Robot 6

Jim Zubkavich responds to Skullkickers scanlator

Jim Zubkavich’s Skullkickers, a lively action-comedy series about two monster-fighting mercenaries, has been one of the success stories of 2011 in the North American market, and now it turns out to have overseas fans as well. Last week, Zubkavich got an e-mail from someone named Roman who is translating Skullkickers into Russian, then carefully cleaning the English words out of the word balloons and replacing them with the new text. Roman actually e-mailed Zubkavich and asked if he would be willing to send unlettered pages to make the job easier.

“I have no idea how to properly respond to this,” Zubkavich wrote on Twitter. “I mean, I can’t send him page art like that, but it’s just so damn bizarre.” Zubkavich noted that he owns Skullkickers (which is published by Image), so he knows there are no plans for a Russian edition. A fascinating Twitter conversation followed, with Cameron Stewart arguing for sharing the files — “it may be ‘piracy’ but I’d reckon the goodwill you’d get from authorizing it is significant” — and Indigo Kelleigh expressing reservations: “But politely point out that him giving your work away for free makes it difficult for you to enter that market legitimately.”

Zubkavich is still mulling it over, but he shared his e-mail reply to Roman with Robot 6:

Hi Roman,

I’m thrilled to hear that there are Russian readers enjoying Skullkickers. It’s wonderful to know that there are dedicated people who want to read the comic so much that they would translate it for Russian fans.

But, sending raw page art, pages without word balloons or sounds, condones the illegal piracy of it, so it’s a difficult legal decision for me to make. Your request is very unusual.

This is a complex situation, so I will need some time to think it over and discuss the situation with other people. Give me some time and I will email you again with an answer or possible comprimise.

Jim Zub

He told Robot 6 he is talking to his lawyer and the licensing agent for Skullkickers, not about bringing legal action but about what the legal implications would be of sharing the raw files. And he added this:

Back in high school I discovered anime thanks to fan-subbed versions of Bubblegum Crisis, Appleseed and Kimagure Orange Road brought home by my brother from his first semester at university. I started reading manga thanks to translated scripts provided by the original anime BBS boards, pre-worldwide web. My first website was a Geocities fanpage for Masakazu Katsura where I had scripts and posted a rotating series of chapters for Video Girl Ai, Shadow Lady and I”s long before they were officially translated into English because I was a huge fan of his artwork. I empathize with these guys and am thrilled that they love the comic but I need to be careful. Turning a blind eye is different from sending raw page files and “officially” giving it a thumb’s up.

A Makeshift Miracle fan has already translated chapter 1 into Japanese and I was thrilled when I saw it because that open concept is part of how we’re releasing the story. But now, with Skullkickers, it’s a whole different bag because of Skullkickers more traditional business model.

Crazy, eh?

This particular case stands right in the center of the digital piracy conversation. Zubkavich understands that sharing content brings in new readers — that’s his strategy with Makeshift Miracle, which he actually encouraged readers to share by torrenting — but, as he points out, Skullkickers has a “more traditional” business model. In other words, he wants to make money from it. This becomes a question of balance — giving away some content encourages new readers, but giving away too much makes the work worthless. Roman seems to be tipping the scales a bit too far.

On the other hand, my own take is that regional rights are an anachronism in this day and age, and that Zubkavich and Image should be releasing Skullkickers worldwide, even if only in English (a language that an awful lot of people outside North America can read). I wouldn’t hire Roman as a translator, because he is doing machine translations, but I would consider proposals from professionals who were interested in revenue shares or doing the translation for a modest sum. If people are reading Skullkickers in Russia, and Zubkavich isn’t selling it to them, then he’s leaving money on the table — and who can afford to do that?



“my own take is that regional rights are an anachronism in this day and age, and that Zubkavich and Image should be releasing Skullkickers worldwide, even if only in English”

This is something I pointed out when the affair was first brought public: Skullkickers are already being released worldwide, through Comixology. There even was a 99c sale few weeks back.

And I suspect that many, many more people can read comics in English than some people think.

Also a hell of a way to spread the English language around the world. It will be interesting how other cultures change the big bastard (so many other languages have contributed to English) of a language called English.

One thing to take into consideration: Russia doesn’t like comics. It’s really difficult to sell comics into bookstores, might it be American, Japanese or French comics. I can tell, living there, and seeing how everything goes.

Well there’s the digital distribution that might work, true, but thinking about selling paper comics is dreaming. So, yes, concerning author’s rights, it’s a difficult point to make the scanlation easier but well, it’s in a country where comics aren’t popular. So i’d tell the scanlator to do his own thing, that you can’t help him but that you won’t make things difficult for him either.

