The 25 Biggest Image Comics Launches Since 2012 Have Some Surprises
Recently, Mark Millar claimed there hasn't been any major success in creator-owned comic books since Saga. Image Comics disagrees with that.
Recently, Mark Millar claimed that there hasn't been any significant success in the creator-owned world of comic books in the last ten years and that Saga was probably the last one. That other things have done nicely, but Saga was the last time there was a phenomenon. It's part of a thesis he has shared over the years that real success for everyone comes when Marvel and DC are doing well and that a rising tide lifts all ships. And that big-name creators, including himself, need to go back to Marvel and DC to do a couple of books.
Firstly, Mark Millar has been saying he'd do a Superman comic this year or next, But I understand his Netflix exclusive contract will only be up in 2025. And could this be more that his own books haven't been doing as well of late as they once did? They aren't creator-owned anymore, Netflix owns them, but it doesn't mean others aren't doing well.
Firstly, by defining the comics industry as only Marvel and DC, or only the direct market, he misses out on the fact that the likes of Scholastic and Random House have been publishing middle-grade and YA comics, the audiences that Marvel and DC used to aim at, with multiple million print runs and sales. Dav Pilkey's Dog Man series does Asterix numbers now, five million copies twice a year, plus spinoffs, and plenty of other graphic novels, whether from Raina Telegemeir or Shannon Hale,, have also been selling millions. The question to answer is, what will they all be looking to read in ten years' time?
And as for Image Comics, who specialises in creator-owned or creator-controlled comics, focusing on the direct market of comic book stores? Well, in the last few days, a list has been circulating recently of an internal tally of Image Comics' top 25 launches since 2012, which is when Saga launched. From what I've been able to ascertain from various sources, the point of the list (apparently an abridged version of a much longer list) is to document the Image's rise following its renaissance during the company's 20th anniversary. But it is also quite handy to have circulating right now to counter Mark Millar's points.
And 2012 was indeed a busy year for Image, with the first issues of everything from Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips' Fatale to Jonathan Hickman's The Manhattan Projects to Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples' Saga all releasing during the first half of that year. Just as Mark Millar would approve of, coming on the heels of DC's New 52 in September of 2011, Image was able to ride the momentum of enthusiasm bubbling up in comic book stores whilst doubling down on its core values with its Experience Creativity ad campaign, seemingly inspired by Apple's Think Different campaign. To underscore that after some time in the wilderness, Image Comics was back.
But here's the thing. None of those 2012 titles were on the list of the most-ordered Image Comics in the last eleven years, even though it included 2012 in its tally. Indeed, only a handful were released before 2020. I understand that the top fifteen were all titles with sales over 100,000, with the bottom ten scooping up titles with sales of 80,000 and up.
1. KING SPAWN (Todd McFarlane Productions) 2021
2. GUNSLINGER SPAWN (Todd McFarlane Productions) 2021
3. SCORCHED (Todd McFarlane Productions) 2021
4. SPAWN'S UNIVERSE (Todd McFarlane Productions) 2021
5. CROSSOVER (Donny Cates/Geoff Shaw) 2020
6. TWIG (Skottie Young/Kyle Strahm) 2022
7. JUPITER'S LEGACY (Mark Millar/Netflix) 2013
8. NOCTERRA (Scott Snyder/Tony S Daniel) 2021
9. STRAY DOGS: DOG DAYS (Tony Fleecs/Trish Forstner) 2021
10. MOM: MOTHER OF MADNESS (Emilia Clarke/Marguerite Bennett/Leila Leiz) 2021
11. VANISH (Donny Cates/Ryan Stegman) 2022
12. VOID RIVALS (Robert Kirkman/Skybound) 2023
13. THE WALKING DEAD DELUXE (Robert Kirkman/Skybound) 2020
14. DEPARTMENT OF TRUTH (James Tynion IV/Martin Simmonds) 2020
15. W0RLDTR33 (James Tynion IV/Fernando Blanco) 2023
16. SKYBOUND X (Robert Kirkman/Skybound) 2021
17. PRIMORDIAL (Jeff Lemire/Andrea Sorrentino) 2021
18. OUTCAST (Robert Kirkman/Skybound) 2014
19. UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (Scott Snyder / Charles Soule/ Giuseppe Camuncoli) 2019
20. GEIGER (Geoff Johns/Gary Frank) 2021
21. WHATS THE FURTHEST PLACE FROM HERE (Matt Rosenberg/Tyler Boss) 2021
22. WYTCHES (Scott Snyder/Jock) 2014
23. REBORN (Mark Millar/Netflix) 2016
24. OBLIVION SONG (Robert Kirkman/Skybound) 2018
25. WE STAND ON GUARD (Brian K. Vaughan/Steve Skroce ) 2015
Todd McFarlane is the big winner here, with his various Spawn launches during what he dubbed "the Year of Spawn" in 2021, taking the top four spots while his ongoing series also did well. Looking at the numbers shared at the time, King Spawn #1 had orders of nearly 500,000, with Gunslinger Spawn #1 coming at just under 400,000, The Scorched #1 scooping up 275,000 orders, and the lead-in to the initiative, the Spawn's Universe one-shot, doing slightly over 200,000. Not bad at all, given that Spawn is Image's flagship character, but more impressive considering that only a few short years earlier, Spawn was struggling to sell more than 12,000 copies an issue. Those issues go for a pretty penny on eBay now.
