Back in 1992, there was a batch of guys who were really unhappy with
their workplace. They didn't feel they were being fairly compensated for
their work. There were creator's rights at stake. The number involved
grew to seven, and those seven comic creators left their safe and predictable
jobs at Marvel comics to form their own comic company, Image Comics. It
was huge at the time -- these artists were among the top names in comics,
making huge paychecks on books like X-Men, Spider-Man, and The Incredible
Hulk, all the while breaking print and sales records left and right. And
they were risking all of that success with this move -- there was no safety
net, and it's been reported that they burned their bridges with Marvel
in order to make sure that they would all be devoted to making Image work.
10 years later, a lot has changed in the industry. Comic artists are
nearly the focal point that they were at that time; the market collapsed
then began a period of regrowth; creator-owned books are a much more common
part of the landscape now. And where Marvel and DC used to stand as the
companies that ruled the comic book marketplace, they are now joined by
But this isn't about Image, per se; this is more about the beginnings
Image. This is about finding success as a individual (be it writing, music,
art, or even business). This is about figuring out what you want, what
most important to you in this world, and doing what it takes to get it.
most of all, it's about risk.
It's a fairly easy thing to walk through life on the sidewalk, paying
careful attention to the road signs, making sure that you only put your
down in the footprints of others. That's the safe way; if everyone else
already walked this way, odds are pretty damn good that there's no danger.
Of course, down that path, all the really good things have already been
picked up. There's nothing new to see or discover. If your idea of reward
is freedom from anxiety, or a life of predictable boredom, then maybe
sidewalk is a good place for you.
Wander off the path, though -- that's where the real riches of the world
are. Undiscovered treasure is scattered everywhere, just waiting to be
found. There are a million untold stories, unseen beauties, and unknown
realms to be explored. This is where fame and fortune are waiting. On
other hand, it's dangerous off the path. Who knows what dangers lie waiting
out there? Not many people have gone there before, and of those, only
handful have survived. Is it really worth the risk?
Most people live their lives on the cleaner side of the razor line between
safety and risk. Pushing the envelope is not an easy thing to do, though
the odds are against you from the beginning, the work is harder and the
payoff is never guaranteed. It's possible to lose everything. Why on Earth
would anyone want to take those chances, when stability requires less
I should point out real quick that there's a huge difference with low
visibility -- call it a chasm that grows depending on your perspective
between taking risks and being utterly stupid. Kissing your childhood
sweetheart to see what happens is a risk; doing it in front of her husband
who recently escaped prison, killing four guards, three prisoners, and
own grandmother in the process -- that's just stupid. Unless, of course,
have terminal cancer, and have only thirty seconds to live anyway.
There's a correlation between the stupidity of a risk and the reward
other side. It all boils down to balancing what you stand to lose against
what you stand to gain. If you quit your job to pursue a life in music,
might very well become the next Britney Spears or Bob Dylan (insert your
idols here), rolling in money or critical praise or seeing your face on
every magazine. Or you might find yourself broke and deeply in debt,
depressed, and with nowhere to turn (you quit your job for this?). But
is it that you stand to lose -- a predictable career track, climbing the
corporate ladder and stepping on the heads of the people around you, a
401(k) plan that you don't understand anyway, a week of vacation paid
with a ninety hour week beforehand?
I want to compare all of this to stepping on to a platform that may take
up to new heights or send you plummeting to a gruesome death, with equal
odds either way, but that's far from fair to you, the risk taker. After
all, there is far more going on than a simple flip of the coin; you have
talents, drive, determination, ambition, the support of friends and family.
If you're in the arts world, you're up against competitors, all as hungry
and talented and subject to the whims of the public as you. If you're
the corporate world, someone else is going to see the brilliance of your
plan and try to steal it out from under you. You may be supremely
self-confident, or subject to buckling under the slightest pressure. Your
goal may be riches to make Bill Gates cry in shame, fame to rival that
Shakespeare or Stalin, or just a little more freedom and contentedness
yourself. You may just have something to say, a message for the world
yourself, or your next door neighbor) that needs to come out in prose
poem. Each of these factors and a billion more come into play when you're
considering the odds -- and it may turn out that, all things being equal,
and while you stand to lose everything you love, those odds are
overwhelmingly in your favor.
The thing about risk is that it is often the determining factor in a
our life decisions. We don't tell the beautiful girls that we think they
are, because we might find out that we're not so beautiful to them or
a friendship. We don't write the stories that are in our heads because
afraid that all that time will be wasted. We play cover songs instead
writing our own, or film yet another romantic comedy instead of the edgy
brilliance that we envision, we work tedious jobs because at least we
we'll cover the rent for another month. And when we hit our sixties and
seventies, we watch our kids and wish we could try again, we hear about
Bill Gates of the world and dream of being rich and powerful; regret washes
over as we realize that the price that we might have paid might not have
been so bad after all.
I wonder if Todd MacFarlane and Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee and the others
think back to the fateful day when they walked out of Marvel's offices,
wondering where they'd be if they hadn't left when they did. Ten years
later, the original seven founders of Image may have gone in different
directions, but they're all richer and better-known than they might have
been at Marvel. Are there others that we don't know about, people that
couldn't stomach walking the edge like that, who wake up every morning
kick themselves in the teeth over not walking out? How many comic creators
tried and failed, and wish they could go back and take the safe route?
We live in a world of what if and could have, should have. Perhaps you
perfectly content in your world, where Judge Wopner comes on at noon every
day with a bowl of soup and a sandwich, bedtime is ten PM, and Saturdays
museum days; if you are, more power to you. I spent too much time a few
years ago wondering what would have happened if I had taken a few more
across my life; those ruminations led me to alter my mindset to take a
more chances every day. Since then, I've fallen flat more than a few times,
I've lost a lot of money and time and been hurt, sometimes badly. I've
to hit the bulls-eye; no financial freedom or fame for me yet. I try to
keep my gambles to the right side of stupid -- no swimming with piranha
a fifty dollar cash prize for me, thanks (throw in a new widescreen TV
we'll talk) -- although I'm sure I drop the ball there occasionally, too.
But I'll keep doing it, because the more you stand to lose, the more you
stand to gain.
Make it a goal for yourself, to take a chance this week. You don't have
quit your job to write the great American novel, or court death breaking
land speed records -- but do something. Bet five bucks on the Oscars or
NCAA tournament, or sign up for those skydiving lessons you were always
scared to take, or tell that cute girl you want to take her to dinner.
What's the worst that can happen? And more importantly, what's the best?