Jim Valentino is one of the seven founders of Image Comics. He is also the founder of his own imprint at Image known as Shadowline.
SEQUART: Everyone has a story about what got them into comics. How did you get interested?
JIM VALENTINO: I started drawing at around age two. My father, who read comics in World War II (his favorites were Superman, Captain America, the Sub-Mariner and the Justice Society), noticed that I drew in a very cartoony, comic book style so he started to bring me comics. It was, for me, what most people describe as a religious experience. It was a bolt from the blue. I never had any question that it was what I wanted to be (well, except for being an astronaut, fireman, cowboy and dinosaur–but that didn’t seem real likely).
SEQUART: Over the years, you’ve done it all; you’re a writer, an artist, editor, and a publisher. Which is your favorite hat to wear and why?
VALENTINO: I’ve done each in their own time and have been grateful that I’ve been able to do it all. I have no one favorite. Doing each has been amazing.
SEQUART: Are there any other roles in the comic book industry that you would like to formally add in addition to writer, artist, editor, and publisher?
VALENTINO: Stapler. I just don’t think they get enough respect! When you think about it they’re the glue that binds…except they don’t use glue, just little pieces of metal–but, it’s more or less the same, right?
SEQUART: From 1999 to 2003, you were the publisher of Image Comics. What was your proudest moment during your tenure as publisher?
VALENTINO: A single moment? Oh, I don’t know–I’ve always been proudest of giving new creators either their first gig or their first “big break,” then watching them go on to greater heights in their careers. So, using that as a barometer maybe Green Lighting Powers, The Walking Dead and a few others.
SEQUART: Shadowline was first officially created in 1992, but the first book to sport its logo was Shadowline Special in 1994, and then it really launched in 2004. Can you shed some light on the history of Shadowline?
VALENTINO: Actually, I think the first book to sport its logo was ShadowHawk #3, but I could be wrong about that. We did a whole bunch of books in the mid 90’s; Replacement God by Zander Cannon, Torso by Brian Bendis, Soulwind by Scott Morse, tons more. Then we went on hiatus for a few years as I didn’t think it was kosher to publish myself or a line of books through my company while I was in charge of Image Central. After Erik took Image Central over, it seemed the right time to relaunch with the same attitude I had before and had carried over to Image Central–that is publishing high quality, well-written, predominately non-genre books.
SEQUART: Shadowline is an imprint of Image Comics, and I think some fans are unclear on the logistics of how an imprint works. What sort of relationship is between not only Image and Shadowline, but also between Shadowline and the other imprints like Skybound? Is there a sense of competition between the imprints or is it friendlier than that?
VALENTINO: This may be a matter of semantics, but I don’t think it is. Imprints refer to a subsidiary of a larger company. For example, Vertigo is an imprint of DC Entertainment. DC owns the imprint. It is a PART of the larger company.
Image does not own Shadowline, TMP, Top Cow or Skybound. Each of these is a fully independent, fully autonomous publisher unto itself. Image Comics is a co-op, co-owned by the founders of each of these independent publishers. We’ve been explaining this for 20 years. I don’t understand why it’s such a difficult concept for people to grasp. We own the company, it doesn’t own us!
As far as competition goes, there is none that I’m personally aware of. In fact, I believe one of the things that has kept us together for 20 years is the fact that we don’t compete and are fully autonomous, one from the other.
SEQUART: Since Shadowline produces creator-owned work, the relationship between the writer or artist and the editor must be different than a corporate controlled super-hero title. How would you characterize that relationship between creators and editors? What is the editing process like?
VALENTINO: I have always tried to service the work and to service the creators. Sometimes that means helping a writer with a plot, or an artist with a lay out, depending on the level of their experience. Sometimes, with more advanced creators, it means getting the hell out of their way.
We’re here to advise. We’re here to set schedules. We’re here to act as a sounding board–this works, that doesn’t work and here’s why. The editor corrects grammar and spelling. They do not tell a writer what a character the writer created would say or do (this happens a lot in the industry).
Now, having said all of this, it is not “anything goes” at Shadowline. I take a very active participatory role in every book, not to satisfy my ego, but to make the books as strong as they can be. To that end, I can and I will reject a cover and, sometimes (albeit, rarely) an interior page. I will exercise final say. It is, after all, my company and I feel very strongly about maintaining a high level of quality.
SEQUART: What do you think is the biggest myth about publishers?
VALENTINO: That we work in our underwear.
SEQUART: What do you wish everyone knew about the comic book industry?
VALENTINO: That we work in our underwear.
No, no– wish everyone knew that comics are not a genre targeted at a specific audience. They are not all adolescent male power fantasies, they are not only for children or for the sub-literate but are a medium that has no limits in terms of subject matter, artistic merit, sophistication or potential audience.
SEQUART: What do you wish you could change about the industry?
VALENTINO: Two things: I’d like to see more equity in pay and in profit sharing even for work-for-hire. I’d like to see the business practices of the Big Two, especially, be more equitable to the talented people who create the characters that make their bottom line possible.
Second, I’d love to see more diverse concepts embraced. I’d love to see more “alternate” books in the top 100, let alone the top ten as opposed to the same old franchises dominating sales. I’d like to see the audience be a little more expansive and, perhaps, a little more sophisticated in their tastes and buying habits. Not that there’s anything wrong with super-hero comics, I love them–always have, always will. It’s just that we could be so much more than what we are right now…we just need the support so the folks doing these books can eek out a better living than the one they currently have.
SEQUART: Finally, what comics are you really enjoying right now? What should people be reading?
VALENTINO: Well, more Shadowline books, of course (what did you expect me to say?)! People should be reading Peter Panzerfaust and Harvest and Mondo and Bomb Queen and Debris and the upcoming Comeback and everything with an Image “i” on the cover! They should be reading Saga and Fatale and Hell Yeah! and Chew and Hoax Hunters. They should also check out Batman by Snyder and Capullo, Sweet Tooth and the Unwritten, oh and Punk Rock Jesus is pretty good, too! There’s lots of great stuff–but buy more Shadowline and more Image–it’s good for the soul!