It wasn’t part of the initial plan, but when the calendar rolled over to 2017, writer Joseph Hedges knew his new book, Wild Times: An Oral History of WildStorm Studios, would release at the right time to coincide with the 25th anniversary of Image Comics. “By the time I was wrapping up the interviews, it was coming down right to the end of 2016, I was finishing up the manuscript, and I said, ‘Well, you know, it’s not such a bad thing if I let the calendar run into 2017,’” he said. By spring of this year, Hedges, a passionate lifelong comics reader and WildStorm collector who lives near Hartford, Connecticut, had completed a three-year quest to finish his oral history after interviewing a who’s-who list of WildStorm creators, staff, and editors to discuss the publisher’s storied past.
Wild Times chronicles the creation and rise of WildStorm and Image Comics in 1992, founder and superstar artist Jim Lee later selling his company to DC Comics, WildStorm shuttering its doors in 2010, the rebirth of some of its characters in the New 52, and the catalogue eventually reappearing in a pop-up imprint that’s built around Warren Ellis’s The Wild Storm. Getting so many high-profile creators to contribute wasn’t easy, and it may not have been possible without former WildStorm editor Ben Abernathy vouching for the project as Hedges began approaching individuals for interviews. The combination of Hedges’s hard work and Abernathy’s plugging paid off in the end, with major comic creators such as Adam Hughes, Whilce Portacio, Richard Starkings, and J. Scott Campbell contributing to the dynamic narrative that captures not just the history of the publisher but what publishing and the comics life were like from 1992 through 2010.
“I ended up talking to J. Scott Campbell—it was a two-night interview and we talked for probably close to four hours,” Hedges said, reflecting on his completed interviews, noting he wound up with so much material that a lot had to be trimmed just to keep the book’s page-count manageable and the narrative intact. Though much was cut, Hedges, who is well versed in his comics history, came across some nuggets and surprises he hadn’t known about before and was eager to share with readers. “I did not know that Adam Hughes had actually moved out to La Jolla to work on the Gen13 book,” he said. “I knew that he had done those books, and I knew that he had done so many cards and pinups and stuff for [WildStorm], but I didn’t know that he was on-site there. That was a pleasant surprise.”
Another creator who spoke with Hedges about the history of WildStorm and that generation of comics was Gene Ha. A four-time Eisner Award winner who lives near Chicago, Illinois, Ha makes regular appearances at cons across the upper Midwest and is a fixture in the Minnesota comics community, including regular appearances at Minnesota’s MSP ComiCon. When he started with WildStorm, he worked with acclaimed writer Alan Moore on Top 10: “I started at WildStorm with America’s Best Comics, and what led up to that was me wanting to work with Alan Moore,” Ha said. “I was talking with Alex Ross, and I said I really admired the fact he was doing so much work doing those covers for Supreme back then when Alan Moore was writing it. And Alex just told me, ‘Well, why don’t you just look for your own project with Alan Moore?’ And it’s like, ‘You know he’s right—why haven’t I done that yet?’”
Ha, who currently writes and draws his creator-owned series Mae—which is on hiatus until next year while he’s in the process of changing publishers—is also well known for his collaboration with infamous comics writer Grant Morrison on their short-lived run of The Authority, which lasted only two issues. At the time, Morrison was also trying to script Wildcats for Jim Lee to draw. However, Morrison’s schedule got the better of him, and his tenure with WildStorm ground to an unsatisfying halt as he tried juggling high-profile characters like Batman with the lesser-known characters and books that grew out of the 1990s era of Image Comics. “I wish we’d done more of it,” Ha told me. “I think that [Morrison’s] schedule with Batman demanded that if he was going to do several books per month—and something was going to have to slip—it was not going to be Batman, so I’m sad we couldn’t have done more of that. As always, he did amazing work, and he continues to do amazing work.”
Covering what seems like everything, including Moore’s America’s Best Comics era and Morrison’s superstar line of books that ran out of gas early, Wild Times was self-published with the help of backers on Kickstarter. Its completion was a relatively smooth process, given that Hedges didn’t take the project public until it was nearly completed. “I figured that I would try to do it as a Kickstarter when I was near the end. I didn’t want to be one of those guys that did a Kickstarter in the beginning and then have people waiting for this book for three years, which is how long it took between the research, and the writing it, and shipping it,” he said. The physical book itself came together gracefully and is a well-constructed paperback. “I was so lucky to have such expert help as I neared the finish line, with artist George Sellas designing the cover for me and the infinitely patient layout artist/graphic designer/genius Eric Trautmann on the interior design and layout of the book.”
For Ha, part of what makes the era documented by this book so special is how the interactions and times have changed, especially in editorial. “The thing I miss the most is talking on the phone with [WildStorm editors] Scott Dunbier and Kristy Quinn,” Ha said. “They had such love for comics, and they had so many great ideas, and such passion, and such drive to make these things happen.” He noted that the interactions that came from phone calls and extended conversations, rather than concise emails that are aimed at just getting through the work day as the editor-creator relationship plays out, are a thing of the past.
Wild Times is a must-read not just for long-term WildStorm fans and collectors but also for general comics-literate individuals who are curious about the birth of creator-owned comics and the eventual bubble that exploded around the collectors’ market in the 1990s. Traveling through the history of WildStorm with Hedges’s book is comparable to stepping into a phone booth with Bill and Ted and traveling through different parts of history, experiencing different points of view that are both nostalgic and anthropological. Thinking back on the era, Ha noted that both WildStorm and Image have gone through an impressive evolution, and that Image turning 25 is special. “They were famous—at first—for coming out with their books very slowly, and also for not worrying about the writing until a few years into the Image years,” Ha said. “Now they’re known as this creative bastion where some of the best writers go to do their dream projects, and artists too, but before it was not a place where writers went to do their best writing. I’m amazed at how they’ve changed with the time and adapted to what the world needs.”
Though WildStorm’s history as a publisher ended many years ago, its legacy lives on through its characters, creators, and fandom at DC Comics. With the new pop-up imprint that Ellis is curating comes an opportunity to latch on to new stories in a different kind of world, and new and old readers alike have a chance to sample or remember what made WildStorm so special for so long. “I think it’s a breath of fresh air while staying very close to the feel of the WildStorm universe, and the directions that they took, and the themes that they took,” Hedges said, thinking on Ellis’s The Wild Storm. “I think it’s great that they got Warren Ellis, who very rarely, if ever, goes back to properties that he’s worked on before.”
Be like Ellis and revisit the past with Hedges, Ha, and the extensive list of A-list creators who freed up a lot of their personal time to share their unique history with WildStorm. It’s time well spent.