Image Comics: The Best of a Decade of Creator-Owned Books

Unique among publishers for allowing writers and artists to keep the rights to their work, Image Comics has been a haven for teams of comic writers and artists to do their boldest, strangest and most experimental comics, working in genres outside of the usual superhero fare like horror, crime, western, urban fantasy, and science-fiction.

The works recommended below have met commercial and critical acclaim; the biggest hits for the company being the massive multimedia hit The Walking Dead and the populist sci-fi epic Saga, while others are beloved by their own dedicated fandoms, like The Wicked + The Divine. A number of long-running Image Comics series wrapped up in 2019, and with the opening of Te Awe and our off-site collections, it’s never been a better time to catch up on some of the best comics of the past ten years.

The Walking Dead
The walking dead : compendium one / Kirkman, Robert
Though it began in 2003, the post-apocalyptic zombie comic by writer Robert Kirkman and artists Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard continued to be a hit all through the last decade, and was one of Image Comics longest running series, eventually spawning a hit television series in 2010. The comic unexpectedly wrapped up at issue #193 in July 2019, a rare shock in the modern comic industry where each issue is planned and advertised months in advance. Pick up the compendium collecting the first 48 issues at the link above or grab the first volume here.

If you liked The Walking Dead, check out this: Invincible, Robert Kirkman’s other long-spanning superhero series for Image, also wrapped up in 2018. You begin the whole series with the first Ultimate Collection here.

Saga
Saga. Compendium one / Vaughan, Brian K
Frequently cited as the comic book that got people into comics, Saga follows Alana and Marko, two soldiers on the opposing sides of a space war who decide to marry and raise a child together. They hop from planet to planet, trying to find a spot of peace while dodging bounty hunters, sentient planets, and their own in-laws. Written by Brian K Vaughan and drawn by Fiona Staples, Saga went on a hiatus in 2018 after hitting the midpoint of its story in issue #54, so now is the perfect time to catch up. Pick up the compendium with the whole series to date at the link above, or grab the first volume here.

If you liked Saga, check out this: Image Comics has become a haven for science fiction comics in the 2010s, including the Hugo-nominated Bitch Planet, Invisible Kingdom by the creator of Ms Marvel, gender-flipped mythological space epic ODY-C, the watercolour-painted robot adventure Descender, and the dimension-hopping Black Science, to name a few.

Other Image books by Brian K. Vaughan include the Hugo-nominated Paper Girls with Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson, about a quartet of paper girls from the 1980s who travel through time, and We Stand on Guard with Steve Scroce and Matt Hollingsworth, which depicts a war in the future between Canada and the USA.

The Wicked + The Divine
The wicked + the divine. Vol. 1, The Faust act / Gillen, Kieron
Every 90 years, twelve gods return to Earth to inspire humankind and gain followers, only to die after two years. In 2014, this ‘Pantheon’ of gods return as popstars. The Wicked + The Divine (or WicDiv to its fans) follows Pantheon super-fan Laura as she becomes embroiled in the god’s inner conflicts and tries to attain godhood for herself. Coming to a close with issue #45 in September 2019, The Wicked + The Divine has been praised for its nuanced portrayals of LGBTQ+ characters and its themes on fame, death, history, religion, and the purpose of artists.

If you liked WicDiv, check out this: Gillen and McKelvie’s foray at Image Comics begins with Phonogram, set in a world where ‘music is magic’ that explores similar themes to The Wicked + The Divine. You can read the complete collection here.

Gillen has recently started a new series, DIE, with artist Stephanie Hans, about a group of adult tabletop RPG fans being forced to return to the game they were trapped in as teenagers, Jumanji-style. Reserve the first volume here.

East of West
East of West [1] / Hickman, Jonathan
Written by Johnathan Hickman and drawn by Nick Dragotta and Frank Martin, East of West is an alternate history that marries the political intrigue of Game of Thrones with the “slap leather” cowboy action of the Dollars trilogy, set in a futuristic United States of America. In this world, there are only seven states existing in an uneasy peace. Unbeknownst to their citizens, the leaders from each state secretly meet in neutral territory to try and bring about the end of the world. Meanwhile, three horsemen of the Apocalypse roam the land, seeking the son of their missing horseman, Death.

If you liked East of West, check out this: For another Hickman-penned alternate history, there’s the The Manhattan Projects, which reimagines the real scientists who helped build the atomic bomb as amoral dimension-travelling jerks in the vein of Rick Sanchez. Start with the first volume here.

Fatale
Fatale. Book one, Death chases me / Brubaker, Ed
Writer and artist team Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips have been doing crime comics together for years, transferring dime store pulp stories to the world of comics, while also updating, humanising and deconstructing the character archetypes and tropes for a modern genre-savvy audience. After the success of their Icon Comics series Criminal, Brubaker and Phillips began their first Image Comics series Fatale in 2012, featuring a supernatural take on the ‘femme fatale’ archetype. Lasting 24 issues, the series was collected in five volumes, the first of which you can read at the link above.

If you liked Fatale, check out this: Criminal is the series that really put Brubaker and Phillips on the map; each volume is a self-contained crime story from the perspective of different characters within one city, making it incredibly accessible. My particular favourite is Last of the Innocent, which puts the classic Archie Comics characters into a lurid murder mystery, six years before Riverdale did it on television.

Chew
Chew : the omnivore edition. Vol. I / Layman, John
In a world where the FDA is granted greater judicial powers following a deadly bird flu, detective Tony Chu is brought in to crack down on illegal chicken dealers. Fortunately, he has one advantage that his fellow investigators lack; he’s a cibopath, a kind of food psychic who can gain mental impressions from anything that he eats. Written by John Layman and drawn with cartoony panache by Rob Guillory, you can take a big bite out of Chew with the first ‘Omnivore Edition’ (collecting the first ten issues) at the link above.

If you liked Chew, check out this: Chew’s artist Rob Guillory recently started a new comedy-horror series called Farmhand, which follows a family who grows replacement human body parts on their farm.

We also have the first two volumes of writer John Layman’s newest haunted space adventure series Outer Darkness with artist Afu Chan.

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