Robot 6

The Middle Ground #66: Who is Number One?

A funny thing happened while listening to a recent Word Balloon interview with Robert Kirkman; Kirkman talked about his desire to see Invincible continue with different creative teams after he’s done with the book, and I ended up thinking about the nature of work for hire in independent books.

Okay, so maybe “funny” wasn’t the right word.

For those scared that Kirkman talking about this meant that he was planning to leave his Image Comics superhero title anytime soon, you can relax; he was talking about an imaginary distant future when he’s senile, and said that he planned to stay on the book until #300 or so. But it got me thinking: For some reason, I tend to imagine indie comics as bastions of creator-owned work, like Cerebus and Bone, where long-running series just end when creators are done. For some reason, the idea of work for hire seems… well, more Marvel and DC’s thing.

It’s a ridiculous attitude, of course; independent comics are under no requirement to concentrate on creator-owned projects, and if nothing else, the prevalence of licensed titles (IDW, Dark Horse and Dynamite alone could keep creators afloat on these kinds of titles) disproves my bias without breaking a sweat.

But, still. At its heart, there’s really nothing that wrong with Robert Kirkman wishing that he could read new Invincible when he’s 60 years old; it’s that whole “I love these characters so much I wish I could be a reader like you!” thing, after all, and which supporter of creator owned work hasn’t made the argument that owning your creations is like having a retirement plan in some sense? It’s just that… Well, I didn’t really think that the retirement plan would necessarily come at the cost of other creators following in their heroes footsteps so literally, I guess.

There’s something about the idea of Invincible, or Haunt or similar projects, superhero titles where the selling point really is that certain creators are working on it rather than the characters themselves – The entire Image launch books, for example – that feel as if the very idea of their being turned into WFH books is missing the point of their very origin. It’s enough to make you want to invent a time machine and go back to those characters’ creators at the point of origin and say “You know how you’re inventing new characters because you feel really strongly about creator rights and that you want to own your own work and that kind of thing? Can I steal you into your future so that you can remind your future self of that fact?” Maybe it’s just youthful idealism meeting more mature reality, but do so many people really have to try and become that thing they rebelled about years earlier?

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19 Comments

Who says Image, IDW, Dark Horse and Dynamite are indie?

Also, this is certainly a shift from that manifesto Kirkman did a while back.

I used to adore Invincible back in high school, and there’s still a mushy little corner in my aorta for it, but I have to admit that I have not picked a book up in years. I guess it’s because I went into the series expecting it to be a finite series. Something about titles that just go on and on until they fizzle out turns me off.

Spawn is very much a WFH book. It has been for almost its entire run. In fact, almost all the original Image books became WFH after fewer than a dozen issues. The only founding Image book I can think of that has never been WFH is Savage Dragon.

Speaking of Invincible, I hear the artist is drawing on computer n ow and you know how great ‘pencils’ look on computer.

Capullo’s working on Batman, now. People can see his work. I don’t know what he made on Spawn, it was still going great when he was on it, so I bet he bought a decent lower-middle-class house. I imagine it’s becoming more like that for a lot of artists. Silvestri still has his Topcow, but also occasingly does something for Marvel. Topcow has had a couple artists go to DC where they probably get a decent paycheck. I don’t know if that’s sad or good. Probably, a little of both. I remember Image exploding, then even the second generation Image guys couldn’t get their books out on time despite getting big checks for them and the founders couldn’t get their out as much (though they did much better) because they were handling the business side of things. I guess those days are long gone.

I heard Larry Stroman got a million for one issue of Tribe. Anyone remember that legend?

Goshdarnit, why did Image’s books come out late in the first place? What was the excuse behind that? It shouldn’t take that long to simply write a script, draw the book, have it inked, and hot off the presses. Sure there’s a bump here and there, but what kind of bump can get a book held back for a long time???? Can someone answer me that?? Then I can say “THIS is why we need time travel: go back, and get the (insert company/writer/artist) to get off their butts and get the book out.”

A creation loses its purpose after the original creative team leaves. The DNA of the creators is in the creation. Look at Marvel and DC and the played out husks that are stuck in a repetitious cycle of bland holding patterns forever.

If Kirkman has no intent of ending his series, then I’m glad I didn’t invest too much time on them. That’s a huge reason why I’m not as interested in most Marvel and DC comics as I used to be.

I’m of two minds on this. On one hand, it seems a bit hypocritical of the creator of the Kirkman Image Manifesto to want to see his own work turned into a WFH assembly line product. The biggest point of an indie book is that the person working on it owns and pours his heart, soul and best inspiration into something HE created.

On the other hand, working on an independently owned WFH project and a company-owned WFH project are two different animals and I don’t think this invalidates the “indie” label. With indie comics created post-Image Comics, you can be sure the original creator is not getting shafted by a corporate IP licensing farm and, presumably, they still have some hand in the final product, even if they’re not writing or drawing it. That’s a big difference. If corporate superhero characters weren’t so dominate in the backwards-thinking direct market that working on them was necessary to sustain an income, indie WFH would be a much, much more freeing and creatively rewarding day job.

