What’s the comics dream?
… to look at any successful geek as Manifest Destiny rather than a crew lucky enough to have found an escape hatch seems … unhealthy. It just all seems so unhealthy. Worse, it seems like sales. And — who do people think PAYS those guys? Who do they think runs those guys’s careers? Have you ever seen a movie executive? Have you ever been around AGENTS? (I don’t recommend it). Do people think that the creative personnel are really running the game and calling shots? That’s not true of nearly every creative enterprise I know, certainly not pre-internet at least. If you’re not a person who can say No in their life, then I don’t care who’s lined up to kiss your ass. Heck, it’s certainly not true now — this generation of nerds is churning out Star Wars movies and Marvel bullshit for corporations that keep nerds like pets.
– Abhay Khosla, poking holes in the popular notion that nerds and misfits will inherit the earth.
As he’s wont to do, Khosla pokes a lot more holes than just the part I’ve quoted there, but I pulled that section out because it directly mentions comics. The Big Dream for comics creators used to be working for either Marvel or DC, but that’s changed. It’s still a dream for many and I’m not putting down anyone who’s working for those companies or would like to, but it’s no longer the dominant goal that it once was. More and more creators are jumping ship at the corporations to pursue their own projects with their own characters, at least partly for the reason Khosla mentions: they want to be able to run the game.
But as Khosla also points out, there are limits to that even with creator-owned comics. The comics themselves can be completely controlled by the people making them, but the game changes when those stories are licensed to other media. A huge part of the creator-owned dream is making that big movie or TV deal and getting to keep the money from it instead of accepting whatever portion Marvel and DC choose to let you have. But when that deal is made, the creator is back in cahoots with a corporation that now has final control over the project. Robert Kirkman and The Walking Dead is as a big a success story as we’re likely to get, but even Kirkman doesn’t call all the shots on that show. I don’t claim to speak for Kirkman or suggest how he feels about that, my point is that in the best possible case, the dream of making a gazillion dollars while retaining full creative control in comics isn’t in any way realistic.
What’s realistic – but only for those willing to work really really hard at it – is making a living in comics. Maybe even a good one. That could mean giving up some control if a movie deal comes knocking, but there’s nothing wrong with that. I remember Mike Mignola’s attitude when he first sold the rights to a Hellboy movie. I don’t have an exact quote, but he basically said that he was happy for the check and that whatever happened with the movie wasn’t any of his business. It reminds me of the famous story about Raymond Chandler where someone asked him what he thought of Hollywood ruining all of his books. He took them to his study, pointed up to the shelf where they all were, and said, “Look, they’re there. They’re fine. They’re OK.”
That’s a noble goal for creators, isn’t it? To make a good living telling stories that they own and can be proud of. The dream of reaching the top and looking back down at all the people who picked on you in high school isn’t just sad, it’s bogus.