Robot 6

The Middle Ground #108 | Something in the air tonight

It’s one of those weeks when you see things that are connected, and feel the pull of something larger behind all of them, just waiting to happen. You might not know what that “something larger” is, necessarily, but you know it’s there, and that’s somehow enough to make you simultaneously impatient for it; both nervous of and oddly exhilarated by whatever will come afterward.

The connected things in question, this time around, are Paolo Rivera‘s announcement that he won’t be renewing his exclusive contract with Marvel, Mat Johnson explaining that he won’t be working with Vertigo for the foreseeable future (found via the inimitable David Brothers), and the rumored changes to DC’s exclusive-creator contract that would limit said creators to pursuing creator-owned books through the Vertigo imprint as opposed to shopping them around other publishers. The Rivera and Johnson stories echo each other strongly; the latter says that the reason he doesn’t have anymore Vertigo projects planned is because “I’d kind of like to own my own stuff going forward,” while the former explains the reasoning behind his choice as one of ownership. “With the exception of just a few published pieces of art (which belong to other companies), Marvel owns the copyrights to my entire professional portfolio,” he wrote on his blog, adding, “why shouldn’t they? I was, of course, compensated fairly for it, and for that I’m grateful – but the sum total of that work is not enough to support me in the distant future. My page rate is essentially the same as when I started at 21, so I’ve decided to invest in myself.”

Whether it’s been Before Watchmen, the Avengers movie, the success of Saga and The Walking Dead (the fact that #100 is being estimated to be the top-selling book of the year, in a year when both Marvel and DC are desperately trying to outdo each other, makes me happy to an extent it’s difficult to describe and hard to explain the reasons for, I shamefacedly admit) or the tragic, truly heartbreaking news of the death of Robert L. Washington III, 2012 has been the year of … what? Creator rights? Not exactly, but perhaps people actually really thinking about creator rights and talking about it seriously again for the first time in … a decade? Longer?

Rivera and Johnson aren’t necessarily trailblazing in their decisions – I feel that they’re following in the footsteps of a great many creators, including just recently Chris Roberson (whose Monkeybrain teasers suggest his next step in this area is imminent) and Roger Langridge, but also Mark Waid and Greg Rucka, who moved in part online with creator-owned work in the last year or so, Mark Millar, who’s renounced Marvel and DC for his uber-successful Millarworld, or many others — but there’s something about the fact that both Johnson and Rivera explicitly stated the need to own their work as the reason behind their decision that feels important, for reasons that I can’t quite verbalize.

And in the middle of this, DC reportedly tightens its belt with regards to how it deals with such issues. It’s not that Vertigo isn’t home to all manner of good books right now (the last few months have seen the release of both Gone to Amerikay and Shooters, two really great graphic novels that are worth checking out and haven’t received nearly as much attention as they should have), but just the idea that it’ll push exclusive creators into true exclusivity seems like a bad idea, in terms of making itself an attractive destination for creators considering signing on that particular bottom line. That feels like a further step in the secondary story of the year, in comics, one that’s parallel to the creator rights issue: The big two making decisions that may strengthen them in the short term, but are so out-of-step with the wider issues that they’ll end up being problematic/downright toxic long term.

I feel as if there’s something just over the horizon to tie this all together, or take it to the mythical “next level” (quite what that would be, I have no idea). But everything feels anticipatory right now, like everyone’s holding their breath and wondering what happens next.



And I remember to the not-so-far-backs when we just talked about “exclusive” contracts being “exclusively not our direct competitor.”

Times change.

I know exactly what you’re talking about. This has been the year for me, personally, that I stop looking at Marvel and DC as the endgame when it comes to writing comics. I think there’s a disillusionment going on within and without the comics community that’s shepherding people towards the realization that they need greater creative agency. That’s what happened to me, at least.

Brubaker and Morrison, each one of the two most popular writers at their respective Big Two companies, leaving those companies’ ostensible creator-owned imprints for Image strikes me as milestone on this path as well.

Way I see it, were I in charge of both DC and Marvel, I would rework the company layouts–turn them into the comic book equivalent of Second City or the Groundlings, or even SNL. Like those institutions, they’d be a place where people could stretch their legs in the medium before deciding to make it big for themselves. What do you think?

Jake Earlewine

June 20, 2012 at 5:21 am

Brubaker and Morrison both quitting the Big 2? Hadn’t heard that! That’s major news, since they’re consistently the best at each company.

Johnny Thunders

June 20, 2012 at 6:10 am

Looking at the product coming out of DC Comics, it’s clear to me that the current editorial regime headed by Dan Didio, Jim Lee, Bob Harras and Geoff Johns have no idea on how to produce comics with well-written stories and quality art.

Since they came to power DC Comics have hit a steady decline creatively.

Jake: Brubaker and Morrison aren’t leaving the big 2, but they are moving their creator-owned output away from their work-for-hire homes. Brubaker had done Criminal and Incognito at Icon, Fatale is being published by Image. Morrison has done lots of Vertigo stuff over the years, but his next creator owned project (the name of which I’ve forgotten) will also be at image.

BKV also said he was doing Saga at Image rather than Vertigo because of a change in Vertigo’s contract terms.

It’s always great news to hear about creators taking their careers into the creator-owned arena.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of comic fans who really want to see every creator end up like Robert L. Washington III, as long as they get the next issue of some crappy Marvel or DC comic.

Even more unfortunately are the other creators who feel the same way as those fans. Most notably, everyone working on Before Watchmen.

I think you’re right that all these things are momentous but I’m not sure it’s exactly new. The Image founders are the most obvious example, but creative types have been building success at big companies and then striking out on their own for a while. United Artists was founded 90 years ago! Eisner & Iger were doing it almost before Eisner’s notoriety really hit, if I’m remembering my history correctly. I get the sense from his TCJ interview that Kirby would have immediately decamped to Image instead of DC if such a thing existed then. More recently, Robert Kirkman did the same thing.

For some ideas and some creative pleasures, it’s best to work with established properties. For others, it’s best to pursue your own and there are now more venues through which to pursue that. But the process of examining and deciding between the two options has always been there.

Kirby did decamp to creator-ownership the second it became a realistic option for him. That’s why his last wave of comics was through Pacific where he could own it all and get a page-rate advance.

But I wouldn’t cite Eisner/Iger as a huge victory for creator’s rights. They basically ran a sweatshop back in the day. A lot of great artists came out of it, but they weren’t sharing ownership with their bullpen.

Good to see more and more creators focusing on creative own work.

And while on one hand it is understandable that DC would want to make as much money off of creators as they can. But if the rumors are try about DC only allowing people contracted to them to work for DC and no other publisher then I can see even more people leaving the company.

OK maybe if the contract gives the creative team 100% control and ownership (both copyright and trademark) of the book and while DC has first printing rights after the exclusive the creative team is free to take the work else where. Then maybe some of those looking at stepping out with creative own work will stay but anything less and for some creators it might actually be a better business move to leave.

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