In the recent New York Times profile of former Vertigo Executive Editor Karen Berger, Dave Itzkoff writes that DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan DiDio “said it would be ‘myopic’ to believe ‘that servicing a very small slice of our audience is the way to go ahead.’” It’s a weird way to structure the quote, but assuming Itzkoff is accurately capturing what DiDio meant, that’s a controversial stance for DC to take.
But he kind of has a point. Heidi MacDonald rightly notes that Vertigo books make up roughly one-third of DC’s list of essential graphic novels, but if we’re just going by sales, Vertigo’s slice of DC’s pie does look pretty small. According to Diamond Comic Distributors, just 6 percent of DC’s graphic novels in April’s Top 100 were Vertigo titles. The percentage was a lot higher in March (15 percent), but only 7 percent in February. The number of Vertigo titles in the Top 100 has been pretty consistent in the past three months: two or three. What made the difference in March was that DC had less Top 100 titles overall. Of course, that only covers a short amount of time and only includes direct market sales, but if we look at a list of what DC considered its top-selling graphic novels as of last autumn, only about 13 percent of those are from Vertigo. None of that is super-scientific, but it paints a pretty good picture of how much Vertigo contributes to DC in terms of sales.
Late last month, writer Paul Jenkins launched his new ongoing collaboration with artist Carlos Magno, BOOM! Studios’ Deathmatch. In Comic Book Resources’ review of the specially priced $1 first issue, Kelly Thompson rated it four out of five stars and wrote: “A Battle Royale concept of heroes pitted against each other to the death in an arena has the potential to be pretty tired at this point, what with the proliferation of these types of stories including some comics already out there … However, in the deft hands of Paul Jenkins and Carlos Magno, ‘Deathmatch’ is not only good, but far better than I ever expected given the concept and title … Jenkins and Magno have set up a very cool and smart story that, although it could easily fall into seen it all before cliché, is so far expertly avoiding all those traps and delivering a great reading experience.”
Jenkins recently took time to talk with me about the new series, as well as the Kickstarter success of his and Humberto Ramos’ Fairy Quest. Deathmatch #2 will be in stores Jan. 30.
“I’ve reached the end of my work for hire rope. I’m enjoying The Punisher, but that’s not mine, it’s Marvel’s, and l knew that going in. I have spent a lot of my comics career in service of other masters, – and I’ve had enough of that for now. I’m sick to death of the way the Big Two treat people. I gave seven very good years to DC and they took gross advantage of me. That’s partially my fault, but not entirely. At this point, I see no reason why I should have to put up with that, I can sink or swim on my own. [...] My run on Punisher ends on #16, and we are then doing a five-issue mini called War Zone and then I’m done. That’s it! The Powers-That-Be at Marvel, without talking to me, decreed that he’s going to join a team on another book. That’s their choice, they own him, but I don’t have to be happy about it. I am glad I had the opportunity to work on the character and I’m proud of the work I’ve done. Despite what the publishers say, their interest in the talent is minimal now, the interest is only in promoting the financial worth of their properties. That was not the case as of two or three years ago, when there was an ‘exclusives war,’ but that’s all gone by the wayside now. Ultimately, they are saying, “We don’t need you,’ because they can get a million more just like you.”
I have a confession to make: I didn’t understand at first what Creator-Owned Heroes is. It’s my fault, because it looks like a magazine, and Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and Steve Niles say very clearly right there in the first issue that that’s what it is, but I stubbornly insisted on looking at it as an anthology comic with some text pieces in the back. I figured that I would wait on the eventual collections and read the comics in larger chunks.
This week, though, I realized that reading four issues back to back actually is reading in bigger chunks, so I bought the issues I’d missed and caught up. Doing that convinced me that Creator-Owned Heroes isn’t something that’s going to be replicated very well in a collected volume. Most obviously, you’d lose the timeliness of the text pieces. Each of the three writers has a monthly column, but there are also recommendations of movies, products, and other people’s comics. None of that would hold up very well in a permanent, collected form. It’s not designed to.