I think some things are being confused here.

If Robert Kirkman eventually retires and wants to hire replacements for Invincible, it’s still a creator-owned book as he – the original creator – still owns it. I don’t see anything wrong with a creator building their brand to the point it’s strong enough they can hire people to follow them with their estate directly benefiting. It doesn’t betray the Kirkman Creator Owned Manifesto, it’s an extension of it. It would only be hypocritical if he sold it to some media conglomerate where he doesn’t benefit at all beyond an initial paycheck.

Furthermore, different Image founders had different goals. The point was to achieve these goals while the original creator maintains copyright and overall ownership. There’s different things you can do with this. McFarlane and Silvestri wanted to build a media empire based on their creations — and did, in a situation where the original creator benefits. Spawn remains a creator-owned book as the creator still owns it! Erik Larsen wanted/wants to draw his comic until he croaks. Jim Valentino wanted to build a place where he could use his creator-owned success to help others realize their visions and maintain their ownership. All succeeded.

This theoretical Invincible scenario is essentially akin to Steve Ditko owning Spider-Man or Jack Kirby owning 95% of the Marvel Universe, Siegel and Shuster owning Superman, Bill Finger owning Batman, etc. and other work for hire teams eventually took over while the idea/character/series/intellectual property’s original creator still benefits more than any other party.

That said, given that Robert still owns Invincible in this situation, I don’t see how this theoretical scenario betrays any creator-owned ideal, his manifesto or otherwise. He wants to build a legacy, one where he and his next of kin maintain control and benefit. Can’t say I see what’s wrong with that.

moose n squirrel

August 24, 2011 at 7:00 am

The biggest problem with corporate-owned superhero comics is that the demands of the publisher require that the comics never end – and therefore, we never see a satisfying conclusion to the characters’ stories. A traditional story has a beginning, middle, and end. Corporate superhero comics are about as traditional as it gets in terms of tone, but in terms of structure, all they have is an endlessly repeated beginning – the constant revisitation of the character’s origin story, with additional revamps and reboots along the way to keep things seeming fresh. We know how Superman, Batman, and Spider-man have all started off, but (aside from the odd non-canonical experiment) we’ll never know how their stories finish. And in the meantime, over the course of fifty, sixty, eighty years, pretty much every story that could be told with these characters has been told, over and over again – except, of course, for the one story that CAN’T be told… the last story.

It seems perverse for Robert Kirkman to wish this fate on his own independent creations when books like Invincible are actually free of the corporate-owned structure that forces Marvel- and DC-owned characters into this zombie half-life.

I’m with Keating on this one 100%.

Joe – Yeah, I see what you mean. Read my second paragraph (if you were referring to me, that is)

People should create their own successful comic book and set their own example of how they think things should be done, instead of expecting other people, who are living their own lives, to make decisions within another persons rigid framework.

There is no right or wrong. It’s people making their own choices based upon their own goals, wants and needs. You’re not them, they’re not you, so don’t criticize people for not falling in line with your imaginary construct of the world.

Umm. I think something is being overlooked here: Invincible already has WFH artists. Cory Walker is co-creator/owner of Invincible but is no longer a monthly contributor. Ryan Ottley is the penciller and has been since very early on. Does this still qualify then as a creator-owned and produced book? Regardless, it is the one comic and Ottley is the artist that pulled me back into buying comics after 20 years.

I believe Ryan Ottley has partial ownership of Invincible now.

I don’t think this betrays the Kirkmanifesto because the idea of that was for new writers to do WFH until they can establish themselves and do their own material. If Kirkman hired a big name writer/artist to work on the book long run it wouldn’t fit the manifesto, but a newish writer doing a run on Invincible until she builds enough credit to do her own series would fit.

I understand the concerns – it’s one that I, and I’m sure other creators, struggle with when thinking about revising one’s will – should I allow others to take on my stories, should anyone want to?

I often dismiss anything that’s not the original creator’s voice, and for a long time read no scrooge save for Barks. It’s a corporate property, yes, but we all know better. At Alec Longstreth’s insistence, I read Rosa… and was blown away. John Arcudi likewise demanded that I read a second act, Saggendorf’s Popeye. And you know what? It was great! And Arcudi, of course, writes BPRD, a spinoff that I consider better than the original, an INCREDIBLY hard act to follow.

I read for the cartoonist, not the character, but I’d not be adverse to reading a new take on a creator project… PROVIDED that the new take is not an attempt to replicate the old. Given free rein, new cartoonists might take beloved characters or stories and do amazing things with them, the same way that literary staples are so often reexamined in prose. Will Barry’s take on Peter Pan ever match Barrie’s? No, but it doesn’t try to – it’s something different. And that’s what we can hope for in these cases.

Artist drawing on his computer??
Please get your facts straight.
Invincible is Amazing, especially now more than ever. And thanks to Ryan Ottley, the story looks better with each issue. Invinciblle is hands down one of the best series out. If you stopped reading for any reason, your seriously missing out.

I thnk Ottley only does layouts on his computer

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