Image Comics celebrated its 20th birthday today, truly a milestone year in the life of an independent comics publisher. The company was founded on February 1, 1992 by Erik Larsen, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Whilce Portacio, Mark Silvestri and Jim Valentino as a means for those popular creators to produce and publish their own original work while retaining full ownership of their intellectual property.The original Image line included such memorable hits as Spawn, Youngblood and WildC.A.T.S., and the 20 years hence have seen the founders become publishers and studios in and of themselves. Among them, Silvestri's Top Cow Productions (which shares the birthday with Image), which has continued to develop stories based on Silvestri's work like Witchblade and The Darkness, as well as new works by Mark Millar & J.G. Jones (Wanted) and Josh Fialkov & Rahsan Ekedal (Echoes). Jim Lee's WildStorm Productions unleashed a large and influential line of titles including Gen13 and StormWatch before he sold his company to DC Comics, setting in motion a chain of events that would ultimately see Lee ascend to Co-Publisher of that company. And Rob Liefeld's Extreme Studios released Youngblood #1, the first comic book to reach #1 on the sales charts that wasn't published by Marvel or DC, and has reemerged recently with revitalizations of Liefeld's creator-owned work (Prophet, Glory) that are among 2012's most interesting new comics.

Crucially, Image made itself more than a boutique publisher by engaging creators from other genres and styles. Offering writers and artists what few publishers do even today -- 100% ownership of all their intellectual property rights, including media rights -- Image has throughout its history published material as diverse and notable as the following, and many more besides:

  • Age of Bronze by Eric Shanower
  • Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory
  • Tori Amos' Comic Book Tattoo
  • Elephantmen by Richard Starkings and Moritat (and others)
  • Fatale by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
  • Fell by Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith
  • Girls by the Luna Brothers
  • Gødland by Joe Casey and Tom Scioli
  • I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and J. M. Ken Niimura
  • Invincible by Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley
  • Jack Staff by Paul Grist
  • King City by Brandon Graham
  • Mage by Matt Wagner
  • Madman by Mike Allred
  • Morning Glories by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma
  • Nonplayer by Nate Simpson
  • Orc Stain by James Stokoe
  • The Nightly News by Jonathan Hickman
  • Phonogram by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
  • The PopGun anthology
  • Savage Dragon by Erik Larsen
  • Scud: The Disposable Assassin by Rob Schrab
  • Shadowhawk by Jim Valentino
  • Viking by Ivan Brandon and Nic Klein
  • The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard
  • Wetworks by Whilce Portacio

Additionally, perennials that got their starts at Image include Astro City by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson and Alex Ross; Casanova by Matt Fraction, Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon; Channel Zero by Brian Wood, Danger Girl by J. Scott Campbell, the Flight anthology series, and The Maxx by Sam Kieth.

As we've discussed before, Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson has envisioned 2012 as a year dedicated to creativity itself, positioning his company as a creator-focused alternative to publishers like Marvel and DC Comics (the company is even hosting an entire convention dedicated to that spirit). It's an important thing to observe on a day when the community is reacting to a divisive creators' rights-related development, and we wish Image a happy birthday and best wishes for another 20 years.

You can find more well wishes to Image on Twitter.

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