But more importantly, not even the comics are designed to be collected. Each issue has two, 11-page comics, one written by Palmiotti and Gray, the other by Niles. In the first four issues, Palmiotti and Gray teamed up with Phil Noto for “Triggergirl 6,” about the most recent in a line of assassins that have become famous for their relentless, exclusive targeting of the President of the United States. Niles partnered with Kevin Mellon for “American Muscle,” a post-apocalyptic drama about a group of young people driving muscle cars (while also fighting mutants) toward what they hope is the Promised Land.
The more I think about it, the more strange Image Comics’ position in the modern comic book industry seems. Think about it: It’s currently the place where up-and-coming creators publish their own creations, looking to make a name for themselves and catch the attention of the Big Two publishers, and yet it’s also the place where established creators publish their own creations, having made a name for themselves by working on familiar brand names and characters at the Big Two publishers. Doesn’t that seem odd to anyone else?
The odd thing, perhaps, is that the Big Two publishers are part of the equation at all. If Image is both your launching pad and your escape pod, then why take the detour to Marvel or DC in the first place? I’m asking somewhat sarcastically, because I know that the answer is “because we want to,” as well as “because there are readers out there who pay attention to the Big Two in a way that they don’t pay attention to other things, and it’s a way to catch the attention of an entirely different readership that isn’t available anywhere else.” And yet… I don’t know; I’m feeling more and more exhausted by the churn that Marvel and (especially, lately) DC seems to have for creators, as well as the disrespect and hoops to be jumped through. A friend and I were talking about rumors about internal politics at both companies recently, and the question “Why would you want to subject yourself to all of that?” came up.
Sorry, Rob Liefeld and Mark Millar.
I’m tempted not to explain that, and just leave this week’s column there, but I think there may be a word-count issue to deal with if I did. Also, it needs some explanation, I think, because it’s more to do with my prejudices and faults than anything else, and it’s always good to air those kinds of things publicly, he lied.
Here’s the thing: I was reading the Ed Brubaker interview with Tom Spurgeon from this weekend — if you haven’t, you really should, because it’s wonderful stuff — and when I got to Brubaker explaining his reasons for leaving Captain America after nine years, I had one of those, “Oh, there’s that other shoe dropping” moments. “Partly, it’s the beginning a shift from work-for-hire to books I own, instead,” he said. “I hit a point with the work-for-hire stuff where I was starting to feel burned out on it. Like my tank is nearing empty on superhero comics, basically. It’s been a great job, and I think I found ways to bring my voice to it, but I have a lot of other things I want to do as a writer, too, so I’m going to try that for a while instead.”
Following in the footsteps of Marcos Martin, who left Marvel’s Daredevil to focus on creator-owned work, Paolo Rivera is leaving the title for similar reasons. Rivera’s last issue was #10.
“So why am I leaving? The short answer: ownership,” Rivera said on his blog. “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. And 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. What I create in the next decade needs to pay dividends when my vision gets blurry and my hands start to shake (and who knows what else). Now is the time to make that choice, while I’m still young, possess ‘great power,’ but have few responsibilities.”
This doesn’t mean the end of his relationship withe Marvel, however. “…I’m not done with Marvel by any means. They’ve been nothing but supportive throughout my decision, as has been the case throughout my career. I will continue to do covers for them and occasional projects as I see fit, just not exclusively.” It’s a very classy exit post from a classy guy, so be sure to head over to his blog to read the whole thing. He also teased a secret project he’s got in the works on Twitter.
Daredevil, written by Mark Waid, is arguably Marvel’s most critically acclaimed title right now; in fact, the word “arguably” in that statement is probably the most arguable part of it. It was certainly a favorite in Robot 6′s year-end round-up of our favorite titles, and it topped Comic Book Resources’ top comics of 2011. Chris Samnee, who joined the title recently on rotating arcs with Rivera, is taking over as the artist of the title full time.
