marvel and started their own company, answering to no one but each other. I was a freshmen in college in 1992 when Spawn #1 was released. I could not legally drink, did not drive, and was getting interested in comic books again. I had been an avid comic reader for most of my childhood up through early high school, but like many teenagers I started to develop new interests and my desire to get to the local comic shop every week had waned. In my second semester at UMASS I had my first campus job and a little money in my pocket. I was more comfortable with campus life and being away from home so I started paying attention to the vendors that had tables in the student union on Friday’s, selling tee shirts, hats, posters, cds, and comic books.
I don’t remember when I first heard of Image comics: Spawn, Youngblood, WildC.A.T.S. or The Savage Dragon. I don’t even remember buying Spawn #1, but I did. I knew Todd McFarlane from his work on Infinity Inc, Incredible Hulk, and of course The Amazing Spider-Man. He was one of the artists that made me believe that great art was more important to a comic than great writing was. What did I know, I was young, and still contradicting everything that my brother said. I came down on the side of the artist in the great debate of art vs writing. Comic books were a visual medium and fantastic art could carry a mediocre story. Case in point: McFarlane’s adjectiveless Spiderman. My point is that I knew who Todd McFarlane was and could instantly recognize his work so I probably bought Spawn #1 on the strength of that recongnition alone.
In ‘92 I was still into Heavy Metal and here was this demon “spawned” character that wore spikes, chains and had an awesome looking black & red costume. What didn’t I love about it? The character kicked ass and took names. He was mad as hell and wasn’t going to take it anymore. (See what I did there?) The comic was big, flashy, and in your face. I don’t want to call it extreme, that was Rob Liefeld’s stuff over in Youngblood. It was everything that cocky artists starting their own comic company needed it to be to go up against the big two.
I bought Spawn regularly, but oddly enough I did not get any of the other launch books, not Savage Dragon, no Youngblood, or Wild CATS. It wasn’t until a year later when Frank Miller and John Romita’s Daredevil: Man Without Fear came out that I started to get seriously back into comic “collecting”. I started reading Wizard and Hero Illustrated and it was easy to get on the 90’s comic hype train from that point forward. Sure I still liked Daredevil, Spider-man, and Batman but I started looking for newer creations, flashier characters and shiny covers!
It did not take me too long to go all in on the hobby and hype. New series were launching left and right. There were multiple #1 issues on the shelves every week. Image was a huge success and they started pumping books out. I bought Sam Keith’s The Maxx, a book that I thought was weird and awesome looking, but in reality I had no clue what was going on. It didn’t matter though, that big purple freak was wicked cool with his huge feet and big yellow clawed hands. I bought Whilce Portacio’s Wetworks. Solid gold government super soldiers, huge guns. and werewolves, yes, please! I loved it. Dale Keown’s Pitt, the Alien “Hulk”, seemed bigger than life in that first issue. These comics were pure adrenaline action packed thrill rides. The heroes were flashy, the women were sexy, and the artists knew how to draw eye-popping poses.
Then came the toys. At 19-20 years old I was not so far removed from playing with G.I Joe, He-Man and Star Wars that I could still remember how much fun it was to go to the toy store and get a new figure. And, hey, the Kay-Bee Toy was just around the corner from the comic shop in the Hadley mall. That first wave of Spawn action figures was so cool. Spawn, Medieval Spawn (covered in spikes) and the bendy Violator were a dream come true for a young man who wasn’t interested in growing up just yet. I could have the characters from my favorite comics right there on my desk in full three dimensional glory.
Collecting the toys was just as much fun as collecting the comics. My girlfriend and I started visiting other toy stores in the area to find the new figures. We’d hit the malls and Toys R Us between Hadley and Springfield as an adventure on the weekends. It was something to do to get us out of the dorms and away from homework. Armed with new issues of Toy Fair magazine we’d drive around searching for the “rare low case-pack” figures. I can still remember how flipping excited I was to find the huge Malebolgia figure on a peg in a K-Mart. I never thought I was making an investment in my future where one day I’d be able to sell my collection for millions, it was just fun running around blowing all my money on toys and comics. I was living out a fantasy.
As time passed my tastes changed. I started to lose interest in buying all those Image books, new series with the same characters and different names. There really was not a lot of substance, or at least not enough to keep me interested. Sure McFarlane and Larsen kept their books going, but a lot of the rest of the books had their fair share of troubles. Nothing came out on time. Heck, Pitt #1 was released in January of 1993, did not get a second issue until July or a third issue until 1994. The infamous Image / Valiant crossover series Deathmate, six issues, took almost a year to get fully published. And it wasn’t just delays that were a problem, the characters and stories were nothing more than glorified battle royale shoot-em-ups. There was not much character building. It all just became a little tedious.
Eventually I started to find new things to read, like Jeff Smith’s Bone (which was published by Image for awhile), Dark Horse was doing new things with Star Wars like Dark Empire, and Marvel was pulling out all the stops with the X-men and the Age of Apocalypse. There was a new boom of independent comic publishers that was fueled by a frenzied fan base and huge speculator market. Every new company came looking for the comic reader and investor’s dollars. It was the wild west. Everyone tried to produce edgier and flashier characters. Dealer incentives become normalized. Eventually the boom went bust and only the best survived.
Image was still massively successful, and they continue to be to this day. They were started by creators who wanted to tell their own stories and own their creations. They were a haven where writers and artists could try new things and they still are. Those early years filled with new #1s and shiny covers were a wonderful time to be a comic book reader. Everyone wanted to be the next big thing and it was exciting as a fan to be around then.
It was great to be able to brag that you read and owned the comics that were on the top ten lists from Wizard. It was wonderful to be able to walk into the student union on a Friday afternoon with a cashed paycheck wondering what new comic would be coming home with me that day. I may have several short boxes filled with EXTREME comics that I probably will never read again and are not going to put anyone through college, but I would not trade the memories of that era for anything. I can hold up my copy of Spawn #1 as proof that I was there, right from the beginning, right there at that start on the road to revolution.
If you were ever a fan of Image comics, Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld, or Jim Lee then check out my fellow Super-Blog Team-Up writers and podcasters as they also take a look at those early halcyon days of Image comics.
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