Then there's Robert Kirkman, who has no fewer than five titles on the list, including one of two titles from this year. It's been extensively publicised over the years that Kirkman's longest-running and best-known (not to mention bestselling) series, The Walking Dead, started its life with orders of around 7,000, but still, who could have guessed that Kirkman's most-ordered debut would wind up being what is by all appearances a work for hire job that tees up Hasbro's Energon Universe for Kirkman's Skybound imprint? In fact, Void Rivals #1 beats out the first issues of the colour reprint series The Walking Dead Deluxe #1, Skybound X #1 (featuring the first instalment of a The Walking Dead-adjacent serial by Kirkman and Invincible collaborator Ryan Ottley), Outcast #1, and Oblivion Song #1.
Overall, though, the last plays out more or less as one might expect, given Image's press releases from the previous few years. James Tynion IV is clearly on the rise, with first The Department Of Truth and now W0rldtr33 offering further that Tynion is, as they say, "the real deal," and his ongoing success with his various creator-owned titles is based on more than residual name recognition from his Batman days. He's the biggest name on comic Substack, and his Something Is Killing The Children franchise has seen six-figure sales through its run and spinoffs at Boom Studios. Who have also seen similar sales for Grim. And BRZRKR go past even Spawn.
Basically, his creator-owned sales generally outdo his Batman sales. Why should he be pressured to go back? What industry would he save that he is not already doing?
Scott Snyder makes the list three times, with each Image series selling more than the last, from 2014's Wytches to 2019's Undiscovered Country to 2021's Nocterra. At the same time, his Substack is successfully developing creators for the future. The only real question as pertains to Snyder is why he chose to stop there, given that his place as Image's eighth bestselling title of the last decade indicates he was clearly on a path that would have put him in the same league as Kirkman and McFarlane as one of Image's top creators.
What's curious, though, is the relative absence of Mark Millar titles. When Netflix bought the Millarworld brand, it seemed like big news for Image – a considerable get – but the streaming service doesn't seem to have added the sheen to Millar's books that we thought it would. While Robert Kirkman has snatched up even more glory with his long-beloved Invincible on Amazon Prime, Netflix's efforts to boost Millar seem to have languished for the most part – or perhaps they're cursed? Jupiter's Legacy, though the highest of Millar's Image launches, landed with a somewhat embarrassing thud when Netflix got hold of it, and despite over a dozen Image launches since the beginning of the Netflix deal, only the pre-deal title Reborn from 2016 makes this list, and along with the long-promised adaptation of The Magic Order adaptation, has yet to materialise. It is notable also that Magic Order is not on this list – while Millar promoted it as the best-selling indie comic since The Walking Dead, and got a fake headline on Deadline, it was later revealed that 100,000 copies were ordered by Reed Expo to be given away – and they were then pulped when the content was deemed unsuitable. Image Comics' internal statistics have been amended to reflect this. If recent gossip is any indication, we'll sooner see a new Spawn film before more Millarworld on Netflix.
It's also worth noting that some of Image's more lauded successes – Zoe Thorogood's much-feted It's Lonely At The Centre Of The Earth, currently on its fourth printing in less than a year, and the non-stop creative dynamo that is the Ed Brubaker / Sean Phillips partnership, responsible for a steady stream of hit graphic novels like My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies, Pulp, the Reckless books, and now Night Fever, exist in a space outside the confines of a list devoted to biggest series launches. It would also be interesting to see how, say, Twig stacks up against Skottie Young's I Hate Fairyland when it comes to trade paperback sales, or indeed Saga versus everything on this list, as I'm told that series remains the gold standard of Image trade paperbacks.
Suppose there's a clear message in this list, though. In that case, the notion that the period surrounding Image's 20th anniversary was the company's glory days is a fallacy. While the absence of sales charts and real numbers has hampered our industry in recent years (I'll have more on that in an upcoming piece, incidentally, and I'm doing my best to rectify it), it's clear that 2012 was somewhat of a turning point for Image – those Class of 2012 titles absent from this list served as the foundation for what was to come whilst simultaneously creating one of comics' deepest trade paperback backlists thanks to titles like Saga, Paper Girls, The Wicked+ The Divine, Monstress, the various Brubaker & Phillips OGNs, and a seemingly endless supply of books from the likes of Jeff Lemire – but even with constant competition from a variety of publishers old and new, Image's purple patch continues to expand.
What will be telling is how much a top 25 list like this changes over the next couple of years. Does Todd McFarlane stay on top, or do the upcoming Hasbro titles assert Robert Kirkman and his Skybound imprint's dominance? Or better yet, with James Tynion IV's star in ascendence, does he stake his claim as Image's top creator, or is there an opportunity for some other top talent not currently on the list – a Ram V, a Mirka Andolfo, or a Kelly Thompson – to upend things?
Hell, you never know; Mark Millar's books might start selling again. So that he doesn't have to persuade folks back to Marvel and DC to justify his desire to go back to writing Superman in 2025…