– Mark Andrew Smith, writer of Sullivan’s Sluggers and Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors, challenging the vocabulary we use to refer to comics not published by Marvel or DC. It’s not a new notion that “independent” isn’t the best way to describe a comic; is Powers not “independent” just because Marvel publishes it? Is G.I. Joe or Star Wars independent because they don’t have a Marvel or DC logo on the cover? I like the notion of using terms like “creator-owned” and “creator-driven,” although I don’t see them as interchangeable. Creator-driven, for instance, could be any book that was “driven” by the team that created it; so Starman and The Sandman could fall into that category as easily as, say, Bone. But Bone obviously is creator-owned while those other two are not. Then there are books like Prophet and Haunt that are owned by creators, just not the creators currently “driving” those titles. Navigating, maybe, but not driving. Obviously there’s always room for debate on the internet and the shared lexicon we use is always open to it, but it’s hard to argue with Smith’s sentiment at the end.
On the surface it may not look like The Return of The Dapper Men, Hawkeye and Mockingbird, and Mind the Gap have much in common, beyond the fact that they are all written by Jim McCann. One’s a fairy tale, one’s a straight up superhero comic and the third McCann describes as a “thriller mystery” with some “preternatural” elements.
But McCann says they have more in common than you might think, or at least that I thought. Last week when I interviewed him about his new Image series, McCann drew parallels between Mind the Gap and those two previous projects, noting that he had plans for a big central mystery for his run on Hawkeye and Mockingbird that never came to pass.
“With Hawkeye and Mockingbird, unfortunately that series was cancelled, but I had a two-year plan for that, and it started to lay a couple of seeds early on,” McCann told me. “Brian Bendis picked up on one of them that occurred in the last issue of Hawkeye and Mockingbird, issue #6. There was a brief moment between Clint Barton and Jessica Drew that was supposed to set up a fling between the two of them. We had talked about that before, and when the series ended he was able to take it and run with it. So there are still some ideas out there that were able to live on. I like to plan things out no matter what the story is. I think it’s important to know your ending, and I think it’s fun to plant Easter eggs and seeds.”
As announced at WonderCon, Steve Niles and Matt Pizzolo have teamed up with Epitaph Records to distribute creator-owned comics. That enterprise now has a name, Black Mask Studios, and its first project–Occupy Comics, the activism-inspired charity anthology and successful Kickstarter project that Pizzolo headed up.
“Initially I was hoping we could partner with a publisher or retailer to work with us on distribution, but we weren’t happy with any of the deals we were offered,” said Pizzolo on the project’s Kickstarter site. “So instead I decided to invent a solution we’d be happy with, and it wound up seeming like a pretty cool way to support comics creators in general. It’s called Black Mask Studios and you can read more about it over at Wired.”
Occupy Comics is planned for release in late 2012, and will include contributions from Alan Moore, David Lloyd, Mike Allred, Shannon Wheeler, Eric Drooker, Ryan Ottley, Darick Robertson, J.M. DeMatteis, Joseph Michael Linsner, Douglas Rushkoff, Ben Templesmith, Amanda Palmer and many more. Ales Kot and Tyler Crook are teaming on a story called “Citizen Journalist” (above); check out more artwork from the anthology over at Wired.com.
Artist Stephen Downey (Torchwood) has declared March 1 “Creator-Owned Day,” and to celebrate, Steve Niles is offering free downloads of a story from his and Kelley Jones’ Cal McDonald: Detective Tales, Volume 1. The hope is that if you like it, you’ll buy the whole thing. That sounds like a very good idea to me.
As I noted yesterday, I’m a fan of both Image’s Skullkickers and Oni’s The Sixth Gun. So when I saw that the two creator-owned books were having a mini-crossover of sorts — or, to be more specific, an ad swap — I thought it might be fun to see if Skullkickers writer Jim “Zub” Zubkavich and The Sixth Gun‘ writer Cullen Bunn might be up for interviewing each other.
And they were. If you missed part one, no worries; you can find it here. In part two, they discuss Marvel and DC, the recent focus on creator-owned comics, Dungeons & Dragons, their ad swap and more.