It’s also a question of precedent. If Jim gave away the raw files and some more egregious piracy case involving skullkickers developed later on, the pirates could point to Jim’s action as an indication that he doesn’t enforce his intellectual property rights. I agree with the don’t harass them, but don’t help either position.

Sorry Jim, you can’t do it. PERIOD.

Anyway, creating the “best” pirated version is part of the fun and cred of pirating. If you gave him the originals it would be like cheating.

I also really love your Makeshift Miracle strategy. I hope it works out.

Translate it into other languages and then sell it digitally. Problem solved. Don’t make your work easier to pirate. Let them do the work all by themselves.

If it were my comic I would make a deal with him. I would say I will send Jim the pages in medium to low res, not suitable for print. Specify he doesn’t have the rights to sell these files, and he has no reproduction rights. Jim gets him to agree to let him have unlimited rights to the translation. Then Jim can offer the Russian version for sale on his online store or print it if he chooses. Get him to sign something and you’re done! It sounds like he’s going to pirate it no matter what. Jim might as well get something out of it.

One consideration is how difficult it would be to truly stop anyone from doing it. It may be better to embrace and see if there isn’t way to make it better for everyone. Perhaps see what it would take to release the comic in russia digitally and charge a nominal fee, perhaps a few bucks. The scanlator was already making the translations for free, perhaps getting some money (if his work is of acceptable quality) and getting some for yourself in the process helps you to get some of the money that you’re leaving on the table–but without the large investment that trying to bring the book in the traditional since would take.

If the cost remains low there’s a good chance that the convenience and quality will at least sway a portion of the readership so it could be better than the alternative.

Geezus, Jim–don’t do it!

The immediate answer is so obvious it isn’t really a question, IMO. You just don’t give it. Either make them really work for translating it or make them pay to distribute it overseas.

That said, Jim is a Mazakazu Katsura fan?! My admiration for the man just increased like 50 fold.

So let me get this straight – a customer who has been purchasing this book and sharing it with his friends (which is apparently legal if you’re a library or live withing driving distance of them) asks for unmarked copies so that he may better share them with his friends, increase your reader base and $, and you say “No, sir, I used to do that as a kid, but now I frown upon it because despite empirical evidence to the contrary, I am working off the assumption that piracy is BAD for business – despite the fact I bought lots of anime because I used to pirate it.”

There are words for &**%^$%^& *&^%$%^* ^&$$^%$s like this. Hypocrite fits, but I like thinking of him as Republican Candidate Rick Santorum. Both are frothy, and let’s face it – no one will remember them in 5 years until googling them to see their legacy.

“a customer who has been purchasing this book” – and how do you exactly know that’s what is going on here?

Judge Fred MANSON

December 8, 2011 at 5:41 am

The solution of a low JPEG watermarked digital file to be translated by a fan in Russian language is a very good one.

No sales and no detention rights for the translator AND the storage web site.

But, if Russian readers want full digital translated version as well as a printed edition, then it is to Zubkavitch to propose these editions, and why not, to hire Roman for a legal translation.

As a lot readers here, I also have discovered anime fan-subs and better: anime with English AND Chinese subs!!!

Now, I am cheating on my DVD player: the zones are illegals. So, why should I only buy and see the DVD from my zone only??? Money, money, money!!! It was since years, the mptto of the movies distributors.

Actually, there are thousands of comics, that already translated into Russian, Spanish, French, Italian and other.
By the way, we can form any sound and any cover.
Sorry us for we translate comics. But at really we just don’t have a chance to buy them. If you think that digital comics are available through all the world, you wrong.
We are doing it for free and actually advertising your works. Many people buy originals after reading translations, in spite of it very, very expensive with delivery.
Don’t punish us.

Leandro Xuruminga

December 8, 2011 at 9:35 am

In Brazil we had the same problem 10 years ago. People would publish comics about licensed characters that would fold as soon as the license holder would catch wind on the enterprise.

I hope the author is not foolish enough to hand over intelectual property for free…

Black and white

December 8, 2011 at 9:40 am

Hey, guys.
We don’t do it for money! In our country NO ONE will pay for digital comics. Every comicsbook downloads to FREE filehostings. There are no problems for comics-creators – you don’t bear a loss… maybe even because of us your comics buy in our country.

There are millions scans uploading in America, and u carrying about few foreign translations?

Guys, come on, we’re doing this for fans, and, of course, we all dreaming, that some day one of Big Bosses would come to us and make a dial with us. But that won’t happen.
And Roman is letterer, not translator.

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