Zub: So, speaking of collaborators, how did your DC and Marvel work come about?
Cullen: I did a little thing for Marvel a year and a half ago, which was one of the Immortal Weapons books. That one came after I sent the editor a copy of The Damned. He finally got around to reading it and said, “Hey, you want to do this one-shot?” The new stuff all came about primarily through The Sixth Gun. A number of writers, artists and editors have picked it up, read it and either pushed me to their editors or thought I would work for other projects they had. It was definitely weird because I’m not used to anyone contacting me. I’m used to begging for work. For years I’ve gone to San Diego, and it’s the most humbling experience.
Many who have been following this blog know I’m a fan of both Image’s Skullkickers and Oni’s The Sixth Gun. So when I saw that the two creator-owned books were having a mini-crossover of sorts — or, to be more specific, an ad swap — I thought it might be fun to see if Skullkickers writer Jim “Zub” Zubkavich and The Sixth Gun‘ writer Cullen Bunn might be up for interviewing each other.
So the duo hit Skype and had a long conversation that covered many different topics — how they pitched their books, their writing process, how they work with their artists, finding time to write and much more. My thanks to both Cullen and Jim for doing this, with an extra tip of the hat to Jim for transcribing it. Be sure to check back tomorrow for the second part of the interview.
Zub: So, let’s start right off with the big news. Did I hear correctly that you’re now writing full time? You quit your day job?
Cullen: I did. This is my third week as a full-time writer.
Zub: Awesome. What were you doing before that?
Editor’s Note: With the recent discussions going on around the comics community about creator-owned comics, we’re pleased to welcome one of the voices in those discussions, 30 Days of Night and Mystery Society creator Steve Niles, to Robot 6 for a series of columns on creator-owned comics.
by Steve Niles
Second column and I’m already late! Here’s a creator tip I can’t seem to get through my thick skull: Don’t bite off more than you can chew. That said, here I am again and happy to be here talking about my favorite creator-owned books and creators.
This week I’m going to talk about a creator who dominates the modern creator-owned scene with both his work and his relentless support of other creators.
I wanted to talk about Ellis for many reasons: his talent, his persistence and his vision. Warren Ellis approaches his work with the strategy of a learned zombie killer. Don’t run into the stinky crowd swinging and shooting like a crazy person, find a place to settle in and let them come to you.
Warren Ellis has not only created worlds within his work, but also a world for himself online where you can follow his daily work routine, check out what he’s reading/watching himself, or meet and discuss his and other people’s work on the various forums he’s overseen. He has created a perfect fort for all of us Ellis zombies to swarm.
Editor’s Note: With the recent discussions going on around the comics community about creator-owned comics, we’re pleased to welcome one of the voices in those discussions, 30 Days of Night and Mystery Society creator Steve Niles, to Robot 6 for a series of columns on creator-owned comics. A big thanks to Steve for agreeing to do the column, as well as to artist Stephanie Buscema for creating a killer image for it.
by Steve Niles
Welcome to the first installment of my new column, Creator-Owned Spotlight. I tried to think up an amusing title, but then decided to just settle on what it was: a spotlight on creator-owned comics, publishers and retailers who support the need for more creator-owned books.
I guess the first order of business is to define what I mean when I say “creator-owned comics.” I’m talking about ANY book where the creator has ANY ownership in their book. So basically, if you sign a work-for-hire agreement, you don’t generally have ownership. It doesn’t make those books bad, or the enemy, or anything like that. We’re just not talking about them here.
Why am I doing this? I’ve been called insane for wanting to promote my competitors’ work. All I have to say to that is: it isn’t a competition. And yes, I am crazy. I’ve drawn a line in the sand for myself to be positive. I hope you’ll try, too.
First up is such an obvious choice; I really don’t need to write much at all. His name is synonymous with creator-owned books, because he’s one of creator-owned comics’ greatest success stories. He’s also a friend and hero of mine.